The importance of student media

Hats off to Critic Te Arohi for staying at the top of the New Zealand student media pile.

The University of Otago's resident magazine that loves to hate (or is it hates to love?) the more traditional newspaper across town won best publication at the Aotearoa Student Press Awards last week for a third straight year.

It picked up a swag of individual awards, too, reflecting some of the fine work done by its team of young journalists, who - and obviously we must be careful not to dish out too much praise here - have published some important stories this year.

It kept tabs on the OUSA's introduction of drug testing at O-Week, explored allegations of sexual assault and rape at Knox College, and exposed the religious cult seeking recruits on campus.

Critic, like all student publications, comes to mainstream attention every so often but generally only when it has something of shock value to discuss.

Just recently, it garnered praise and presumably a few raised eye- brows when it responded to being told by a landlord to ''remove your filthy stinking lying bitch-whining bullsh** story'' by publishing the email containing those words on its front cover. That is what you call fighting fire with fire.

Last year, it was another cover - the infamous ''menstruation issue'' - that attracted national headlines, mainly because 500 copies of it were removed from stands, forcing the university proctor to issue an apology.

Mostly, the magazine serves a more prosaic purpose: to be a forum for student debate, to cast light on issues that affect students most, to report the news and views from the student community, to give aspiring journalists a solid grounding before they move on to other platforms.

As outgoing editor Charlie O'Manin revealed in his farewell message, however, Critic does not revel in the humdrum; its mission, outlined in the words ''DON'T BE BORING'' on the front cover of a document passed from editor to editor, is to deliver a product people want to read.

Perhaps it is not so different from the ODT, after all. And, as mainstream newspapers and magazines address the twin crises of falling circulation and advertising, Critic is part of a journalism sector facing its own set of challenges.

In the US, especially, where the #SaveStudentNewsrooms hashtag trended last year, college newspapers have been severely affected by budget cuts and growing interference from PR-heavy administrations eager to control their institutions' images.

A student paper can be considered a loose cannon, perhaps a risk to an increasingly corporatised higher education environment. As The Atlantic wrote last year, ''image-obsessed administrators'' were ''hastening the demise of these once-formidable campus watchdogs''.

Critic has been entertaining, informing, holding the university bigwigs to account and, yes, poking the odd barb at the ODT since 1925. The city, and the university, should be grateful it is doing so well.

AND ANOTHER THING

Gone but not forgotten.

Never, in fact, will Blair Vining be forgotten.

The ''champion for all New Zealanders'' has died from cancer, and a public memorial for the ordinary yet extraordinary farmer from Southland was held in Invercargill yesterday.

It was an opportunity to celebrate a life that was cut short by illness but had an immense impact.

In the last of his 39 years, he took us all on his ''epic journey'', highlighting the need for better access to cancer care across the country, and his legacy, beyond his family, is the petition 140,000 people signed, as well as the looming establishment of a national cancer agency.

''He's probably going to influence a lot of people's lives in future,'' close friend Dayna Cunningham told TVNZ. And that really sums it up - Blair Vining's influence will be felt for a long time. For that, we should always be grateful.

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