Same Old Stories, Semester after Semester

As part of my research into the Singaporean student press, I have been conducting long-form interviews with every current and former Singaporean college journalist who matters.  The sitdowns so far have taught me some interesting truths about journalism in Singapore certainly, but even more than that they have revealed that certain tenets of college journalism are shared worldwide.  One biggie: what I call the SOS SASS (same old stories, semester after semester syndrome).

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There are simply some stories that on a scroll through the archives of any student media outlet pop up again and again and again, sometimes with a fresh spin, but always with the same core issue or topic intact.  Some are universal and others are school-specific.  At Nanyang Technological University, which houses the lone college journalism program and the longest-running college student newspaper in Singapore, the SOS are about busing.  Specifically, they deal with the inefficient transportation system to and from and within the school.  The most recent issue of the NTU student newspaper voiced a spirited related complaint in an opinion piece.  During a recent interview with a former chief editor of the newspaper, I showed him the issue.  His first reaction upon seeing the article with the busing reference: “Well, the headline’s different, but we basically wrote the same thing five years ago.”

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Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying SOS SASS is necessarily a bad thing.  I mean, the college media audience (at least the core student one) is ever-changing.  Student press staffs are also always turning over as well.  And some issues deserve repeated reporting or editorializing, sort of like the incarcerated main character Andy in Shawshank Redemption writing his weekly letter for years  in order to secure funding for the prison library.  But within my research, I haven’t come across an instance in which SOS SASS has been the result of such an organized, long-term undertaking.  Instead, the same old stories tend to get written simply because j-students aren’t aware or don’t care that they have been written about in the past.

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What can we learn from our student press predecessors? What is the value of yellowed student newspaper issues or now-archived Web pages displaying past student media efforts?  A flip through these print-and-Web treasure troves can provide a history lesson about how and how much things have changed at your school and also, more importantly, in my opinion . . . what things have stayed the same.

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And so, along with ensuring all issues of a student press outlet are archived and available online or in the newsroom or campus library, I contend that all student staffs should consider mining those archives for story ideas, seeing what’s been covered and how it’s been covered.  The potential for present content is tremendous!  Timelines of important issues, more direct compare-contrasts, This Day in School History siders, and strengthened arguments galore.  For example, it’s one thing to complain about university busing at present.  It’s quite another to quote a mid-nineties article in the same student publication making the same plea for better campus-area public transport that apparently continued to fall on deaf ears.

Comments
4 Responses to “Same Old Stories, Semester after Semester”
  1. Serene says:

    I agree with your suggestion.
    From where I come from, any journ worth their salt will have to start with a library search before plunging head-in.
    That would save them a great deal of heartache (on realising someone wrote the exact same angle two days earlier).

    It would also create a lot more context: where else did something similar happen, what happened then, when did the issue begin, and has anything changed since then.

    But I think a problem for college papers may be the:
    a) lack of manpower or funds to convert the archives (usually PDF or images) into a searchable format (text usually);

    b) difficulty in eyeball-searching stacks of yellowing newsprint or non-searchable digital archives;

    … and c) not sure if it is a Singapore syndrome, but… are young people just arrogant and believe that what they write is new and unique?

    After all, isn’t it very characteristic of youth to want “customisation” and to “break the mould”?
    But when all of them start to ‘try to be unique’, they all become very similar to one another in that respect.

    Just a thought.

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