North Wind And Sun

The reporter, the blogger, and The Student stuck between – some musings

Posted in journalism by Ricardo Bilton on 23-November-2008

Thanksgiving break has given me a few precious days to do a bit of recreational reading, and the first book I turned to was Rosenberg & Feldman’s No Time To Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle. Fairly straightforward title, and the authors make no hesitations about making their points known.

In any case, I’m roughly at the halfway point of the book, just finishing the chapter titled Blog On!, and I wanted to make a few comments, more so for my own benefit than anything, on some interesting intersections that the chapter draws with my experiences writing for The Amherst Student.

A bit of background. The Student is Amherst College’s independent student-run newspaper. It circulates weekly, being delivered in stacks to Amherst students each Wednesday morning. Currently, the publication draws a fairly lukewarm reception from students, who largely see it is superfluous and lacking in substance.

The Student shares the Amherst College publication sphere with a few other entities, most notably, The Indicator, described as the “Amherst College’s journal of political and social thought.” Compared to The Student, The Indicator draws a more enthused reaction from students on both the reading and writing sides of things. One of the main issues that The Student‘s editors have to deal with on a weekly basis is the rather paltry staff of writers. The Indicator rarely has such issues and is usually able to procure enough willing writers to write pieces for their biweekly issues.

Which raises the unavoidable question of “why.” Why do so many more students seem drawn to write for The Indicator as opposed to The Student? This is a question that The Student staff has been trying to answer for a while now, in the hopes that an answer would inspire tactics to reverse the trend of waning writer support.

I can’t say that I’ve come to the conclusion myself, but I believe I’ve made some headway, due in part to the points made in the Blog On! chapter of No Time to Think.

A part of it, I think, has to do with the new and awesome sexiness of blogging, a sexiness that has somehow not managed to wane since the blog’s inception. There are over a hundred million blogs online right now, each with writers expressing opinions, hurling facts, and creating discussion. The fact of the matter is that people like expressing their opinions. Where The Amherst Student and The Indicator differ is that while The Student exists to cover news, the Indicator exists to present opinions, to columnize.

Thus, The Student/Indicator relation is a microcosm of the increased revulsion we are seeing towards traditional news media. People have turned from  straightforward news coverage to news with a twist, that is, news with opinion and glitz sprinkled liberally.

Case in point: A few Amherst students last year launched the Amherst Public, a blog network dedicated to giving Amherst students a central place to go in order to read the opinions of their classmates. The initial fervor of the site’s paid bloggers, as well as that of the regular ones, has since died down, giving way to a homepage that has not been updated in over a month and a seemingly nonexistent userbase.

Of course, the Amherst Public situation might be a result of a campus stretched too thin, or perhaps a campus apathetic, or something.  In any case, what I see when I look at the state of the Amherst College publication sphere is a relative lack of interest in traditional news writing. And, while we could make a case that there isn’t much news happening on a campus of 1,600 students, there is a notable lack of writer involvement even for a campus of its size.

Maybe the field of journalism has just lost its repute. Maybe College Students just don’t want to be journalists anymore; maybe Amherst College students are just inordinately busy. And, while I can’t say for sure what the causes of the situation are, the effects could not be clearer: The Student has certainly lost its place as a hub of information gathering. The next step would be figuring out how to reverse the situation.

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