I've followed Ylioppilaslehti more or less actively for the six years I've spent at the university so far. There have been times that I haven't paid them much attention, but a couple of years back their clever, in-depth and topical strain of journalism really made an impression on me. Ever since my involvement with BTSB, I've always looked up to Ylioppilaslehti as the grandparent of student papers, thinking that their uncompromised style is something that I too should aim at.
Until recently, that is.
Without using horrid necromancy to revisit the whole poo-gate affair, I'd like to take a moment, both as a writer and a member of the student union, to try and figure out just what it is that irks me about Ylioppilaslehti nowadays.
Ylioppilaslehti goes through an interesting cycle, as it gets a fresh start every two years when its editorial staff is overhauled. Vappu Kaarenoja's team began work in August 2012 and two major shifts in the paper's style occured. In addition to the ever-trendy tabloid format (easier to read when you poo, possibly easier to write too – oh damn, wasn't supposed to mention that, was I), Ylioppilaslehti started appearing once a month during the academic year, instead of the biweekly schedule it had sported previously. After the changes, the necessity and success of which can be debated elsewhere, the new staff has been at full-gallop, but somehow several sub-par texts have had my radar blinking.
The essential fact is that Ylioppilaslehti is the leading student paper in the country. Compared to smaller publications it is popular among advertisers and enjoys support from HYY (Student Union of the University of Helsinki) – as a student paper, of course, should. When you think of the fact that several luminary writers and thinkers have started their careers in Ylioppilaslehti, to me it would seem that this is a paper that has ample resources and talent at its disposal.
From this angle, the aforementioned subpars are quite glaring. For example, the ongoing same-sex marriage debate received ¼ of a page of coverage and even that constituted of a volunteer's interview and nothing more. The paper apparently couldn't find anything more to investigate or say on the matter that will keep discussion going for as long as we get the legislation going in future years.
Further, the biggest student demonstrations in decades against student allowance cuts received no column space whatsoever! Sure, they sort of had something on their website, but again, the mouthpiece of the student movement stayed silent and did not say 'yay' or 'nay' for any of the discussed models for funding student life. What's worse, Voima-magazine's expose on the failures of SYL (National Union of University Students in Finland) in the negotiations were also hushed by Ylioppilaslehti – only in retrospect did they hint at such an issue while interviewing minister Paavo Arhinmäki, but the players in the national union were never questioned. It doesn't look like holding student politicians accountable has much interest to Ylioppilaslehti.
The same goes for the struggle to keep choir music and orchestras in the Old Student House. Currently, HYY why is planning to basically evict them from their traditional venue, instead attempting to increase revenue by renting the historical building for third parties. And rather than covering this clash of cultural tradition and financial interest, Ylioppilaslehti goes on to ask ‟what would be the most ironic hipster club we could get going in Vanha?”
In addition to such lame disinterest, the paper seems to be full of hateful bitching. People suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity get their share on an article about a study room in Kaisa-talo that caters for their needs. Further, the 'Mene itseesi' -column is apparently dedicated to whatever the editors personally find boring/stupid/not-cool, from student overalls to students despairing over reading-spaces taken over by high-school kids. The column is neither well-written nor funny.
These examples showcase Ylioppilaslehti's biggest issues. Its standard reaction to pretty much every phenomena or demographic seems to be semi-ironic hatred with too many texts turning into snide comments equal to ‟Let's say X is stupid! It'll be fun and provocative.” Maybe they think provocation validates their existence or gives them a critical edge, but it only becomes terrible journalism.
What's even worse, real criticism seems wholly absent from the paper. Nationally important issues, like the same-sex marriage and student allowance discussions, do not receive in-depth coverage or analysis. Even events and debates in HYY are only presented through quotes from student representatives which hint at real issues that students probably should know about, but the paper seems incapable of doing more than printing said quotes without much context attached. Ylioppilaslehti does not seem vigilant towards those in power, near or far.
Many might think that none of this matters much, maybe thinking that student journalism has always been rather limited in scope and just continues to do so in Ylioppilaslehti. The thing is though, that in a society that is in the throes of a recession, hardening values and, as a result, increasingly going after groups without much say in things, we really need critical journalism that is well written, profound and dares to ask important questions. Ylioppilaslehti was long on my list of such publications, but has recently slid off.
I've even become suspicious of the editorial agenda of the paper. Reading issue 3/2013, starting with Ms. Kaarenoja's editorial, I get to hear of her experiences of great guidance awarded by the Department of Mathematics that she did not get in her earlier studies. All fine and dandy as such, kudos to the Department of Maths. What gave me the ultimate creeps, though, was Kaarenoja's closing note: ‟This I could actually pay for.”
Was it a joke? An attempt at being witty? Or just empty rhetoric without ideology? All nicer alternatives than pro-tuition innuendo. Whatever the case, Kaarenoja treads on terribly thin ice. Tuition fees will certainly be discussed time and again in the future, especially if party approval ratings hold true in any of the upcoming elections. We will be in increased need of journalists who kid us not, but take a stand for students and academics, rather than a shit on a bus.
(Yeah, couldn't keep my hands off poo-gate, could I?)