By Bay Jia Wei (17S06R), Bill Puah (17S06B), Catherine Zou (17A01B)
What exactly is a student journalist?
The term seems straightforward, but its definition is complex. One could conjecture that it is someone who is well-read, inquisitive, perceptive, nosy or verbose; or maybe, it is simply someone observant enough to wonder about their school experiences. We weren’t sure, either, what to expect arriving in LT3 for the Pressing Ahead symposium on 9 April 2016 – and this uncertainty was the crux of the programme. As the first ever conference of different Press clubs, the anticipated outcomes and learning remained as great, and somewhat suspenseful, unknowns.
Such was our initial impression of Pressing Ahead: a workshop-cum-sharing-session held by Raffles Press that catered to the journalism clubs of tertiary institutions in Singapore, including MJC, VJC, RI, ACJC, ACS(I) and CJC. After an opening speech by Press Chairperson Karen Cuison (16A01D), we were divided into groups with a diverse mix of students from the institutions present, made to mingle, and then made to have a sharing session for everyone to learn more about the different schools present. This was followed by a fruitful discussion within each group under the broad guiding theme of “Accessibility in Writing”. To answer the core journalistic questions of “What is accessible writing?” and “What makes a good article idea?”, a broad spectrum of articles, about topics ranging from food critique to concerts, were critiqued together by the participants for this segment of Pressing Ahead.
Though all present were members of student journalism clubs, the diversity of experiences was striking. Each CCA had its own unique quirks, while each journalist within the CCA offered a different and unique view of their CCA and their role in it. The recently-established Press of VJC, for instance, stood out for the sheer dedication and determination of its founders who single-handedly undertook the task of submitting proposals, recruiting members and organising sessions. It was striking that two student journalists could effect change in setting up a system for more to participate.
These individuals are in fact still exploring ways and strategies to form the backbone and culture of the club through experimental structures, article styles and publicity initiatives. As student journalists, they explore and use a range of styles, forms and article types to report on events in school. For example, ACJC’s online website, maniAC, has a strong culture of personal articles on the schooling experience, often publishing articles such as those about students’ reflections on education and identity. On the other hand, MJC’s work has much to do with the dissemination of their biannual Musings publications, which is a crystallisation of articles on key events within the school and advice for students. What was made clear to us was the simple but elusive truth that there was no one type of Press. Individual writers and their articles direct a general path for Press clubs, each of which is characterised by their members’ unique opinions.
Yet, despite the differences between the stylistic and structural organisation of Press clubs, there still exists distinct similarities between the student journalists in terms of our experiences, traits and beliefs.
For instance, strike a conversation with any student journalist, and more often than not you will realise our extreme fondness for having opinions. Student journalism is founded upon and led by perspectives, a driving force that came out strongly during our discussions on the role of our respective journalistic societies. Even in event coverage, an aspect that formed the bulk of most clubs, student journalists strive to add value to an event by sharing relatable insights, rather than simply running through a mechanical series of happenings. One of our participants described this process as “writing from an angle” – as journalists, we aspire to look deeper and further, and to articulate these opinions coherently.
One, too, could liken this process to travelling on a road: it is not without unexpected road closures or red lights. These often come in the form of restrictions that may be placed on the content of articles, something which many participants lamented over. However, as our Press teacher in-charge, Mr Patrick Wong, put it, “We are the school press, not the alternative press.” What this means is that, as student journalists, we are obligated to self-regulate commentary on sensitive topics, and be wary of the tangible effects our words can possibly have on readers. Through the conference, one of the strategies we discovered was to put a positive spin on contentious article ideas, such that our pieces remain “life-giving” to the school on the whole, which may well be a core purpose of student journalistic societies. It is not about shunning opposition, but wielding the word in a manner that will grant ourselves the favourable green light.
These insights aside, the most memorable part of the day was ultimately the inter-school sharing sessions, through which we were exposed to different writing styles and CCA structures. It was clear, however, that no matter hardcopy or online, personal or events-based, student journalist societies have the same goal: to document and capture particular moments in the daily lives of their members.
Additionally, by the end of the day, Pressing Ahead had matured into a platform that elucidated student journalism’s boundless potential for all participants present. During the event’s conclusion, Justin Lim (16A01B), Overall In-Charge of Pressing Ahead, raised his belief that this event “might just be the first step in establishing connections… and perhaps be a platform for the sharing of experiences and the creation of ideas,” impressing upon us journalists the multitude of future collaborative possibilities that were available, despite the earlier uncertainty about the identity of Singapore’s collective student journalism society.
Indeed, perhaps the most comforting aspect of the conference would have been the quiet mutual understanding reached between the participants when we realised, then, in the LT, that there could not possibly exist a grand set of axioms that can encapsulate what it means to be a student journalist. After all, student journalism is our own construct to create. Participants attested to the fact that it is a diverse and rewarding pursuit, that anyone with the willingness to can join and shape. Perhaps, given further opportunities and time, student journalism can transcend the boundaries of our schools’ publications; perhaps there can be chances for inter-school journalistic collaborations. At the close of such discussions, amidst new questions or changing circumstances, we are determined to press ahead.