Board of Trustees, Investigations and Outreach: New Editors’ Paper Plans

Jason Chau and Dominic Enright, Editors-in-Chief of The Oxford Student this term, are manning the paper’s Freshers Fair stall when I meet them. 

Jason’s journalistic experience primarily lies in journals and magazines, especially those that relate to law and politics Interested in a career in journalism, Jason joined The Oxford Student and has self-evidently climbed the greasy pole. As an editor, he prizes transparency and accountability. When I inquire into the role of newspapers in society, he professes his belief that they ensure citizens have accurate information and function as a crucial checks and balances instrument in our political system. 

Dominic points out that he and Jason form a successful partnership because their goals for the paper lean in slightly different directions. He describes himself as a ‘basics man’. While focus on new possibilities or plans can drive a sense of progress for the publication, Dominic is keen to perfect crucial journalistic skills. In his words, ‘make The Oxford Student more like a paper’. In particular, Dominic wants to work towards a standardised writing style, especially for sections like News. As he puts it, ‘people don’t read the paper for a journalist’s opinion’ and few ‘care about their opinion per se’; ‘reporting is the most important function’. Students turn to publications to ‘hear an objective voice tell us the facts’ of a situation.  

Dominic prizes objectivity and aims to clarify uncertain stories which mainly travel through gossip and rumours. The Oxford Student’s role, for him, is to take topics restricted to the periphery and position them centre stage. Quick to admit its ostensible lack of glamour, one story which he cites was about sewage leaks from a water plant north of Oxford and into the Thames which, by extension, affects the river in Port Meadow. Dominic points out that although the subject is ‘literally sewage journalism’ the importance of such a news item should not be underestimated for students, many of whom swim there regularly during the summer.  

I turn the conversation towards the big changes the pair hope to make over the course of the term. The investigations team is a priority for both of them. After a period of inaction, Jason and Dominic have restarted the group which, Jason says, has only reminded him how fun the work is. Investigative reporting is an increasingly important tool with which newspapers can convince readers of their value. Social media monopolises breaking stories and analysis found in the pages of a paper risks polarising and turning people away more than it functions to increase readership. The most valuable weapon in their arsenal is the slow, thorough and dedicated research into stories about which the facts are not immediately apparent. Investigative reporting is a product which other media platforms struggle to provide. 

The editors tell me that the paper’s news section works well for short pieces which aim to inform the readership, but investigations presents the possibility of long-form articles which reveal information that would not otherwise be in the public domain. Alongside increasing the number of people on the team, the editors want to improve the team’s resources to ensure due diligence. Above all, protecting the identity of people providing the paper with tip-offs is their main concern. The editors decided that the identity of the journalists on the team would not be revealed, unlike all other sections, for whom the editors are displayed on the website. I am only able to squeeze out the information that the investigations team is currently working on five to six investigative stories and collaborating with one national newspaper.

the investigations team is currently working on five to six investigative stories and collaborating with one national newspaper

When we discuss the business model for The Oxford Student, it becomes clear they hope to make some tweaks. The paper’s financial structure is currently built around its relationship with the Student Union. In a break from previous terms, they have established a team solely dedicated to outreach and access. Part of their responsibility is to explore the possibility of circulating the paper  beyond the colleges. Specifically, they are in talks with several companies about stocking the paper in their establishments. Although the editors are not able to disclose specific establishments, they cite Pret a Manger and Costa as examples. In addition, discussions are underway with major banks and law firms about the inclusion of advertisements or sponsorship. Another prong of the outreach strategy, they tell me, is to approach sixth forms across the country both as a way to increase awareness of the paper and drive recruitment among incoming students each year. 

I ask the editors to pitch the newspaper to a budding writer. Aside from the huge readership, print as well as online capacity and the passion of its journalists, Jason tells me it’s a particularly exciting time to join the paper. Alongside investigations and outreach, the senior team are working on creating a board of trustees. They are aiming to tap into the stream of illustrious alumni and persuade them to join the board. The editors hope this will provide strategic advice, recommendations and legal support when needed. Dominic recognises the initiative as a brilliant idea because a more permanent group, responsible for helping the paper, would improve continuity and make the rapid termly editorial takeover a little smoother. The BNOC duo have big plans for The Oxford Student, time will judge their success. 

Image description: picture of Jason Chau (left), picture of Dominic Enright (right)