Punk and Politics is the University of Westminster’s most prominent journalism brand. The weekly live show holds the Student Union to account, digests campus politics and finds the student angle in stories. The show was born out of students expressing their frustration that they didn’t know how to understand politics, but found its feet by establishing itself as a Student Union watchdog that both celebrated student success and exposed wrong doing.
Despite journalism being taught on campus, the student journalism though good, was sporadic. This show will be remembered this year for leading the way in normalising the entire radio station’s brand as the core regular way to hold the student union to account. Whether because union staff members said our on air hustings had become an essential part of the election campaign, or their insistence that despite making their job difficult, the show’s work is vital to make the institution better; informing the Westminster experience is our legacy.
The show was presented and produced by a small but regular team of presenters and reporters who spent a lot of time investing in relationships with key players in the wider station, university and student union in order to have a wealth of stories to report on. The weekly live show featured on air debates, packages and prepared two ways to best inform the audience. We regularly collaborated with the wider stations volunteers in to broadcast OB panel discussions and debates.
These relations were where our first story in the piece comes from. This was our biggest story because of the University’s history with the emotional word, extremism. Westminster has a history of alumni being linked to terrorism, including the Birmingham dirty bomb plot. When we broke the news about an Islamic Cleric with extremist views being announced last-minute at the Islamic society’s (ISOC) best attended event of the year, it was clear that the story would move quickly and we would need to follow it intently. Following the initial broadcast, we chased the Student Union, University and ISOC for comment. All parties initially dismissed the topic as a ‘non-story’. However the Times agreed with us, that this was an important story. After breaking the story live on air it was picked up by the paper, and thanks to our extensive news gathering the story appeared on the 2nd page of the Times Saturday edition. Working with the Times also returned robust responses in time for our in-depth broadcast. Keen to present all sides and allow the audience to make up their own mind, we played audio of the event on top of laying out the detail of our in-depth research. It was important to ensure all parties were represented, including voiced statements for those who weren’t prepared to be interviewed.
Content of the show is primarily focused on student politics, on our campus. However, the show also covered national topics, though in a way that considered: how does this effect Westminster students? One example is of ‘Stop and Search’. A Westminster student approached the show following the arrest of another London union’s president. He had tried to prevent an illegal stop and search happening metres away from the campus doors. Our coverage asked; are black students being unfairly picked out?
As you’ll hear in the entry, event coverage was a focus of our show. We championed the ideals of the university’s ‘Westminster+’ scheme, celebrating the extra knowledge you pick up at University. However, just as students don’t feel able to engage with politics, extra events can be a big ask for our London-based audience. Many take on work in order to maintain the high rent, travel and food bills. We covered events so they could be packaged into a digestible format.
This show not only set its own news agenda, but that of the rest of the campus media. Listening to one of our vice presidents admitting sexism was prevalent in the student union was a turning point in the Women in Leadership campaign. This is an example of how diversity is a big part of the news agenda of the show. The University of Westminster has one of the most multicultural communities of students in the country. During the run up to student union elections we covered the LGBT society’s report that said 1 in 3 of their members had suffered homophobic abuse at university. Our coverage was a large factor in it becoming one of the most discussed election topics. This story was particularly relevant due to the ‘them and us’ culture building up between faith students and those of the LGBT community. They went on to call for some of the ISOC guests to be ‘No Platformed’.
A key part of the development of stories was an effort to do as much original journalism as possible, setting, rather than following the news agenda. This coverage was successful because not only did we report on air, but in regular articles edited with the strongest journalistic standards. One of the biggest stories on campus this year was the split between the Student Union and its event company ‘So Fresh ‘n’ So Clean’. We had begun research for an investigative article following student union sources alleging a former VP was pocketing some of the unions’ event profits. Although we were unable to prove this was the case, our research formed part of the financial investigation that lead to the companies splitting. After the split we were able to report on the true nature of the break up, and detail the £100,000 pounds worth of debt the events brand had accrued, that the union was now liable for.
We’re also particularly proud of our twitter account that live tweeted special events and built up a reputation of always being first to report news. Our use of social media with these events meant that those outside the room were represented by the station, which was crucial at events like the AGM, that only nine students attended.