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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion At Victoria University College, Wellington, N. Z. Vol. 24, No. 4. 1961

A Word about Student Newspaper Editing

page 12

A Word about Student Newspaper Editing

There are various opinions as to the task of student newspapers, and there are, in fact, various tasks. Much depends on the nature of the editing body, its size, and its financial status. Publishers are in most of the cases: student representative bodies at the institutions of higher learning, regional student groups, groups of students having a common field of study, religious and political organisations, and other organisations devoted to certain ideals (e.g. the organisation of total abstainers).

Two Ways Editors Can Serve

The editor can serve the purpose of the newspaper in two ways: 1. by direct support in reporting on student activities, and 2. by affording supplementary educational material in writing about all kinds of interesting and important problems. The aim of news reporting is to stimulate members of the student body to work actively in the organisation. In a very small group this could be accomplished with a bulletin board and a telephone; in a larger one, circulars must be sent out. The typical "news"-papers—including student newspapers—probably evolved from the circular. The number of readers need not be large to make the printing and dispatching of a newspaper more economical than informing by letter.

Blank Spaces Have To Be filled

Because the newspaper always has a certain standard size, and because blank spaces are not permissible, a few jokes soon creep in as fillers. Some reader or other will want to criticise something now and then, and if the criticism is of general interest, it is printed; thus was born the "Letters to the Editor" column. Soon it becomes apparent, that the readers are especially interested in the jokes and the criticism, and so the editor engages a critic or humourist permanently; thus was born the chitchat column. The next editor can then no longer recognise the circular character of the newspaper. He thinks he must print more and more of the material appearing in the daily papers, and sometime or other an editorial will be written, too. Many of the papers which first appeared purely as news periodicals demonstrate this tendency. All were originally nothing more than news publications, in which today the "other material takes up more room than the news. Thus, the activity referred to above as the affording of supplementary educational material became possible. Here, the original purpose, to report on student events, has been transformed to a self-appointed task of the newspaper.


However, the compiling of articles may not be regarded as a matter of mere chance; it might just be that a report on Algeria, a political chat, and an art review did not simply appear by accident. It is plausible that a part of the educational tasks, for which the student bodies as official organisations exist as well as the higher institutions, consist in enlivening the interest of its members for world affairs, human relations, and cultural life. And it may be assumed that the student body tries to fulfill this purpose through its newspapers.


Part of this reporting can be counted as news dealing with student affairs. When the newspaper attracts people to the performances of the student theatre group, in praising its excellent production, when it tries to obtain participants for the annual assembly of the student film club by sharply criticising the present directors, this all fits in to a publication's news programme. But as soon as—for example—in the case of the student theatre group, the reporter gives more consideration to the majority in the audience than to the minority on the stage (for after all, the purpose is to attract spectators), why should he limit himself to the student theatre? After all, the other theatres want the students to come to their productions, also. And if one has received permission to report on the hunger problem in refugee camps, as soon as the students have resolved to participate in "World Refugee Year" collection drives, then why not report on it earlier? Must the newspaper wait for the founding of the committee? Shouldn't the paper rather propose the committee's founding? Shouldn't it also report on the great problems in the world—e.g., the hunger problem in the Congo—even if it doesn't contemplate organising a collection drive?

Where To Begin?

These problems confront the editors with difficult questions of programming. What must one include in the newspaper? What must be sought in particular? Where must one begin the cutting, if much must be left out and many important details and subjects must be disregarded?

An essential point of view to be considered in cutting is the sharing of the burden with the other newspapers. Why should the student newspaper write about things which are given better treatment in the daily newspapers and other student newspapers? Often a "students as such" clause is used as a yardstick, thus limiting the editor to strictly student matters. However, the interpretation of this clause in newspaper publishing is just as difficult as it is in international student politics. Is the student in the audience of the student theatre production a "student as such?" If he is, does he cease to be when he goes to a civic theatre? Does the hunger problem become a student matter when an organisation resolves to put on a collection drive for starving Congolese? Or would the money have to be reserved for Congolese students only?

I have tried to show above that narrowing the material reported on is not even purposeful. This point of view is supported by the old, but not necessarily outmoded axiom that one third of the students do not read a single daily newspaper regularly. Besides, it must be considered that some people reading their particular paper delivered at their home even read some things which they would skip over in another paper, sometimes even a book review. In regard to the student body's instructive duty, this can be looked upon as a good thing—providing the review is good.

