Hoisted By Their Own Charade

This post was written by Dave on October 26, 2009
Posted Under: Media

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 (left)

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?

Hard-hitting, constructive journalism: FAIL

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.

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Reader Comments

Nick Bruton

Hell yes.

Written By Nick Bruton on October 26th, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

I’d argue that TCS did improve from my second year onwards (which was the year after you graduated, I think), but then that was when I started working for it, so I’m far from an impartial observer.

Seriously, though, your argument seems to be (more or less):

- Cambridge’s centre-left paper can be dull and worthy
- Its centre-right paper can be smug, elitist and up itself
- Its tabloid is more popular than either of the other two because it contains lots of breasts and very few long sentences or big words

Surely that’s pretty much true of all papers everywhere?

Written By Owen on October 26th, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

As an impartial observer and one time Varsity Literature Editor, I have to say, TCS was bollocks, go Varsity wooooo! Jon Swaine’s interview with Galloway while I was working on the paper was really quite silly though. The Third Estate clearly pwns all.

Written By Salman Shaheen on October 26th, 2009 @ 10:53 pm

I fear we can’t really make any arguments from popularity as we appear to be debating this amongst ourselves… But fortunately my argument was simply that neither paper (left or right as you choose characterise them, but I don’t think that is wholly fair) offers substantive comment from their own viewpoint. So they are simply being out done by people who are just less apologetic in their largely similar approach.

What is ‘The Tab Totty’ if not a just a more flesh-orientated version of the ‘Varsity 100′ circle jerk?

Written By Dave on October 26th, 2009 @ 11:07 pm
Eyeball Paul

your article bears a striking resemblance to the arguments here:


mainly the analysis of what tcs and varsity stand for, and that varsity 100 comment is totally lifted from that farsity article.

also i think you’ve misunderstood what this posh taymoor guy was talking about when he said snobbery: he means the supposed distinction between ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ journalism. it’s got nothing to do with class. even if he is a posh twit.

quite ironic that you drew your arguments from a “facile piece of nonsense that anyone could write.”

Written By Eyeball Paul on October 27th, 2009 @ 12:53 am

ye dave, get some originality yeah? you have recited rivlins piece but just added the tab to your list of victims.

also, heres a few thought. students arent getting payed to do any of this (be it TCS Varsity or the Tab) and student Journalism takes up our precious free time.

lastly isnt the fact that all the papers are a bit shit to be expected – we are all developing as individuals and writers. most students are trying to figure out what they stand for. you imply that a viewpoint is something that can reasonably be expected when in reality it cant.

your the twit mate – how can any student paper with rotating editors offer “substansive comment on their own viewpoint” ???????

Written By davelover on October 27th, 2009 @ 10:05 am

I really don’t understand this project. Red top tabloids are for stupid people. Is it not immensely patronising for Cambridge student ‘journalists’ to be deliberately dumbing down?

Written By Salman Shaheen on October 27th, 2009 @ 11:34 am

I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t aware of this publication until this post. Clearly I don’t follow facebook enough, or I’ve just been out of Cambridge for far too long. Needless to say that I think that the accusation that this is simply “dumbing down” doesn’t give this project quite enough credit. I’ve had a read of a fair few of the articles and the main jist of what is written is an attempt to attack and belittle those people who believe in changing the world in one way or another, or those people who are willing to stand up against oppression. Yes, it might be fucking easy in Cambridge where if one wants the only care in the world can be the next essay deadline or the next grilling from the dean but maybe, just maybe, these people who spend there time at university doing more than that are worthy.

And what does a publication like this achieve? Well I mean as far as I can see it will make a fair bit of money from selling advertising because, y’know, there’s an easy buck slagging off the left. Well how about you stop fucking wasting your time with such disgusting cynical shit, Tab writers, and do something that might improve the world for someone other than yourselves. I’m sure you’re comfortable enough as it is.

You who have nothing at all to believe in. You, whose motto is money comes first. Who are you to tell us that our lives have been wasted, and all that we fought for has turned into dust.

Written By Jacob on October 27th, 2009 @ 12:23 pm


Yours is the first comment I have felt compelled to answer, if only because your rhetoric frightened the life out of me.

I just felt i should probably point out that we have made no money out of the tab, that we are about to begin a campaign for prostate cancer.

I don’t know where you got your idea that we want to “belittle people who stand up to oppression” but I suggest you read our news piece backing Amnesty International’s protest (http://cambridgetab.co.uk/featured/cage-rage/) or watch our documentary on Big Issue sellers (accompanied by an editorial encouraging students to help the homeless).

Simply put, you don’t know anything about The Tab, you haven’t read it and you don’t know anything about the political alleigances of its writers or what they do to help the world. You saw the red top and you made assumptions that are entirely untrue.

Written By Jack Rivlin on October 27th, 2009 @ 1:31 pm
Jacob is a fool


here is an article by an editor of the tab


I agree that trying to change the world is important and virtuous. I would love to see less of the political apathy that Schumpeter rightly pointed out. But there is a time and a place for everything. You wouldn’t tell someone watching a mindless yet entertaining episode of the Simpsons to “stop fucking wasting your time with such disgusting cynical shit”.

In reality the majority of ones time is not devoted to doing “something that might improve the world for someone other than yourselves”. I’m not saying disinterestedness is right but who are you to attack others aggressively – to try and force them to believe it is wrong.

