For almost 70 years, Newcastle University’s award-winning student newspaper The Courier has been the truest reflection of popular student opinion of the moment. Arches sat down with current editor Tom Nicholson (BA English Literature 2013, MA Media and Journalism 2014) and his former tutor and previous editor David Baines (BA English and Philosophy 1977), Senior Lecturer in Journalism, to hear about the paper’s longevity and its role in the student community.
Forty years apart in their editorial duties, Tom Nicholson and David Baines share an identical level of loyalty and passion for The Courier.
Initially produced for King’s College, the newspaper began its life as The King’s Courier, a four-page newsletter which sought to ‘bind the separate parts of the college more closely together’.
Several decades later, it continues to pride itself as being the voice of Newcastle’s student community. Most – if not all – students who have studied at Newcastle will have read The Courier regularly. The fact that it is so significant to so many people is demonstrated by the number of graduates who pick up the special souvenir edition that is published during Congregations.
Life in the press room
Settling quickly into conversation, Tom and David shared their experiences of a busy but enjoyable time working for The Courier.
‘It was always engrossing,’ recalls David, ‘It took over your entire life. I was always rushing off essays and dashing from tutorials to get to The Courier office.
‘Sometimes I would work from nine in the morning until 10.00pm or midnight, but it was always exciting. You were always trying to squeeze more stories into the paper, but we had strict deadlines for the printers.’
‘I recognise so much of that,’ replies Tom smiling. ‘Not a lot has changed!
‘The rhythm of the week is perhaps slightly different these days and we do have times of real pressure, but everyone has a real buzz about them. It can get tense, but it’s really addictive.’
At a time when newspapers around the world are cutting back – or even closing – The Courier continues to grow and expand. ‘It’s impressive it’s still going,’ says David, ‘Not only in print, but online too. There are a lot of papers out there that have suffered enormously, yet The Courier goes from strength to strength.'
Tom agrees: ‘The narrative of student press is that very few places still do a weekly paper. People are cutting down and economising, but we’ve recently added another four pages – and I’d like to add another four more!’
So why and how does the paper remain so successful? ‘I think it’s very much part of the conversation of the place,’ says David. ‘It helps give the University its sense of community and belonging. There’s plenty to read too and crucially, it’s always really well put together.’
‘I like the fact it’s a bastion of traditional and good journalism, but also very modern,’ Tom adds. ‘We try to stay within the ‘student bubble’ as much as possible so that we stay relevant to our readership.’
With such a big publication covering a wide range of issues and stories – as well as the team of writers, editors, photographers and designers having academic commitments – the discussion inevitably turns to managing priorities.
‘It can be stressful,’ says Tom, ‘But I always enjoy it, it never stops being interesting. Our readers feel strongly about the University and the issues that matter to them. It’s really important that we help bring these debates to a wide audience through the pages of The Courier.’
David was quick to share Tom’s sentiment saying: ‘Some people have a view that students aren’t engaged, but they most certainly are. The paper has never just focused on student issues either, but wider global issues too.’
David has worked in journalism throughout his career. Although busy in his role as a programme director for the MA in International Multi-Media Journalism in the School of Arts and Cultures, he remains involved with the paper and is a valuable source of expertise and advice for the current editorial team.
‘If we’re uncertain about anything, whether it is legal advice or direction on tackling a difficult story, we can always chat to David or Mark (Blacklock, Associate Lecturer and former regional reporter on the Daily Express national newspaper),’ says Tom. ‘They are both very knowledgeable.’
‘There’s also a great wealth of expertise that runs on year after year. The teams involved are always more than happy to pass their expertise down the line,’ says David.
‘Continuity is a big part of the paper’s success,’ Tom adds. ‘We try to have as many people as possible to help hand over to the next team. This is my fourth year of being involved in the paper.
‘A lot of others stay a while too, which shows how remarkably difficult it is to let go!’
The Courier will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2018. Before then, the complete archive of the newspaper is set to be digitised and made available online. The archive is set to be a fascinating resource that chronicles not only the history of the University and student culture, but advancements within journalism too.
After many years’ working for daily newspapers, David now leads research and debate on the future of journalism.
‘There have been such big changes in journalism of late,’ says David. ‘For me, one of the most valuable things about being at the University is being able to give our students such great opportunities to learn.’
Tom, who will hand over the keys to The Courier office to his successor this summer, has certainly appreciated having David as a tutor. ‘It was great,’ he says. ‘To get the benefit of his experience and expertise was brilliant, particularly with his experience being rooted in the North East. The MA programmes in Journalism give students excellent opportunities to find new ways of telling stories and figuring out how to make the best use of media channels to tell them.’
David and Tom both agree these are exciting times, not just for journalism, but for The Courier too.
‘Journalism is such a fast-moving environment. We are going to see a lot of changes, not just over the next five years, but in the next 12 months,’ says Tom.
‘The format of The Courier might eventually change too, but the fundamentals will always remain – The Courier will always stand for quality journalism.’
You can read the latest from The Courier, and browse digital editions of the newspaper, online at: www.thecourieronline.co.uk
published on: 17 August 2015