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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939

The Salamanca Salient

page 18

The Salamanca Salient

In many respects to write a criticism Salient's 1939 issues is to carry coals to Newcastle for opinions on Salient (spontaneous and collected) were the major feature of three issues. Yet it would seem that circumstances giving rise to this stocktaking call for certain commentary, while there are several aspects of the paper's activities which were not the subject of discussion.

Obviously, the standard by which Salient should be judged is that of its success as a University College paper, but the desideratum of such success is capable of varying interpretation. Those people who consider that a 'Varsity paper should merely aim to entertain with flippant reports of 'Varsity gossip and club activities will consider Salient a failure. On the other hand those who desire not merely entertainment, but a serious consideration of topics affecting only students, may also be disappointed. To them "an organ of student opinion" should emphasise student. But again there are people who are of the belief that a 'Varsity periodical should aim at penetrating he students' traditional preoccupation with examinations, at arousing in them some social awareness, at shattering the academic seclusion by the introduction of world problems. Such people will see in Salient a successful paper, and in 1939 especially so, since it goaded a group of non-contributors into the activity of editing it for two issues, and, as a consequence, almost awakened the whole College. In practice Salient seems to try to please all three of these groups, but specially favours the last.

The dispute which arose at the annual general meeting over Salient policy was due, however, to there being two schools of opinion among those who wish to see the student better informed on extramural problems. Looking back on the incident, the impression gained is that a grievance, with marked religious and political implications, became magnified into a major difference. A guest editorship was arranged to allow the aggrieved to voice their opinions but being responsible for two issues only they were able to do little more than try to justify their action in attacking Salient, while coming to realise at the same time the difficulties of producing the paper. The gravamen of their charge was that "Salient's viewpoint is utterly in conflict with that of the majority of those who should be its readers, and secondly too many of the articles expressing this viewpoint abound in assertions as objectionally provocative as they are utterly unproved," or as it was put to me, "Is Salient is official organ of the Wellington branch of the Left Book Club?" As was mentioned is the first editorial and reprinted in the twelfth "the sole qualification of any article, necessary to ensure its publication, is its readableness," and as that pronouncement was never refuted the viewpoint expressed (except for the editorials) was that of the paper's contributors, i.e. the contributing students.

Of the pre-annual meeting editorials, only five out of eleven were concerned with political subjects and whether they expressed opinions with which the majority of students disagreed could only be decided by ballot. For an answer to the assertion that too many articles "abound in assertions as objectionally provocative as they are utterly unproved" reference should be made to the editorial in the tenth issue—one of the best editorials of the year—"Discourse on Truth," where the difference between absolute and relative truth is enlarged upon. On the grounds set forth there, the accusation made may itself be, to some, "objectionally provocative utterly unproved."

To the contentions that supperession was never indulged in the reply may be given that a feeling of clique control, warning of which was given in last year's criticism of Salient, discouraged the contribution of articles other than those palatable of Left Book Club members, and that this was borne out by the large number of articles of submitted for the guest editorship. It should be now realised that any disinclination to contribute on these grounds was irrational, and those who had any grievance had merely to overcome their own inertia to be able to express it. It is also open to doubt whether the large number of articles received page 19 could be taken as indicative of widespread disagreement with Salient, for it is possible that they were merely symptomatic of the friction prevailing at the time.

The consideration of this aspect of Salient has been prolonged but a discussion of the 1939 issues without reference to it is unavoidable, and once emberked upon not lightly dismissed.

To discuss the paper in more general terms and to compare it with the issues of the previous year is to gain the impression that the 1938 Salient was the better. If a more detailed comparison were possible that conclusion may be found to be wrong, but in retrospect it seems that no issue this year eclipsed the Spanish and Chinese numbers of last year for excellence of presentation, and that the reports of interviews were not so consistently well done. Further, more reprints from extra-Varsity sources seem to have been resorted to in order to make up for lack of contributions, while this year's Salient also suffered from lack of continuity by reason of the wrangle following the general meeting.

To point out these shortcomings is not however to condemn the paper, for this year's issues still maintained a very high standard, throughout the year a conscious striving to fulfil the functions of a college periodical was obvious. 'Varsity activities appear to have been well covered; up to the annual meeting four out of the eleven editorials were devoted solely to student affairs, and in all issues, except the Nutrition issue, the emphasis of the majority of articles seems to have been upon college life. One bed omission is noticeable however, and that is failure to mention the Exec. elections for where such a great number of students are unknown to one another some mention of the qualifications of the candidates seems imperative if voting is going to be intelligent. Consideration of the thorny question of reporting meetings and debates by commentaries instead of verbatim reports leads to the conclusion that in the confined space of the paper the verbatim report is not possible, while condensations are dull and useless. Commentaries seem therefore unavoidable. They have however one great weakness—lack of objectivity. Greater catholicity in commentators would tent to offset this defect. Examination at the editorials shows a high competence and an obvious sincerity, and what may be lost on occasions by intolerance is made up by forcefulness.

As a special edition the exhaustive "Nutrition" number of commendable, and together with the cyclostyled sheet, "Truth in Advertisting" that accompanied it, gave an indication of the scope for social betterment that such an independent paper as Salient possesses. The retention of the advertisement of a certain firm of grocers saying. "Tea is good for the brain" certainly gave point to that number.

Of the special articles the two most outstanding were the message from the Prime Minister, which was a shrewd commentary on some effects of University life, and the report of the interview with Sir Harry Batter by which successfully transmitted the impressions of a somewhat enigmatic personality. Column fill-ups with the obiter dicta of the famous are commendable in moderation, but we hope that will be spared any further quotations from "Eyeglass in Gaza."

It is interesting to note that at the end of the first term a special appeal was made for articles of literary merit with the idea of developing the literary side of Salient, but judging by the issues of the next term there must have been little or no response. Whether a paper of Salient's slight format can hope to attract such material seems somewhat questionable. The great weakness of the verse published during the past year was the used of hackneyed imagery, and, being clogged with "poetic" expressions, it lacked spontaneity. In few instances was there the necessary compression and exactitude of expression. Contributions H.W.G. showed him to possess superior facility in this medium, his sense of rhyme being especially strong, while this poem "Evolution" stands out by reason of its effective condensation.

So far mention has not been made of the sports-page which entails some of the most onerous work in production. Though confronted with fewer difficulties in obtaining copy, the sports editor must always prepare his material within a restricted time, and high praise is merited for the uniformly attractive and accurate set-up of the sports page.

page 20

In spite of all the perfection achieved in production, namely its lay-out, punctuality and regularity, and in spite of the high standard of the reading matter, Salient has suffered from the two incubi of all paper at Vitoria College—poor response from both subscription become effective one difficulty, from the paper's point of view, will have been solved, but there will still remain the difficulty of obtaining contributions. In many always it seems that it is a problem that will always be with us. Past experience shows that a "popularisation" of the paper as in Smad does not result in increased support from writers, while a lowered standard acts as a strong deterrent to the better informed contributor. On these grounds it is considered that the proposal, as mentioned and demonstrated in No.17, of brightening the paper with photographs is one that need cautious adoption lest the College foster a second Pix. If the present standard is to be maintained (and it is not too high a standard for a University College) it seems that all an editor can do is to cast his staff-net as widely as possible, especially in political waters, and be prepared for the necessity of the staff having to write the paper. Such an arrangement has many disadvantages, as was demonstrated this year, but no other seems practicable, and provided the pages of the paper are an open forum there should be sufficient safeguard against undue influence. If the paper is than accused of bias it will be unfortunate, but not distressing.