In my first year of university I signed up to work on the student paper, having read lots of advice to wannabe writers saying they must get involved with the student press to gain practice, clippings and contacts.
Unfortunately, a couple of meetings in I discovered that many of my colleagues were pretentious and prone to navel gazing. They also didn’t seem to have any concept of news – one thrilling expose revealed that some people *whisper* take drugs! Whoever heard of a student experimenting with drugs? Someone get that guy a Pulitzer, stat!
Said paper hasn’t gotten a lot better since I graduated. Here’s an example sentence from a current column. It is supposed to deal with issues around being a fourth year, which you might think would include stuff like stress over finals, what to do after graduation, and so on… Not so much.
‘There is something highly satisfying about wrapping up in a multitude of layers in the morning as you leave to brave the ice cold air: dressed in my latest winter purchase – a vintage, dark blue duffel coat – over one of my favourite chunky knit sweaters (I hail from ‘the home of cashmere’), with my mum’s old University scarf looped my neck several times, and my trusty ‘I-can-walk-through-anything’ brown leather ankle boots, I feel like I can take on the world and all that it throws at me.’
Quite apart from the poor structure (seriously, full stops are totally OK), that entire paragraph says nothing of importance or even passing interest. Dressing in layers for winter is not an insightful part of ‘the fourth year experience’, ‘the third year experience’, or any experience at all - it’s padding in the most literal sense. Stop wasting your words and my time, unnamed student journo!
In summary, that paper was balls, so I joined the team who put together the spoof one instead. This was how I met my other half, the enigmatic Captain Tact, who was editor at the time. He doesn’t remember our first meeting at all, but I do. Nervous, I walked into the pub and looked around for people that looked like they might write comedy. I soon honed in on the table of blokes with bad hair who were having an animated discussion about the new series of Doctor Who, and my nerves evaporated. These were my kind of people.
The spoof paper was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t the sort of stuff that was going to win us any student journalism awards. It mainly involved making up news stories (pirates attacking halls of residence, terror lizards, unusual meat in burgers, that sort of schtick). On balance, it probably wasn’t the sort of thing older hacks were thinking of when doling out their advice. And anyway, we were shut down in my third year following an incident with the ORLY owl and a local curry house, a harrowing experience of censorship that would only really have been helpful if any of us had got work on Private Eye.
Having said that, I still think wannabe writers should get involved with the university press. You might get a boyfriend out of it, after all... Or failing that, plentiful opportunities to network with the dynamic go-getters who are the editors of the future.
Just try not to yawn too loudly when they commission a thousand words on what to wear in intemperate weather.