The Bright Future of Journalism.

Rachel Hains recounts her time at the SPA Regional conference, and why she believes journalism has a bright future ahead.

Why would you want to be a journalist? All news is fake news. Isn’t it just depressing reading about all that death and disaster? These are things any journalist, even a student journalist, will be more than familiar with hearing. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same. Yes, is the honest answer; sometimes it can be depressing to sit and stare at an endless news feed of death, chaos and crisis after crisis. Sometimes we wonder why the hell we didn’t just sign up to some other society back in Freshers’ week – after all, watching Harry Potter movies or running around campus with nerf guns sounds like a far better way to spend our time. We have enough on our plates as it is trying to achieve a degree, pay our bills and make sure our rooms don’t end up with a Mount Everest of dirty laundry. So, why should we bother with something as time-consuming and sometimes difficult as student journalism?

This was the thought swirling in my head as I nervously made my way into an empty lecture theatre yesterday at City University, London. True, I’d been awake since 7, having decided to trek my way through Saturday morning rush hour to the SPA Regional conference. True, I was also desperately clutching my now lukewarm coffee as I tried – and failed – to find where I was going. This, as anyone who knows me, will tell you, is enough to put me in a bad mood. All I wanted more than anything was to return to my comfy bed and enjoy my Saturday lie-in. But no. There I was, tired, lost and wondering why I’d thought this was a good idea in the first place. However, I’d only been in the lobby a grand total of two minutes before I heard a voice behind me ask, ‘please tell me you’re looking for SPA too?’. Turning around, I was relieved to see an equally frazzled looking student trying to make sense of the labyrinth-esque building. Apparently, we weren’t the only people with no directional capabilities as, within minutes, we’d found several other people wandering the corridors, lost and as exhausted as us. 

Why am I mentioning this frankly mundane exploit, I hear you ask? Well, for me, this is the epitome of why I adore being a part of student media: the sense of community, support and hope. After all, in a currently bleak-looking world, it’s hard not to feel alone or hopeless. Over Christmas, I heard my family repeatedly ask why anyone bothered to watch the news when it’s always so depressing. Honestly, I get it. I can’t blame them. For most of us, it’s hard to make sense of complicated political situations or the ever-growing climate crisis. One minute we’re being told one thing, the next we’re being told another: Yes, you should protest about climate change. No, you shouldn’t protest about climate change. Yes, we should leave the EU. No, we shouldn’t leave the EU. Yes, you can eat bacon. No, you can’t eat bacon. 

It’s exhausting. 

No wonder it’s tempting to give in to the voice telling you to cocoon yourself in your duvet and pretend like the outside world isn’t real. Even I need to mute my news feed from time to time to give myself a mental break. After all, we live in the age of technology. Anyone with wifi can now communicate with anybody on the planet and express their views – no matter how stupid, ridiculous or offensive they are. Subsequently, it is more important than ever to be critical. To think for ourselves. To find reliable sources that you can trust. Journalists are privileged to have a voice with which we can unite people, advocate change or equip someone with information key to their own life. We are the people who, like that student yesterday, make you feel like you have a friend you can trust. You aren’t alone. Together, we found out information that allowed us to reach our end destination and learn a thing or two about one another along the way.

As we found out over lunch, many of us endure the same difficulties, heartaches and triumphs that come as part of the package deal that is journalism. (I mean, no one likes spending hours scanning for typos and yes, InDesign can be evil!) However, we wouldn’t change it for the world. This is why I am beyond elated to announce that Orbital received the award for ‘Best Impact’ at the regional conference. As a media outlet, it’s all we can ever hope for, to think we can have an impact – no matter how big or small – on the lives of our readers. In this case, we received recognition for our coverage of the potential Katie Hopkins campus visit last term, and the subsequent debate that followed regarding free speech on campus as well as within the SU. Massive congratulations go to Alex Jones who was instrumental in making this happen and for writing the article, which can be found on our website.

Obviously, it was an issue close to our hearts and to be recognised for our work is a feeling like no other. I practically floated my way home that evening – a delightful contrast to the earlier commute, I must say.

Now, apologies if this sounds all rather too sentimental. I realise you’re probably looking at this article and going – what is this sleep-deprived student talking about? However, as seen through our RHINO awards last term, recognition is important.

Some of our wonderful Orbital team at the RHINO awards

No matter how old you are, how much experience you have, or what you write, journalists like to know they’re doing a good job. We’re always learning. This is something that was highlighted repeatedly yesterday throughout the SPA workshops and seminars.

Those of us who attended were fortunate enough to hear from award-winning experts working in the Media industry. For example, there was an absolutely illuminating talk on data journalism by Glyn Mottershead, as well as an honest insight into investigative journalism from Kit Chellel. There were other useful segments throughout the day, like learning how to craft a decent CV and how to utilise our social media presence. All of which will be passed on to our members this term, so keep an eye out for our workshops and events!

Sian explains how to make the most of social media

After yesterday, all I can say is I believe journalism has an incredibly bright future. There are a wave of new writers, reporters, thinkers and creators out there just itching to get started. Each has been crafting their own voices, utilising the incredible platform that is student journalism to learn more about this global industry and how they can shape it in the future. They have also all been working tirelessly to provide students with a voice on and off their campuses. If you don’t believe me, go knock on the door of the SU Media suite next time you’re in the building. I promise you’ll find at least one tired-looking student working hard in there to churn out quality content for our listeners, readers and audiences.

Also, please do check out some of our fellow London based student media outlets, for instance, The Beaver and The Strand – both of whom I thoroughly enjoyed meeting. They are yet more exemplary examples of student journalism. The quality of work and devotion witnessed yesterday at the awards just proves it and Orbital look forward to remaining in touch! (There may be a potential Spoons meet up being co-ordinated at the end of the month… keep an eye on our social media for more news).

Experimenting with broadcasting in the Media Suite at City University

Honestly, I can’t wait to do it all again at the national conference in Sheffield this April. (Tickets are available through the SPA Website if you’d like to come along for the weekend!). I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thank you once again to SPA Journalism for the incredible day, and the honour of our award. Thank you also to City University for hosting us.

Winners’ squad – see you all in Sheffield!