When I was at school, we had a school song that we sang on Speech Day and other such notable occasions. It began “in our small world upon the hill, we live, we live together”. It wasn’t actually much of a hill, and we didn’t live there either, but we were a small and close-knit little community and it was fairly easy to forget that there was a world outside the school grounds.
It seems sometimes that in leaving school and coming to University I’ve merely exchanged one small world upon a hill for another. Except that we have a fairly sizeable hill, as anyone who has walked up it will testify, and we do live here. We are far more self-contained than I ever was at school; it would be possible to live here and go for days, weeks even, without ever leaving campus.
Of course most people don’t do this; they venture into town to visit the Sugarhouse and the Carleton at the very least. And a significant proportion of undergraduates (and a considerably more significant proportion of postgraduates) choose to live off campus. Though not as many as in previous years. I’m in my seventh year at Lancaster now and as a first-year I was told that, unless there were truly exceptional circumstances, second-year students would not be allowed on-campus accommodation. Somewhere between graduating and returning for a PhD this has changed to the extent that most undergraduates I know have never lived off campus.
Because I’ve been on SCAN’s editorial team for two years now, and because I’ve just been elected Bailrigg FM’s Head of News, I see everything through a haze of student media, my first impulse was to ask myself what’s our role to play in all this?
It’s often been debated whether SCAN should focus on national or campus-based news. For every person who’s told me that SCAN has too much emphasis on national politics there’s another who says it shouldn’t be looking beyond the bubble of Lancaster University. Personally, I don’t think there’s much harm in focusing on campus news. We’re here to report on and reflect the interests of Lancaster students. And of course there’s the practical element; we simply can’t compete with the national press.
But does this mean that we’re encouraging a self-contained atmosphere or just reflecting what already exists without our input? Should we be publishing articles and broadcasting shows because we think students need to know about them or should we be sticking to what we think they’ll be interested in? Are we there to educate or to inform? Or to entertain?
The issue holds outside of Lancaster’s media, too. Does the media in general reflect society’s interests or does it create them through constant repetition? I appreciate that this is an extreme example, but I have never forgotten switching on the TV some years ago to watch the news headlines. The first story was about Sven-Goran Eriksen, then manager of the England football team, cheating on his girlfriend and the second story – I wish I was making this up, but I’m not – was about children starving in Africa. If this is what the broadcasters judged to be of most interest to their viewers it’s a fairly appalling reflection on society. If it’s what the broadcasters thought viewers ought to be most interested in it’s a fairly appalling reflection on both.
The media has an awful lot of power. There’s a reason that injunctions and super-injunctions exist, that Wikileaks produced the effect it did, that politicians and organisations go to the efforts they do to stop details of their misdemeanours getting into the hands of journalists.
We are capable, if we choose to be, of affecting students considerably. We should be encouraging ourselves to think outside of the Lancaster University bubble. That’s not to say we can’t reflect students’ interests, or waste our time competing for attention with national media outlets that have resources we don’t, but we can and should remind people that there’s more to life than Lancaster University.
As the school song continued, “[we] half forget that good or ill, a wider world awaits us still”. There is a world outside of Lancaster, and we need to embrace it wholeheartedly.