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Shane Greer: The battle for student media

Shanegreer02_2 Shane (blog) is a member of the Conservative Party, and is currently interning at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. In this article, the second in a trilogy, he looks at what lessons we can learn from student campaigning in the US.

If, as indicated in the second article in this series, it seems redundant to highlight the dominance leftists enjoy in student government, then to highlight their dominance in student media must, at best, be doubly redundant.  Indeed one could be forgiven for describing their level of influence as being of hegemonic proportions. 

When discussing student government elections in the previous article it was pointed out that a student’s choice is very much limited to different shades of the left.  The analogy given was a choice between Coke and Pepsi.  However when considering student media it should be borne in mind that in the vast majority of cases, no such choice exists.  One student newspaper is available on campus; the only choice a student has is whether to read it or not.  There is no alternative.

The student newspaper at my own alma mater, the Glasgow University Guardian, was replete with leftist propaganda in every edition.  I remember in particular the paper’s voracious opposition to all things Israeli, and support for all things Palestinian.  For example when Colin Powel visited the city, the paper called on protestors to “sharpen their important message.”  Moreover it interviewed a human rights worker whose efforts with Palestinian refugees were hampered by “the increased threats posed by the Israeli government”.  A balanced message was apparently not something greatly valued by the Guardian’s editor. 

As one would expect, the leftist influence in the Guardian extended far beyond the confines of foreign policy.  For example the paper’s implicit opposition to the free market was evident when it condemnedany price rises’ by the local bus company.  The message was quite simple; companies should not be free to set their own prices.  The free market is bad. 

Your own experiences of student media are no doubt very similar. 

Whereas Bastiat called upon the leftists in his time to reform themselves, the task being in his opinion “sufficient enough”, it has become apparent in our time that we must instead do the reforming ourselves.  The leftist ideologues who currently control student media in the UK have no desire to reform their behaviour, to provide balanced news, to give students what they deserve in a campus publication. 

If we are to accept the charge of providing the reformation, if we are to provide the balance so desperately needed, then we must commit ourselves to training young conservatives in the political technology they will need if they are to set up alternative student newspapers. 

If change will not come from within, it must instead come from without

In this article I will not be addressing the techniques, falling under the umbrella of political technology, which young conservatives must be trained in if they are to set up and run the aforementioned alternative student newspapers.  Instead I ask for a leap of faith. 

In the context of this article I ask you to, at least prima facie, accept there is a pressing need to counter the leftist bias in student media, and that the aforementioned training is accordingly needed.  More generally though I ask that you accept the central theme in this series of articles, i.e. that we need to counter the leftist dominance in all spheres of British university life, and that to succeed in this noble endeavour we must be prepared to at least experiment with political technology; we must commit to a departure from doing nothing. 

If you will take this leap of faith, a further matter must be considered: fundraising

I will briefly address this issue in the context of student media; however it is important to bear in mind that effective fundraising is integral to the battle against leftist dominance in British university life as a whole. 

In order to train young conservatives in the political technology necessary to set up and run alternative campus publications, something vitally important is needed: money.  Training seminars cost money; money the students receiving the training will not have.  Setting up a new publication costs money; money the startup publication will not have.  This money will not materialise from thin air, it must be actively sought and acquired.  This is where fundraising comes into the picture. 

In matters of political fundraising the UK is light-years behind the conservative movement in the US.  Often times it is mistakenly argued that the money simply isn’t there for us to raise.  However like many of the defeatist attitudes which flow through British conservatism, this belief is often based purely on speculation and without any empirical data to back it up.  As with the need to at least experiment with the political technology which could deliver victory in the wider battle against the left, so too do we need to experiment with different fundraising techniques, so that we may discover what works and what does not work.  Again, all that is required is a departure from doing nothing. 

A classic example of our failure to utilise effective fundraising techniques is direct mail.  In British politics it is little used, and when it is used it is often poorly crafted.  However, well-crafted, effective direct mail fundraising can produce enormous results.  During my time at the Leadership Institute I was constantly amazed by the returns being generated through the Institute’s direct mail efforts (and this was only one amongst many fundraising techniques which the Institute employed).  There is no reason similar results could not be replicated in the UK. 

Now before the ‘it won’t work, we’re different to the US’ brigade start throwing up obstacles based on knee-jerk reactions, it is worth bearing in mind that the principles of direct mail are almost universally applicable.  Direct mail works by targeting basic human nature.  Adjustments in style and structure will obviously be needed to reflect cultural differences, but the basic concepts behind an effective direct mail package remain the same. 

In the context of the battle for student media this means acquiring lists of people who may be interested in supporting a programme of the aforementioned nature, and sending direct mail ‘prospect’ packages to them.  An effective prospect package should get a hit rate of between 2-3% and can be expected to make a loss (at best it might break-even).  This 2-3% then forms what is known as the ‘house file’.  It is to these people, who are committed to your project and overall goals, that profit making direct mail fundraising drives are targeted, and through which your project’s costs will be met. 

By way of an overall conclusion to this series of articles I submit that the only obstacle to our success in the battle against leftist dominance in British university life will be our own unwillingness to experiment with new ideas and techniques.  Political technology, properly adapted to the peculiar features of the UK student political landscape, holds the key to success.  By supporting organisations like the Young Britons’ Foundation, which seek to deliver the necessary training, our eventual victory will be much quicker in coming. 

We owe it to our philosophy to win.

Previous entry in this series: The battle for student government


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