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Editorial: The Amsterdammer to Join the #SaveStudentNewsrooms Initiative

Today, April 25, alongside 120 student newsrooms, The Amsterdammer will proudly join the international student movement #SaveStudentNewsroom on the –unofficial– Support Student Journalism Day. This movement is an initiative created by the editorial board of the Independent Florida Alligator, a student newspaper that serves the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

The Amsterdammer is a recently-created student newspaper, an ode to our belief that student-run news organisations are crucial tools for journalism education. Earlier this week, our founder Isabel Bonnet explained why student journalism is a necessity. To explain why such a new paper is already affected by lack of funding, it is first important to understand our standpoint.

Where we come from

Bonnet is a former photographer and photo editor of the Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run newspaper that was once the largest one in the United States. A few semesters ago, the lack of funding and high printing fees led them to publish only twice a week. Unfortunately, this is only one of the many student-run media organisations that has been affected by this issue. On the Save Student Newsrooms website, a testimonial section collates different experiences and opinions of current journalism professionals that once worked at a student newspaper. May Ortega, KUNM News public health reporter, shared her disappointment about her former student-run newspaper, The Pan American. “The website is gone, as are the awards our newsroom won over the decades,” she said. “A new paper has been put in place, totally controlled by the admin, and students working there have said that things have not changed for the better.”

The Amsterdammer’s lack of funding

“(…) for us it will be twice as hard.”

Even before it was a media platform, The Amsterdammer was already suffering from the lack of funding in the student journalism industry. Neither student organisations nor the University of Amsterdam agreed to help finance the paper. The only solution was to start writing, and worry about the consequences later, once The Amsterdammer had already some published material.

This semesters’ Editorial Board is facing certain challenges, both economically and structurally, but is luckily succeeding in keeping this project afloat. The founder, Isabel Bonnet, and the Managing Editor Online, Dalis Robinson, believe that once The Amsterdammer is presented to investment funds, the project will be sponsored. However, will this be enough to sustain our goal of creating a printed version of the paper? Or to offer even a minimal salary to our staff? Though we do not know this yet, we do know that if it is difficult to secure funding even in countries such as the United States- where student journalism has a strong presence- it will be an even bigger challenge for us.

We matter too

“Instead of making money, The Amsterdammer is losing money.”

Our goal is to motivate students who aim to pursue a career in journalism to explore the different areas of the profession, while simultaneously providing them with a safe space to express who they really are: storytellers seeking for the truth. Journalism has to stop being considered a profession that only produces revenue if it is part of a media conglomerate. Local newspapers matter. We matter. And for this, The Amsterdammer aims to defend freedom of the press and expression on any scale that we can. Though we do not wish to be dependent on the University, we certainly do not want to be ignored.

We are not only supporting a movement that aims to save student newsrooms, we support something bigger than that. We do not have a newsroom ourselves. We do not have a physical copy of the paper, nor salaries to offer to our staff. The lack of funds has led us to pay for everything on our own. Once we have encouraged our staff to express their voice, we cannot –and should not– ask them to silence it. Instead of making money, The Amsterdammer is losing money. How can we convince someone to join the paper if we have nothing but a time-consuming experience to offer? But how couldn’t we?

The Amsterdammer: the only independent student-run newspaper in the Netherlands?

In 2014, the London Student, once Europe’s largest student newspaper, had to shut down and later downgrade from publishing over 12,000 physical copies to publishing online articles: only because of poor financial stability. The United Kingdom is the only nation in Europe where student journalism has been considered, and yet, there is no financial security there either. What does this mean for us?

In other countries of the continent, is rare to find a paper that produces media content on local or national news, made for and by the students. When we checked the list of student-run newspapers in the world, we couldn’t find any independent publication in the Netherlands. The University of Amsterdam, for example, owns magazines for each faculty such as Medium Magazine, as part of the Mercurius association, for the Communication Science faculty or Rostra Economica, as part of the Sefa association, for the Economics and Business faculty. One could argue that the closest the University has been to a student newspaper was creating Folia. However, this journalistic medium relies on students, teachers, and employees to do the coverage. In the same way, the majority of the articles are not published in English, which is clearly an issue when the university is conformed of above 5,000 international students. With all the respect we have for these media platforms, we do think they are not what we are looking for: an independent student-run newspaper.

