Censorship, politics and student lessons

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Another slightly elderly link (I’ve been playing catch-up after a hectic week back at the mag):

St Andrews union bans student newspaper | Samizdata.net:

The Saint, the award-winning tabloid student newspaper at the University of St Andrews, has been banned by the student union. Though this will not stop the paper circulating among students, The Saint will no longer be on sale in the union shop and, more seriously, the paper is being thrown out of its editorial office on the top floor of the union building. The argument used for the ban is that the paper does not respect the dignity of all students.

Once more the difficult relationship between student newspapers and student unions rears its ugly head. Student rags are curious beasts: many of them are funded by the student union, but are theoretically independent of them. Worse, they have to report on the very body that funds them. As student politicians have a tendency to believe themselves to be right with a fervor that only prime ministers in their third term in office can normally match, conflict is often inevitable. It was in this arena that I encountered my first blatant attempt at censorship.

I started my journalistic career on student mags, initially on Imperial College, London’s Felix and later on Queen Mary College‘s Cub after I switched both college and degree. It was only once I’d finished my two years as magazine editor and embarked on a year as a sabbatical welfare officer that this union/magazine conflict came to a head.

The final issue of the year carried a couple of news stories critical of the union sabbaticals. My fellow sabbaticals got wind of this, and intercepted the magazine at the printer. They stripped out the two negative stories and then replaced them with two puff pieces for union activities. Of course, the writing style, typeface and design ethos didn’t match with the rest of the news spread, but they seemed content with their work, and left the issue rolling off the presses.

The printers, bless their hearts, phoned me and warned me that this had happened. I got hold of the Cub editor of the time, Ruth Addicott (who has worked for Press GazetteandThe Argus) and her deputy Paul Clements (who has gone on to edit the *Pink Paper *and work on High Life), rushed to the printers and collected the printed copies of the magazine. We took them back to my flat, printed out an A5 sheet with the missing stories and an explanation of what had happened, and hand collated copies into the magazines late into the evening. We then distributed the magazines as normal and sat back to watch the union president and vice-president seething as news of their duplicity spread like wildfire across the campus.

The incident was one of those moments when the idea of journalism really gelled in my mind. People will go to great lengths to silence criticism of themselves. This was a clumsy amateurish attempt by two students. How much more sophisticated are attempts by people who have held power for years? If you wander why so much journalism tends towards the cynical, well, this is one good reason why.

But it’s bloody good fun thwarting such people, I can tell you.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.