The Courier was redesigned and expanded to 16 pages when Simon Bird (not the actor) was elected editor in 1993. Alongside a more aggressive and tabloid-style news section, the new-look red-top paper boasted a four-page culture pullout called “Preview”. By the end of the year sales were up 25%.
The paper began to take a much more active role in student politics, campaigning against the Government’s plans to weaken student unions through the Education Act 1994. This was followed by long-running campaigns against the introduction of semesters and modules to Newcastle and later for a new sports centre. Carbon monoxide poisoning was also of great interest to The Courier in the mid 1990s, inspiring frequent features, news stories and adverts, while in the late 1990s the paper’s attention shifted to raising awareness of meningitis.
These efforts saw the paper shortlisted as “best campaigning publication” at the NUS student media awards in 1999 and 2000, while the paper won best publication at the Guardian’s awards in 1994, and most years saw at least one member of the team shortlisted for an individual award.
By the mid-90s the paper was unmistakably a tabloid. The mastheads were inspired variously by The Sun and the Daily Mirror, and by 1998 The Courier was declaring itself “the paper of the people”, before settling on “the voice of Newcastle students”.
The aim was to shock: puns – the dirtier the better – littered the paper alongside sensationalist reporting and occasional war-mongering – usually against either the University, other universities or rich students. The paper had no qualms about reprinting the infamous “Courier porn page” in a feature celebrating the paper’s fiftieth birthday. “Courier quickies” were added in 1994 – short funny quotes and anecdotes scattered throughout the paper – while the letters page morphed into an often-sarcastic agony aunt feature.
It was not all success, however. The decline of serious letters to the editor was matched by a similar loss of interest in the personal column. Classified ads and messages had been a part of The Courier since the paper’s early days, but now faced competition from mobile phones and email. What was once a full page shrank and shrank until it was just a couple of messages a week, at least one of them invariably an in-joke from the Courier team.
Courier websites were attempted in 1995 and 2002, but neither lasted for long. The retirement of Monica Doughty, The Courier‘s permanent secretary for over 40 years, in 1998 marked the end of an era, but was compensated by splitting the Communications Officer role, so that the Editor could now spend all their time working on the paper. By the end of the decade colour pages were occasionally included, since the paper could charge more for colour adverts.
Tragedy came to The Courier in 2001 when Gaz Newall, letters editor and unsuccessful candidate for the editor role, lost his battle with cancer over the Easter break. The next issue included numerous tributes to the long-standing and popular member of the team.
In 2002 The Courier went free and expanded to 20 pages. Horoscopes were added, as were occasional fashion and travel pages, and February 2003 saw the launch of “the Thong” – a two page satirical pullout reminiscent of 1952’s King’s Scrouier. The year also saw frequent articles from the Vice-Chancellor, Christopher Edwards, often to defend the University actions the paper was attacking.