Hyperlocal blogs are a great way for student journalists to get some experience of reporting, community management and online publishing. But what do their potential readers think of student-run hyperlocal blogs? Members of a community in Sheffield recently gave student bloggers a very hard time when they attempted to engage with their potential readership.
The problem seems to stem from the fact that there are two universities in Sheffield, plus a very good further education college, and therefore a lot of students working on community-based projects. Not only do you have journalism students working on community-based projects, you have film makers, geography students, law students and nursing students. At any one time there must be hundreds of students making contact with community groups and local online forums.
Now, there are of course some fabulous examples of students who have done fantastic things for a community as part of their course or with a student society. There are law students who have helped to challenge wrongful convictions as part of the Innocence Network and there are many other fantastic examples of where student projects have been a force for good.
But journalism tutors need to be mindful that while hyperlocal blogging can help students learn some valuable lessons about digital journalism, there is often a sense of weariness in university towns from residents who are regularly asked for help from students. Perhaps some people also feel let down after successful projects, such as hyperlocal blogs, are shut down after those involved move to take up work elsewhere after university.
I suppose part of the challenge for student journalists is winning over reluctant communities. But journalism tutors must consider whether their project briefs are actually exacerbating the tensions that are displayed in this thread. Perhaps one approach would be to ask students to target a “hard-to-reach” cultural or interest group, rather than the student-weary neighbourhood right next to the university.
Another thing that journalism tutors must educate journalists about is sustainability – making sure a publication continues after students go onto more exciting things. A great example of this is Blog Preston. Started by Ed Walker, who has gone on to a fantastic career in journalism, in 2009, it was then edited by Andy Halls and Joseph Stashko after Ed left Preston. Hopefully a new editor is in the wings to take over after Joseph graduates from the University of Central Lancashire.
As well as learning, students and their tutors need to consider legacy. Universities provide many benefits to cities, but sometimes at a social cost to surrounding neighbourhoods. Perhaps by leaving a positive, sustainable legacy when they leave universities students can help overcome some of this disappointing resentment towards them.