The Courier can make a claim to be one of the heavyweights of student newspapers, winning the coveted Guardian student media award for best publication in 1994, 2012 and 2013, and coming runners up in 2015. One of the few student papers to be published weekly, and covering one of the widest ranges of topics, the Courier has a solid reputation amongst the world of student journalism. That’s not to say, however, that it has not faced fierce competition throughout its long life.
The Courier was the brainchild of one Alan Marsh, who was, according to a profile published in the Courier in 1950, a “member of the staff of the ill-fated Palatinate, out of whose failure he conceived the Courier“. Palatinate was the newspaper of the University of Durham, of which today’s Newcastle University was then a part. After Marsh had set up a dedicated paper for the Newcastle campus, Palatinate was reincarnated as a Durham-only publication, and survives to this day.
Although technically part of the same institution, there was little in common between King’s College in Newcastle and the rest of the University, located 20 miles away in Durham. The Courier and Palatinate had very little to do with one another, until their paths crossed in February 1955. The Courier decided to produce a somewhat antagonistic “special Durham issue“, helpfully explaining “what’s wrong with Durham”. The Courier staff then decided to sell copies on the Durham campus, much to the displeasure of Palatinate staff. “Numerous incidents occurred,” boasted the Courier.
Closer to home, the fledgling newspaper faced competition from the Northerner. The magazine had been established in 1901 and initially covered many of the things which would later appear in the Courier, such as news, sports and arts. By the 1950s it had evolved into a literary magazine published once or twice a year and faced financial and staffing problems in the years leading up to its delay and eventual demise in the mid-60s. Numerous attempts were made to revive it, as Package in 1968, Ashes in 1970, the New Northerner in 1972, Five Seconds in 1973 and Blue Lion in 1977. None of these, nor more recent arts magazines such as Alliterati, established in 2006, lasted more than a few years.
As well as facing occasional competition on the arts front, the Courier has also seen rivals of a political nature. The paper was often accused of a left-wing bias in the 1950s, but by the 1970s had been outflanked by Pravda, published by members of the Socialist Society outraged at the lack of socialism in the Courier. Like the arts magazines, Pravda only lasted a couple of years, but societies, and especially political societies, have frequently created their own publications. SCAN, the volunteering society, had Scandal in the late 70s, while in 2017 the Newcastle Free Education Network established The Butterfly Effect, a hard-left bulletin “for students and workers at Newcastle University”.
Although various Union newsletters have been proposed and tried over the years, they have never met much success. Students want scandal, it seems, and at times when the Courier has shied away from aggressive, tabloid-style tactics it has often been vulnerable to competition on this front. The Wall News, a noticeboard in the Union which hosted gossip and criticism of the Courier, was popular in the 1940s and 50s, a time when the Courier dutifuly reported meetings of societies and the openings of new University buildings. In 1968 Union Eye caused a stir with its policy of publishing all submissions completely un-edited, but this experiment was short-lived.
In 1973 the Courier itself became the news as a chaotic emergency meeting discussing the future of the paper made it in to the Chronicle. A year earlier an attempt to bring students from the Polytechnic onto the Courier‘s editorial team fell apart after 12 issues because the Poly students felt sidelined. In fairness, their articles were often heavily edited by the Newcastle University team, apparently because they “were unable to understand the [Poly] articles.” The editor cooly suggested “the writers come back and examine their grammar”. Instead they left and established their own newspaper, the largely unsuccessful Trident.
By the 1980s the Courier was increasingly tabloidesque and faced little competition, and would remain largely fearless and peerless until its dramatic change of direction in the late 2000s. By pitching itself as a serious, respectable publication the Courier left a gap in the market, a gap that was filled in 2012 by The Tab Newcastle. Part of a national network of online-only student publications, The Tab quickly became popular, adopting the tone and mix of trivial and controversial stories that graced the Courier‘s pages in the late 90s.
The Tab‘s format was soon translated into paper form as the University Paper. Its Newcastle version launched in 2014 but to an inauspicious start. The second issue, posted through the letterboxes of every house in Jesmond, carried a front page story congratulating freshers on their “sex, trebles and a whole load of carnage”, next to an article reporting rapes that had recently taken place. This insensitivity and the negative portrayal of Newcastle students, delivered to family homes, caused outrage across the city and was severely criticised by both Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. The University Paper apologised for the incident and the next issue was considerably milder in tone. The Jesmond deliveries were quietly dropped, but the paper survived and continues to provide Newcastle students with an alternative source of news.
All this goes to show that the Courier is not alone, but rather is part of a rich tapestry of student journalism that has been entertaining, educating and enraging Newcastle’s student population for generations.