The Job Tour: Media blamed for Dunedin students' reputation

By Andrew Hughes and Olivia Wix

Andrew Hughes and Olivia Wix are touring the country looking into issues affecting young people entering the job market. Today they report from Dunedin.

A media beat-up? File photo / Otago Daily Times
A media beat-up? File photo / Otago Daily Times

We came to Dunedin with the hope that we'd be able to see some of the drunken antics shown on the news throughout the year. But we found early on that a lot of the people from all over the community say that the media coverage of Dunedin students is heavily sensationalised.

One student told us that leading up to the Undie 500 the local newspaper will start printing stories a week in advance, and will continue for a week after the event, even if it runs smoothly.

Many of the locals also agree with the sensationalism by the media, which they say focuses on only a very small percentage of the student population, and is very unrepresentative as a whole.

Deputy Mayor Syd Brown said that while there is a media sensationalism of Otago students, on a whole they are misbehaving more as the years go on.

He said that 10 years ago there was the odd tomato thrown, but now the students have taken it to the extreme with bottle throwing and lighting fires.

He said the city council and the university are asking people who are considering Dunedin as a place to study, to come with a sense of responsibility and to act only as they would at home.

One of the questions we put to the students we met was "are you concerned that the stereotype of Otago students will impact on the chance of getting a job?"

David Giles, a student who has just finished his second year said that they all realise the stereotype exists, but don't think it will play a large role in their future careers.

"We think that the employers will see our grades, and see that we've finished our degree and will be able to separate the drunk students from the students that work hard."

But anther student we met said that the stereotype makes it understandable that they may be looked over. "I understand that employers will think 'Oh, he went to Otago, he must be a piss-head.'"

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'Studentville'

We toured around an area the locals like to call 'Studentville' where a couch burned and riot police arrived during the Undie 500 celebrations earlier this year.

We couldn't believe the state of the cheap, run-down accommodation and the conditions Otago Uni some students live in, just to get by.

Studentville runs for about four blocks and includes Castle St, Leith St, Howe St and Cumberland St, among others. The old, wooden flats were like something out of a movie set, all with their own, creative names like Beaver Lodge and Moe's. Some actually advertised as a 24-hour bar, with sign-writing out the front, and a mobile number to call.

A local bartender, Brady, befriended us and showed us around the area. His local knowledge was astounding, and he seemed to know everyone and anyone worth knowing through his years working in popular bars like Captain Cook's and the local Super Liquor. Which brings us to our next point.

The market for alcohol in Dunedin, as you can imagine, is highly competitive. One bar owner we talked to believed that the council's consideration of the 'One-thirty, one way' rule (which means you can leave, but not enter bars after 1.30am) is directly targeted at cutting down student drinking, but says it will only make things worse and drive students to the streets.

It later turned out that one of his bars used to be the place to be for students, but is going under. Meanwhile the Dunedin drinking culture is fuelled by bars and radio stations, who help to fund it through promotions.

For example, "Put our flyer in your window and we'll give the flat $200 worth of beer". Needless to say the flyer was in almost every flat in Studentville.

However, one flat we chatted with, when asked about the biggest issue facing Dunedin students, returned to the point we had heard often and replied "the media".

'Constantly bashing us'

One of the flatmates, Matthew, said that the media are "constantly bashing us". Another student we talked to said that the media love it when these riots and other well-known antics take place, but they never report on stories of students doing well, or events running smoothly.

Without doubt it's clear that the students are a vital part of the town. They bring a lot of money into the city, and locals say that if it weren't for the cruise ship season in summer, then the local economy would be a ruin.

But one issue facing a lot of the students is the job front. Students and the jobs go hand in hand. When they are in the city for the university year, then more jobs are created to help cater for them, but when they leave, all those jobs disappear, meaning its very difficult to stay in the city all year round.

The other problem is that as there are so many students there is a fight for the small amount of jobs available.

David says this means that employers get a good deal as they can pay all their staff minimum wage, because if a student had the nerve to ask for more, then the employer would just hire someone else.

As we leave Dunedin, we've realised that the town is more united than is often perceived. Locals love the students, and vice-versa. It's almost as though the locals know what they're in for so have accepted the drinking culture associated with the students in the city.

Our time here has made us realise that even though we love watching their drunken antics on the news, they only happen very rarely, and are only done by a small number of students.

Join us for our next stop on the job tour. We're going to Christchurch.

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