Student newsroom Student newsroom. Photo: Patrick Neil on Wikimedia. Some rights reserved
Social media is a breeding ground for a backlash, as we all know.

But a sweep of my Facebook newsfeed pulled up a particularly passionate patch of debate in media circles recently.

The story goes like this. A journalist for a national newspaper posted a link to a news story on Facebook and described it as "my story". Straightforward enough you would think.

But then a comment was posted by a student journalist, claiming that the story had been pinched from a student newspaper.

Plagiarism was my first thought, but the story hadn't just been copied wholesale.

After spotting the story's potential on the student website, the journalist had double checked the facts, obtained his own quotes and re-written the story to fit the style guide of his own newspaper.

Despite the changes that had been made to the original article, the student journalist claimed that the piece should have been credited to its initial source. But is this a realistic expectation? I asked several working journalists, unconnected to the piece, to pass comment.

Freelancer and former news editor for Look Local newspaper in Sheffield, Phillip Dolby doesn't think so. "In light of present market conditions, trainee journalists would do well to guard against any false sense of entitlement and not expect papers to pay out huge wads of cash for their initial leg work - especially if stories have been rewritten or include new information.

"The reality is, news is an eco-system. Bigger papers up the food chain feed off those further down it - that's just the nature of the industry. The BBC is known to get a significant proportion of its news material from local and regional print media, anyway. Should student journalists and others be heckling broadcasters for payment, too?"

Former sport editor of Redbrick newspaper at Birmingham University, Ben Whitelaw thinks it is also a flattering practice. He said: "I think student media is underused by the national media. Student journalists have no reason to resent big media, they should just be happy that their story is picked up."

So for the paid journalist student media is like any other news gathering source. If the original source is treated with courtesy then good old fashioned integrity cannot be compromised.

Multimedia journalist and part-time lecturer at Kingston University, Adam Westbrook agrees: “If students are finding their work 'poached' by the mainstream media, they face a similar dilemma to many photographers who find images from their Flickr pages splashed over newspapers without permission. I do find that behaviour particularly deplorable - it isn't hard for picture editors to email the owner of the image and ask for permission, and I think in some instances, we should pursue those claims, if anything, in the name of defending copyright."

Issues of copyright and plagiarism aside, it is the feeling of disappointment for student and trainee journalists - for whom winning professional recognition and financial reward is difficult - that still lingers. Now student journalists are learning to sharpen their entrepreneurial focus to achieve both industry recognition and financial reward. 

Current editor of the Forge Press newspaper at the University of Sheffield, Helen Lawson has learnt that the talent of her team must extend to spotting a story’s potential before anyone else does.

She said: “We decided to approach an agency with a story when we heard about a University department getting students to wear 'blackface' to enact the Dutch Christmas tradition of Sinterklaas. As a team, we wanted to get in there first with selling the story so that the original writer would receive some payment directly for their efforts.

"I think that it's important for us as a team and as (hopefully) future paid journalists to be aware of how a story could be reworked for different audiences. We have 16 hours between going to print and the paper arriving for distribution, and our priority is to see our writers recognised for their hard work."

Adam Westbrook agrees: "It's possible for students to have a healthy - and profitable - relationship with the national media, if they manage it right. Just a few weeks ago, one of our students sold footage of the Milbank Tower protests to a national broadcaster for £800."

But students should have a sense of perspective, Westbrook says: "From a students' point of view, getting your name in a national newspaper shouldn't be the ultimate aim. If you're only pursuing stories you think will tickle the fancy of an editor at the Mail, then you're not doing your job as a trainee/student reporter. There are near countless opportunities and platforms online to get your stories read - and if you do that right, you'll find the nationals come to you."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).