Why Student Journalism Is So Important in JCs

This is the foreword of Issue 2 of Cross Island Impressions, a national student paper, the product of a collaboration between 8 different school newspapers. You can read the full issue here.

By Shaun Loh (21A01A)

Editor-in-Chief: what does that actually mean?

When I first stepped into my role last July, I was honestly pretty demoralised.

“Raffles Press? LOL. Okay, the subject combination articles are quite good,” remarked so many friends of mine that I have lost count.

Simi school newspaper? Singapore got such thing one meh?” my own mom blurted out when I told her about my CCA, which made me laugh pretty hard.

Even when I was busy reaching out to other schools’ newspapers last year to invite them to join Cross Island Impressions, oh boy, it was tough. There were some students who were afraid of participating, citing reasons like “there might be controversy with what we write; it’s hard to control”.

Putting things into perspective, I really wanted to know why there was this dual sense of nonchalance and apprehension towards Junior College (JC) student newspapers in Singapore. Was it simply because our articles were simply out of touch? Or did people feel that they were just meant to be mundane, routine coverage on school events and competitions? Or has the oversaturation of content on the Internet just rendered the notion of a student newspaper obsolete?

These negative sentiments were not reflected in my school paper’s statistics, though. Every year, our online school paper, Word of Mouth, average 500k views, and have totalled almost 5 million hits at the time of writing. But that just exacerbated my concerns, because too large a discrepancy between quantitative statistics and real opinions is certainly not sustainable. 

I ruminated on this throughout my time, as the leader of both my school paper and Cross Island Impressions. Now, I realize that it is most important to firstly establish why student journalism is still necessary for JCs in Singapore, and more crucially: why I should do what I am doing. I mean, if student journalism in JCs is irrelevant and lame, why did I spend so much time gathering and networking eight different school newspapers? Yes, yes, we all know the Press is the fourth estate and Singapore has room for improvement on the Press Freedom Index, blah blah blah. I’m not here to reiterate all the philosophical, GP essay-worthy reasons as to why journalism is vital. In fact, student journalism has so many necessary uses that go far beyond the political and civic realm, and the next few reasons I offer as to why student journalism is imperative and relevant are barely related to politics. 

First, student journalism is a much needed platform for healing. When students undergo feelings of anxiety due to events like a pandemic, social media is often the first stop. This collective response is a natural human reaction when making sense of such events. Student journalism helps document these responses into a collective one, forges consolidated statements of solidarity and wraps them with a veil of legitimacy. Stories in journalism can help reduce anxiety and panic following such incidents. Perhaps that is why an article on RI slur culture in 2016 generated so many comments of affirmation. Or why a personal gripe about the Dean’s List in 2012 “taught something important” to another student. Student journalism develops a sense of empathy and emotional identification between students, cultivating conversations that national newspapers are unable to carry, especially because journalists there do not have the firsthand experience that we do. These conversations are neater and more ordered than those on social media, thus becoming ever more important to the well-being of student bodies.

This brings me to my next point. Student journalism is integral to fostering school culture and identity. From celebrating success stories during A-Level results season, to meticulously covering school events, school newspapers serve as excellent branding tools for a school. One can just look at r/SGExams to find the multitude of graduated secondary school students who utilise Raffles Press as a guide to subject combinations and CCA choices. Further, school culture isn’t just manifested in those tangible forms. Whether it is finding your old friend’s funny comment in an article and messaging them about it, or sharing an odd article with your classmates, student journalism breeds and reinforces connections on the ground. In this issue of Cross Island Impressions, student journalists across Singapore cover a range of topics from friendships in Victoria Junior College and NUS High School, to the significance of gardens in River Valley High School and National Junior College. 

On another note, a JC student paper is extremely different from independent news outlets like Ricemedia, or fully independent college newspapers like The Crimson. Wielding a fine balance between administrative agendas and student voices, school papers for JCs possess the rare ability to foster connections across demographics, from teachers to alumni to students, avoiding the echo chambers that are so prevalent today. Especially in Singapore, where students are much more aware of the potential faultlines one’s words can fall on, school papers in JCs become even more relevant, and much less risky than the usual perception of student publications as unrestrained and inciteful of conflict.

Frankly speaking, in my experience as the head of Raffles Press, I have not had much editorial oversight by teacher-advisors, and I am very grateful for that. We do not need to report every article to the higher-ups, and we have a sufficient budget to get us by. Nevertheless, my main hope is for student journalism nationwide to nurture, grow and play a central role in school communities.

To this end, I would like to call on all tertiary institutions—not just JCs, but polytechnics and vocational institutes too—to consider building up and inculcating a strong journalistic culture. First, starting an online platform and investing in a web provider, alongside a domain name, is definitely fundamental. Second, distinguish a school paper from other writing societies, and reinforce the legitimacy of the paper by offering more opportunities such as print editions, conferences, yearbooks, etc. Give the paper, its writers and its editors more rigour and tangible output goals to achieve. Third, as the paper matures, allow students to have more freedom to write. Subsequently, the paper can morph into so many other opportunities, from podcasts to radio, from cartoon strips to even advertisements that generate revenue for the paper and the school.

Personally, student journalism has made me feel a much greater sense of belonging to my school, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities to lead in this field. I hope that the efforts put in by the 100 student journalists across Singapore for this collaboration will excite and bring satisfaction in your reading of the issue.

The writer is the Chairperson of Raffles Press (2020-2021) and the Editor-in-Chief of Cross Island Impressions. The views expressed are the author’s.

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