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Welcome to the Jungle

Matt Nippert



There are two broad categories of beast in the media menagerie. One is fed on mass markets for a mass audience, and has grown fat, glossy, dependable and docile. The other survives on small scraps, leading an edgy, scrawny and wild life.
In essence, this is the difference between the bought rag from at the corner dairy and the free stroppy paper you hold in your hands: mainstream versus student media. This column hopes to explore this exotic world, focussing on the highs and lows of university publications, showing highlights as well as areas for improvement.
Of course, in the wild – where there is no level playing field – variations in size, behaviour and species are considerable. Resourcing, staffing, circulation and paper quality vary enormously up and down the country.
The difference between viewing student media and visiting the zoo is that, in the university environment, you are positively encouraged to feed the animals – most content in student media is written by volunteers. There are some paid positions, but at levels below what any mainstream publication would consider a skeleton staff.
Staffing ranges from a single full-time publications editor in Canta (Canterbury) and the smaller campuses, to Critic (Otago), who have a full-time editor, and five further staff who together are paid for 95 hours work per week.
University size is obviously a significant factor in resourcing. A larger publication will be able to generate more advertising revenue, which in turn can be fed into paper quality and staffing. A larger campus will also have a wealthier students’ association to fund its publications.
Thus, Critic and Salient have the fattest magazines in the country (56 and 64 page weeklies respectively). Interestingly enough Craccum (Auckland), isn’t able to exploit having the largest circulation in the country (12,000 versus Salient’s 6,000). This is chiefly due to Auckland University having a voluntary (and thus poorer) students’ association. The shortfall is made up with reduced staffing levels (no paid staff outside two co-editors) and advertising revenue.
As an example in the first issues around the country, the proportion of publications devoted to advertising: Salient 11%, Critic 21%, Canta 22%, and Craccum a whopping 44%.
Of course the independence of student media should not be overplayed. Student editors are not free to print anything they want. If in an ideal world the media act as a fourth estate, being a check on the abuse of power, then student media should play a similar role with their governing bodies – students’ associations.
This ideal independence, and the ability to critique, is by no means assured however, especially in light of funding issues. Critic and Salient have enshrined editorial independence in the form of a charter. As Critic editor Hamish MacKenzie put it, “the only thing that they hold over us is that they own us.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Canta cannot publish anything about their student executive without consent from the president. Press freedom anyone?
A fortnight of student media:
Critic – well rounded, informative and funny. A difficult balancing act achieved thus far.
Craccum – for printing the anonymous, vindictive and misleading ‘Former [AUSA] President Speaks Out’ piece:
“No marches 2000-1, no fee increases. Alternatively, NZUSA use $17,000 of your money to march all over the place and the fees are still going up. The facts speak for themselves.”
Anonymous ex-Prez patently ignores fee freeze legislation in place over 2000-1 – arguably a product of NZUSA lobbying – that meant universities couldn’t raise fees or the hackles of student protesters.