Discussing Refugees on Record and why student publications are vital to counterbalancing mass media

Carsten Torgeson, Staff Writer

I do not think I am alone in saying that the world, as depicted by revenue-motivated mainstream media, can be overwhelming. The news, in an effort to cover the spectacle of human suffering en masse, ultimately fails in its mission to inform the public, instead generating apathy and disconnectedness. I knew this when I first started writing for The Observer at the end of 2022, and it was my hope that by writing for a smaller student publication, I might wage a personal war against this feeling of disenchantment. It worked—so much so that I chose to double my journalistic output by writing for another student publication, Refugees on Record (ROR). As this school year draws to a close, I want to briefly state three of the most salient features of student publications that help you, dear reader, to forge onward in your quest to be sensitive, well-informed and interested in the world around you.

First, in a world increasingly censored by political correctness—justified or not—student publications carve out spaces for the voices of budding thinkers. It is not that classrooms do not provide this space—they do. But with classrooms being commonly prone to groupthink and consensus, they rarely allow much room for dissent. Student publications are spaces for both orthodox and heterodox ideas to meet in a collaborative discourse that renders both positions more well-rounded and sound in the end.

 Second, student publications produce stories and opinion pieces that matter to the student population. Be it a piece breaking down the controversy behind the new “Harry Potter” video game, coverage of an inflammatory letter sent out by a dean or the human-centered story of a refugee, student publications are free to publish creative, thought-provoking and relevant pieces. These pieces are unlikely to be found in other forms of media, where the most sensational pieces are given precedence. 

Third, related to the previous point, student publications battle the disconnected, distant and—at times—inhumane perspectives of mainstream media. These perspectives stem from too broad a scope and too strong a drive to churn out commodified stories for consumption. Student publications do this by moving in the opposite direction—by zooming in and emphasizing the individual and the human. This is not to say they do not consider global stories, only that they do so in a way that does not overwhelm the reader and informs the student body. By doing this, student publications cover stories that press with shocking urgency and convey their importance through fostering deep-seeded interest in the topic—something that mainstream media struggles to do.  

To varying degrees, both The Observer and ROR exemplify all three of these traits. In the case of The Observer—especially the Opinion section for which I write—the first and second traits are clearly manifested. On the other hand, ROR leans most heavily into the third trait. The purpose of ROR is to highlight the human stories that lie behind the oft-quoted refugee statistics that are found in mainstream media. Whereas mainstream media attempts to cover refugee crises in its entirety—to the detriment of a human narrative—ROR endeavors to lean into the lived experiences of refugees by utilizing a long-form, human-centered approach to its reporting. The result, in my opinion, is a set of deeply moving stories that function to humanize people affected by refugee crises and paint pictures of hope, optimism and resilience in the face of extreme adversity. These emotions—all of which are conducive to positive change—stand in refreshing contrast to the sensational desolation and despair peddled by other media outlets. As we enter the summer months, I encourage you to search for news that does not come from the loudest microphone. Small publications—especially student publications such as The Observer and ROR—are special, and your engagement with them is necessary to maintain an unbiased and effective media sphere that can deliver on its larger journalistic purpose. Read, send letters to the editors, and—if you feel like going even further—become a contributing writer. With one in five publications closing prior to the pandemic, and over 360 closing since its onset, small publications are becoming increasingly hard to find. And considering they are a breath of fresh air in a world of sensationalized news from only a few colossal organizations, they should not be taken for granted. 

In the coming year, keep an eye out for special editions of The Observer containing ROR content and take a look at the vibrant and compelling stories of individual refugees from around the world on the ROR Medium page. ROR publishes on a semi-regular basis and will be recruiting new interviewers/writers and interpreters in the fall. Keep an eye out for emails from the CampusGroup page of its parent organization, Refugee Outreach Collective at CWRU Undergraduate Chapter (ROC@CWRU Undergrad), in the coming months.