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BA2 - Bath Uncut - the full interviews

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For our 50th birthday edition of BA2 magazine, we interviewed former student journalists from across the decades about their experiences writing for and editing our University newspapers. Here are their full interviews:

Tony Kerpel MBE (BSc Sociology 1968)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
In the case of Bath the student newspaper was of particular importance because of a) the geographically split site nature of the college and b) the placement/sandwich nature of degrees which meant that at any one time a large proportion of the student body was not on campus but scattered around the UK. So the student newspaper provided a means of establishing a Bath student identity by transmitting information and also reflecting student opinion back to the authorities.

2. You came across as being a very single-minded editor! What motivated you to do the job?
I entered my degree with the sole intention of entering the BBC as a radio news and current affairs producer. So contributing to the student newspaper was a method of developing relevant journalistic skills.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was always a collaborative effort with friends. But when copy was in short supply I have to say that I would bash out up to 25% of the content myself on my portable Hermes typewriter. That is why the paper often contained more opinion than news!

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor?
I don't do pride. But I am pleased that we championed free speech for all shades of opinion ( Enoch Powell came to speak in November 1968 ), and also helped create an atmosphere of constructive student engagement with the university authorities. We also developed good relations with The Bath Evening Chronicle and through that with the city. That was very important in the early days of town-gown relationships being developed.

5. Did what you publish ever change anything at the University?
You need to recall that Bath University was being created while I was there. There were no traditions, no proper student facilities, and so to a great extent we could work with the Vice Chancellor to create the basis for future generations. Through the newspaper we articulated student demands for both facilities to be built and representative structures/committees through which the student voice could be effective.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Not that I can recall although I'm open to having my memory jogged.

7. Some of the stories published were quite close to the mark! Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
Yes. In the interests of fearless expose journalism I visited a Soho stripclub and wrote an unexpurgated account of the delights on show. Our printers refused to publish this article on the grounds of obscenity. So we went ahead with our own version rolled out on a duplicating machine and inserted this loose leaf article into SUL. It caused both offence and amusement. How ironic that four years later I joined the British Board of Film Censors as its youngest film examiner!

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
This was the 1960s after all. So pushing boundaries was part of the zeitgeist.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
This was the time of student revolt and many campuses were experiencing serious disruption over the issue of student representation in the running of universities. In the case of Bath the then Vice-Chancellor, George Moore, was surprisingly open minded about granting a limited degree of student representation on university committees thereby defusing the sort of resentment and protest one saw at other universities.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
None at all. I was completely non party political.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Possibly.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Do it, but always with the aim of making a public service contribution to the wellbeing of your fellow students.

Nick Savage (BSc Sociology 1971)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
A student newspaper in the context of the 1967 to 1971 period ( a new campus location, new univ., no radio station, no TV station, pre-web) .... very important. The only other undergraduate channel for comms was the student noticeboard and screen-printed posters. In the context of 2016 - probably not important - how often do you see an 18-year old student with a paid-for print newspaper ?

2. How much freedom did you have? 
Editors had a lot of freedom. At the direct level, the Bath Students Union Finance Committee held the purse strings, but did not try and influence. However, we ran 'SUL' on a responsible journalism basis, according to what we imagined were Fleet Street principles, so aimed to be serious about news, verifying sources etc. University authorities expressed displeasure occasionally, but the academic commitment to freedom of speech was pretty strong then. We were pretty impervious to pressure anyway.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
The technology involved was so different then : the amount of work required was substantial with a fortnightly print deadline - probably 4 or 5 days cumulatively out of every 10 days. The joint editors carried a lot of the workload. A life-size layout had to be done, marked up the way the printers wanted it : copy was type-written and then had to be set in letterpress type fonts at the printers, pictures had to be sourced hard copy, and photographic printers blocks manufactured.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor?
I was proudest of the fact that the paper made it to the students' hands every fortnight on-time, and that students paid cover-price money for it : a source of wonder and astonishment at the time to me. Aside from that, the satirical pieces that Keith and I collaborated on for the spoof gossip column, 'Mortimer Honey', originated by a previous Editor, Tony Kerpel.

