Student Journalism

I enjoy reading student newspapers. Not only is there no real news in Cambridge worth writing about, but most of the writing is hilariously bad and over the top. I’ve seen plenty of apologies for erroneous and unbalanced reporting – most notably for an entire front-page spread in Varsity more recently. Most of the writing is, quite literally, intellectual masturbation; I am fairly sure there must be a competition to see which “journalist” can use the longest words in their articles.

Yet at the same time as deliberately obfuscating their meaning by hiding behind verbosity (look, I’m doing it too), they completely misjudge their audience. Yes you can use long words, but you’ve over-simplified most of the issues so much that they don’t make sense anymore.

I’m afraid that was a bit of a rant, but here’s a kernel of evidence to back it up. We turn to Varsity again, January 26th issue, page 6.


Binge drinking endemic in student culture

This is written by Rebecca Lester, “Investigations Editor,” who frankly doesn’t seem to be able to investigate her way out of a paper bag. I hadn’t realised Cambridge offered degrees in “stating the bleeding obvious.”

Here’s the best bit, right there in the first paragraph:

The average Cambridge student consumes 28.4 alcohol units a week, a CUSU/Varsity survey revealed last week. This equates to nine units a night, far exceeding the recommended daily allowance of two units a day for women and four for men.

Now last time I looked, there were seven days in a week. So 28.4 units per week works out at something more like 4.06 units a day. This seems a little closer to their recommended daily allowance. Perhaps everyone’s drinking exactly the right amount!

OK, I’m not that naive. But there is certainly something odd going on, their figures don’t make sense. Additional statistical gems include:

177 – bottles of vodka drunk by the average student over course of Cambridge career

Hmm, I’ve probably had 1 or 2, but 177 sounds like complete and utter tripe. I know several people who don’t like vodka at all. Does that mean some people are drinking 354 bottles? I suspect that 177 is the number you’d get if you totalled up the average student’s drinking and expressed it in “bottles of vodka” units. Although they don’t say how big the bottles are so it’s quite hard to check.

31% of students have injured themselves while drunk

Now I’ve certainly injured myself while drunk. I’ve even come back with the odd cut and graze. I’ve also injured myself while sober. I suspect 100% of students have done the same. I admit I’m probably nit-picking on this point, but the statistic in itself is meaningless. It’d be far more interesting to know how the rate of injuries varies with sobriety. Perhaps a study for our beer-goggles scientists?

The most amusing thing about this article, however, is it’s formulaic nature. There’s nothing really very new here. We know that students drink a little more than is healthy. They always have – Byron et al. used to drink themselves silly on wine. I’m really not convinced that this subject is worth a two-page “investigation.” It’s as if our “investigations editor” sat down for three minutes brainstorming and decided to write about the first thing that came into her head.

The article is ringed by an advertisement for Jesus College’s May Ball. Ah, the great Cambridge May Ball, what more blatant excuse for a solid night of drinking? That’s what a May Ball is for. Ethical reporting indeed – if they really cared about student drinking they wouldn’t advertise balls at all. They could have at least put the advert on another page!

Now admittedly this article is rather out of date. So what’s made me write about it now? Well, it’s the fact that this week’s TCS has done exactly the same thing.

The dominance of alcohol in much social activity is hard to ignore.

Well, quite. But I don’t care, probably since I’m drunk at the time.

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