Changing faces

No celebration of Epigram would be complete without mention of its editors – the students with the vision and courage to break new ground, challenge authority and court controversy in pursuit of a story. And what memorable stories some of them were…

1992/93 Michael Gomulka (BSc 1995), Criminal defence and media crime barrister, 5RB

I came across a story that acabinet minister was secretly funding a Eurosceptic campaign using the address of a launderette around the corner from his constituency office. They were distributing leaflets that campaigned against government policy. If verified, it would cost the politician a career. I called the Daily Mirror and spoke to a Mr Alastair Campbell, who politely told me exactly how many thousands of pounds the story was worth, depending on whether it made page one, two or three. The problem? My source. I would have to tell the Mirror that it was my friend’s father who was printing the leaflets. I couldn’t. Mr Campbell took it well. Not.

The year was a whirl. Hundreds of students contributed; many were writing published pieces for the first time and many have gone on to stellar success. Gideon Lichfield (BSc 1994) was with The Economist for 17 years. Adam Speker (BA 1997) is a leading media and defamation lawyer. Kirsty Walker (BA 1995), an Epigram editor herself, fulfilled her ambitions to become a political journalist. Barney Wyld (BSc 1994), my Deputy Editor, became a speechwriter and then a communications director. Tom Morton (BSc 1995) and James Moody (BSc 1994), a fine double act, are now sitting atop brand management and advertising on either side of the Atlantic.

We had no idea what would become of any of us. But whenever I see Jim [Landale] reporting, Pete [Hyman, BA 1991] reflecting on his years as Tony Blair’s speechwriter, or the bylines of others, I’m proud to have been part of the same tradition.

Towards the end of my term, a former Epigram editor came to see me. She needed a doublespread article to boost her application to the Cardiff School of Broadcast Journalism. Could I find the space? Any reluctance was quickly dispelled by the warmest of smiles. I’ve always wondered what happened to Susanna Reid (BSc 1992).

1997/98 Andy Dangerfield (BSc 1998), Development Manager, British Heart Foundation

I arrived in Bristol as a raw 19-year-old with ambitions to change the world, and started writing for Epigram immediately. I became Features Editor because my main interest was political debate, and I wanted to encourage students to write challenging articles for the paper.

Interviewing Goldie was nuts. We both grew up on council estates in Birmingham, yet here he was, a mega-star dating Björk. I asked him for his political opinions and he gave me the best copy I could have hoped for.

I’d lightened up a touch by the time I became Editor, but I still wanted to shake things up. We did ‘radical’ things with the layout, like leading with the arts section rather than news.

We even tried a Japanese-style magazine, where you could flip the paper over and read it backwards but, when it came back from the printers, all the adverts were upside down.

One of the team, Sara Allen (BSc 1998) (who’s now a Senior Policy Advisor at the Cabinet Office), badgered me for ages to have a Style and Shopping section. In 1998, we thought we were well ahead of the curve.

On the whole, I was supportive of the Students’ Union. I believed you needed to use it or lose it. But I wrote an editorial on how an independent student newspaper should be free to ask any questions, and publish anything it wants.

The Union told me I couldn’t publish. I called the Epigram team and they piled into the office. We refused to leave until the Union guaranteed we could go to press unchanged. The deal was that I would resign. I wrote one final editorial outlining my reasons – uncensored, of course – and left.

I now work in major donor fundraising, as well as being a massage therapist and yoga teacher. Working on Epigram actually put me off the idea of journalism, but it did give me a range of transferable skills – like being able to communicate with different audiences – that are key to successful fundraising. It also gave me an extra level of confidence that I lacked when I started university. Everything I experienced as Editor of Epigram has come in handy; it’s all part of the learning experience.

1998/99 Michael Shaw (BA 1999), Director, Times Educational Supplement (TES) Pro

I became editor of Epigram under weird circumstances. The previous editor had barricaded himself in the newspaper office. I was News Editor at the time, so I clambered in through the balcony to try to calm him down, and get the issue finished.

The editor had got himself worked up over an argument about censorship that led to a threat to Epigram’s future, with Union officials warning they might shut it down or – worse – turn it into a Union newsletter.

On the night of the disciplinary committee, a handful of us gave evidence while others waited gloomily in the Epi bar for news. Luckily, the committee agreed that the incident should not affect Epigram itself, and let the editor stay on at university.

It probably felt like a closer call than it was, but the team of us who rebuilt Epigram afterwards were mightily relieved we managed to retain the newspaper’s independence.

An editor once told me that a journalist’s articles are never anywhere as good, or as bad, as they remember them. I look back at the pieces we ran in Epigram with a mixture of fist-in-mouth embarrassment and happy surprise that we managed to get a newspaper out at all.

