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Covering conflict: training student journalists in dealing with difficult stories

12 March 12

The Religion and Youth phase recently funded a major training event for students working as editors and journalists on student media at UK universities, in conjunction with the National Union of Students. Although student media play an important role in the life of universities across the country, there has previously been relatively little training available to help student journalists think about issues of professional standards and the process of writing stories on contentious issues.

This event was linked to the Collaborative Doctoral Award held by Ruth Sheldon at the University of Kent, in which Ruth has been exploring the morally-charged connections that student groups form in relation to the Middle East conflict. This research identified the particular challenges that student journalists face in covering stories of campus events and conflicts concerning Israel and Palestine. 

The training day involved input from Tim Luckhurst and Rob Bailey, from the School of Journalism at the University of Kent, who explored key issues in professional journalistic practice. Ruth Sheldon also spoke on what the issues at stake are for different student groups in relation to the Middle East conflict, as well as the longer history of student involvement in this since the 1950s, explaining how student engagement in this could be understood in terms of sacred commitment around deeply-felt moral certainties. Gordon Lynch also spoke on how the media becomes an important source of sacred meanings for readers, and also interviewed Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion at the BBC about Aaqil's experience of commissioning and producing programmes on contentious issues.

On-line training resources arising from this event are going to be made available through the NUS website, and a follow-up workshop is planned to give student journalists more hands-on training with the issues involved.

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