(From Swazi Media Commentary 8 May 2008 www.swazimedia.blogspot.com)

The Times of Swaziland has published a unique supplement of news and features, written by university students.

It's unique because the concept for the supplement, the collection and writing of the material, and persuading the Times to publish it, were all the initiative of the students.

The supplement called Varsity Pulse was published yesterday (7 May 2008). It was organised by students on the Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) diploma at the University of Swaziland (UNISWA). But the fact that they are JMC students at UNISWA is not the point. Varsity Pulse was entirely the initiative of the students.

When the idea for a student newspaper was first raised among the students they sought information from UNISWA about how such a publication might be produced at the university itself.

UNISWA doesn't really trust its students (or its staff for that matter) so it has built a huge bureaucratic wall to stop people taking initiative. In the case of student publications the Dean of Students' Affairs Office would have to oversee the project and decide what could and could not be published: the Dean would in effect be the editor.

Disheartened by the bureaucracy, the students decided to go it alone and try to produce their own publication (but not to claim that it was an officially sanctioned publication of UNISWA). The next problem was the cost of producing the newspaper. In most publication enterprises the largest cost involved is in printing and distributing the final newspaper or magazine.

Despite what some members of the public might think, students are not swimming in spare cash, so they were not able to pay for it themselves. The idea of getting paid advertising was a non-starter because of a lack of time and anyway there are few advertisers in Swaziland and they wouldn't immediately warm to a new newspaper that was untried in the market.

So the students approached the Times and the result was published yesterday. Quite fairly, the Times said that it would treat the material in the same way that it treated any other editorial contributions. It had to be of sufficient quality to be published and it had to adhere to journalism ethics.

Varsity Pulse, which ran for four pages, included articles about student living conditions; what it's like to be a pregnant student; the unusual way some students are using condoms; profiles of a beauty queen and a student political leader; and a comment piece about the lack of freedom of expression in Swaziland. Oh, and an interview with some journalism professor....

As a university teacher I have seen many student publications in my time. Varsity Pulse ranks among the better ones, not only because of the variety of articles it contains that are mainly well written and well researched, but because of the way the supplement was produced entirely on the initiative of the students involved.

I hope there will be more editions of Varsity Pulse. It is a credit to the students and to the Times of Swaziland for supporting it.

Link http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2008/05/swazi-students-write-news.html