Bond journalism students are currently working on Australia’s biggest-ever student journalism project, reporting on the 2016 federal election campaign through UniPollWatch.
With participating students from 28 universities, the UniPollWatch project aims to cover every lower house seat in the country with electorate and candidate profiles and reporting on key policy issues. It also features key Senate candidates and ‘explainer’ articles to make politics accessible to readers and especially first-time voters.
As part of their reporting, Bond students have been covering the Gold Coast electorates of Fadden, McPherson and Moncrieff, and have also ‘graded’ all 150 House of Representatives on their performance in parliament.
The website is published by the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) and is expected to publish its 500th story this week.
The stories, which are produced by journalism students from first year undergraduate to post-graduate level, have the potential to reach a diverse and wide audience via online and social media platforms, and in partnership with Guardian Australia.
UniPollWatch Editor-in-Chief Andrew Dodd, from Swinburne University of Technology, said the mass work-integrated learning project was a world first.
“It started with four universities covering the 2014 Victorian election. It worked so well we're now replicating it on a larger scale with JERAA as the publisher. It is now the biggest university student journalism project ever undertaken in Australia,” he said.
“Throughout the election campaign it will offer insights into relevant people and issues through the eyes of journalism students, many of whom will be voting for the first time in this election.
“UniPollWatch will provide in-depth coverage of every electorate, most candidates and key election policies. It’s clear and accessible online platform provides at-a-glance information.
“We understand the constraints for political journalists in covering the whole nation, so UniPollWatch offers a mosaic of local stories, which will add to overall coverage, while giving journalism students around the nation a chance to actively report on the election.”
JERAA president Matthew Ricketson said: “UniPollWatch is a great initiative for journalism students around the country. It brings the classroom to local campaign events, and (electronic) tally room, enabling students to learn-by-doing in a live environment that will sharpen their professional practice skills and ensure they contribute to a key national event.
"This is where journalism education is heading in the 21st century. Journalism schools and their students can play an important role in providing comprehensive coverage of newsworthy events and issues in a way that no other media organisation in the country has resources to undertake.”
Bond University Journalism lecturer Caroline Graham said she was thrilled that her students were part of what was one of the country's biggest newsrooms covering the federal election.
“As well as being a chance for journalism students to gain valuable reporting experience, the UniPollWatch project is a way to increase civic participation and involve young people directly in coverage of and engagement with federal politics,” she said.
“What could be better experience than covering that issues that matter to our local electorates as news breaks and reporting to a national audience?
“Knowing that their work will reach a large audience and could even influence politicians and voters has been inspiring and has pushed students to work hard to ensure their work is of the highest standard possible."
Bond journalism student Ashley Gaden, who is approaching the end of her double degree in Journalism/Law, said being part of such a practical experiment was very beneficial.
“It's taught me that perseverance is key and that despite your intentions and ideas, the information you collect, and sometimes the information that's withheld, can change the scope of your story and the direction it goes in,” Ashley said.
“My grandfather always had two main interests with television - sport and politics, so from a young age I've had an insight into politics and my own opinion.
“However, this project allowed me to solidify my own political beliefs and provide some individual confirmation as to my vote.
“It has ultimately broadened my perspective and insight into other political parties, along with trends and individual performances.”