25 Feb

I picked up a sample of the student press yesterday. Very professional. The sad tendency of students to lay out their papers with serif typefaces for headlines and lots of useless white space isn’t in evidence here (tho’ the textboxes could be a little tighter). Neither’s the obligatory sociology lectures 101 viz the patriarchy, capitalism or some such. Pull quotes. Very professional.

Professional means competent, disciplined, effective; it also means conformist, bland, hollow and slick. Often the student press is dominated by campus pseudo-revolutionaries who have all the wit and humour of a bank loan application but without the socially useful purpose. Sometimes there’s the kind of anarchic humour of high adolescence that’s impossible to do any other time in life. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such and it’s not anywhere in evidence in Catalyst. It’s too professional.

Take “Travel With What You Know”, by-line: Kate O’Connell. This concerns the writer’s summer spent working as a volunteer in the much maligned failing Republic of Haiti. Interesting. I don’t remember any of my peers doing something so noble, read on.

Ten paragraphs, this short piece and what do we learn about Haiti? We learn, first sentence, that Ms O’Connell has stood in Port au Prince looking at the shattered downtown remains. We learn that a year ago they had an earthquake that killed 250 000 people and that a million Haitians are homeless as a result. We learn a cholera epidemic followed. And…

Well, nothing. Ten paragraphs and only one strays from the central theme: she’s a journalism student, she has skills, she travels to build her CV. She plans to get out, get anywhere, get all the way to the New York Times. If she ever actually met a Haitian or ate Haitian food or did anything else involving Haitians. I wouldn’t know. Still very professional. Committed. Traveling all that way to pad your CV with a piece that could’ve been written in South Yarra after five minutes with Google.

Not fair I s’pose to pick on Ms Connell. Actually no, actually horseshite! She’s a grown-up, just, and she’s published a bit of writing. Welcome to the Arena lassie. Writing – before it’s a career, a means to affluence and status, a profession (trade, actually) – is a vocation. There’s a duty attached to it. You are required at the very least to impart information and the most boneheaded pulpy bit of tripe at least requires something other than blatant self-promotion.

Or does it? Does it? What am I saying? Do I know what century I live in? Blatant self-promotion is the only reason to do anything anymore. It’s come to this where the undergrad press that once challenged illiberal laws now makes a backdrop of this:


For, explicitly, a career advancement strategem, absolutely sans irony. This ain’t the hippie jive man. Working on your student rag gets you brownie points in the marketplace nothin’ wrong with it. And I remember an editor of my student rag who was explicitly determined to use it as propaganda (her word). Who needs it. But the ethos of victory in the marketplace via promotional savvy and video blitz has become a monster. Surely there’s someone serious out there, or genuinely funny. Hello….

Oh well. To the Fourth Estate send a dozen white lillies.



  1. Catalyst March 15, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    There is a great deal of merit in what you say, White Knight. While there is a great deal of sincerity and intensity lacking in most student publications these days, they do tend to be more slick than those of yester-year. Kate O’Connel’s article was certainly lacking insight for the lay reader – her references to Haiti were certainly token. However, given that this is a STUDENT publication aimed at a STUDENT demographic, the piece had merit for many readers interested in traveling as students. While you use the word ‘professional’ and describe the benefits of such an attribute, and simultaneously belittle the wit and humour of those with more sincere and ardent aspirations, you end in crossbowing the former also. May we ask: Is there anything you do like? And what attracts you to critiquing a student publication given you graduated from university in 1992?

    Just a thought.

  2. AC Stewart March 15, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    I haven’t belittled anyone’s “wit and humour”, there’s none there to belittle. Neither have I poured scorn on those with “more sincere and ardent aspirations” (whom? what aspirations?).

    You published an article which was supposedly about Haiti but was all about the author’s rather commonplace ambitions. Given the ever-declining standards of what laughingly gets called journalism these days it’s relevant.

    Putting ‘student’ in capitals doesn’t mean anything. From the piece it’s pretty obvious I know it’s a campus rag. I’m terribly sorry sunshine if you think that that status somehow protects you from the big bad world of criticism. It don’t.

    I learned a few things working on my student rag back in the Dark Ages. Often consequence of stupid mistakes I made and published. You put a bit of work in Catalyst yeah? Don’t you think the writers should as well?

    But thanks for responding.

    And I like heaps of stuff: flowers and romance and girls named Debbie too. 🙂

  3. AC Stewart March 15, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Kate O’Connel’s article was certainly lacking insight for the lay reader

    I’m sorry I just have to ask: does this mean that Ms O’Connel’s article bears insight for those readers with some sort of specialist expertise? And if so, in what field?

    Inquirin’ minds wanna know.

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