student.union@newcastle.ac.uk

Student Media Officer: End of Term Report (Dec 2021)

View my report below.

What have I done this term?

Most of the activities of the past three months have been affected and determined by one key issue – the lack of PC access for The Courier and NUTV. These branches of Student Media have been lacking physical PCs for many months now, though brand new machines are currently having their software loaded by NUIT, so this is set to change very shortly. While waiting, we have been relying on logging into the University’s Virtual Desktop service to access the filesystem and specialist software required to produce media content. This service remained in operation to produce and send off the Welcome Issue (a 32-page copy of the paper organised, formatted and edited by just five people) but was inaccessible for approximately six weeks following the publication of the Welcome Issue on 27th September.

Recruitment

Nevertheless, the first semester began with bringing on board a new cohort of Student Media sub-editors, senior editors and exec members. The initial session for The Courier’s 2021/22 editorial team provided a strong foundation for the year, with key info on processes, schedules and Media law training giving everyone the chance to ask questions and get to know their teammates. with forty-five members (and counting). This divides up into six senior editors, thirty-eight sub-editors and one social media manager. After creating and sorting the responses from an application form, fifty-three interviews were conducted for the various roles, with priority given to sorting the senior roles first in order to gain and appreciate the valuable insight they hold regarding sub-editor applicants. While there were fewer applications for roles than in previous years (no doubt due to the decreased visibility of the paper over the past eighteen months), the quality of the team is at a high standard and further recruitment will take place throughout the year.

Built relationships with every Student Media team to ensure a welcoming and collaborative environment. Worked with Haris, the Activities Officer, to make sure that student media is fully represented collectively at the freshers’ fair, with a table for each branch, all next to one another to best demonstrate what’s on offer to students

Coordinated section handover documents with the assistance of current senior editors and former sub-editors for supplementary advice for new team members.

Sat on an interview panel with Director of Comms to recruit a NUSU Comms Assistant.

WordPress training

While software training was arranged for the week beginning 27th September across multiple sessions, these had to be postponed, rearranged and scaled back to work within the new Virtual Desktop-less constraints. These new sessions simply covered WordPress training, which can be accessed through a web browser and login. This ensured that articles could be handed out by sub-editors, written by writers, and published on the website so that we still offered opportunities to students in lieu of printed papers. Since this, we have had a consistent output of online content.

Student Media Afternoons

At a similar time, NSR were filling out their show timetable to accommodate the students who had come forward with ideas since freshers week. NUTV were also looking as to how they could best rebuild their production output with only three exec members - none of whom fill a marketing/social media role – and get students involved in creating content. Launching Student Media Afternoons as a replacement of The Courier’s weekly ‘writers’ meeting’ format was much-needed, then. This has provided a venue for Courier articles to get handed out as before, but also a vital opportunity for people to engage with NSR and NUTV on a more flexible basis (as opposed to a fixed slot on a show schedule or an exec position) to build up their membership numbers and also build multimedia experience in our students. Not only have SMAs been a central hub for students to see what they can get involved in, but the second half of sessions have also been a chance for those in attendance to learn from experienced guest speakers. Formerly, at The Courier writers’ meetings, attendance would quickly diminish throughout the year as students realised they could easily sign up to write when article lists when online later in the day. The incentive of a guest speaker at SMAs is an additional motivation for students to attend, and ensures that our community of volunteers build strong rapports with their peers. This is has been reflected in the consistently strong attendance throughout the semester, aside from a reading week dip, with attendance in the range of 50-100 students. So far, we have had four guest speakers – freelance writer Jordan Oloman, YouTube personality Max Fosh, radio host Emil Franchi and PR director Maria Barham. This set of guest speakers represent a range of media disciplines, offering varied advice to our students, and lays the groundwork for an ever-broadening range of insights into career specialisms for semester two. For these semester two talks, preliminary discussions are underway with people who have worked for the BBC, The Guardian and Sky, as well as freelance designers and illustrators, and also a Student Media historian…

A knock-on effect of SMAs is that the Careers Service have asked Student Media to support and supplement Creative Careers, their own annual set of talks from guest speakers within the media industry. Taking place in March (run by the Careers Service), the lead-up to this will give us access to several interview opportunities for Courier contributors, and hosting opportunities for NSR within the event itself. I will be arranging interviews as soon as the Careers department locks in their attendees, but The Courier is also planning and running one of the event’s workshop sessions. This will be a writing workshop, running through what makes a good Courier article, and also how to go about submitting it to our website.

Collaborative opportunities

Our website also offers a newsletter for our readers that highlights our best and most relevant content for students. I have been working with the Deputy Editor to relaunch The Courier newsletter. In the same spirit as the SMAs, this also celebrates the production opportunities of NUTV and NSR. We have had several student media collaboration opportunities over the last few months, whether to cover events in the town centre, or to cover Fight Night, which has now moved from NUSU Venue to Gateshead. Nevertheless, it remains a valuable multimedia experience for our volunteers, and has proven to be a shot of adrenaline for NUTV, with many first-time contributors now seeking further involvement with the branch. Additionally, the Fight Night company itself remains impressed with our output – we are currently in discussions regarding a donation from them to NUSU to further support our student media productions.

Conferences

Regarding media conferences, I attended the National Student Television Association (NaSTA) conference in Salford along with NUTV exec, where they were awarded ‘Highly Commended’ for ‘Best Sports Coverage’ – an incredible achievement for what was undeniably the underdog station. On my visit to NaSTA 2021, I was stunned at the range of facilities that other student TV stations have access to, both on behalf of their unis and their unions. This has been a powerful motivator, and I have begun pushing the university for access to their suite of multimedia facilities. Additionally, I have also made plans to establish a dedicated studio space for NUTV within NUSU – something I shall be discussing with Media Executive Committee tomorrow.

