Some things are good to know. When my washing machine beeps to tell me that I now have clean undergarments, that’s nice. Other things you are at first curious of, however once enlightened of enough specifics you wish you had never asked in the first place, like querying a friend on their limp, only to be informed of their severe fungal infection in great detail. The latter is how I felt reading a recent article on The Guardian, revealing BBC Radio 1’s approach of curation as a processing of aggregate statistics handled with all the love of an unf*@ked android. Hoping I’d be able to share my aghast reaction with co-workers at the local student radio station, I realised very soon that I was pretty much the only one who felt this way. Everyone else was too busy taking notes.
There is seemingly a rampant determination to run student publications and radio stations as if they were commercial enterprises, with playlists borrowing heavily from Radio 1 and editors concerning themselves with page views even at the baby-step stage of university. This, in a way, makes sense; if one wishes to become involved in mainstream media, it’s surely right to learn the lingo and get cracking with it as soon as it’s physically possible, right? Well, in the business of ideas that media is, following what has been done before is never the right answer. And furthermore, the language which is being spoken is one that is already out of date.
Like every form of institution going at the moment, there is a distrust of print media. As NME’s circulation dwindles with each passing second, the real Zeitgeist is being set by a series of blogs; The Line of Best Fit, The Quietus, Drowned in Sound, Noisey, etc. Each of these focus on quality writing, innovation and eclecticism; it is the music and the prose that is the centre of attention, not the outreach. Yet, these are the websites which well and truly rule the agenda, and the reason for that is the same circumstance motivating learner-journos to commit acts of pseudo-industry. The level of access to information that we have, allowing us to look in to the workings of big magazines and provide the tools for imitation, is the same knowledge that makes it all so very easy for the reader to see through it all.
In the internet age, the audience is more savvy than ever and being patronised is never a way to a person’s heart. Soon enough, as major rags become increasingly irrelevant, it is inevitable that they will return to a mission statement of good writing, the readership growing progressively more disenfranchised, apathetic and desensitised to click-bait sensationalism.
Student journalism is the time to hone that skill of creativity; to write with wanton abandon and not to care about Facebook likes. We have to break the rules, for we will be the arbiters of what supersedes them. As Darren Hemmings said in his fantastic response to the original Guardian article, focusing exclusively on public stats is a wholly superficial way to market. Instead of cultivating a true, dedicated audience that cares and responds to the work that is created, all that is produced is a collection of numbers of no meaningful consequence; misrepresenting a passive and uninterested reading populace. Can you imagine Norman Mailer or Hunter S. Thompson frantically looking through their WordPress dashboard to see the full extent of their traffic spike after they got RT’d by McBusted?
We can’t tick off a check-list; we aren’t training to be accountants here. In the most pretentious sense, we are learning how to emote, how to evoke. To simply want a career in the creative industries without feeling the need to be creative is pure oxymoron and lacks any semblance of sincerity. We need to stop treating writing as a means to an end; the point of writing is to write. Let’s start acting like it.