YES/NO: Is The Tab bad for student journalism?



Journalism is meant to hold the powerful to account, to advance self-governance and inform democracy. Good journalism is motivated by the value of the article to inform and educate, not to bring in revenue.            
At a glance The Tab seems like a meritocracy – its contributors are promoted and can even be paid based on the number of shares their articles receive. But rather than pushing good writing, this model encourages frivolous articles, quizzes and clickbait.

Journalists at The Tab have no motivation to conduct lengthy investigations into universities or students’ unions, because the opportunity cost is too high. Their reporters are more likely to be paid, or be made an editor, for writing five “Which X is your college?” articles than one article holding people to account.

The Tab relies on traffic from Twitter and Facebook where funny articles with attention grabbing headlines always bring in more readers than lengthy, necessarily wordy pieces about potentially complicated problem on campus.

Not-for-profit student newspapers like York Vision and Nouse are only accountable to their readers; the only reason to write one story over another is its newsworthiness, rather than the page hits and advertising money.

Journalists at The Tab have little motivation to spend hours poring over documents from Freedom of Information requests, because readers will usually prefer to read something else.

That isn’t a problem with readers of The Tab, but that its bosses don’t seem to think journalism can be inherently good an important, separate from the money articles bring in. The Tab makes for good business, but often at the expense of quality reporting.

It is unfair to dismiss The Tab just because it exists to turn a profit – of course, every national paper does – but it is unique in student journalism because its business model puts turnover ahead of important reporting.

The Tab is not the worst offender online, but websites like the Lad Bible and UniLad now also offer ‘news’ sections that don’t offer real news. If people are told ‘news’ consitutes gossip, quizzes and images of people clubbing, then people demand less of journalism overall.

Of course in the past The Tab, notably in Cambridge where it was founded, has done good investigative work. But in countless editions of The Tab around the country, the profiteering of its founders is evident. This is most problematic at universities without a not-for-profit student paper.

Worse, while many of their hacks actually go unpaid, Tab bosses are rolling in money from investors keen for a piece of the lucrative pie. In December, one US firm alone poured a staggering £2million into the website – lots of its journalists won’t see a penny of that.

The Tab says that instead of paying students it offers them experience and a route into the highly competitive industry. But, much like unpaid internships, this model only serves to devalue journalism, and is exploitative when business is booming. There is a place for The Tab in student journalism, but its readers should be mindful its articles are driven by profit.


It is very easy to dismiss The Tab at first glance, it’s grown hugely popular in a short space of time, and now dominates our Facebook news feeds every day. They are a business and do need to make money, and sometimes the rule does seem to be quantity rather than quality of content.

However, the snobbish view that The Tab is filled with merely frivolous writing is misplaced. Yes, journalism is meant to inform and hold the powerful to account, but also to entertain. No one wants to read something that’s boring.

There are definitely more ‘not-for-profit’ student newspapers around the country that do more to harm student journalism with lacklustre content and design than The Tab do. The ‘social justice warrior’ worldview that is intrinsic to traditional student media publications is tiresome and turns readers off from reading, and towards sites like The Tab. The Tab also employ adult journalists to edit the student’s piece, helping them to improve their writing and also ensure that power-hungry student journalists are reminded that it’s about the story, not about them. It is not as if poor writing escapes traditional student newspapers either, when I was editor of York Vision, some of the articles we included in the paper were utterly awful!

The idea that student newspapers such as York Vision and Nouse spend hours upon hours working on lengthy investigations is simply not true. Having to put together an entire print version of a newspaper means that if anything you have less time to spend on your stories. A student writing for The Tab recently had their story on the front page of The Times, and I doubt it was an article about students’ favourite hangover food or a quiz.

The idea that student journalists who are writing for The Tab are only motivated by views and insignificant monetary rewards is utterly false. The main opportunities offered by The Tab are contacts within the industry and the opportunity for work placement with major publications. To gain the attention of the bosses at The Tab, they need to see quality writing and journalism so that they don’t feel embarrassed sending your CV across to Fleet Street. An organisation like The Tab helps to get student journalists jobs, what could be better for student journalism than that? Encouraging students that there is a way into the industry if they work hard and produce good articles. Unfortunately, the world we live in is one dominated by unpaid internships and working for nothing to get your foot in the door, but this model also works to ensure that only the truly dedicated will find a way of making it work and landing a dream job in journalism.

York has a proud history of student journalism, but a greater threat to our student journalism than The Tab, is under-funding from student unions. On a recent trip to the Student Publication Awards, browsing the content of other student publications from all across the country, York’s media is being starved of the resources that help it to be as good as it is. While kneejerk reactions to relatively new kids on the block, The Tab, are understandable, maybe the finger needs to be pointed at students unions, particularly our own YUSU, to ensure the health of student journalism and that it continues to flourish.