It was announced at the Student Radio Association (SRA) Awards that NUSU/NSR won the bid to host the SRA Conference from Tuesday 19th to Thursday 21st April. This is a great event for our students to be involved in - NSR are thrilled to be organising it and are on board for everyone to have a helping hand in the event’s success.

Wellbeing and EDI

That said, any team goes through challenges and difficult periods, and a substantial portion of my time has been spent in mitigating and resolving such incidents. After missing eighteen months of formative experiences, the social challenges for students cannot be understated. These issues have crept into almost every aspect of student media operation, and focussing on wellbeing has been key to ensure that problems don’t fester and become something even more unpleasant. It’s been a particularly intense first semester, and many are facing the threat of burnout.

While aiming to make Student Media more holistic from the perspective of incorporating many media disciplines this year, I am also hoping to ensure that it is a welcoming and inclusive environment. As part of the Welfare Officer's Black History Matters event, we hosted a Decolonising Student Media forum to ensure that we are informed of the best route to take in ensuring inclusivity. The discussions from this event prompted a lot of reflection on my part long after the forum had ended, and has resulted in me urging Student Media to have a renewed focus on the importance of recognising and valuing ‘lived experience’ over a label. There is a careful balance to strike in ensuring that the coverage of sensitive issues is appropriate, but not by making criteria for this too specific to the extent that it singles out marginalised voices. Instead, we need to provide students with a space to come forward with what they want to say. On a similar note to this, I am also phasing out the word ‘pitch’ across Student Media when referring to article suggestions from writers. This word suggests that someone’s work or idea is as likely to be rejected as it would be if they pitched it to a national publication. This is not the case, and we need to make sure contributors know that.

Software training for print

Writing for The Courier continued to be online-only following the Welcome Issue of The Courier in September up until mid-November, when articles were confirmed to be going back into print. This followed a week of training sessions covering Virtual Desktop (which has been made more complicated to use since we’ve regained access), InDesign and Photoshop in three-hour sessions per group. These sessions were long, but proved to be extremely beneficial in helping sub-editors to hit the ground running with an excellent first issue. Three more successful issues followed this to round off the term.

Expanding Student Media

Have been planning ‘Creative/Design Committee’ with Media Exec as a potential fourth branch of Student Media - to liaise with graphic design volunteers to produce content for across Student Media (branding, artwork for socials, newspaper etc.) Also worked with all social media managers of each branch to plan a strategy to increase the frequency and efficiency of posts.

Lastly, I submitted a motion for the final Student Council of 2021 to change the name of the role ‘Editor of The Courier’ to ‘Student Media Officer’ to better reflect the defined responsibilities of the role. The job title of 'Editor of The Courier' did not place sufficient focus on the non-Courier aspects of the role, leading to many students running and voting in the Student Elections neglecting these aspects within their manifestos and campaigns. This skewed focus diminishes support for NSR and NUTV, fracturing the Student Media community and collaboration opportunities. In a year where so many of my key activities are to support every branch, this change is a way to ensure that work continues in the future.

What has been your biggest achievement?

Student Media Afternoons as a replacement of The Courier’s weekly ‘writers’ meeting’ format. This has provided a venue for Courier articles to get handed out as before, but also a vital opportunity for people to engage with NSR and NUTV on a more flexible basis (as opposed to a fixed slot on a show schedule or an exec position) to build up their membership numbers and also build multimedia experience in our students. Not only have SMAs been a central hub for students to see what they can get involved in, but the second half of sessions have also been a chance for those in attendance to learn from experienced guest speakers. Formerly, at The Courier writers’ meetings, attendance would quickly diminish throughout the year as students realised they could easily sign up to write when article lists when online later in the day. The incentive of a guest speaker at SMAs is an additional motivation for students to attend, and ensures that our community of volunteers build strong rapports with their peers. This has been reflected in the consistently strong attendance throughout the semester, aside from a reading week dip, with attendance in the range of 50-100 students. 

What could you have improved on?

After missing eighteen months of formative experiences, the social challenges for students cannot be understated. These issues have crept into almost every aspect of student media operation, and focussing on wellbeing has been key to ensure that problems don’t fester and become something even more unpleasant. It’s been a particularly intense first semester, and many are facing the threat of burnout. Perhaps even more of my time should have been dedicated to this issue, but I wonder how much that would have impacted my ability to fulfil the other responsibilities of my job.

What do you plan to do next term?

  • Launch and complete 2022 recruitment to fill all spaces on the team

  • Continue producing a weekly print paper until the holidays, and from the beginning of semester two

  • Prepare for semester two

    • Arrange guest speakers for Student Media Afternoons

    • Create flyers and pull-up banners to advertise Student Media

    • Contact lecturers and schools to speak about Student Media on week two of semester two

    • Create new colour palettes for The Courier’s sections

    • Iterate on Courier style guide and guidance documents

  • Host refresher events

    • Media law and software training for new sub-editors

    • Advanced Photoshop and InDesign for current sub-editors

    • Student Media Refreshers stall at the fair

  • Create Student Media merch for volunteers

  • Continue hosting Student Media Afternoons

  • Continually manage online content across all sections

  • Continued discussion with NSR and NUTV on collaborative projects

  • Work on SRA conference

  • Work on office and studio space for NUTV/ Student Media

  • Establish ‘Creative Committee’ as a fourth branch of Student Media

  • Plan Student Elections coverage