For the past semester, Viewpoint as a section of The Saint has received a particularly large portion of the flak that any journalistic enterprise is bound to attract.
In order to most aptly and objectively address student concerns, I created a survey that inquired as to the purpose, desired content, and tone of the Viewpoint section.
Delivered both online and in person, this survey brought forth enlightening results: around 40 per cent of students interviewed wanted a balanced section, where writers deal with issues both within and without the Bubble. Many students seemed to accept the dearth of material strictly related to St Andrews, as it is, after all, a small and sleepy town.
There was some debate amongst students as to whether articles in Viewpoint should seek to be controversial. Many of those interviewed felt that those that try and deliberately stir up debate can end up being inadvertently offensive.
The general consensus seemed to be that articles in Viewpoint should inspire thought and draw constructive response when appropriate, and that the tone taken should vary between serious and light-hearted depending on the issue at hand – though most students preferred a sober account to a satirical one.
As Viewpoint editor, I take these criticisms to heart. The Viewpoint section should serve as a platform for students who consistently feel moved to respond to both University and global events, within which there lies a desire to effect change and incite debate on issues of both local and international relevance.
Between academic obligation, extracurricular activities and an interminably lively social context, it is difficult to find the time and the energy to even form opinions, much less write cogently about them. Still, I believe that everyone thinks something about something: be it high politics or high fashion, slow economic development or slow service at the Union main bar during crowded nights, we all opine daily on myriad subjects.
Some of these are side-comments, 140-character bytes that encapsulate a half-thought or peremptory judgement. Others, however, run deeper, and can provide fodder for elaboration and consequently debate.
This has been a great semester for the Viewpoint section, despite the aforementioned qualms. We have hosted articles that have informed and inspired alike, that have shaped debate within St Andrews. The Devil’s Advocate argument on whether St Andrews is an elite university or a university for the elite had the rare, dual quality of being applicable to the University and inciting critical thought.
Viewpoint hosted a dialogue between the founder of Bongo Ball and the Xavier Project and a third-year Somali-Canadian exchange student that addressed the racial overtones of the event, and the extent to which they were deleterious.
We frequently feature articles on serious and salient international and domestic issues, ranging from health care in the United States – I recommend Thomas Quarton’s “The chimera” as an apt summary – to party politics and unions in our very own United Kingdom (Kash Ali’s “It’s all madness” provides a fascinating and controversial opinion on working unions).
As a counterweight to the sobriety of political analysis, Viewpoint has also featured satirical articles, providing piquant commentary on various aspects of St Andrews life. A personal favourite would be “St Andrews’ deadliest men”, a piece on the inordinate security that students enjoy in this university town.
Opinion is difficult to precisely qualify. There is no right and wrong; the facts upon which people base their views may be erroneous, but the views themselves cannot be classified as such. What to do with such a vast grey area? There are definitely more than 50 shades of Viewpoint, and with such an extensive remit one is apt to feel a bit lost in the ether of personal thought. The guiding light for those in this situation is simply passion.
Passion is underrated. I urge each and every one of The Saint’s readers to search within themselves and find the one – or two, or three – things they feel strongly about, that they constantly seek to discuss, whether on nights out at the pub or in routine conversation.
These things should be the focus of the Viewpoint section, and I aim to make it so. Next semester, I aim to introduce measures including peer review and a section of Viewpoint providing rebuttals to previous arguments; these should temper some of the aforementioned concerns and make Viewpoint a better, more balanced section. I also seek to attract serious, committed writers to the section who are willing to do thorough investigative research for their articles.
But, ultimately, Viewpoint is a culmination of student views – so look and see, St Andrews.
Then write about it.