Monday, 21 September 2020

Life as a Student Journalist

Adam shares his experience of and thoughts on the abuse that student journalists are subject to, and the impact of such hostility on their wellbeing and the future of journalism.
Adam Jones

Right, let’s have a chat about young journalists and my concerns surrounding their mental wellbeing.
Journalism is a tough profession – something I have learnt during my time at university. It’s certainly not one for the fainthearted – but it can be immensely rewarding if you play your cards right - and it’s a chance for you to serve the public who often rely on us to inform and educate.

However, this chance to serve citizens does come with close public scrutiny, as it should do because us journalists have a considerable amount of power. Like politicians, our words should always be held to account and this can help to prevent an ever-present epidemic of misinformation and disinformation. 
This is probably the understatement of the year but we, the UK media, are currently very unpopular as a whole. There are many great journalists out there – but the behaviour of a select few is ruining it for the many. I totally understand why we aren’t popular at times because of that.

Despite this, I do draw the line at abuse and personal attacks. At a time where trust in the media is so low, the relationship between journalists and the public is not exactly sky-high. The world of political writing has become especially volatile, with tribal Twitter politics, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and uncertainty of Scotland’s place in the UK.

Regardless of political views and other opinions in general, debate should always be civilised and respectful. Behind every social media account is a human being, just like you and me. Unfortunately, I have seen abuse take its toll on someone who writes for a political blog – and it’s really not nice. This was a new writer as well - and she was horrified at trolls who decided to target her, to the point where she asked for the promotion of her article to be taken down. Although she was brave on the outside, only she would know how deeply it hurt her on the inside. Not all of us are out there to ruin people’s lives, we want to serve the general public.

Twitter is the worst culprit for this type of online abuse in my opinion. Inadvertently, it has created tribal politics, where you either must be on one side or another. There’s no middle ground – and this has also created a hostile atmosphere towards some journalists.

You might think this is an even worse case because she was a new writer - and that’s true to an extent. I have been writing for a few years now and have experienced this type of hostility before – albeit quite rarely. Unfortunately, this has just become part and parcel of being in this industry. However, why should normalise this vitriol? It can be quite off-putting to carry on writing – but until we can find a solution and increase trust in our media, there is not much else we can really do! You always dread receiving abuse, not just about your article but also personal attacks, but it’s great to see most people out there who are on social media for all the right reasons.

A lot of experienced journalists are probably completely unaffected by vicious comments - but there must be a proportion of those who are, bit by bit, being worn down by it. The fact is you never know what’s happening in someone’s life behind closed doors. That’s the thing about mental health – you often can’t see mental scars and how people feel.

If we want to reduce the trust-deficit in the media, we need student journalists coming through the ranks with a strong moral compass to change the game. Good journalism is needed more than ever – sufficient funding and ethical journalists are the two components that can make this happen. We also need to ensure we do not put people off from becoming a journalist. Hostility on social media is enough to discourage anyone from pursuing this type of career – something needs to be done.

Social media platforms need to do more in general to combat abuse. They have sat by for way too long and have let this major issue just fester. Faceless accounts are often the ones spewing this bile and hatred – one of the things these platforms need to do more to tackle.

However, it’s not just social media platforms that have to take action.

Media institutions need to act with integrity and instil the right organisational culture if they are to protect their employees from abuse. Although I know this might be hard with the coronavirus pandemic decimating the publishing industry, it has to be high up on the list of their priorities.

Behind every journalist’s account is a person – hold them to account and call people out when they have behaved unethically through their content or conduct – but we cannot and must not actively encourage pile-ons or abuse to be thrown. Be that bigger person. From there, we can make the world a kinder place.
The UK media has a job to do in increasing trust – but the public need to act collectively to ensure we value everyone’s mental wellbeing, including those in the media who we do not necessarily agree with.

Visit Student Minds website for more resources on looking after yourself while facing different challenges of student life. 

Hello! My name is Adam. I study Journalism and Media Production (BA Hons) at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. Being a keen blogger and having several experiences during my academic studies, I hope that I can help people along the way whilst enjoying writing for you.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

#FresherPressure: Five Tips for Settling into University Life

Michael, the editor of the Student Minds Blog, shares some tips and tricks for navigating #FresherPressure. 

- Michael Priestley

Starting university can be fun and exciting! But it can also feel challenging, particularly whilst you settle in and find your feet. I started university after spending two years in full time work and I found the initial transition pretty disorientating, intimidating and overwhelming. I felt like I didn’t belong, and this made me feel anxious around others and rather negative about my own social and academic capabilities. 6 years later, I am still at the same university studying a PhD on student mental health and well-being, and feeling much happier and more confident. Here, I give my 5 tips for managing when you start university.

1.      Find Your University Support
You might not ever need it, but it can always be helpful to have an idea from the start of where to go for support if you feel like you are struggling. Find out what student welfare services and general pastoral care your university provides, what they do and how to access them. It helped me to speak to a member of staff early on – after that, they looked out for me during the first few weeks and helped me to navigate some really useful support!

2.      Ask for Help if You Need It 
Speak up if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. I found that people were really supportive and accommodating once they knew that I was struggling, but with so many other students, they might not realise something is wrong unless you tell them. Equally, don’t be afraid to ask anything about student life more generally. I thought that if I asked questions about the academic or social stuff, people would think I was stupid, and it would just affirm my feelings that I didn’t fit in or belong. But it becomes harder to ask the longer time goes on. The opening few weeks are a really good time to explore how everything works and ask questions.

3.      Get into a Healthy Routine
You might find when you get to University that you have less compulsory contact hours than you are used to. For some, this can make it hard to know when the work starts, whilst, for others, it can be hard to know when the work stops. Either way, it will be helpful to get into a healthy routine early on to try and help balance your time and look after yourself. I found that it helped to treat my university work like a job with set times and spaces; I chose to only work at the university library so that I could keep my room as a time and space to chill out and relax. 

4.      Get Organised
Because I felt anxious and overwhelmed, getting organised really helped me. Use a diary, record academic deadlines and other commitments, file your work and regularly check and sort your university emails to make sure that you are on track and don’t miss anything. This will likely save you some stress and last-minute panics!

5.      Relationships Matter
Having a good support network of friends will help you to get the most out of your university experience. Although building new friendships takes time and effort, it really is worth it. If you find it hard meeting new people, you won’t be alone – there will be other people that will feel the same and really appreciate a smile and a chat. Or you could try to find ways of meeting people with similar interests by joining societies or volunteering.

Everybody’s university journey is unique, and we all go to university with different hopes, fears and expectations. Try to take things at your own pace, based on the advice that feels right for you. 

For more support, see Student Space or Transition into University.

I'm Michael and I’m the editor of the Student Minds Blog. I am a PhD student at Durham University studying student mental health and well-being. I write for Student Minds to share my own experiences of mental health difficulties and to advocate for change to improve the state of student mental health.