Too often student media organisations in the UK all but shut down over the summer. Some websites even remain untouched for months, with no updates to be seen. While student journalists need to make their mark on the 'real' world, such publications give them a chance to leave a legacy. Instead of focussing entirely on internships (and I'm not saying don't do them!), student editors should also think about how best to serve their readers.The wonderful thing about the summer break is that it gives editors the chance to experiment, to see what works and what doesn't, as well as to try and stand outSiraj Datoo
The wonderful thing about the summer break is that it gives editors the chance to experiment, to see what works and what doesn't, as well as to try and stand out. Take this summer, for example. Can any student publication forgive itself for not writing about the Olympics? Writing a live blog during the opening ceremony, interviewing Olympians who are former alumni, and Storifying opinions from around the web about Team GB's first gold medal – these are basic ideas so why is it still so rare?
At The Student Journals (TSJ), we have a different challenge. We don't represent students at one specific university but aim to give a platform to students across the country (and the globe). So what should we do over the summer – and how are we covering the Olympics? We thought about what our readers would want and, in May we appointed an Olympics editor to lead our strategy. Indeed, I think we were one of the few, if not the only student media organisation to do this.
So now, though we're low on capacity with members of the team spending time abroad, we're covering the Olympics the best way we can – through profiling students in Team GB and writing about the events our readers want to know about.
Summer should not be seen as a quiet rest period for student journalists. They should be seen as an valuable chance; look for a story and grab it.Summer should not be seen as a quiet rest period for student journalists. They should be seen as an valuable chance; look for a story and grab itSiraj Datoo
Last year we saw riots across the country – why did so few student publications cover them? Those that didn't missed a fantastic chance to show off their skills, and the ones that did saw the number of people visiting their site skyrocket. An MA journalism student who founded a hyperlocal ran a live blog and claimed to have seen more than one million page views in a single day. Birmingham's Redbrick say that their live blog brought in more than 100,000 visitors within a few hours of launching it. The coverage at TSJ – mainly comment-based – quickly found its way around blogs and forums.
In fact, I'll admit that we missed a beat with our coverage. Although the quality of our content was high, we did not have enough user-interactivity. To give us some credit, we had launched less than a year earlier and our team consisted of four members.
The beautiful thing about student media though is that if you do make a mistake, you can pick yourself up pretty easily and move on, learning and taking the experience with you.
In our editorial meetings, we always ask ourselves what can we do differently and what we can learn from what we've done wrong. A year following the riots, our team has grown to 15; making mistakes has allowed us to learn more about our readers.
But don't get me wrong; I don't claim to be any sort of expert. My main aim through this article is to dare student journalists to try and do something different. Indeed, if ever you're going to try something new in journalism, now is the time to make the mistakes.
TSJ is organising a conference for wannabe-journalists in October this year. Learn more about it here.
Siraj Datoo studies French with International Studies at the University of Warwick and is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Student Journals, the Runner Up Website of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards 2011. Last year he was named Young Journalist of the Year at the Muslim Writers Awards and placed at 23 in the Total Politics Blog Awards best media bloggers category.
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