Student Journalism…

… is not what it was.

In Today’s copy of Varsity, the Cambridge Student Newspaper is a large front-page article about room rents in college. You start with a screaming headline:

Are rents fair?
£337 - £913
A room at Peterhouse, the college with the lowest average rent A room at St John’s, the college with the highest average rent

Unfortunately this proves to be all bluster as the article never again mentions these figures or where they come from. Not only this, but buried in the text is the line:

“The data Varsity has gained from bursarial records shows the average termly rent for a student living in college accommodation for 2004-5, illustrating a difference of £248 a term between Peterhouse and St John’s.

This figure of £248 is a far cry from the difference in the headline of £576. Just because your newspaper is tabloid-size doesn’t mean you have to conform to tabloid principles of misinformation. In an article about rent, perhaps it would be nice to see a table giving average rents for each college. Indeed there is one. This gives the actual rents for St John’s and Peterhouse as £798 and £550 respectively. Perhaps the headline is deliberately misleading?

The only additional figures we see are vacuous comparisons between the Kitchen Fixed Charges of some colleges. The KFC is a fee we pay to supplement the catering department. Clare students pay £93 a term, Magdalene students pay £130. I’d argue that actually these figures aren’t startlingly different, especially given the fact that colleges are separate financial institutions.

Separate financial institutions are inevitably going to charge different prices for the same room. Not only that, but as the Bursar of St John’s pointed out:

“It’s so difficult to compare colleges, you’re not comparing like with like.” He defended the high rent paid by St John’s students, pointing out “our rooms are bigger than at some other colleges.”

We also have to factor in the fact that St John’s is a much larger college than Peterhouse, with larger buildings to maintain. Inevitably these costs will be passed on to its tenants.

I think that the journalists really know they haven’t got a very strong leg to stand on. They soon start interviewing people to try to prove their point. Here’s a real gem:

“It’s not our fault that we go to King’s with its old accommodation.”

Well, frankly, yes it is. You applied there. Supposing you were an applicant from “the pool” then you could still have turned down the place.

So there we are, a deliberately misleading article with the sole aim of inflaming anger.

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