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22nd November 2016

A student life: the student journalist

We spoke to Eliza Slawther about being a student journalist

Eliza Slawther is softly spoken, but this belies intelligence and determination. She’s hard working — not content to let The Mancunion be like any other paper — and has plans and ambitions far beyond what you would expect from the average student journalist.

First, I asked Eliza what her role in The Mancunion entails: “I’m the head film editor, so I just edit the film section along with my deputy… I decide what goes in each week and I guess I have the final say.”

Eliza’s using her position to try and make the film section more diverse and interesting. “Mostly it’s film reviews,” she told me, “but I’m trying to move away from that a little bit because its good for us to cover all the film things that we can… We got an interview with a director that was really interesting, we got to send someone to do that and we’re also covering the Manchester film festival and we do sort of previews and things”

Furthermore, Eliza is working on making a uniquely UoM film section: “I’m trying to get more up and coming film makers and try and work with them, like we got contacted by someone who used to be a student here and they’ve made a film about the jungle in Calais, so we’re going to write about that.”

All this effort to make a section unlike any other is to make it, “interesting for students, because that is our main readership.” Eliza told me, emphasising that “if someone’s already read a review of all the main films that are out there’s no point picking up The Mancunion and reading all the same things again.”

I asked Eliza whether this emphasis on a unique identity should extend to the rest of the paper, “Yeah definitely,” she answered, “because otherwise we’re like every other newspaper and that’s not what we want, we want to have our own student voice.”

Eliza also emphasised the importance of carrying out our own investigations, “because then it’s like with news and stuff you’re not just regurgitating articles that have already been written, you’re actually going out and finding your own information. It’s annoying because we’re all at university so we can’t just be running off to looking in to things but when we can it’s really important to be doing that.”

I then asked what made her get involved in student media in the first place, “I sort of thought I wanted to be a journalist but I wasn’t really sure,” she replied, “and then I ended up editing for a different newspaper and kind of enjoyed it but I felt a bit detached, because there wasn’t an office and it wasn’t based around our university so I thought I’d come here and have a go at it and then I really enjoyed it.”

And is film journalism something she’d consider a career in? “Maybe yeah, I think in general just entertainment journalism is kind of my thing.” But Eliza is not just limiting herself to writing about any one thing just yet, “I’ve been trying to write for the different sections of the newspaper, like news and lifestyle and everything to just try and get a bit of a breadth, which I think is really important for anyone who wants to do journalism. You need to spread yourself out.”

We spoke briefly about the role of Mancunion on campus. Eliza reckoned that because “the university is so big that it’s the only way students get to find out stuff that’s happening in the university, like the fight that broke out in the SU that we’re covering, I thought that was the sort of thing you’d only read here really.”

This extended to a discussion on whether The Mancunion should focus on wider issues or be more university-centric, “I think we should focus on both,” Eliza told me, “I think maybe just the fact that students are writing it means it’s always going to have a focus on students, because it’s always going to be written from our perspective and also if something happens it’ll always be how it impacts us I suppose.”

But this student focus should not mean The Mancunion does not look at wider issues, as it will not be long until they affect us too. “We’re the next generation, and in a few years we’ll be the ones who have proper jobs and everything and be sort of real grownups.”

And is student media important for wider society, not just students? “Yeah I think it really is,” Eliza responded: “Mainstream newspapers, especially when they’re written by older generations, they aren’t really that current with what’s going on in student life and I think their perception of students is quite different and sometimes students get painted in a bad light I suppose, like especially with things like housing and in Fallowfield with the parties and stuff, the mainstream newspapers present it as the students’ fault whereas with student media you get a chance to say ‘well actually this is our perspective on it.’”

Eliza also pointed out that current students will be the major journalists of the future, and writing of a student paper is “one of the only gateways into journalism, because it’s very difficult to get the same level of work experience on a normal newspaper.”

We then spoke about The Mancunion’s relationship with the university, and once again the answer came down to making a unique paper. “I think that it’s The Mancunion’s responsibility to report on things that are happening not just in the union but at the actual university, and that’s why we do the interviews with Nancy Rothwell and people like that, because where else are people going to read about it?

“Like with the freedom of information requests we can put in to the university I think we’re the only newspaper who would really report on that. So I think it’s important we keep a good relationship with the university, and report on all the great things they do, but also sort of investigate a bit and find out where our money’s going, things like that.”

I asked Eliza about The Mancunion’s relationship with the Students Union, in particular if she thought perceptions of the paper as a tool of the union are true or fair, “I don’t think [they’re] true, because anyone can write for the Mancunion who’s a student here, so it’s not like we’d ever not put out an article unless there was some major problem with it, but we put out articles with all sorts of people’s opinions, like right wing, left wing, anything and leave it open to discussion.

“So I think we’re not a tool of the union, we’re a tool of the students if anything. We will publish articles by the exec team but we’ll also publish articles that disagree with them. And that’s all part of the press I suppose, having discussions, sometimes heated ones… I think maybe there’s always a little bit of tension”

Is enabling students to have these discussions an important part of The Mancunion? “Yeah I think that definitely one of the main roles of the paper is to allow students to debate issues but in an educated way, or in a way that they’re actually writing their opinions out thoughtfully rather than just shouting or on social media. I think that’s what it should be used for. Not for really mean, insidious comments made towards just because people disagree with each other but somewhere where people can just have a civilised debate.”

And finally, the obvious question for a film editor – favourite film? “Oh my gosh that’s so on the spot! Probably Requiem for a Dream, I love that film. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Withnail and I, that’s a very hilarious film. I really liked The Lobster, which is not really a big one that I think most people say but that’s definitely in there. I’m not sure know what else. I feel like I’m one of those people that have loads of favourite films but I feel like I don’t have a favourite, it depends what mood I’m in. I mean it would be quite strange if I was film editor and I had one film that I was really settled on.”

Course: English Literature, third year

From: “Warrington, it’s about twenty minutes from Manchester, so pretty local!”

Balance of Uni life/Society life: “I’ve got myself into a lot of things this year! I do peer mentoring, I’m on the English Lit committee for the society, I’m the treasurer for that, and also do The Mancunion and work at the SU, so I feel like I never leave here, I’m here all the time. But it’s actually really helpful, I just have to time manage very well and make sure I dedicate enough time to everything, and I just try and get in to uni a bit earlier than I need to every day and stay a bit later and I feel it really helps.”

Worst bit: “When the deadline comes each week for the print paper worrying about other people to get their articles in, so having to rely on writers because if they’re too busy I’ve got to write something up and that can be quite stressful.”

Best bit: “Just how rewarding it is every week seeing a finished newspaper and it just feels great to see pieces in print.”

Where do you see yourself in 15 years time? “I’ll be 35 then so hopefully in some kind of job I enjoy! Hopefully to do with writing, or I’d love to be in the film or TV industry but that would take a while to break into. Although fifteen years, I’ve got time! So yeah film or TV but still doing writing on the side. Production or directing hopefully”

How to get involved: “Well it depends which section you want to write for, if you want to write for all of them or some of them. Just come along to the meetings, all the times are on the website, or if you can’t make the meeting then just send an email to the relevant section, and join the Facebook pages because that’s where everyone posts all the information!”

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