“Je suis Charlie” has become the phrase adopted by those wanting to show support for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the days following the attack on their offices in Paris, resulting in the death of 12 people. For student media, the relationship to Charlie is summarised by Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail who said:

“The fluorescent-lit offices of Charlie Hebdo, every time I’ve visited, have resembled nothing more than a student newspaper on production night: a helter-skelter of crumpled papers, cigarette butts, half-full wine bottles and stubble-faced guys trying to think of something funny on deadline”.

Je Suis Charlie (Asia Patel)
Asia Patel for Concrete

For those of us who spend a lot of our spare time volunteering in student media, this is a picture that’s quite familiar, most student newspaper offices look, feel and smell the same. Plenty of student journalists will also identify with the defiant nature of Charlie, and aspire to the edgy, fire-starting topics to which Charlie is drawn.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that many student newspapers have felt the need to rush ahead with an article or editorial covering the attack, to stand in solidarity with a publication which they feel an affinity to. But when professional, international media sources such as the BBC, or the New York Times, are grappling with the correct way to report the atrocity, it couldn’t be clearer that “je ne suis pas Charlie”; I am not Charlie and neither is the wider student media. So how should student media respond, if at all?

As an, albeit inexperienced, journalist, this latest atrocity struck a particular chord with me; I struggled with finding a way to approach the Charlie situation with the appropriate amount of emotion and the professional amount of distance, and debated over whether Concrete should report on the happenings at all. In the end, we felt that reporting on the actions of the press and asking one of our most talented illustrators to respond in a way which reflects the art of those who lost their lives, was the most respectful way to proceed.

Student media should respond by continuing to ask questions and challenge those around them, even when the scoops may not be very exciting, and realising that in many ways we are lucky to operate within a sphere which supports rather than buries opposing ideals; you’ll rarely see more confusion-inducing views than in the opinion pages of a student newspaper, or a medium in which debate is more encouraged, and that is an ideal that Charlie Hebdo stands for; solidarity in freedom of expression.

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