It’s not every day that an Oxford student newspaper will defend a rival, let alone one written by our upstart cousins from that small, cold town in the Fens. Having been involved with the student press to varying degrees over the last two years, though, news of Cambridge University Student Union’s (CUSU) plans to cut the print edition of The Cambridge Student is saddening and alarming.
University is the time when we cut our teeth in practice for the wider world. It’s why OUSU debates as though its members were pretending to be Parliament, why people network at LawSoc like they work for a Magic Circle firm, why student charities petition the powers that be and engage in local and student issues. We’re adults, and yet we have the luxury of shelter from “real-world” forces like economic realities and restrictions on our time. We can, if we want, spend all day writing indulgent articles or speeches about silly things that we care about passionately, and then rush that essay or tute sheet off in a couple of hours in the evening. This will not be a possibility when we have full-time careers.
A degree is not only a matter of learning what John Stuart Mill thought about free speech, or what temperature will melt carbon, or the intricacies of Roman Law. It is also about learning important skills that will complement a later career, in an environment that is less punishing than the world outside university.
The same is true of the press. There is no need here to defend the role of the press in holding representatives and university management to account- that much ought to be obvious. The printed, physical student press, however, is as essential as the digital.
Whilst print newspapers are in decline across the country, there are still a plethora of jobs that won’t even consider a graduate without experience in certain elements of the process of creating a physical paper. The organisational skills required to run a student newspaper in print, the Photoshop and InDesign skills that come with it, the management of a team of some 50-100 contributors and writers – having wrestled with these first-hand, I can safely say that all are massive parts of a steep learning curve for a career in journalism.
Imagine if CUSU itself was scrapped, or if it all took place online. The Union would still be able to achieve a huge amount on a basic level; most likely everything it already does. But the practiced skill of delivering a speech in person would be lost, to the detriment of all those involved and their public speaking ability. Creating a newspaper or magazine is not just an intellectual exercise, it is a mechanical and practical process of organisation, visualisation and craft, all of which are skills key to journalists.
Furthermore, it is a social activity. Commissioning articles to go online by people who you never meet in person is a drag; it’s impersonal and, ultimately, no fun. It limits your creative scope, the ideas you pass by people, and removes any non-careerist motivation to get involved with the press, making it inaccessible to the majority of students. The average student journalist would hardly ever come face-to-face with another.
CUSU has enough money in its reserves to keep TCS running for 38 years, if it wanted to. I sincerely hope they reconsider taking away such a golden opportunity for budding journalists, hundreds of whose university experience TCS enriches each year.