Journalism ought to be taken seriously and student journalism all the more so. It's the medium through which we communicate news stories, ideas and perceptions to the general public and student journalism is that window through which we can see what ideas, news stories and perceptions will be communicated in the future. As a student journalist myself, writing for The Cambridge Student, I take the liberty that I am afforded seriously and can only hope to write articles that inform, confront and even sometimes inspire readers, whether they are university students or not. This is student journalism is all about - it's supposed to be ideal.
It is partly for this reason that I and many other students today take offence at the journalism practiced at university level by The Tab - an online venture started in June 2009 that has since expanded to 34 British universities, thereby becoming a top provider of news and views for students across the UK. This week, it went too far, with an article published on December 19th entitled "The Tab Guide to Drugs." Drugs including MDMA, cocaine and ketamine are glamourized throughout the article. As a medical student, I find the glamorization of highly addictive substances known to cause delirium, cerebral and cardiac toxicity frankly startling.
What I find all the more startling, though, are the opening lines of the article: "If you haven't done many drugs before, then you're going to want to at least pretend that you have, because drugs are cool and not doing drugs is not cool."
This is truly a preposterous claim to make, particularly considering the fact that the author makes no attempt later in the article to negate this first statement; he clearly wants us to take it seriously. The Tab is no longer a student newspaper; instead, it has become the bully on school playgrounds. The bully calling kids at school names for being different, and for being individuals standing up for themselves and refusing to yield to peer pressure. That playground bully has become an online newspaper telling university students what is cool (doing drugs) and what is not (not doing drugs); it dictates what students ought to do and how they should live their lives. I find this extremely worrying.
The Tab is socially irresponsible as a news outlet and does very little to challenge current social attitudes; instead it reinforces them and encourages others to do the same. In a recent opinion article, the editor of The Tab at UCL defended the use of the word 'gay' as a synonym for 'bad'; as pointed out in the comments section of the article, only 16% of LGBT+ teenagers would agree with this standpoint. It is not a badly-written article by any means, but it is disappointing to see emerging writers already taking such insensitive views as expressed in the worst kind of national (purely to shift copy). Student newspapers should be encouraging writers to push boundaries and make strong, bold and logical arguments for equality and against discrimination of any kind. In this instance, The Tab is being reckless and inconsiderate, to say the least.
When The Tab is not occupying itself with encouraging students to consume illegal drugs and associate the word 'gay' with negative perceptions, it is busy telling students why their degrees are shit, interviewing university virgins and surveying whether students have ever walked in on their parents whilst they were having sex. It goes as far as The Cambridge Tab employing a female student to sleep with different guys on a weekly basis in order to write about it, providing pornographic details, whilst keeping her identity secret. So much for feminism, eh?
Meanwhile, The Tab has largely ignored issues that really affect student welfare, such as the rise in tuition fees, bursary cuts and student loan privatization or even the new immigration bill which will affect international students. How can an online newspaper claiming to, "bring students all the news and views they care about" omit such important content? The Tab does not represent students' interests across this country; it represents a minority of students who wish, according to its own website, "to make a name for themselves on campus"; that's bad journalism, right there.
What I find most upsetting, though, is that there are university students with a very real talent for writing and journalism working at The Tab, students who are probably far better writers than I. These young journalists are constantly being lured into writing material that debases their skill and talent. Of course, at one point, the allure of writing for a highly-read online outlet like The Tab gripped me: all journalists like their work to be read; yet now I feel vindicated in my choice.
"By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community". So said Oscar Wilde and, thanks to the efforts of The Tab, these words sadly now seem to ring true.