Op-Ed: Sarah Doran on an education in student media

MA Journalism student, two-time Student Media Award winner, and Studenty.me sub-editor Sarah Doran explains the important role that student media plays in third-level education

Standing at the Blob, waiting for friends to arrive. Sitting in an alcove, waiting to go to class. Lounging at the back of Theatre L, waiting for a lecture to begin. That’s where you’ll inevitably find someone flicking through a student newspaper.

Deep in the bowels of the James Joyce Library you might even find a select few working away in a radio station.

Who are these people pouring words onto a page or sounding off on the airwaves? That guy in your class who has an opinion on everything? Some of your closest friends? Complete strangers? Who knows, you may just dismiss them as hacks with nothing better to do.

Believe it or not, there is a reason those papers exist. There’s a reason there’s a radio station that you might never have heard of. Student media is there to serve a purpose and the person behind it is someone like you.

Whether beloved or maligned, these ‘hacks’ tell you exactly what your University, societies, Students’ Union and USI are doing. Sometimes they’ll even tell you what they’re not doing. They keep you informed regarding what’s happening, who is involved and how it affects you.

They’ll ask the questions that you want answered and yes, they’ll even pursue the ones you never wanted answers to. Student media will sometimes tell you things you might not want to hear, but it plays an important role in hashing out those arguments that need to be had if student politics, both important and petty, is to be properly played out.

“God forbid student internet bloggers/journalists show some form of respect for actual like, news or truth”, read one comment I came across recently. As both blogger and journalist, I beg to differ. Student journalists are there in the thick of it, pursuing both news and truth.

I don’t usually agree with Eamon Dunphy, but he did get one thing right. They are hard-working people who want to secure a job and a future, just like anyone else.

They’re the ones on the ground at that protest that you couldn’t get out of your tutorial to attend. They’re the ones at the late night SU Election count that you never even knew existed, and yes, they’re the ones who took time to digest and dissect that new SU Constitution that you can’t or won’t make time to read.

They’re providing the checks and balances that can prove as vital as any Students’ Union in ensuring that the third-level education you get is of the quality that you deserve. They’ll even ask if you really have to go to that Opus Dei lecture to pass your course.

What’s often forgotten is the fact that student media provides an education in itself.  It’s no secret that UCD doesn’t offer a communications or media based undergraduate degree but then again, most people who want to get into the industry are told not to do an undergraduate degree in journalism. Whether that advice is sound or not is a discussion for another day.

This is where student media kicks in, offering students who want to pursue a career an invaluable training ground. It can even open a new window of opportunity to students who never considered a career in the field.

Collectively, the University Observer, the College Tribune, Belfield FM and CTN have trained and produced a number of notable figures in the Irish media.

RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy and Samantha Libreri cut their teeth at the College Tribune and University Observer respectively, while both took to the airwaves on Belfield FM. Rick O’Shea of 2FM and Today FM sat behind the Belfield FM desk during his time in UCD, while Richard Oakley of The Sunday Times, and The Irish Independent’s Dan McDonnell served among the former editors of the College Tribune.

Political Editor of the Sunday Business Post Pat Leahy launched the good ship University Observer alongside Dara O’Briain, while Stephen Carroll of Sky News, Shane Hegarty of the Irish Times and Gavan Reilly of thejournal.ie were but a few of those who sailed upon her.

You can also add me to that list. I kick-started my media career in Belfield FM in 2009 before joining the ranks of UO in my final year. I went on to learn everything I know about the industry, picking up tips and tricks and the odd bit of gossip that lingered in the SU corridor. I even crossed that great divide and copy edited an edition of the College Tribune.

The experience, as my mother would say, ultimately stood to me and the portfolio I created landed me a spot in a highly competitive Masters Degree in Journalism in DCU.

If I hadn’t become involved in student media, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Ask thirteen of my seventeen classmates and they’ll give you the exact same answer. NUI Galway’s SIN and Flirt FM, TCD’s Trinity News and Trinity FM, UCC’s Express and Campus Community Radio, Belfield FM and the University Observer, DCUfm and the College View are all represented in my class. Go figure.

You see, even in universities that offer media or communications related degrees, student media plays a vital role. It’s all very well and good to learn the theory, but its application is another story entirely. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far it’s that while your degree is important, it’s experience that ultimately lands you the job.

When you sit down in the Arts Café with the paper or flick through it casually while waiting at the Blob, ask yourself one question: what’s involved in producing it? As far as I can remember, it takes an awful lot of work, an awful lot of passion, and just a touch of insanity.

When you volunteer or work in a student newspaper you’re not just learning how to put copy on paper. You’re learning about business, marketing, ad sales, organisation, time and people management, writing, a code of practice, and, from time to time, customer service.

A broadcast doesn’t make it to air by itself. It requires a team of people working together to compile a schedule, a running order, a show plan, a broadcast licence and an advertising campaign. You need sponsors, presenters, producers, technicians, and of course, listeners.

There’s success, failure, and an insurmountable degree of trial and error involved but ultimately, it’s an experience of a lifetime. It’s work experience and training that you simply can’t buy anywhere else and a stepping-stone to a future where, clichéd as it sounds, you can pursue your wildest dreams.

Last year I was privileged to write for one of the most inspiring women I have ever known. She was a wonderful student journalist and has gone on to become a successful author. This year I saw my first bylines in a national newspaper and worked alongside a successful television production team. I’m even being allowed to write an op-ed.

None of these things would have been possible without student media. It’s about so much more than a student paper, so much more than a radio or television station. It’s about more than a group of ‘wannabe hacks’.

Student media is an invaluable investment in student development and should be cherished as such. It’s an education and, after all, isn’t that what going to university is all about?

  • Wayne Carr

    Very interesting article. This is what the athletics track closing, radio hating UCD authorities need to look at. The experience of third level is about so much more than what is to be read in the books or drank in the student bar.

  • http://www.yugiohrpgonline.net Anne

    I agree. Thanks for posting!

  • http://www.calculadoradocidadao.com Altiva

    Really impressed! Everything is very open and it’s a very clear explanation of issues. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more!