With the controversy surrounding this year’s elections at UCL, it’s easy to forget that another set of important elections are currently taking place at ULU. To get you a bit more clued up, Pi spoke to the two candidates running for the position of editor of the University of London newspaper, the London Student. First of all, we met Oscar Webb – current UCL student and Cheese Grater investigations editor – and asked him about his plans for the paper should he win on Friday.
What have been the main issues with the London Student this year?
Well, if you’ve picked up a copy of London Student in the last year, you’ll notice that it has got progressively worse with typos. If you look at the most recent issue, there are huge empty spaces at the end of every article which makes it look terrible. There are a lot of photos in random places a lot of the time and titles that don’t quite fit… it’s a very busy design. It needs a set layout so that you don’t need to change the design every issue. You can see this in newspapers like QM messenger at Queen Mary and Felix at LSE. In general, it needs to look a lot better.
You mention the need to stand up to prejudice if you were to become editor. Has this been a real problem in the London Student?
What I’m referring to is the September issue which featured a particularly transphobic Comment article which was basically hate speech. Sure, it was in Comment but it’s the equivalent of publishing a racist piece, which would never happen. Why should it happen with another minority group? Personally, I think the London Student should be investigating prejudice and discrimination but it shouldn’t be publishing bigoted Comment articles.
You mention your experience as an investigative journalist. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
This year, I’ve been investigative editor of the Cheese Grater which I make very plain in my manifesto! The CG this year, with me as investigations editor, has been looking into UCL’s new campus in Stratford which is demolishing a council estate where 700 people live. A more recent investigation is the Bloomsbury master plan, a £500 million capital investment in UCL Bloomsbury for which my magazine had access to a full draft of the plan. We found out that academic office space is going to be reduced, that ten new Costas are going to be built, that the ground floors of a lot of buildings are going to be turned into student hubs etc. This is happening in archaeology at the minute, where they are demolishing offices. I’ve also written about these topics for the London Review of Books.
What are your plans for other sections?
I see London Student as two roles: the editor should, first of all, be writing some of their own content in news. Secondly, the editor manages the other sections of the paper. For the rest of the paper, I want to move the World News section into News section. I want a double page photography spread like the Guardian has since there are loads of great photographers at UCL and around London. I believe ‘Play’ the pull-out magazine in the middle, needs to be redesigned, I’d quite like to see it turned into a glossy magazine somewhat like Pi magazine. Currently, Play is very busy and hard to read. Sports coverage needs to be improved a lot as well as the newspaper is not covering any sports fixtures at the minute or reporting on who won matches. That could be easily amended.
How would you improve the recruitment of writers and the publicity of the paper?
The current editor is supposed to have a round of interviews at the start of the year to recruit editors. As far as I’m aware and as far as ULU Senate is aware, the current editor never had those interviews. Instead, 50% of the old editorial team was kept on and not much fresh writing was brought in, which was a shame. The obvious remedy for that is to have the interviews at the start of the year and advertise them widely. The other thing is, a lot of people have said that they submitted an article to the paper but never heard back or had no feedback on what they submitted. Why would someone submit an article again if they’ve had no feedback? It’s just about replying to people’s emails and getting people involved.
Is London Student still relevant, considering every university has its own student media?
I think it definitely is. If London Student has a good editor, as it’s a sabbatical role, they should be helping other newspapers around London to train their journalists. If I win, I’d organise libel training provided by the National Union of Journalists for writers if they wanted it. I want to set up a network across London universities where journalists can share news. Newspapers aren’t always competing, I just think they can write much better news if they share content.
You can see Oscar’s fellow candidate, Katie Lathan’s interview here: http://www.pimedia.org.uk/london-student-editor-katie-lathan
Voting closes Friday at 12pm and you can vote here: http://www.ulu.co.uk/vote/election/ You will have received your username and password from ULU by email.