THE BLOG

The Tab Has Improved Student Journalism

13/09/2013 11:38 BST | Updated 11/11/2013 10:12 GMT

The Tab, the student publication which has gone national having gained over 500,000 visitors a month last year, has improved student journalism.

It's not something you hear that often, particularly not from someone like me who spent most of their free time at university working for a traditional student paper.

Since its inception at Cambridge University in 2009 by Jack Rivlin, The Tab has successfully marketed itself as a student version of The Sun.

Describing itself as different from "boring student media", some of the latest articles on its popular Cambridge site include 'Cambridge wins mass debating competition' and 'Royal Baby publicity punt'.

You get the picture. This is proper tabloid journalism.

Headlines are short, punchy and often contain a pun, large pictures adorn every piece, and its writers appear to love being part of a "no-one likes us, we don't care" atmosphere.

They regularly beat more established student papers to great university news stories; secure interviews that national papers would be proud of, and create magazine content which fits in exactly with what their target audience wants.

Not wanting to write about issues that "student journalists can't do justice"; the tedious opinion pieces that plague most student publications are nowhere to be seen on any of the of The Tab's sites. A welcome relief if, like me, you don't care about what a 2nd year English Language student makes of the Arsene Wenger's transfer policy, or don't have any desire to read what a 3rd Drama student thinks of Alexander McQueen's new collection.

In my role as Media Intern at the University of Manchester's Students' Union, where I oversaw the running of three student media outlets in print, TV and radio; The Tab's ethos was always in the back of my mind.

Together with the Editor of The Mancunion, Richard Crook, we looked to change the attitude of those working on the paper from one where writers only thought about what they wanted to write, to one where they thought about what they wanted to read.

The aim of this was not only to make them better journalists, but also to give consumers a reason to pick up the paper.

It sounds basic, but life on campus can feel cut off from the rest of the world. When a major national or international story breaks, editors can easily fall into the trap of thinking that readers will find it weird if they don't include it. How many comment sections in student papers are filled with lengthy analysis pieces every time a new conflict begins between Israel and Palestine, for example?

As well as this, student papers have become complacent. Often the only publication serving the student market at their university and generally subsidised by their respective student unions, many settled into a pattern of allowing their contributors to write whatever they want without fear of being mocked by the competition.

This is where The Tab has really improved student journalism.

By focusing all its content on its target audience and refusing to print lengthy opinion pieces on national issues, The Tab has forced established publication to either alter their coverage or lose their audience.

Already, The Tab's readership dwarfs that of even the best student papers, boasting hundreds of thousands of unique users a week - most papers would be happy to get that in a year - while also gaining national recognition.

Mindful of the emergence of The Tab Manchester, and keen to improve the quality of the publication, Richard and I looked to emulate the sites formula.

We told our writers to treat The Mancunion like a local paper, to explore the city and become well-acquainted with the student bubble.

We reveled in stories about popular Fallowfield institutions, club promoters and scandalous societies. Our sports coverage took on a far more comprehensive feel, culminating in BBC Sport style live-blog featuring reporters at matches across the city for the university's annual Christie Cup tournament at the end of the year.

When we covered national stories we always looked for the student or Manchester angle, meaning that rather than just writing about Syria, we found a PhD leading a campaign for Syrians in the UK and told his story. And rather than just mouthing off about horsemeat when that scandal broke, our food and drink writers tried out horsemeat recipes instead.

This change in the paper's ethos was marked by a huge rise in the number of people consuming our content. Hits to our website went close to 150,000 for the last academic year, while our number of Facebook 'likes' increased to over 1,500.

Of course there are times when The Tab falls short; using the tabloid style as an excuse to be crass and 'shocking'. Take as a for instance a bizarre decision to include swear words in headlines on the Cambridge site mid-way through the last academic year.

But on the whole I'm glad they exist. They have injected some much needed plurality into the student media landscape, and have forced budding journalists to create content for their audience, rather than for themselves.