Putting old guard into Guardian Student Media
September 28, 2010 37 Comments
The Oscars of university media.
The pièce de résistance of student journalism.
Last week, the 2010 nominations were announced to widespread excitement ahead of the ceremony in November. But, once again, they demonstrated how they are an inherently flawed means of celebrating student media.
A large part of the problem with the Guardian Student Media Awards (GSMA) is that they are entirely predictable. It’s possible to guess, before the nominations are announced, that certain names are likely to appear – the likes of Cherwell and the Oxford Student at Oxford, York Vision and Nouse at York and often Gair Rhydd of Cardiff.
And history suggests that not only do certain universities get nominated more but actually they win the awards too – York won 7 in 2007 whilst Oxbridge cleaned up in 2009, winning 6 of 14 awards. This year threatens to be no different, with York and Oxford monopolising the nominations, particularly in the Reporter of the Year category, where two Oxford students (albeit from different publications) and two York students dominate.
The year-on-year nomination of certain student papers and magazines sends out a message that the awards are an elitist and inaccessible affair, which offer more opportunity to established student media publications. Now, we’re all for the best student media picking up awards and would never want nominations to be spread out for the sake of it but can we really assume that Oxford and York produce consistently high quality every year?
The nature of student media is that quality fluctuates according to those working on a publication at any given time, so how can it be possible that certain papers retain a permanent place on the student media pedestal? Their ever-present appearance breeds the sense that the awards are just some sort of old boys brigade in which the usual suspects are given grace and invited to the glitzy autumn do without more than a thought.
In their current form, the GSMA only provide a snapshot of the student media landscape.
The other issue with the GSMA is that the structure of the awards themselves fail to do justice to the idea of student media, as if the Guardian have failed to understand or somehow forgotten the way student media works – that there is often a high turnover of students in certain years which can cause a publication’s quality to dip and falter. Despite this widespread fact, awards for improvement over the course of a year or two years (although admittedly tough to track) are simply not on the Guardian’s agenda. And that’s not forgetting that the judging of the awards takes place in July, when content is at a premium and part-time reporters are at home taking a well-deserved break.
Even with the change in structure that has occurred this year – bringing categories down from fourteen to just six – the awards still do not change because of the varied means in the way publications are run. It’s hard, verging on impossible, to properly judge between Student Direct: Mancunion (which covers the universities of Manchester, Salford and Bolton with a sabbatical editor whose full-time job it is to produce the paper weekly in print) and fellow 2010 Best Publication nominee The Alligator (which bills itself as a ‘digital information network’ and has no print run and no paid editorial team). It’s like comparing chalk and cheese.
And that’s not to mention that all the judges are of a certain career path, very print and broadcast heavy, with no input from innovators or social media experts who could appreciate what a publication is doing away from its content.
“‘Ah, but that’s all just the bitter blogging of student journalist whose efforts weren’t rewarded by the Guardian!”, we hear you cry. An easy comment to make which, though none of us ever received a GSMA nomination, is not true. Rather, we think there must be hundreds of student journalists who feel that their efforts in the makeshift newsroom of their university newspaper have not been recognised. And, as one of the two major student media awards, the Guardian must recognise that.