Tomorrow's newsmakers today - Student newspaper online review: Part 1

 by Martin Belam, 3 February 2010

Over the last few months I've been involved in several projects looking at the future of news and journalism skills, whether that is has been the Linked Data summit and London meet-up, or the Meld project at UCLAN. It has made me curious about the digital journalists currently going through our universities, and so over the next few weeks I'll be publishing some posts reflecting my research in this area.

I'll be looking at some of the trends I've seen in blogs by journalism and media students, and I've got some great Q&A interviews with people who have recently left academia and started working in the news industry. I'm starting though with a look at the online manifestations of student newspapers.

I must point out at the beginning that student newspapers at a University can originate from several different sources - a media society at the Student Union for example, as well as University departments. Contributing to a student newspaper doesn't necessarily mean you want a career in journalism - after all I was in the sci-fi society at Uni and I didn't end up working as a Doctor Who monster. Although there is still time...

With my "voice of the user" hat on, I haven't worried too much about investigating the production structure behind the papers. Instead I have focussed on looking at some of the positive and negative user experiences of trying to keep up to date with student university news online.

When student news goes national

One aspect of this was that often the news on the Student Union website was not the same as the news produced by the Student Union. As an example, LSE Student Union site has an online news feed, mostly concerned with the minutiae of administering a student union. The LSE also has the entirely separate Beaver Online site that accompanies the printed Beaver newspaper.

The LSE Student Union site actually had a very interesting dynamic news navigation feature. The top horizontal 'Latest News' link acts more like an RSS 'live bookmark' in a browser, rather than having the more traditional static list of sub-sections.

LSE Student Union site navigation

The Beaver is the output of the union's media society. The LSE has recently been surrounded by controversy over the views of Reza Pankhurst. The Beaver obtained a statement from Reza, and had it running under a 'breaking news' strap, which I thought was a really good use of the online medium.

The Beaver Online from the LSE Student Union

It is interesting to note that the reach of the printed paper, given away free on campus every Thursday, is very niche and time-limited. The online presence of the student paper allows a story with national interest to compete on a level playing field with the national press in terms of digital distribution, in a way that it never could have done before.

Reza Pankhurst article in The Beaver

Manchester through the time machine

University of Manchester Student Union is another example with a very different online news operation for the union itself and 'student news'. The SU site had a fresh bright and breezy look to their site, with a pleasingly retro 80's cassette deck hogging the masthead.

UMSU homepage

Student Direct is the newspaper for Manchester students. Amongst the sections is a specialist area from media & technology, including website and games reviews. Opinion pieces, especially around the divisive issue of Manchester getting a "Men's Society" generate pretty active comment threads.

Manchester Student Direct homepage

One of the nicest features was a site map, that linked back to previous incarnations of the site, so it was possible to trace the development of the web design over the years.

Archived Student Direct sites from Manchester


In the next part of this series I'll be looking at features in online student newspapers from Preston, Leicester, Salford and Staffordshire.


Interesting to see the screenshot of The Mancunion - I'm a student at Manchester University, and Student Direct used to have a fantastic website. Shame to see that it's now descended into a very boring Wordpress installation with a minimal amount of content. I don't suppose you have any ideas what happened there?

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