LOS BAÑOS, Laguna — Is campus journalism ready for the future?
Reading books like "The New Digital Age" by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman and "Future Minds" by Richard Watson gave me a strange feeling about how things will play out in the near future.
Everything will be connected. After Web 2.0, where the Internet has become a community of users uploading our own content, the next version of the web will be the Internet of Things. And if DOST Secretary Montejo's promise is to make the Philippines 100% connected by year 2016, there's no turning back.
It's both exciting and scary.
Exciting, because technology has empowered us in many ways. We saw the Internet give rise to stars and Youtube sensations. We witnessed Twitter communities topple dictatorships. And we saw small tech startups grow to be large companies worth millions of dollars.
And it's scary too. What would it be like? Will campus journalism survive? Will we be able to take it all in? Or are we gonna be run over and left behind? Or even, can we afford the technologies to come?
These are valid questions that need to be answered. And these are good questions where we can base our decisions now.
The practice of campus journalism in PH
Campus journalism in the Philippines is not new. In fact, student publications were very active during the Martial Law. The Campus Journalism Act of 1991 or RA 7079 is already 23 years old as I write this (It just dawned on me that I am as old as this Republic Act.)
Quite frankly, let me point out that campus journalism needs to be researched. We cannot find much scholarly material where we can extract data about the state of campusjourn in the Philippines.
But let's survey the domain. These are my observations:
Publication staff regularly gather for division, regional and tertiary schools press conferences held annually.
Other groups like the School Paper Advisers' Movement, Inc., and OSSEI also hold Campus Journalism national conventions, training-workshops and quiz bees that get around 100-300 participants every time.
For colleges and universities in Eastern Visayas, we have revived the Regional Tertiary Schools Press Conference (RTSPC) and made it an annual thing. And recently, we launched CampusJourn University, an online collaborative platform that our partner publications can use to share the stories they write.
And I've interviewed elementary and high school teachers who happen to be involved in their campus paper, and I can infer one thing: a lot seem to be groping in the dark.
So I realized, technology alone is not the answer, as promising as it may seem.
And from that comes one burning question: What is the future of campus journalism?
In the rest of this piece, I give you a critique on the current practice of campus journalism, and then, suggestions for improvement now, so we could eventually see a future of campus journ that we won't regret.
Who are we?
Most of our campus publications have trouble with identity. In the first place, our naming conventions are confusing: is it student publication, school publication, campus press, campus publication, student press, collegiate press, or whatnot?
Because even the name we call ourselves also shows who we are. Student publications are run by students. A school publication may be run by the school (administration). A campus press may not necessarily be run by students. Who are we, really? Think about it.
Part of our identity problem is how we run ourselves.
Most of the publications in the region produce a magazine yearly. Others come up with monthly newsletters, and some, tabloids and 'juniors'. And furthermore, some take on the responsibility of producing the school's yearbook.
A few produce lampoons from time to time. Some, literary folios—compiling short stories, poems and other creative work written by students.
We also vary on who writes in these materials: some publications receive contributions from students and compile it. However, most of the publications I've come across only contain articles written by the staff listed in its staff lineup.
In terms of financial operations, most of our funds are kept inside school coffers, and we have to go through the needed bureaucracies to get money for printing and other operations. And a number of schools, however, know they are not obligated to collect publication fees, so they cripple their own papers who are critical to them. A perfect example is the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) and their student organ The Catalyst.
In matters of censorship and oppression, campus publications range from free to very oppressed. But many I know are from in-between to oppressed. Editor friends I know tell me that their proofs (print-ready copies) go through the Office of the President first, and the admin can veto printing at the slightest issue that can put them in bad light.
We turn to regional and national alliances, but we can't find the support that involves diplomatically and peacefully resolving problems and suggesting solutions. Because these alliances are concerned only of what— contests.
But we are somehow to blame: we see conferences and workshops as opportunities where we can flaunt and outdo each other, not as doors for learning, connecting, collaborating and helping. And this mindset shows in the very topics we choose in our gatherings, like "How to produce winning publications".
All of these are symptoms that point to a bigger problem that beplague campus journalists: we don't know ourselves.
When Maria Ressa left ABS-CBN in 2010, a Storyline documentary by Patricia Evangelista records her saying, "You cannot write about anything if you don't know yourself."
And this very much applies to campus journalists in college, high school and even in elementary.
And that's why I say that the future is scary. We are going through the motions of doing our own versions of campus journalism, but yet fail to see who we really are.
Agents of change
Journalists are agents of change, says Chay Hofileña. And following suit, campus journalists are agents of change as well. And our calling is to be agents of change in where we are: our campus, our neighborhood, and our own community.
And as Chay says, this is not cheesy, but rather practical. For if we do not take upon our calling as agents of change, we help perpetuate systems that are not conducive to our survival.
To inform, to educate, and to be catalysts of change—for these we exist. But many of us have failed to realize these.
We become magazine or yearbook factories. We write with difficult, flowery words. We do not write and publish when news and issues break. We fail to inform.
When we write about issues, we stop at complaining and ranting. We fail to give the context on why these issues are important. We do not suggest solutions. We do not dig deeper to the heart of irregularities. We fail to educate.
And worse, we stop there. We do not persist in telling that there has to be a better way. We settle for work done okay, for jokes, gossips and confessions. Our story bases are filled with fashion features, love sonnets, and text quotes. But are these enough, if we are to be agents of change?
So what now and what next?