We certainly attempted serious journalism. Our reporting on the Clifton Suspension Bridge suicides played a part (if only a small one) in the campaign to add the safety barriers and The Guardian reprinted a piece by a student who visited his father in jail in Rio.

But it’s the silly stuff that sticks in the memory. Like the night we spent in Leigh Woods failing to find the group of Satan worshippers who were supposed to meet there every Wednesday. Or our story about a student who ‘overdosed’ on pesto – a tale quickly picked up by the tabloids.

One of my worst experiences was when, while I was News Editor, all three of the big stories we'd been investigating fell through on the afternoon we went to press. Left without a front page, I desperately rehashed a story about the Palaeontology Department. At the time I was mortified, but, looking back now, 'One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing' was one of our more memorable covers that year.

I’m now more ashamed of the cheap gag we used a year after the story broke of President Clinton’s affair. When Monica Lewinsky visited the city, we managed to get a photo of her holding up a University sweatshirt. Our juvenile instincts meant we could not resist printing the photo on the cover of Epigram under the headline 'Monica goes down well in Bristol'.

Epigram ended up taking much more time than my degree, but it was worth it, not just as a chaotic introduction to journalism but because I met several people who remain my closest friends.

Some of us also worked on the first version of Burst FM, where we produced a student news programme (though the most memorable aspect of that was the panic when one of the presenters got the name of a tutor wrong and mistakenly announced that the actor Anthony Hopkins had been arrested).

My successor as Epigram editor, the brilliant Jack Malvern (BSc 1999), went on to report for The Times, while others in the team have since worked for The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Sun, the BBC, the Press Association, and Warner Brothers, among other media organisations.

After graduating, I became a trainee reporter on the Bristol Evening Post. I’d run an article in Epigram insulting the Post while I was a student, but this had amused the Features Editor who invited me first to be a columnist, then to work there.

This meant I got to spend two extra years in Bristol, seeing a very different side to the city, before I moved to London to write for The Times Educational Supplement (TES).

I’ve been with The TES since then, eventually becoming Deputy Editor. Almost by accident, The TES has created the largest online network of teachers in the world, so a year ago I switched from journalism to focus on our new developments in technology.

I still see a face from Epigram every day. She wrote a few music interviews and chaired the disciplinary committee for my predecessor, but after university, I rarely saw her until, a decade later, she invited me to her birthday party. We got married in 2010.

2000/01 Guy Newey (BA 2001), Head of Environment and Energy, Policy Exchange

The story I remember most from Epigram was about a man who kept coming into the Law Library, sitting opposite female students and then pleasuring himself. It highlighted the lax security on some of Bristol's buildings, but it’s fair to say we were not the most sensitive in our reporting. We printed the story on the front page with the word 'Pervert' in enormous letters (something like 180-point font). We got complaints (we usually did) but, that said, I do think security was tightened up.

We also campaigned to try to make Bristol take its woeful record in attracting (or accepting) state school pupils seriously. Again, we received a few letters, mainly moaning that public school students resented being made to feel guilty. The University did start to take the issue more seriously and employed new staff to try to help attract a more diverse set of applicants. It was a small part of a wider national focus on this issue, which has led to some sensible rules being introduced about improving access.

Plucking up the courage to step through the door to the poky Epigram office and pitch a story was the most important thing I did at Bristol.

Within a few months, I was editing the features section and then, in my final year, became Editor. Epigram was a place where you could try anything. You had licence to wind up everyone, from the people who ran the Union to the University authorities. We made endless mistakes, knew nothing about news values, layout or getting good photographs (most of our pictures were taken with the office Polaroid camera and then scanned in) and worked ludicrously long hours as unpaid volunteers. But, screaming round Bristol in a minibus delivering the paper you had scrambled together in the late hours of a Tuesday night and then seeing people pick it up and read it, was the most wonderful feeling – and it changed my life.

After I left Bristol, I got a traineeship at the Birmingham Mail. I then became a foreign correspondent in Hong Kong, and got to report on the remarkable story that is China, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I now work in Westminster, critiquing the government's environment and energy policy, blogging and writing op-eds for any outlet that will take my opinions. I have met world leaders, billionaires and superstars. I have highlighted wrongdoing, asked awkward questions and pointed out when people are wrong. It has been the most wonderful privilege and it is unlikely any of it would have happened if I had not knocked on that grubby door at the end of that corridor all those years ago.

2002/03 Murray Garrard (BA 2003), Communications Officer, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership

In 2003, the term ‘top-up fees’ first entered the student consciousness. Bristol was ranked among the lowest universities in the country for social diversity. And hundreds of thousands of student protesters were ignored when the UK joined the invasion of Iraq. Yet the story I remain most proud of publishing was ‘Queer Off’, about the expulsion of a gay couple from a student nightclub.

