Ed to ed

James Landale (BSc 1990, MSc 1992, Hon LLD 2013) wrote his first op-ed for Epigram (reproduced below) in 1989. Now Deputy Political Editor for BBC News, he looks back at his student offering and discovers some home truths.

James LandaleEpic - Gram?

Most student politicians are on power trips. That is to be the first comment of this newspaper. Epigram is not for such people, but for students themselves. It does not represent the news, the 3rd floor of the Union, or any specific group of students. In fact, it represents no-one. Its aim is to interest, inform, amuse and stimulate the student body of Bristol University as well as provide a forum for their own views to be expressed. That is, of course, if they have a view to express. Bristol University has a reputation of general apathy and indifference, buoyed up by middle class affluence that excludes concern about grants, loans and the Poll Tax – the sort of issues close to home that a student normally worries about.

Epigram does not want to bridge the divide between a self-important Union and an apathetic student body. It merely wishes to engender amongst the student body a knowledge of what it is to be a student. It is not just doing a certain course. It is not just living in London, dashing down to Bristol for a couple of mid-week lectures. It is not just the next stage after A-levels. University is a specific way of life, a communal existance [sic] that joins together some very different people, like it or not, by their very student status.

Many have lost sight of this. Epigram aims to chage [sic] this, because it believes that students will profit from knowing more about what is going on in the University.

A further aim is to act as a watchdog on the Union and University hierarchy. This doesn’t mean endless critical editorials. It means that you, the student, have a letters page in which to voice your opinions, to praise as well as to deflate a few egos. Some student politicians may be on power trips, but that doesn’t mean they cannot further student interest. The Union has a wide range of services (on the whole, very well run) that help and bring together students in an invaluable way.

Epigram has set its sights high. It will be a challenge, not only for those who organise it and contribute to it, but also for you, the student. It’s your paper. Read it, write for it and eat your fish and chips out of it. Remember, the editor is on a power trip too. Whether he can also produce a good newspaper depends on you.

James LandaleTwenty-five years on

‌Epigram was born in a different age. Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the Berlin wall stood and tweeting was for birds. There was no email, no internet. Contributors wrote their articles in longhand and then typed them into the Epigram computer or arrived at the office bearing a floppy disc. We blagged some desk-top publishing software and copied the publication’s style from other papers.

I would hand-deliver the final disc to the printers, who would chuck it on their to-do pile between the freesheets and smutty magazines. A few days later I would pick up the printed copies and distribute them round the halls from the back of a car.

Early editions were strewn with my own caprice. The humour is too arch, the copy in need of subbing and the pictures ropey. But there are some good stories, the listings are comprehensive and the sum is greater than the parts.

My first leader is a touch self-important, and the typos still smart. But the essential point was a good one and one that still stands today – that university should be more than just the next stage of life after A-levels. It should be savoured as a rare moment when you can live a life of unrestricted intellectual discovery, unencumbered by the responsibilities of family, mortgage and job. As a student, you should be able to talk pompously about truth, beauty and justice, because if you don’t do it then, you never will.

At Bristol, I had just that opportunity. The Politics Department invited visiting speakers to explore issues that ranged far beyond the core syllabus. Seminars would segue into a discussion over drinks that would, in turn, become a pub crawl. It was an opportunity to unleash the mind in a way that would not have been possible on a more rigid course.

The task I set Epigram was to interest and inform students, and make them aware of what they could find and do outside of the library. I hope it will keep working at the same task. At a university, as in society, newspapers can play an important role.


Voice of today

Nonesuch asked Epigram’s current editor Josephine Franks (BA 2013, MA European Literature 2013-) to reveal the secret of the paper’s success.

Josephine Franks

Throughout its history, Epigram has stood as a publication by students, for students. Along the way, it has brought stories into the national limelight, weathered the storm of potential closure, provoked changes in University policy, and entertained and informed countless readers.

From humble beginnings, Epigram has grown to a 56-page publication with a print run of 5,000 and a readership of over 10,000. Its 50-strong team of writers and editors changes each year, so the paper is continually evolving and relevant to students’ concerns. It also means that writers can experiment knowing that failure will be temporary and success can be consolidated, a vital experience for those who go on to a career in journalism.

One major change since 1989 is the shift towards online media. We launched a new website last year to bring the quality of our virtual output in line with the print publication and offer enhanced content. Of course, our competitors also seize the opportunities presented by online media, which challenges us to seek out new angles and ways of engaging readers. But I believe Epigram’s future will be defined by the print publication. The prestige of getting one’s name into print has if anything increased as a result of the ease of online publication. Readers may be drawn elsewhere for one-stop entertainment and updates, but Epigram carries an assurance of quality journalism with the authority of a 25-year history.

Our core values have remained constant. We are committed to providing a platform for students to discuss issues they feel passionate about. Epigram’s strength comes in part from its independence, and it seeks to uphold James Landale’s vision of the paper as a medium through which students discover what is really going on at the University. That’s not to say that we expect our readers to agree with everything we publish; on the contrary, we encourage them to engage online and to pen their own responses.

While Epigram will no doubt have to continue to adapt to the changing world of journalism, I feel confident that its integrity will prevail. Here’s to a future of inspirational writers, engaged readers and the power of the student voice.

Photography: Josephine Franks © Jamie Corbin // James Landale © Jeff Overs

James Landale will speak at the London Branch of University of Bristol Alumni Annual Lecture this November.

Listen to audio version (mp3)

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