A suitably gaudy headline for short piece about student tabloid journalism. Needs to be pronounced “sher-rard” to work though…
This morning I stumbled across what I think is possibly the greatest juxtaposition of a name and a quotation of all time: ‘ “There’s a huge amount of snobbery around,” said Taymoor Atighetchi, a third year student from Trinity College, Cambridge.’
Taymoor – take a bow, son. Not since Henry Kissinger had the audacity to actually show up and collect the Nobel Peace Prize has such a flagrant disregard for irony made me both laugh and cry in such equally large proportions… you posh twit.
Because sadly, Taymoor wasn’t rallying against inequality within our nation’s greatest, yet still highly elitist, educational institution. Rather, he was speaking in defense of its new online rag ‘The Tab‘ – Oxbridge’s first openly tabloid newspaper – which attracted some 80,000 hits in its first week alone.
First and foremost, and I say this begrudgingly, in so much as ‘it is what it is’, the paper has been quite done. Secondly, I was about to make a few snide remarks about its appalling and frequent misappropriation of grammar, but now feel unable to do so after having just reread my own sentence prior to this one. But third - and here’s where much of the contention lies - amongst its many delights sits ‘The Tab Totty’: a page-three-esque publicity stunt, whereby nubile young things parade suggestively with without a degree of dignity (geddit?… groan.)
Natalie Szarek, the Cambridge University Student Union’s (CUSU) Woman’s Officer, bless her little heart, is up in arms. “It reproduces and reinforces harmful attitudes towards women. Their fliers showing pictures of semi-naked women in provocative positions are being shoved in freshers’ faces… We can do better as a university” she said. And of course she is right. Of course she is. But who is really to blame here?
Varsity and The Cambridge Student (TCS) – the established Cambridge student press – currently have a print run that runs into about 20,000 copies per week. Whilst I have not been there nor (here comes another pun) ingested those large organs recently, I can at least speak to the history of each.
TCS failed to ever gain any real traction as a publication. Despite spurts of independent thought and the odd decent editor, it remained largely a CUSU funded mouthpiece: too PC to ever say anything worth reading and too aware of its chief funder to ever really hold anyone to account. And its lack of a reputation, for these reasons, sometimes lead to some clearly second-rate applicants for its easily available posts. Despite its obvious vitriol, The Tab’s own characterisation of TCS is quite fair: “The classic example… the survey, a device employed to create news out of thin air. This week’s depressing TCS survey, ‘Freshers’ Week: Behind the smiles’ offered a good example. The survey made such exciting discoveries as the fat that “half of students received work in their first three days and the most popular event was (wait for it) a “college party.”
Varsity to its credit was, however, fiercely always independent. But it was also fiercely banal, if such a thing is possible. It tried to be sex, drugs and rock n roll but all to often was just a wank, some prozac and some indy douche groaning with a guitar. However, under the stewardship of Jon Swaine (now of The Telegraph) and Amy Goodwin during my time, it was at least effective as an instrument of accountability. But even then only in the worse possible way. Like so many mildly, socially liberal but otherwise thoroughly conservative voices, it all too often assumed the mantle of thoroughly holier-than-tho. And that was when it cared grace student politics with its attention. It was cynical. Heavily Egotistical. Almost viewing itself as “above politics”. And subsequently just totally destructive and rarely worth a read. You always sensed that they were at their happiest when starting a fire then just photographing it for their front page. But its editorial line never had the balls, in short, to ‘put up’ itself.
So why are people turning to The Tab? Are they all really just sexist pigs and gossip girls, without the faintest semblance of interest in anything? Or is it because TCS couldn’t organise a bumrape in a barracks and Varsity couldn’t be less hard-hitting if it were edited by Tim Henman? My guess is that – for the large proportion of students at least – it is the latter of the two concerns. What was on offer was all too often bland, mediocre, ‘lifestyle-focused’ irrelevance. So why are we surprised when the girls trade up to the genuinely juicy gossip and the boys to the porn?
The Tab is a facile piece of nonsense that anyone with a juvenile sense of humour and clever turn of phrase could write. But that is not sole the reason it is getting readers.