5. Did what you publish ever change anything at the University?
Did we try to change things ? Yes. Did we actually change anything ? No.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Any regrets ? Yes, a particularly florid and grossly over-written Editorial I wrote early in the Editorship which I cannot now contemplate without a severe cringe of embarassment. See also Q.11.

7. Some of the stories published were quite close to the mark! Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
I cannot recall ever being asked to pull a story, and I don't recall getting into trouble, though we were pretty thick-skinned then.

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
The journalistic principle is to reveal facts that other people want to conceal. We drove the paper on that basis. I can't say we thought about pushing any boundaries even if it appeared so in hindsight.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
The dominant issue was the build-up of a New University on a new campus (i.e. opening a wondrous University Library building, which had a tiny number of books - the consequence of two separate & disconnected sources of funding - Construction Budget and Facilities Budget). Student politics and the wider controversies of student revolution in 1968 proved to have little connection with a wildly technocratic Univ of Technology.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was never conscious of my own political views (such as they were) having any influence on what I wrote.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Most unfortunately, yes. See answer to Q6. In fairness, that was one of the first things I had ever written for print, and I did manage to improve my writing style as I went along.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
I'm sure that I would not be thinking about a printed-paper medium at Bath University today. My advice would be : while you are there, step back and look for the larger issues - is it quality and personal impact of the lecturing ? am I getting value for the fees I pay and the cost of my 3 or 4 years ? is there a connection between the way the University administration makes decisions and what the student population wants ? In other words, get stuck in and make sure at the same time that you learn how to communicate in a language that everyone can understand.

Nick was editor along with Keith Cameron (BSc Sociology 1971)

Sue Ryan (BSc Sociology 1972)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
They are a necessary tool for providing information and provoking debate on campus. But they are also essential as the first step for a career in newspapers. Nearly every journalist started out on a student paper. I recruit graduates to become trainee journalists interviewing over 100 every year and if it's not on the CV I want to know why.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
Complete freedom - though I fear I failed to take advantage of that.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a team effort and we all worked hard but university papers were not as strong then as now and while we all wrote pieces there was a not a lot of digging going on, so there was a not a lot of burning the midnight oil.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor/writer?
I seem to remember that getting it out on time, with enough advertising to pay the printers, was always the main achievement. I have written so many thousand words since then so I am afraid most of what I wrote or commissioned is lost in the mists of time.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
I think we may have contributed to ending the University beauty queen contest. Yes really, universities had them.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
I do remember using the whole of the front page for a colour picture of Che Guevara. I have no idea why. It looked very striking but we didn’t even try to write copy to justify it. Its not what we published that I regret but what we didn’t publish. Students were centre stage on the public arena. Tariq Ali, Grosvenor Square riots, Enoch Powell were headline news and I don’t think we really engaged. What a golden period to be a student editor, and what a missed opportunity.

7. Some of the stories published in the late 1960s and early 1970s were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Were you ever asked to pull a story?
I never got into trouble – at least not to do with the newspaper – which given it was the peak time for investigative journalism– means I must have been a very tame editor.

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
It was the sixties, boundaries were being pushed all over the country and we just went with the flow. we didn't really feel we had boundaries.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
The University was tiny - as indeed was the population of Bath, and the pace of growth was the source of most ‘home’ news. Nationally, the IRA were planting bombs all over the country, but not in Bath. The city did stage some student marches, the chant was Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher – in reference to her policy of stopping free school milk in schools. Enoch Powell came to the University – or at least a hall close by – and some students staged a protest and rocked his car until it almost turned over.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
None.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Absolutely not. I wince at what I might have written.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Do it to have fun, to have your voice heard, to work in a team, and to further you career . Try everything - polemic, interviews, features news stories, investigations, sub-editing , production. And aim to be the editor.

Martin Nesirky (BA MLES German 1982)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
Student newspapers serve several purposes; informing and entertaining students in a style they understand, providing practical information and news that other outlets are unlikely to cover and offering a training ground for would-be journalists, graphic designers, editors and others. Of course the advent of social media, to give just one obvious and pervasive example, has allowed people to deliver and consume news and information in many other ways beyond a printed newspaper.

2. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a small but dedicated team and we worked many hours on the reporting, writing, photographs, typing up, layout and distribution. It was tremendous fun. Some of us were intent on becoming journalists but not all by any means. And one kind soul had to drive to Bristol to deliver the layouts to the printer and bring back the newspapers.

3. What were you most proud of in your time writing for and editing Spike?
As editor I think I was most proud of producing Spike in newspaper format and trying, with my friends and colleagues, to cover stories in a way that would appeal to our readers.

4. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
That's difficult to judge and probably for others to say. I hope it encouraged others to take up journalism and to think critically. And if not, I hope it made the fish and chips taste better.

5. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Of course, with hindsight, some of what we thought passed for satire or gossip probably missed the mark.

6. Some of the stories published were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Was your editor ever asked to pull a story?
One issue of the newspaper had to be withdrawn because a photograph was considered to be too risqué. Probably not our finest hour, but no lasting damage, I believe.

7. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
My main aim, and the aim of the team, was to produce Spike as a "proper" newspaper.

8. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for Spike?
Student politics and the anti-apartheid movement were certainly major themes.

9. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was not particularly politically active and I tried to separate my own views from editing and writing, not least because I knew this would be important in a future journalist career and more immediately to try to ensure Spike appealed to as wide a readership as possible.

10. If you read one of your pieces today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I certainly recognise myself in the writing and recognise also how much I still had to learn about journalism - and the world!

11. What impact did student journalism have on your career after graduating?
My student journalism and my studies at Bath had a direct impact on my career. I joined Reuters news agency (now Thomson Reuters) as a graduate trainee in September 1982 and remained with them until March 2006, having had postings in London, Moscow, The Hague, East Berlin and Seoul and reported from many other places. It also helped me when I subsequently joined the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and then the United Nations in public information and spokesman roles.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Times have changed dramatically since we struggled with sticking bits of copy on to layout sheets and developing photographs in the darkroom. Websites and social media were of course unimaginable at the time. But the core skills of reporting, writing, editing and critical thinking as well as news photography and graphic design are useful not only if you wish to enter journalism. Student publishing helps to open a window on to university life and fosters teamwork as well as individual skills. And of course it's highly enjoyable. Embrace this and any other similar opportunity at Bath University while you can.

Deborah Hargreaves (BA MLES German 1983)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
Student newspapers are a great way of getting started in journalism and honing some skills in an informal environment before being thrown into the competitive world of real journalism. It is much easier now to set up your own blog and contribute online to get some journalistic experience, but in the 1980s when I was writing for Spike, student papers were one of the only ways to prepare for a career in journalism.

2. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a fairly straightforward process of putting the paper together, although at times it could involve a last-minute rush and a few all-nighters.

3. What were you most proud of in your time writing for and editing Spike?
I enjoyed covering some of the political events of the time. I was writing for Spike in 1982-83 and there was a lot of political upheaval going on. We interviewed some of the politicians involved and went to political rallies.It made me feel part of the political process.

4. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
We campaigned against proposals by the then education secretary, Keith Joseph, to introduce student loans or fees. He dropped these plans in 1984, so collectively, student protest had maybe worked.

5. Is there anything you regret publishing?
I can't remember anything we regretted publishing.

6. Some of the stories published were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Was your editor ever asked to pull a story?
I was writing for Spike for just one year 1982-83, and I don't remember any pressure to pull a story.

7. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
We were keen to be provocative and campaigning, but equally eager to be taken seriously. So while we did take risks and push the boundaries, we also wanted to be a voice that would be listened to, so couldn't go too far.

8. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for Spike?
Interestingly, one of the dominant issues at the time echoes today's concerns in that we were campaigning strongly against any introduction of student fees or loans or even any top-up payment for tuition fees. We were lucky enough to benefit from government grants for our tuition and maintenance and we strongly felt these should remain.

9. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was very interested in left-wing politics at the time. In another striking echo of today, there was a lot of disarray and upheaval in the Labour party. The Gang of Four politicians had left the Labour party in 1981 to set up the SDP which later merged to become the Lib-Dems. I interviewed Shirley Williams at a rally in Devizes for the 1983 election and I think I gave her a very sympathetic hearing. I met her recently in the House of Lords and reminded her, she predicted I would have a good career in journalism!

10. If you read one of your pieces today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I think my writing at the time was a bit naiive. I went on to become a business journalist so maybe I am now a lot more cynical.

11. What impact did student journalism have on your career after graduating?
Student journalism was instrumental in launching me into my career. It gave me some cuttings and experience to talk about at interviews. My first job was with a trade magazine and I then went to the Financial Times for 19 years, working in the US, London and Brussels. I then went to the Guardian as business editor for 4 years. In 2012 I set up my own think tank - the High Pay Centre to research top pay and inequality.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
As someone who has recruited young graduates into journalism and was involved with the FT graduate recruitment interviews for a couple of years, I would say that student journalism - or at least some experience of writing, blogging and commenting - is essential for anyone considering a career in newspapers. It is a very competitive environment and it helps to stand out in any way.

Ellie Barker (BSc Sociology 1996)

1. Why do you think student publications are important?
I think they are important for two main reasons. They give students their own voice, but it also gives those with an interest in journalism a chance to have a go and see if it is for them. When I was at Bath there was Spike, but also a radio station and television station.I saw people who never thought they would be any good at radio, turn into fabulous presenters, the same with writers for Spike. It was the main reason why I wanted to go to the University. The practical experience I gained helped me immensely with my next step into the world of journalism. It also showed the hard work involved.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
There was lots of freedom. I am sure if you did something that wasn't correct or reflected the University in a bad light, this would not be allowed, but other than that we were given pretty much complete freedom.

3. How much work was involved in putting the magazine together?
There was lots of work involved! I hope it is not rude to students to say our hours in lectures were much less than just a normal working week. I soon realised there was a huge amount of hours involved in getting to deadline - although this reflects the media world. If you want a 9-5 job, don't work in journalism.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor or writing for Spike?
I was extremely proud when we won the Guardian Media award and collected it from Peter Preston. Of course it was all thanks to everyone else and their hard work, but to be the Editor was a great honour.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
I wouldn't say it dramatically changed anything but I do believe it helped the magazine continue to evolve.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
My favourite colour is pink - and one issue was pretty much entirely pink. I am not sure I would do that again today, much as I still love the colour.

7. Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
No (not that I can remember!)

8. How important did you feel it was to push the boundaries?
I felt it was very important to give all contributors their voice as much as possible. We had incredible people working with us and this meant huge variety in the magazine.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing?
It was mainly about students - coming to university - many of them leaving home for the first time. It was about them finding their way - whether it was a music review, a piece about their travels, a piece about their hopes. Top tips to get through campus life. We tried to make the content as relevant to as many students as possible.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
Although in the past Spike had been fairly political - it was less so under my editorship. I believed very much in letting everyone have their opinions, meaning their was something for everyone.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I would - but I would almost definitely cringe. I would like to think I have become more confident now and have a greater self-belief. I have worked in journalism since the day after I finished my finals... which is a long time ago now!

12. How did your experiences affect your own career path, and do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Honestly, I was asked more about my time as Editor at Spike than I ever was about my degree. Journalism is all about experience, about being able to connect with a whole range of people and being able to communicate in a simple, engaging way. I learnt the basics for all of this at university, but most of all I learnt what I always thought I knew.. that journalism was the correct career path for me and fingers crossed, I have not been proved wrong since.

Tom Vincent (MEng Automotive Engineering 2004)

1. Why do you think student publications are important?
The traditional line is that the student press provides an independent voice for students, and is uniquely placed to hold Universities and Students’ Unions to account. Depending on the publication and the restrictions placed upon it, I think most manage to do this to some extent.
However, that overlooks other reasons why student publications are important. Obviously, they inform and entertain the student community – surely the only reason they’re picked up and read. But most important, to my mind, is that they allow people to go and have a go at journalism. University is all about trying new things and gaining experiences, so I think it’s absolutely appropriate that any student with an interest has the opportunity contribute to a newspaper or magazine. I’m not sure where else you’d have the chance to do that.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
The level of influence the Union tried to apply varied during the three years I was on the editorial team. We enjoyed a good bunch of Sabbs during the time I was editor, and unlike in previous years I don’t think we ever had an article pulled. That said, every issue of the paper had to be approved by the Union prior to publication, and they paid the bills, so we weren’t truly independent.

