1. The initial excitement
You post excessively on Facebook, proudly linking your first ever printed article for everyone from your cousin to the ex-boyfriend of someone you were friends with at school to see. Your mum shares it with a proud comment to remind her friends that their children don’t measure up to her little budding journalist. Today marks the day you naively stumble into the labyrinth of student journalism. You might even have been one of those extra-keen Freshers who got in touch with a publication via Twitter before you started university. You do not realise at this point how few people will actually read your article, even if they do give it cheeky ‘like’.
2. The “yes, I’m a journalist” phase
Your basic knowledge of student current affairs gives you a surprising advantage over everyone else. Mostly they are too busy, hung-over, or sensible to care about student politics, but they pick up on the occasional story, hearing a fractured or biased version, and automatically come to you. You clarify for them what they could have read in the paper, earning yourself a reputation as being ‘in the know’. You compose very opinionated tweets.
3. The rise
You work your way up the ladder. It’s all done in a cramped office on weekends, or remotely from the library when you should be writing an essay, yet it feels increasingly professional. Someone calls this new career path a “greasy pole” but you’re not entirely sure what that means. You make a few friends on the staff and once or twice go for a highly strategic coffee with someone higher up that you #networking.
4. The demonisation
You start to realise that some people are nervy around you. At first you won’t connect the dots, figuring that everyone can separate your newshound-self from your social self, but then someone at a party will drunkenly ask if you’re recording them. Suddenly the unease of your friends, tutors, and people you’re trying to chat up at socials becomes devastatingly clear. The assumption of immorality strikes you as unjust, especially when most of your back catalog consists of Top Kebab Vans in Town listicles.
5. The temptation
You are offered money to report on something by a recent graduate now working at a national media organisation. They might be offering you the lifeline your budding career needs. They might be about to rip you off and take the credit. You have to make up your own mind.
6. The hacks
You notice that your Facebook inbox is increasingly full. In-jokey groupchats of your editorial teams are mixed with messages from people you’ve never met or spoken to, who assume that you can offer them free advertising for their drinks event. Every now and then a student politician contacts you with the tone of a close friend, toadying for some kind of editorial endorsement. Some of them manage to get both your name and the name of the publication wrong in their message.
7. The threats
You learn the hard truth that even supposed ‘adults’ – University officials, academics, guest speakers, communications officers, etc – aren’t below trying to intimidate a group of 19- and 20-year-olds into taking an article down or not covering an event. Their threats include expulsion, legal action, and disciplining your reporters. At first it’s very scary, and you make a few tough decisions to protect your staff. Later though, you realise that the majority of the threats are empty, and are often founded on a misunderstanding of libel law. You ask for McNae’s Law for Journalists for Christmas and brush up.
8. The power struggles
You find, however, that this doesn’t help you with the body who funds your publication. If this is the Student’s Union, you end up locked in constant battles for control. You worry that your #freezepeach is under attack. Even when the SU is on side, or the paper is independently funded, there’s always the threat of extinction.
9. The fall
You make a mistake. It might be a misplaced image or an insensitive article, something which those who read the paper notice and show to those who don’t. Suddenly those same people who had been messaging you for favours are tagging you in public posts, demanding an explanation. Aggressive tweets are sent to the newspaper’s account seemingly oblivious to the fact that a real people and not some sort of journo-vampires are behind the publication. In fact everyone acts like your paper is run by a team of full-time professional journalists. You print an apology and try to keep your head down, knowing that getting involved in a Facebook argument is futile.
10. The decision
You come to the end of your student journalism career, though perhaps find yourself a cushy job on the publications board or desperately trying to stop the current editors making the same mistakes you did. You now need to think about whether being a “real” journalist is for you. You may well decide you’ve had enough, and sod off to do a law conversion or find yourself a job in publishing. But if you can convince yourself that it won’t be quite as ridiculous ‘out there’ as it is in the crucible of a university environment, you might just give it a go.