These days a glance through any student’s newsfeed is bound to reveal the usual chaos of memes, Trump controversies and a smattering of bizarre Tab headlines. Today’s pick? ‘What is your subject’s spirit animal?’. While it is widely accepted among students themselves that the Tab tends to churn out drivel in the name of journalism, with a monthly readership of over 5,000,000 and a secure foothold within the national press, the Tab indisputably rivals traditional student reporting. We can despair at yet another article dedicated to the newest subset of “fuckboy” in an attempt to reassure ourselves of our high-brow taste, but at the end of the day we find ourselves gormlessly scrolling through clubbers of the week.
Jokes aside, the Tab doesn’t deserve a dirtied name by sole virtue of these ultimately entertaining pieces. After all the site has covered high-profile stories, most impressively a global scoop on Malia Obama’s college choice. The Tab does produce thought-provoking pieces on politics, mental health and delivers instant reporting on the internal goings-on of University life. Like other social media pages, such as the more recently popular ‘Edimeme’, the Tab and its content serves to bond students through in-joke humor, unifying what can sometimes feel like a disconnected student body.
But while journalism is no stranger to competition, the question of whether more traditional forms of student reporting are under threat seem valid. On Facebook, the Tab Edinburgh page boasts five times the number of likes than the Student Newspaper, with Edimeme flaunting twice as many. The national Tab page has amassed 174,306. The reason behind this disparity comes down to the fundamentally different way that young people engage with the world.
When this small weekly magazine began at Edinburgh University in 1887, student journalism bore a very different face. News consumption operated through a much more rigid format in the dark days before the digital age. In this humble time, an elite group would write and publish news stories for a consistent circulation. It was a one-way street. As the American Press Institute report recognises, the younger generation tend not to actively seek out news in “discrete sessions”, nor is the content they find created by a select few or followed by a reliable base. Online media has a levelling effect – content can be written by anyone and found outside of typical news providers. Less than half of Millennials report using Facebook as a means to discover news stories, but admit it is one of the main things they end up doing. This explains the edge that youth sites like the Tab, and social media pages like Edimeme have over traditional formats. They dominate social networks in a way that print newspaper never can.
Nevertheless, a shift in the landscape of journalism need not mean the end of the good old student newspaper. While levels of popularity may fluctuate, we shouldn’t forget that to pit websites and meme pages against printed newspapers is like apples and oranges. They may indeed compete for student attention but at the end of the day they capture different audiences, establish different goals and draw in contributors with different aspirations.
Image Credit: Tab Cambridge