3. How much work was involved in putting the magazine together?
A lot. The total of everyone’s contributions must have run to hundreds of hours per issue, which came out fortnightly. We had around 60 or 70 contributors, and an editorial team of around 12 people. Each of the section editors would coordinate content for their pages, which was an ongoing task taking a few hours per week. On production week, they would lay up their pages themselves, which took several hours. The sub-editors, photo editor and I would do our bit to tidy the pages, add photos, proof read articles and generally get the paper together. Depending on how we were feeling, that either took place overnight on a Thursday, where we’d finish around 9am on Friday, or we’d stop at 2am on Friday and finish it off during the day. That was less tiring but more stressful, as we’d be running close to the printer’s deadline.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor or writing for impact?
I can’t really think of a single stand-out article or issue that I wrote or contributed towards. I am proud to have been a link in the chain that kept the paper going, however, and very pleased to see it still in print 13 years later.
I am proud also to have been part of something that provided such a great opportunity for people, whether they simply enjoyed contributing to the paper, or were helped in some way into a career in the media.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
Nothing significant that I can think of! impact was a young publication when I was involved, and certainly not a campaigning newspaper. We did run a story where, depending on whose view you took, the University was trying to solve a shortage of teaching space by encouraging departments to cut teaching hours. That got quite a lot of attention, including from national media, but I’m not convinced it really changed anything. Another time we helped some students to get their deposits back from an unscrupulous letting agent, which I was pleased with.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Only one article comes to mind, a crass and insensitive piece which certainly shouldn’t have been printed. It offended a good number of people, but we dedicated a page in the next issue to the feedback we received – I felt it was important to admit we’d got it wrong and to try to address that.

7. Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
It never happened while I was editor, but in previous years when I was on the editorial team stories were certainly pulled. Never with just cause, it was always very frustrating, and gave us a real problem with what to fill the gap with at short notice.
We never got in trouble in the legal sense, fortunately. Certainly people were quite regularly angry for various reasons, but you can’t please all the people all the time.

8. How important did you feel it was to push the boundaries?
We weren’t interested in pushing the boundaries just for the sake of it, but everyone involved in the paper believed it was important for it to be a truly independent publication, so we were always pushing back against interference from the Union.
On a wider level, we also felt that the Students’ Union should have been a more democratic organisation – the feeling was that the Sabbatical team and student members had little real control, and that the management team were making decisions with minimal oversight. We did manage to publish a story to that effect – with the approval of the Media and Communications Officer, to his credit – which was probably about as far as we pushed what we could get away with.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing?
Tuition fees – the increase to £3000 per year (from around £1000) was being discussed by Government. The invasion of Iraq took place while I was editor, although that perhaps received less coverage in our pages than you might imagine. It often felt that items that were getting lots of column inches in the national press were less interesting in a student paper, unless they had a specific bearing on us.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
Very little, really. I didn’t have particularly strong political views at the time, and we weren’t a particularly political paper.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I’d imagine so – I hope so. I don’t think I’ve changed that much!

12. How did your experiences affect your own career path, and do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
I wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in the media, so it didn’t help me get a foot in the door in that respect, but I think it must have helped in some ways. I was exposed to lots of situations that I wouldn’t have been otherwise: just to be heading up a team of 70 and having the responsibility to produce the paper every two weeks was terrific.
My advice for anyone wanting to get into student publishing would be to do it! It really takes very little effort or commitment to start contributing, and, unless things have changed, the publications are always looking for new contributors. You might find you get hooked, like I did, and end up spending more time in the newspaper office than in lectures. You might also make some great friends – the team were a diverse bunch from all years and subjects, and the social scene was always good.

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