Observant: an independent voice
June 15, 2002 Leave a Comment
Riki Janssen is editor-in-chief at the Observant, the weekly independent newspaper of the University of Maastricht. A professional journalist, she has been working with the Observant for the last 11 years.
What is the mandate of the Observant? How is it different from other newspapers?
First of all, we are an independent paper. That is very important because we can write what we want. Of course, we mainly cover issues pertaining to the University of Maastricht. But we don’t only write about things that make the university look good – we love scandals as well! Our approach is to look at the University as if it were a village and we are the paper of that village.
How did the Observant start? Has it changed a lot over the years?
The University of Maastricht was created 25 years ago and the Observant four years later. Since most universities in the Netherlands had their independent news- papers, the UM decided it was necessary to have one too. The Observant started off with one professional staff member, now it has seven and the student volunteers receive more training than before. In the beginning, the University of Maastricht only consisted of the faculty of medicine. Over the first 10-15 years, we discussed mainly the new studies and programmes that were being implemented. Today, we are much more student-minded – we try to write about what they think and feel.
Who are your readers? What are their reactions and criticisms?
Our readers consist of mainly students and staff members. Bridging these two groups is often very difficult as they have very different interests. We recently conducted focus groups and noticed, for example, that many students won’t read an editorial if the author’s picture is of an “old guy! ”
What are the challenges of being editor-in-chief of this kind of paper?
Making everybody happy. For example, we wrote about members of the board of the Faculty of Medicine who had to leave because they had financial problems and major disagreements. Some people were really angry, saying we made the University look bad. But I think that is what makes us strong. It is when you are open and seek to tell the truth that you are strong!
Source: Crossroads print issue, June 2002