Tony Hay was elected editor in 1984 on a manifesto promising change, and an editorial in his first issue outlined the improvements he had made. The Courier received its first major redesign in six years, with the paper now expanded to 12 pages a week. Sports and arts were expanded to two pages each and a listings page was added. The price remained 10p, but Hay introduced a prize draw for subscribers, and even changed the publication day from Wednesday to Thursday because surveys showed that footfall in the Union was greater then. By February sales had increased by 33%.
There was more room in the new look Courier for creative feature layouts, such as a double page history of the Medical School to celebrate its 150th anniversary. A classical arts page was added, but the editor of the main arts page, Paul Breakwell, attracted controversy over his outspoken views and a potential conflict of interest, since he was also an events steward at the Union, and was therefore promoting events he was helping to organise.
Nevertheless it was Breakwell who took over as editor after Hay resigned in February to focus on his degree. Breakwell added an agony aunt column, prompting complaints from several readers that the Courier focussed too much on gossip. The paper’s coverage of the Union elections was also criticised, and sports editor Adrian Drewett replaced Breakwell as acting editor for the final issue of the year. By this time a women’s page had been added, in light of Newcastle becoming one of the first unions in the country to introduce a Women’s Officer.
Further changes came in 1988 when Steve Silk took the helm. Silk introduced cartoons and crosswords on a regular basis, and humour played a much greater part in the paper. A tongue-in-cheek agony aunt column called “Daphne does it” was also added, and Grey’s Column returned after a 15-year absence. The front page of one issue included a large blacked out area to mark the “death” of the freedom of the press, while the front page of the Christmas issue saw news sidelined to give the banter-filled personal column pride of place. Banter was banned from the sports page, however – a notice warned reporters to focus on the sports and avoid private team jokes.
The increased fun sat alongside increased journalism. The paper adopted tabloid-style headlines and launched investigations into issues such as overcrowded accommodation and a loophole that allowed non-students to claim student cards. Major features covered topics ranging from diabetes to a full page interview with the Vice-Chancellor. The letters page became once more a platform for serious debate, especially focussed on the increasingly dire financial and political situation in the Union. 1989 also saw major coverage of the Union elections in Courier for the first time since the mid 1970s.
Silk’s successes were short-lived, however. Mid-way through the year the Union “discovered” that Silk was no longer in fact a student, having decided not to register for third year in order to work full-time for the Courier. This self-sanctioned sabbatical meant that Silk was not a student and was therefore ineligible to work on the student paper, and he was duly sacked. The incident, ridiculed in the paper, revived calls for a sabbatical editor.
In 1990 the Courier “joined the Apple Mac Desk Top Publishing Revolution” but attracted the ire of the Union executive once again when a row broke out over the paper’s reporting of a pay rise for sabbatical officers. More Union stories followed: throughout the early 90s the Courier reported on everything from Tim Farron’s colourful presidency to controversies over the name of Mens Bar, the Union constitution and a broken door.
Deputy editors were introduced in 1990, but Hay’s resignation and Silk’s sacking were signs that the growing paper needed a full-time editor, and in 1992 John Aglionby became the first sabbatical editor in fifteen years. The role was combined with other promotional duties under the title of “Communications Officer”, but things got off to a shaky start when Aglionby’s tenure saw accusations of right-wing bias and a decline in standards levelled at the Courier. Nevertheless, sabbatical status, combined with new computer technology, opened up new possibilities for the paper.