Despite all these problems, I still see a good future ahead. Not all campus journalists are shallow and confused. In the midst of difficult situations they are in, I see publication staff try hard to improve and wiggle their way through. Advisers are eager to send their 'kids' to workshops and conferences, not just to compete, but to learn. Campus journalists share their experiences in using new tools: blogs, smartphones, social media to accomplish their work. All hope is not lost.
We can still build a future for campus journalism that we all want to see.
So as we continue to find ourselves, allow me to point out a few suggestions to make our campus publications more ready to face the future:
1. Don't be afraid to change workplace traditions to be relevant and up-to-date.
Magazines at the end of the year are great, and most of the time, for posterity. But many times, year or sem-end outputs show the publication is failing at two important things: at being relevant and up-to-date.
Events, problems and issues can happen in the middle of the semester. So what do we do about it?
"But our students are used to magazines!" —so what?
Times are changing. Magazines are expensive. Cost-saving technologies are available. You don't need to stick to the old ways for tradition's sake.
But this doesn't mean we do away with magazines. Just ask, so what is the publication working on year-round? Some just meet two months before the year ends to plan and work on their magazines. That has to change.
Which brings us to this second suggestion.
2. Adopt a three-tier configuration of reporting
Dr. Serlie Jamias, associate professor of development communication here in UP Los Baños, presented a model of newsmaking that can be a game-changer for campus journalists. You may want to adopt this (I've revised it a bit):
- Breaking news: Twitter & Facebook
- News stories, feature and opinion articles: Blog/website & "junior" prints
- Analyses, in-depth stories, timeless features: Blog/website & magazines
This way, campus journalists stay relevant and up-to-date year round. You don't have to wait for your next magazine before you could publish a news story (which will no longer be news by then).
Writers and editors can improve on their craft because they are able to work on a lot of stories year round, compared to just one in an annual magazine. (Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers posits that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something for you to master it.)
3. Forge alliances and collaborate with other campus publications.
Stop seeing conferences, workshops and summits as a time to compete. Publications bicker over best-in-news-writing awards and loopholes in contest mechanics, which shows how superficial we see of ourselves. Why do we need so much external validation?
Instead, see events as an opportunity to connect and collaborate with them. They, too, are staffers with their own struggles, campus problems, advocacies and aspirations.
How about we use our networks to amplify our stories? If even our simplest articles elicit discussions in our campuses, how much more if there is a network of inter-campus publications who write together?
I see a future where campus publications are not boxed to their own campuses, but breaks boundaries, chimes in for the good of others. One campus publication's problem is everyone's concern. What do we do when a pub in a far-flung satellite campus gets silenced by a close-minded dean? We will rise to the occasion and help.
Instead of competing, we reach out. Those campus publications who are "well-off" have the social responsibility to lend a helping hand to those who are on their baby steps.
When our student publication at VSU, the Amaranth, won awards in 2011 and 2012, I couldn't help but think. What about the others? It was unsettling to think that while we rest on our laurels, others are struggling.
That is why we started CampusJourn University.
4. Get down from your ivory tower.
In many schools, being a 'campus journalist' is a status of sorts. With this comes the awful problem of staff members feeling so self-entitled.
And this shows in the big red "PRESS" print at the back of t-shirts. Or the author's bust filling up a fourth of a magazine page.
Says my friend Giano Libot, "Campus publications attract brilliant people—but also a**holes."
Campus journalism is a public service. We need to stop thinking we have the monopoly of intelligence and correctness. We need to stop thinking about our own issues. This mindset, shared by many campus publications and debate societies, is why other students patronize us.
Develop good working relationships with your schoolmates, since they are your very readers in the first place. Come down from your ivory tower, stop being full of yourself, and start working like a real journalist would: be their real voice and tell their stories.
5. Do your job with faithful regularity.
Do campus journalism because you love to do it, not because there's an upcoming competition and you need to submit an entry. This culture needs to be weeded out from school publications.
That is why journalism contests should not be on the spot which you can sign up for.
Instead, let campus journalists be awarded because of stories they cover. Let campus publications receive recognition for their admirable operations year-round.
In that way, judges will actually see you do good work, not just how you flaunt. Building this culture of hard work and excellence is difficult, but this is what the noble calling of campus journalism requires of us.
Only when done diligently will campus journalism yield fruitful results for you and your school. Do it with faithful regularity.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to our campusjourn problems. Each group has its own set of problems, and its own community to deal with. But one thing is for sure:
"You cannot write anything if you don't know yourself."
It takes a strong sense of identity to say, I will write today because in this I find my purpose.
It takes passion to get up every morning and say, I will write today because I love doing this.
It takes humility to say, I write today. Not to impress, but to express.
And it takes selflessness and character to say, I will write today, because I am an agent of change.
We do what we do because there has to be a better way, because most of all—
It takes clarity of thought and greatness of vision to say, I will write today, because what I do in the present determines the future.
Let's build the kind of future for campus journalism that we all want to see, and let's build it now. — CampusJourn.com
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Georgina Heffernan added AA GILL -Freedom of speech is what all other human rights and freedoms balance on. That may sound like unspeakable arrogance when applied to restaurant reviews or gossip columns. But that’s not the point. Journalism isn’t an individual sport like books and plays; it’s a team effort. The power of the press is cumulative. It has a conscious human momentum. You can – and probably do – pick up bits of it and sneer or sigh or fling them with great force at the dog. But together they make up the most precious thing we own. Since you’re here …
sconverse added The quality of life in America is dependent on the quality of the journalism. Most people don't realize that, but if you think about it, journalism is one of the pillars on which our society is perched.