Student media is fluid. Each year, Honi Soit receives an editorial shake up, with seismic ramifications for the rag’s ideology and aesthetic. The campus is littered with a litany of publications read, written and edited by students. It’s hard to define it when it comes in zines, in journals, in almanacs and in newspapers.
The latest addition to the mix is Hijacked, an online, corporate-backed, content-distributor for struggling papers across the country. It’s backed by Telstra, Officeworks and oOh!Media, a profit-making triumvirate which seeks to syndicate, and monetise, student journalism. It offers to circulate students’ content to a national audience, but cut them out of the editorial process.
Hijacked has flown its banner from our website and stuck an ad in our paper.
Hijacked offers its authors cash for clicks. Students aren’t remunerated for their words; they’re paid to promote the brand. The outlet doles out dosh to its writers when they can draw 500 unique pairs of eyeballs to the page. What matters isn’t an article’s depth of research or originality of content, but how swiftly it can be shared, tweeted and foisted upon an aloof and frenetic demographic of 18-25 year olds.
But student journalists, and the scrappy packs of editors that represent them, should aspire to be so much more and to do so much more. The mainstream media has collapsed. Artefacts from the rubble reveal a press corps that is as confused as it is fragmented. The path forward is one of untried plodding, of alternative journalism and inventive financing. University, much the same as with all else, is not likely the place we’ll figure it out.
It’s tough, and perhaps a little trite, to define student media. At its best, it’s independent from vested interests, it rewards its writers for content not clicks, and it’s run by students, from the first draft to the final copy. It’s bold, clever, funny and marginal. This paper pushed obscenity laws to their limits and challenged the draft during the Vietnam War. Whatever it is, it’s the complete antithesis of the corporate, click-bait, hierarchical news conduit that is Hijacked.
We’re not pretending we’ve figured it all out. We were born into the rubble with no special insight. We’re aspirational plodders mucking around with bylines, headlines and InDesign in a windowless bunker with scant ventilation.
To paraphrase Dick Wolf: “These are our stories.”