The tab is there first and foremost for information and entertainment. Why are you trying to force your views of the good life on others? Isn’t it quite possible for people to be both readers of the Tab and avid intellectuals such as yourself.

You stand up for a good point. Nihilism shadows the modern world. But your passion has clouded your judgment and actually detracted from the point you are trying to make. You preach the good but cant even engage in rational argument and considered criticism.

Your anger has lead you to an attack that is based on fancy rather than hard facts. The idea that the editors are selling out for money is unfounded. Do you know them? I think not. Why should anyone respect such tactics? You’re a fool.

Practice what you preach mate. Political lethargy is problematic but that doesn’t excuse vicious and unfounded attacks.

Written By Jacob is a fool on October 27th, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

The Tab’s a fucking laugh, and not bad reading as well. The TCS is awful. Jacob, had you woken up in a bad mood when you wrote that?

PS: Not that I’ve seen it to do this in any assertive sense, but if the Tab pricks some of the pomposity of the student left, then I’m all for it.

Written By Tendai on October 27th, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

“Your passion has clouded your judgment”

- Yes, Luke, and I am your father…

Written By Salman Shaheen on October 27th, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

In the words of that well-known football chanty, loved by redtop readers everywhere, “here we go…here we go… here we go…” Fantastic.

A couple of comments, then I think I might bow out of this one.

First, the purpose of the article was not a direct shot at The Tab. There are some (albeit backhanded) compliments in there. I do think it is well-phrased and witty within its own genre. And I agreed with a lot of its critique of TCS and Varsity. (Please note here, however, that agreeing with and referencing is not the same as plagarising – Eyeball and the beautifully named DAVELOVER). Where we clearly differ, however, is in that I was trying to make the point that TCS and Varsity’s own failings are largely responsible for crafting a wide whole for The Tab to exploit.

And whilst we are on the subject of plagarism, may I point in the direction of another possible culprit (http://archive.varsity.co.uk/624.pdf – top right hand corner of page 21) I very much doubt that you did have this little know publication I once edited in mind when naming your article. Just as I didn’t have yours in mind when referencing the Varsity 100. Some puns and references are just glaringly obvious to all…

Written By Dave on October 27th, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

All of this just reminds me why I’m glad to not be in Cambridge anymore. The reality is that those student papers had limited impact on most students, who were happy to live their university lives and occasionally pick up some news about this or that. Sadly, if, as we were, you were involved in certain areas of politics you couldn’t avoid them. And really, we need to get over arguments which include references to Schumpeter and ‘notions of the good life’. It really is just showing off.
I’ll take my Greek autonomists, Cypriot Communists and Brazilian Trotskyists, even if our paper is shit, any day of the week.

Written By Dan on October 28th, 2009 @ 9:23 am

Just out of interest, what’s wrong with Schumpeter and ‘notions of the good life’?

Written By Tendai on October 28th, 2009 @ 10:19 am

I was excited by the reference to Schumpeter, it made me feel like a first year politics student again. But, thinking about it, I do have to say, I’ve never actually heard Schumpeter used in the real world before!

Written By Salman Shaheen on October 28th, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but when they’re ludicrously tossed into an argument that has nothing to do with them it doesn’t do anyone any favours. Where they’re used here they’re basically jargon heavy non-sequitors. It reeks of showing off, and sheds no light on anything.

Written By Dan on October 28th, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

Gee Dan, I don’t know…As a rule, I guess it’s true what one philosopher said, something along the lines of “reason clever, but express yourself modestly”. But I think it’s natural that people may bring these notions into argument if they have had a strong influence on their reasoning on a particular issue: in some cases there’s just no other word to fully convey the phenomenon you think is relevant in that context (as with technical economic, philosophic [by which I mainly mean logic-related stuff, rather than just quoting the canon because it sounds nice], or legal jargon). In some cases it’s probably the difference between a mere opinion and serious reasoning. That said, I do find it unnecessary the way that terms like ‘dialectic’ and ‘weltanschauung’ are used as a sort of “I just pwned the debate — AND I’ve read Hegel” tactic. Such words probably don’t do much to add to the issue at hand.

Written By Tendai on October 28th, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

Yeah, I agree with all of that, but read ‘Jacob is a Fool’s comment again. I find it hard to see how either reference contributes to making his argument clearer whatsoever.

Written By Dan on October 28th, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

Schumpeter seems not to add anything, to be sure. But I think Jacob’s criticism does suppose a particular notion of what sort of life people ought to lead, which is unfair.

Written By Tendai on October 28th, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

If your trying to reach out from your oxbridge world… i dont think normal people could give a fuck about cambridge newspaper politics

Written By alan on October 29th, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

You’re quite right Alan, but you could hardly accuse The Third Estate of being stuck in an Oxbridge bubble. I mean we hardly ever mention the other place for a start! And how many articles about Cambridge can you name?

Written By Salman Shaheen on October 29th, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

Alan, in my opinion the writers of The Third Estate do a great job of dealing with real-world stuff, and that’s to their credit considering how Cambridge can blinker you for years after you leave. The fact that it pops up every now and again though, does make me consider an unfortunate curse of the place: that it happens to be where one went to university, and nothing more, can cause people to take you less seriously than you deserve to be taken.

Written By Tendai on October 29th, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

yea, probly a bit quick to judge on reflection. lots of good articles here actually, keep up the good work!

Written By Alan on November 9th, 2009 @ 11:50 am

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