Are Student Publications Really “Unprofessional?”

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Words || Angela Heathcote and Angus Dalton

As usual, this time of year means pre-budget scandals are well underway and politics is finally a little bit exciting again…a little bit. Like most university students, this year I feel like the centre of attention. Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education, is ready to make some savings by pushing young people’s mental health even further to the brink.  Guess what kids? You could be paying back your HECS, even if you’re still a casual worker, after the government drops the annual salary threshold for repayments below $52,000 a year.

Funnily enough, this is not what pissed me off the most about all the pre-budget babble. On 1 May 2017, Honi Soit Editor, Justine Landis-Handley posted in our ‘Student Media Editors 2017’ Facebook group. She said, “It seems that a fair few of us student media organisations have been rejected from attending the budget lockup this year, which is a bit fucked because of all the cuts to higher education that are on the table. Could you comment below if you applied and whether you were accepted or rejected?” What followed was a whole lot of collective realisation/outrage at what seemed like too much of a coincidence.

Let it be known, for years student editors have gained access to budget lockup. Sydney Uni’s Honi Soit and ANU’s Woroni have always been guaranteed at least four or five spaces each. It is well understood that student magazines and newspapers are one of the best ways to communicate changes to higher education to a University population. However this year, a spokeswoman for Scott Morrison stated that there was limited space this year and access could only be given to “professional” news organisations. I must say when myself and the Deputy Editor of Grapeshot first heard this excuse we laughed our arses off – bitterly.

Personally, I feel the decision to block out editors is a result of the unique ability  of student publications to call ‘bullshit.’ I don’t get paid very much to work on Grapeshot, nor do my colleagues, which leads me to believe that holding powerful people or institutions accountable is more of a passion than it is a job. Student editors literally have nothing to lose. Within a university context where everyone is trying to climb a ladder, career-wise (and power to you!), historically, student editors cut their teeth by aggravating nearly everyone on campus. Compare this with student representatives, who enjoy “maintaining networks” or in their spare time, refuse to stand up for things that are just because it will cost them “political capital.” Yes, this is literally what they say.

But student publications don’t just have a role in holding student representatives and the University executive to account. With the advent of online media, mainstream news organisations pick up even more of these campus stories. This is especially true when considering the intense coverage of sexual violence on university campuses and colleges, with most content being re-appropriated into ABC, Fairfax or Newscorp editorial.  In fact, I even had one of my own stories copied by the Daily Mail, who were nice enough to right-click synonym a lot of the big words. In fact, in the last issue of Grapeshot, ‘Solo’ our editorial and design team took it upon ourselves to clean up the subpar investigative work of Greg Norrington from The Australian who made false claims against Sally McManus, by publishing her old President Reports.

Student publications are hotbeds for intellectual thoughts — perhaps Scott Morrison should visit our office sometime?