The slightly abbreviated quote in the headline was taken from a comment made on an article about the student union presidential elections in student tabloid 'The Bristol Tab' by someone who called themselves 'Jaded'. Jaded, this one's for you.
With no likes or dislikes, it's hard to measure whether Jaded's view reflects that of the wider student body, or just those that, like her/him, are 'Jaded'. Jaded's opinion aptly ties into what I'd like to discuss today, and that's the role of student media during the student elections and whether it has an ethical responsibility: does it have one? Should it have one? At the University of Bristol (I assume it's the case with other universities), the organisations affiliated to the Union - that's Epigram (newspaper), Burst (radio) and UBTV (television) - have rules to ensure they remain unbiased but those independent of the Union - The Tab, Vantage and Inter:Mission (all online papers)- do not. As Rob Griffiths, the station manager of Burst Radio and recently elected UBU President told me, these outlets are only 'bound by the expectations of their readership'. So what are our expectations? I believe no piece of writing can avoid being slightly subjective, but what I want to know is whether these independent media outlets should strive to politically neutral like the BBC, or biased like a number of national papers.
I write this in light of the recent backlash about the Daily Mail's 'Vile Product of Welfare UK' headline but I am not here to start some kind of Tabloid verses Broadsheet catfight because I have a feeling claws will be out elsewhere. I think both mediums serve different purposes: one to give very brief insights of a broader range of articles in an accessible way and the other to provide deeper, more thoughtful and intelligent responses to issues. Like most people, I have read both at times to fulfil different urges (now don't be cheeky).
It's fair to assume that people are more likely to click on or read a catchy and provocative headline (hell I quoted Jaded in mine!) but does that mean the subsequent article has to be biased? Voter turnout rose from 20.8% to 25% in Bristol this year and many attribute this to how active student media was in general and their diverse and complementary coverage of the elections. Epigram podcasts interviewed candidates in their own home, the Tab did 'candidate cartoons', UBTV filmed them taking part in 'challenges' (I was put off marshmallows forever during mine) and Burst covered the results night live: these examples barely tip the barrel of the outstanding and widespread coverage.
However, not everything was corn-starch coated sweets. Debate arose concerning the Tab's choice to report an apparent attempt at a 'smear campaign' of a Sport and Health candidate and the questionable angle of this piece concerning the presidential run. You can read and judge the article for yourself although I'd recommend you read it alongside Epigram's coverage in order to get the full picture.
I rarely write news, comment or even 'serious' pieces because I feel ambivalent about the idea of persuading someone to agree with me over something important that I am not necessarily expert on. I question my own opinions regarding ethics and politics because I feel 'I need to do more reading on that particular topic' (I'm a total geek). However, in this instance, as a successful (therefore not bitter) candidate in the student elections and an alumni (or is it alumnus?) of two student media products, I feel that my opinion on this topic (having opened the discussion to a wider floor) is perfectly valid.
Jaded (remember him/her?), I don't think that student elections are a waste of time (obviously). Go chat to the current VPs of the student union about what they've done this year and I guarantee at least one thing will have directly affected you. However, what I do think cheapens and deprecates student politics is brazenly one-sided articles in the news section of student media outlets: expressing your own opinions is wizard but please keep it to comment sections, personal blogs or cheeky social media updates.
You can stuff me with marshmallows any day of the week to engage people with student politics, but when it comes to news articles that have the potential to make or break someone's campaign? That's no place for bias.
I love starting conversations about this sort of thing so I asked every Editor/Head of UOB student media organisations with news departments what they thought the role of student media should be during the elections. See their responses here.Suggest a correction