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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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The Amsterdammer: It Was a Necessity

Several organisations offer the opportunity for students to write articles about specific topics. However, we did feel as though we belonged anywhere. There was no place for creative students who wanted to explore journalism in a free but organised way. The Amsterdammer was a necessity for those who wanted to explore practical journalism.  Student journalism is necessary on many levels.

“We strongly believe that one can only make a change in a macro level if we know how to make a change in a micro level”

Often covering the atrocities and misfortune of some citizens, journalists are considered pessimists. However, we believe that this is what makes journalists optimists. They hope to make a change in society by covering the inequalities and injustices around the world. And here is where The Amsterdammer strongly believes that one can only make a change at a macro level, if they know how to make a change at a micro level. As exciting as covering international news may seem, we can only learn how to report these events if we have prior experience of covering local news. When covering local news, we learn how to dig into a topic in order to find the real story behind its appearance. We learn how to approach and engage with people, and more importantly: we learn how a newsroom works. Small newspapers offer the opportunity for the staff to explore different areas of the journalistic profession by letting them write columns, articles, take photographs, edit and produce media content.

We are optimists. We believe that The Amsterdammer will allow students to enhance their writing skills and become more curious about their surroundings. We have faith that our staff is the future of journalism: they are learning the workings of the profession at an early stage of their lives. They are determined and curious. They joined The Amsterdammer when it was nothing but an idea, or maybe a dream that seemed too ambitious.

Students have a different perspective on the events covered by the media. We are sensible, curious, and willing to put the work in for free. As awful as this can sound, it makes a big difference in comparison to professionals in the field: Intrinsic motivation, and the drive to gain experience can lead students to be more truthful in their coverage in comparison to paid journalists. They are not looking to be published, but simply to learn and discover new areas of journalism. They are not yet jaded, their curiosities are still piqued by ordinary things: everything is story-worthy.

As student journalists, we should always feel like there is something new to learn, and be curious enough to pay attention to every detail, and rediscover the world every time. There is always a new story waiting to be told.

Indeed, student journalism allows students to immerse themselves in the body of media professionals early in their life. Working on a short deadline encourages them to actively seek out and write stories, an exercise that improves their writing skills. Students create content for the students. This not only allows them to better understand their audience, but also challenges them to step out of their comfort zone: while covering an event, they are not students anymore, but journalists.

“We want to connect with students and be their voice”

Nowadays, people can share news instantly through social media, which has increased the spread of fake news. People don’t read printed newspapers as much as they used to, and they would rather share articles based only on their headlines. We aim to encourage students to dedicate some of their social-media-time to The Amsterdammer by looking at our audiovisual and written content, and encourage them to write small articles about the city or the university themselves. We want to connect with students and be their voice. We want them to interact with our writers or editors, tell us the issues that bother them, and we will send a reporter to have a look at it and investigate the issue. We want to be the voice of those who cannot be heard.

 

 

Isabel Bonnet, Founder of The Amsterdammer.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Isabel Bonnet is a 21-year-old second-year student in communication science at UvA. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Amsterdammer. Before its creation, she worked as a photo editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and did an internship at Le Monde.