If you support student journalism and would like to help The Amsterdammer, you can make a donation using this link.

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How Sociology can show you the other perspective

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Isabel Bonnet / Staff

 

One of the best teachers I’ve had at university once told us that people who become the best social scientists are usually the ones who have been part of two contrasting groups in society at some point in their life: People who’ve belonged to and had access to both, but never fully felt part of either.

The first example that springs to mind is that of my friend. She was born in a white, native Dutch family, but attended a primary school with a large minority population. She subsequently attended a fairly high-ranked, mostly white, middle-school in Amsterdam. Not only the demographics differed from her previous school, but so did everything else: from codes of conduct to tastes and opinions. She never understood these differences, especially the fact that she was able to fit into both groups, but other members of the groups never mixed.

Growing up in Belgrade, but having a parent living in Amsterdam, I experienced something similar. The first time I came here to visit my father, I remember driving from Schiphol Airport in complete awe. At that time, Serbia was a place one would rather leave. The country was torn down by wars and bombings, with every institution in the country either privatized and sold or ruined. While inflation and unemployment rates were still raging, people – despite their undying, cheerful Balkan spirit – seemed overall hopeless.

“The concept of planes had always confused me as a child, because when I stepped off of one for the first time it felt like landing into another universe”

The concept of planes had always confused me as a child, because when I stepped off of one for the first time it felt like landing into another universe. Western Europe seemed like Disneyland in real life. A theme park that’s open 24/7, where everything was new and shiny, and where people didn’t need a fierce spirit just to feel and express positive emotions.

Now of course, I understand why this was the way it was, but I spent a lot of my childhood wondering why Amsterdam looked like that, and where I lived didn’t. Why did they get to have all that stuff over there, but we didn’t? We were also nice people just like them. What sometimes scared me the most was noticing how differently I behaved in these two contexts. When I was about 10 or 11, I would notice my habits and vocabulary changing drastically every time I visited my dad for the summer and never understood why.

So you see, the craziest combinations of the groups you can fall in-between are possible and you will be surprised at the answers people give if you get them to think from this point of view. In my opinion, the people who recognize this in themselves are the ones who will try and understand the ideology behind such group dynamics, and often try to work out how to place themselves in society. They will be the best at what they do because they care more for people and less for boundaries.

“We are taught to try to see beyond our own cultural repertoires, to […] acknowledge other people’s realities”

In my experience with social sciences, we come to realize how much of our personalities we subconsciously put into our work. We are given the tools needed to realize our own subjectivity and work with it, instead of denying it was ever there. Not only that, but we also learn to understand another person’s reality, the kind of world they live in from an insider’s perspective. And, we do this following the rules of their specific reality, instead of poking it with a stick from our end of the social space. We are taught to try to see beyond our own cultural repertoires, to look at symbols as man-made concepts and acknowledge other people’s realities. We know that there is a whole invisible structure behind everything that happens in society, and it is our mission to try to uncover the underlying causes of influential phenomena.

Public debates on societal issues tend to steer away from reasonable arguments, and towards building policy propositions on moral or ideological bases. The problem is that politicians nowadays tend to dress their arguments in formal and scientific language, and they often misuse sociological research to back up their standpoints. And the more recent the research you quote is, the better your argument will be.

One of the first articles we read at university was Godfried Engbersen’s Fatale Remedies. Engbersen explains how everything you publish as a social scientist can be misused in public debate. In another Dutch article by Frank Bovenkerk, the different explanations of the riots that took place in Amsterdam on April 30th, 1980 are given an account. Each explanation stemmed from different ideologies. As you continue reading, the story starts to seem ridiculous, especially when you compare them side-by-side.

“Scientists are not and should never be politicians.”

Scientists are not and should never be politicians. It is not our purpose to guard society from its own ailments, only to point these out and explain why they may occur. What society needs is for more people to look at the world from our perspective, so that we can eventually be in a society that works for everyone.

 

Nevena Vracar is a sociology Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Amsterdammer.

Hi there! My name is Nevena and I am a 22-year-old student currently in the second year of a sociology bachelor at the University of Amsterdam. I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I’ve moved here about three years ago. I am a part of the opinion section of the Amsterdammer and my columns focus mostly on my experience as an international and studying abroad.