Compared with some of the issues we tackled, the story might seem trivial, not least in light of the shifts in attitude towards homosexuality in Britain today. But in January 2003, Section 28 (which banned educational establishments from promoting homosexuality – a law not dissimilar from that recently passed in Russia) had not yet been repealed. The story itself changed little. But social tolerance is built incrementally, and it’s thanks to this story and thousands like it in the grassroots press that, ten years on, the opposition to gay marriage legislation in England and Wales was so marginal.

Editing Epigram was a full-time job. Bristol is one of the few universities where the editor of the student paper is not a sabbatical. So, the chance of balancing much else without failing your final year is slim. That said, if you make it through alive, then you are eminently qualified for the real world – something a six-hour-a-week English degree fails to prepare you for.

On a frosty night in the middle of winter, sitting on the fourth floor of the desolate Students' Union, working on old computers with out-of-date software and having just lost half the newspaper to a server error, it was easy to feel like we were writing into the void. But, at times like that, it helped to remember that working on Epigram has, since its inception, been worth the effort. There are few national student media awards in which Epigram writers aren't recognised, and former Epigram staff can be counted among the UK’s most successful media professionals. To my knowledge, no-one who worked on Epigram ever regretted it.

2003/04 Craig Woodhouse (BSc 2004), Political Correspondent, The Sun on Sunday

Bristol was thrown into the eye of an international media storm when an 18-year-old science student, Rosie Reid (BSc 2008), decided to sell her virginity on the internet to cover her debts. I’d chosen to take Epigram in a tabloid direction (a sign of things to come, as it turns out), so this was the perfect story.

Public interest was piqued further because Rosie was a lesbian. We met Rosie and her partner, who told us they’d dreamed up the story to sell, rather than it being a serious ploy for Rosie to sell her body. We splashed the story as an exposé, though Rosie did later claim that she had sold her virginity to a 44-year-old man for £8,400. Whether that was just another story to sell to the papers, I guess we’ll never know.

Being involved with Epigram helped my career no end, not least in getting a place on a postgraduate programme at Cardiff. It’s vital to show you’ve been interested in a journalistic career and have done something about it – having Epigram on my CV was a great boost. It also gave me the confidence to manage a team and put together a paper which has stayed with me ever since.

2004/05 Georgia Norton (née Howe) (BA 2004), Strategic Director, adam&eveDDB

On my appointment as Editor, my Deputy Editor, Chris, and I set about re-designing the layout of the paper. We'd cajoled a contact at the Daily Mirror into sending us the assets to create a dramatic 'rip' graphic (that we over-used immensely on our front cover that year) and some exciting new typefaces that made the paper look more professional and eye-catching, if rather tabloid. We added 16 more pages to accommodate our new vision for the paper and repainted the office. It was such an exciting start to the term.

There were some excellent headlines that come to mind first when I think back over the stories - 'Clifton Pillage' about local burglaries, and 'Monster Manch' about the merging of Manchester’s universities.

We also introduced a photo-story that was so much fun to make. We ripped off 'Dear Deidre's Photo Casebook' with student-angle stories involving all kinds of ridiculous scenarios. It was totally fabricated - and sometimes outrageous - but also one of the columns students loved to flip to.

Nothing was better than having students grab the paper just as you put the bundle down in a drop-off spot and see them leaf through it.

After university, I moved away from journalism but in my current job (as Strategic Director at advertising and communications agency, adam&eveDDB), I deploy compelling language every day, manage a team to produce entertaining, informative, and relevant creative work, and keep a keen eye on culture and trends.

2006/07 Alan Tang (MSc 2007), Edit Assistant, Splice TV

I started as the Film Editor on Epigram, as I always wanted to work in film and was heavily involved in UBFS, the film-making society. When the paper needed a new editor, I received a lot of encouragement, so decided to apply despite not having any major journalistic ambitions.

Working on Epigram was great fun. I easily spent more time on the paper than on my degree. All student papers are run with some degree of chaos, but we did try to maintain a level of professionalism, in the office and in the final product. We all aspired to write well, and design to a high standard, and I loved working with such a large team – the editors, the production team, proofreaders, photographers…

Before us, the paper had a strong tabloid format, but I was keen to include more features, editorials and arts coverage. We started using the centre-spread in a more creative way, like including pull-outs for students to pin on their walls. We brought in more opinion pieces across the sections, published 'themed' issues, and included pages on TV and fashion. I’m particularly proud of our environmentally centred ‘green’ issue and the Epigram 100 issue – a list of the 100 most influential individuals at the University.

