I was delighted to see that the latest Student Reporter of the Year is from Oxford. In the Guardian Student Media Awards 2012, Lizzie Porter from St John’s has picked up the title. In the previous year, she was runner-up, an impressive achievement. And perhaps it’s an indication, not only of the talent, but also of the kind of journalism, which is emerging in the University.
Lizzie writes mainly for a publication, The Oxford Student, which didn’t exist in my day. It was set up in 1992 by OUSU, but with editorial independence written into its constitution. And The Oxford Student itself won the Student Newspaper of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2001; was shortlisted in 2004; and awarded the runner-up prize in 2007.
In some ways, even a new student publication feels familiar to an old Oxford man. A lot of undergrad writing follows the same cycle as in my own day. Michaelmas articles tend to be written by cynical second-years, advising Freshers on a familiar round of subjects encompassing studies, social life and sex. Articles in Hilary are then written by the newly cynical Freshers themselves, on a familiar round of subjects encompassing studies, social life and sex. Articles in Trinity are largely written by any students who aren’t encumbered with Schools.
What’s astonishing is how little both the moans and the quips have changed. As an alumni, you read them with a terrible sense of déjà vu. (In one article, a student lists the seven things you miss about Oxford when you go back home for your first vac. I’ve got news for her; you miss a lot of them 35 years later!)
So the subjects of Lizzie Porter’s journalism struck me immediately. One major article, for instance, reported on the poverty and deprivation in areas of Oxford like Blackbird Leys; another was part of a campaign to win College cleaning staff a living wage. This is serious, significant reporting.
Remember that there are no Journalism or Media Studies undergraduates at Oxford. In national student media awards, our University’s publications and students are competing against establishments where there are full-time degree courses in those subjects. Lizzie herself is reading French. And I can’t help feeling proud that Oxford can nurture such media talent in its students and its publications without actually teaching their skills.
Will Lizzie go on to a career in journalism? "Although people say the media is an increasingly tough industry to go and work in,” she told me, “I think if you're tough and prepared to work damn hard, there is still a wealth of opportunities out there.”
She’s very conscious of the difference which the internet has made to modern media. “Whilst we still have to work out how to make serious money out of the web,” she says, “it provides opportunities, as newspapers and magazines need online copy writers alongside the journalists working on the print edition. There is also the whole world of app devices, ezines, and the mix of online retailers launching into journalism that never existed before.”
I wish her well; clearly Oxford is still somewhere that media skills can be learnt and displayed, even if they aren’t taught.