During this upcoming period, QMessenger and QMTV will be looking into the candidates and their policies; while CUB plans to host an eagerly-anticipated fashion watch segment on each of the debates, and the results party. There’s also Quest. Quest does some things, namely an upcoming wireless debate.
Why – then – seeing as the students’ union runs four individual media outlets collectively boasting a big budget, lavish equipment, and an army of trained underlings – have I bothered to cover the elections on a measly online soapbox at all?
For starters, there are so many rules and regulations (fully packaged with bells and whistles) imposed on student journalists that all creativity and soul is sucked out of any elections reporting, leaving behind a hollow husk of bland, plastic promotive students’ union tripe.
There are several bye-laws which govern what can and can’t be written or broadcast. These are the most important two.
Media coverage must be balanced, and rightly so. Sure, this rule bases itself on the assumption that students are little more intelligent than docile sheep lapping up any and all forms of dross the student newspaper spoonfeeds them – but that’s an entirely different issue in itself.
The notion of ‘balance’ is completely open to interpretation.
For some, ‘balance’ means drawing in a range of conflicting opinions with the intention of covering both sides to an argument. For others, i.e. the powers that be, this means drawing in no opinions whatsoever, with an intention of covering neither side to an argument.
Either ‘positively or negatively expressing a preference’ extends to coverage of individual candidates and their policies.
A media outlet can repeat what a candidate’s policy is, but cannot ask probing questions as to how the candidate intends to carry out or fund their policy – in fear of criticising said candidate, or endorsing his or her competitors. Consequently, candidates are often allowed to get away with spouting utter dross.
Let’s take an example.
Patrick Ford, the Michael Scott of presidential candidates, last year promised he would halve his £24,500 salary, and use the money to create ten £1000 scholarships – a fact the newspaper was free to recite.
But aside from the fact that half of £24,500 is not £10,000 (but £12,250) the newspaper was not free to explain why this policy was inherently unrealistic, and unfeasible.
Paddy would have had to raise a motion in student council (earliest, September 2013), before convincing council to vote in favour, and then presumably likewise the board of trustees. The change itself wouldn’t come into effect until 2014/15 at the earliest. Then, obviously, you need to devise a set of selection criteria. And what about the implications on his Sabbatical colleagues, all on £24k pa as well? Would they be pressured into halving their salaries?
Questions, questions, questions – none of which were allowed to be levelled at that muppet. But aside from that, there are funding issues, and logistical problems within the individual outlets themselves.
The first port of call, if you wanted to learn more about the elections, would be the student newspaper. But nearly everything printed in the next issue (released March 3) will be marginally irrelevant – thanks to a number of routine problems that arise when putting it together.
For instance, there’s a lack of funding. And as a result, a weird printing schedule.
While in previous years the newspaper printed weekly, or fortnightly, for 2013/14 QMessenger was only given enough money for eight issues – all of which have been released. However, after a successful marketing drive, enough was generated to print two more.
This coming QMessenger, as I’ve mentioned, will be released on March 3, while the subsequent issue will be released sometime after the Merger Cup. So there will only be one dedicated elections edition this time round, as opposed to three or four in previous years.
The next problem arises with the internal schedule.
A full draft of the newspaper needs to be ready by the morning of Thursday February 27 – so the printers can have it printed out by the Monday.
Prior to this stage, all articles need to be proofread by the proofreaders, signed off by the editor, scanned for libel by the Communications & Marketing Manager Tom Sutton, and laid out by the subeditors. They’ll need two or three days, meaning content needs to be finalised by February 24.
Oh – and it’s an Elections edition – so staff members at the SU will need to take extra care to ensure nothing contravenes the aforementioned regulations. They’ve demanded the weekend – that’s February 22 & 23.
Therefore, the latest any of the section editors can submit their articles is by February 21. Ten whole days before the newspaper comes out.
The same rules apply for the website. Any elections-related “news” will need to be checked by QMSU staff members before being published. And that, of course, entirely depends on their working hours.
The television station works slightly differently; in that it has slightly more wriggle-room.
Although staff members still need to regulate the content, the editorial team retains total control over the YouTube channel, the website, and the equipment. QMTV can therefore push these (again – completely interpretive) rules to their limits.
Unfortunately it’s reading week. And any attempt to organise a debate will have to be done remotely. The station will also have only seven days in which to plan, film, edit and release anything if it wants to hit the ‘golden window’ between March 3 – 5.
But QMTV also loses out when it comes to news coverage. Due to a lack of funding, the TV station will not be able to purchase the desired equipment to live broadcast* either of the two hustings, or the results party, as it managed to last year (albeit in a jaggedy fashion).
And that’s how student media works. Trying to do your job is like wearing a straight jacket internally laced with barbed wiring.
On the one hand, the SU imposes so much red tape you’re wrapped up like a christmas present without providing anywhere near the required level of funding to concurrently run four individual media outlets. While on the other, students are alienated by the lack of any serious coverage, and hence distance themselves from student media almost entirely, damaging its long-term reputation.
This, in turn, allows the SU to cut funding for subsequent years, feeding into a vicious cycle that goes on and on and on and on. A cynic would suggest the students’ union wants its media to fail (seeing as the powers that be don’t like it when we hold them to account).
But we’re not cynical, are we?
Coming soon: a slate-by-slate breakdown, and an in-depth look at our lovely, shouty sabbatical candidates. For non-obnoxious coverage, and a slightly more balanced insight, please do read the newspaper and watch the television channel. A lot of very hardworking people are let down by the bullshit flung their way.
*Update: It has now become apparent that QMSU – the students’ union, mind you – intends to invest in providing its own independent live streaming coverage, as opposed to investing in its student-run television station. This would certainly be the cheaper option. And, if true, would equate to a rather jarring two-fingered salute indeed.
Corrections: The SU funded eight issues of QMessenger, not six as was initially stated. My initial reference to Quest was made with a degree of smarm. The radio station intends to host a radio debate, as opposed to just “[doing] some things.”