I didn’t have a political agenda when I started as editor, though I know many of my predecessors were heavily involved in student politics. My team often looked on in amusement at the insular, Yes, Minister style world in which some people took themselves so seriously. That said, we did, somehow, end up getting into a fight with the Sabbatical Officers.

We’d run some stories that were critical of the Union, like the reduced shuttle bus service to Stoke Bishop, incompetence in the student welfare office and a non-quorate AGM. They tabled a motion at Student Council asking for the right to have the last paragraph in any story concerning the Union. I was livid. I remember giving a speech about freedom of the press (with a helpful quotation from the paper’s founding editor, James Landale) and explaining how Epigram was not – and was never meant to be – a mouthpiece for the Union. Fortunately, the motion was rejected, and we ended up reaching a compromise by expanding the UBU News supplement.

Students on campus were always very supportive – it was great to see them walking around with copies of Epigram under their arm or sticking out of their bags.

Film and TV have always been my main passion, and I currently work at Splice TV as an edit assistant. I work mainly on television programmes, but also on music videos and feature films. The aim is to become a colourist.

2007/08 Josh Burrows (BA 2008), Sports Writer and Editor, The Times

The idea that the University was planning to take over the Students’ Union was unpalatable, and unprecedented. When we covered the story, I worried that the University would exact terrible revenge. That never happened, but we did receive, and print, a stern letter from the Vice-Chancellor. Just when the story looked like it would run and run, the Union AGM barely reached quorum and nobody seemed to care.

With hindsight, discovering cocaine in just about every toilet we tested is perhaps not surprising. But it was an example of what student papers tend to do badly: investigative journalism. I had badgered our news team to generate front-page stories. Here, they came up with the goods.

Harry Byford (BA 2008), now at The Week, won The Guardian’s Student Columnist of the Year Award for his ‘insights’ into student societies. ‘What did I get for my efforts?’, he wrote. ‘Hundreds of offensive comments, calls for my “sacking”, and countless awkward conversations with people who I’d been mildly rude about. And, like a first sexual experience, it was worth every second.

We conducted an Epigram body image survey that revealed that more than 40 per cent of female students felt worse about their appearance since coming to Bristol. The pressure many students felt to look good on Woodland Road had been addressed in editorials and features, but we ran a first-person account from an anonymous anorexic. It was probably the most eloquent piece the paper published all year and very difficult to read.

'I feel death inside me,' she wrote. 'I know I push my body to its limits, asking it to get just one pound smaller. I’m crying while I write this because I feel so completely trapped in this nightmare.'

I like to think that our paper was characterised by a sense of fun, but it wasn't in this article.

I now work for The Times, on the sports desk as a writer and sub-editor. Epigram taught me more about producing newspapers than anything I have done since. I have never learnt so much so quickly - from news gathering, to management, to page design. I will almost certainly never enjoy journalism as much as I did at Bristol. I still find myself coming across situations and realising that I encountered them first - and occasionally tackled them with a reasonable degree of professionalism - on Epigram.

I never regarded working for the paper as vocational, however. The socials - sometimes starting several hours before the print deadline - were the best I experienced at University and the friends I made are still some of my closest.

2010/11 Ellen Lister (BA 2011), Lawyer, Linklaters LLP

I’m particularly proud of our coverage of the fee increases proposed by the coalition government. Two thousand students marched from Senate House down Park Street, and our Comment Editor, Luke Denne (BSc 2011), was interviewed on Sky TV at national protests in London. Epigram covered it all.

We also covered the violent riots in Stokes Croft – the worst riots Bristol had seen since 1980. Not entirely a ‘student’ issue, but we did become more engaged with the local community as a result. We ran some great interviews (Fearne Cotton, Julian Fellowes and Major General Chris Wilson) and expanded the music section hugely – Bristol being, as every fresher knows, ‘the home of drum ’n’ bass’. I also loved our Sports section, where we featured a quote from Ian Holloway – ‘everybody’s favourite Bristolian’ – in every issue.

I remember writing a long editorial in response to the President of FemSoc. We'd published a two-sided opinion piece on whether the new Hooters restaurant in Bristol's Harbourside was, broadly speaking, good or bad. I thought it was a fairly harmless piece of journalism but FemSoc were extremely angry that I had allowed any debate to be published at all. They started a long petition to get me removed. Actually, I was pleased Epigram had made such an impact.

In my experience, working on student media does help you in the workplace. You're used to tight deadlines, feedback and teamwork.

I'm now a lawyer at Linklaters LLP. In my first six months, I was involved in work relating to the News Corporation phone hackings. It was a great case to work on, having been so interested in journalism myself.

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