One must not forget, on the other hand, that the daily newspapers by no means ignore the material affecting the students. In many cases they distribute the student news much better than the student newspapers themselves. A good example for this is student sports. The Finnish daily newspapers are interested in all kinds of sports. And because the students participate in, say, track and field mainly in the fall, when the general sport season is over, the daily newspapers are very thankful for the student sport news and give it big headlines. This does not at all mean that the student newspapers should not report on sports. Of course one should as far as possible and at times some student newspapers chime in on a discussion on sports being held elsewhere.

The relations between the editor and publisher form a special group of problems, as do the relations between the editors and other groups interested in the newspaper's "line." Quarrels on such questions can be found in the history of many a student newspaper.

The international student press conferences have again and again decreed the independence of the student press from any control by the authorities, religious groups, political parties, and institutions. It is easy to determine that not all student newspapers work under such favourable conditions, but that there are controls, sometimes merely formal, sometimes factual as well. Although it is difficult to stand up to these controls, the papers enjoy, in practice, a considerable freedom.

In principle, freedom never means independence of the editors from the publisher, who is naturally invested with all the power. But because each separate decision stems more from routine than from the exercise of power, it has become evident everywhere that the publisher exercises his power in appointing the editor. After that, the editor makes all decisions on his own, normally in agreement with the publisher, so that attention is first drawn to the relationship of editor and publisher when differences of opinion occur.


Usually a newspaper enlivens interest for general affairs with biting criticism, by urging discussion, etc. It could be said that the student newspapers should employ similar means to increase student activity. It can be assumed that this would cause relations between editor and publisher to be much more strained than is generally the case today. I have been informed that the editors of Swedish student newspapers are free to express, 011 student politics, an opinion which is not the publisher's, but would not print it in an editorial. As far as I know, there are no such examples to be found in the Finnish student press.

The "Nyytiset case" of last fall is interesting in this light. Before the student elections at the Helsinki Institute of Technology, a well-prepared opposition party, to which the editors of "Nyytiset" belonged, came out in the open. As is generally known, the opposition gained a clear victory; how much credit "Nyytiset" deserves for this and whether it even worked for the opposition intentionally, i is indeed difficult to say. But I don't mean to say that they should not have been allowed to I do so. Indeed, the editor must A think of the well-being of the publisher but his own opinion of it may be different. And he can air his opinion while risking his dismissal, just as the student representative body runs a risk at a higher level when it appoints the editors. To be sure, one can place an editing board over the head of the editor, which can be very useful, if its members are capable of giving good advice; but if its rights include preliminary control, the appointment of such a board means in practice the dismissal of the editor. In the Nyytiset case there was no dismissal, and I don't think the thought even occurred to anyone. Therefore, if someone says that Nyytiset supported the opposition, that is merely the verification of an occurrence which took place within a perfectly legitimate frame, and not criticism. That a newspaper supports an opposition group, is very typical among the regional group newspapers at the University of Helsinki, for example. However, an opposition party is seldom so well organised as the one last fall at the Institute of Technology. In my opinion, the differences of opinion stem very often from the fact that editors are often chosen whose interests diverge essentially from these of the students, who are active elsewhere in the student body; this also explains why the "style of the cultural paper" is so popular in various newspapers.

Neglected Articles

Whatever programme a newspaper may have, it is almost always so extensive that it can only be incompletely realised. Much important mater must be left out, to save space or time—and because of negligence. For even if the lack of space is a hindrance, many articles are printed only because they have been written: to try to fully meet the demand for consistency is too much for the editor's nerves. (Perhaps there are newspapers whose sole editing principle is to publish all the material at hand.) And let us be honest and admit that many good articles which fit in perfectly with the programme of the newspaper are written without the impetus of the editor.

In any case: if the reader is annoyed primarily by what is printed in the newspaper, the editor is generally annoyed by what is not printed in it. For example, if Pertti Etelapaa (the editor of the Turku Student Newspaper, in which this article was published. The Ed.) shortens this article, whose length defies all good rules of editing, then you will be annoyed, dear reader, by what he didn't cut, and I will be annoyed by what he did cut.

Arvo Salo,


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