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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 11. 22 July 1970

1970 Editor Reports on a . . . — Weekly salient

page 12

1970 Editor Reports on a . . .

Weekly salient


Graeme Collins

Publications Officer



Weekly Publication of Salient

You have asked for my comments on the question of the resumption of weekly publication of Salient. You are welcome to them, but I offer them with these requests:
(i)That I be given an opportunity to discuss the remarks in this letter with the subcommittee of the Publications Board which is considering the question of weekly publication. My reason for asking this is that I am fed-up with the half-understandings and misunderstandings which continually clutter discussions in Publications Board meetings and I think this is a question about which one's thinking should be clear.
(ii)That the subcommittee consider making a recommendation to the Board that it (the subcommittee) be empowered to examine the question of weekly publication in 1971 and then the matter of weekly publication in 1970 be regarded as the dead issue which it seems now to be. If this course of action were to be adopted, there might be some interest in the work of the subcommittee—which could be very valuable (does the Board want a weekly Salient of reasonable quality ever?—if it does, it had better get stuck into finding out how weekly publication can be achieved).

Advantages of More Frequent Publication

In what ways could weekly publication—given the maintenance of standards, no marked increase in costs and so on—be regarded as more desirable than fortnightly publication? There are three reasons, it seems to me, but they do overlap. The first, in my order of priorities, is that one has more pages overall (as opposed to per issue) to play around with. More pages because, while advertising revenue per issue falls, total revenue is greater. The second is that the newspaper can (rather than will) be more topical. The third is that, through being published more frequently, the student paper can further accelerate the growth of a feeling of community on campus—this is, of course, one of the student newspaper's most significant functions.

These advantages of weekly over fortnightly publication are worth looking at in slightly greater depth since there are small caveats in each case:

More Pages

Yes, more pages but fewer per issue. By cutting out the use of an additional colour in every issue (as was provided for in the budget) and by using a much cheaper paper than was originally budgeted for, I have managed to save approximately $60 per issue. This has enabled us to produce issues of Salient comprising a minimum of 16 pages and a maximum of 32 pages. (The Monash fortnightly, Lot's Wife, publishes regularly in 24-28 pages and that paper carries very little advertising indeed). I don't see, however, that one could avoid having to reduce, for financial reasons, the number of pages in each issue if the paper went weekly. The best one could hope for would be an alternation between 12 and 16 pages. I'll go into the reasons why I feel a minimum of 16 pages per issue (with scope for the occasional 24 pager and up)—whatever the frequency—is desirable when I talk to the subcommittee. It's all a matter of contrast—making each issue markedly different from the last. Too much uniformity is to be avoided.

More Topicality

One hopes so. The only weeklies which we know well here—Salient '68 and '69 and Craccum '70—have been totally unsuccessful in demonstrating in any way that weekly publication enhances topicality. Each of the newspapers referred to was or is superficial. This is extraordinary, when one considers that their fortnightly predecessors—Salient from 1965-67 and Craccum in 1968 and in the latter part of 1969—were excellent newspapers.

Community Feeling

I don't see any riders to this—the more frequently Salient appears the better as far as creating a sense of being part of the campus community goes. Provided, of course, the paper is relevant to the community for which it is published and provided it's good (and therefore gets read).

This discussion of the merits of weekly publication may seem to have been a little tangential to the question of how more frequent publication can be achieved (as opposed to why it should be). But I think we should clearly establish the reasons for feeling one way or another on this issue. In attaching riders to the first two reasons cited above, I have not meant to detract from them in any way; I am merely warning of the dangers that lie in making over-simple statements about this matter.

One final example: weekly publication may bring more pages overall but a weekly newspaper is just as liable to financial mismanagement and extravaganza (and I'm thinking of matters within the Editor's hands and beyond the immediate control of the Publications Board Treasurer) as is a fortnightly one. The remedy in each case seems invariably to be the same—the number of pages per issue is reduced. This last example may not seem a particularly good one—until I point out that it seems at this stage that the total number of pages which will be published in the 15 fortnightly issues of Salient this year will be 328—and this is only 4 pages less than in the 25 issues published last year.

The differences are there, of course—a fortnightly newspaper has more stable advertising base and I have made the cuts (colour and paper quality) already referred to—but I think there is a message in there somewhere. (It would also be reasonable to ask why, if we are to publish as many pages anyway, we haven't reverted to weekly publication. The answer is a difficult one, which I feel the subcommittee should bear in mind. It is this: if the students newspaper is to be edited, as opposed to collated, students must expect that an Editor of Salient will expect to be given the time and resources to 'see each issue whole' as it were. A good student newspaper develops an editorial shape and voice over the year's issues, but each issue is at the same time a distinct and coherent entity. This is what editing is all about, as I understand it: selecting and then shaping written and graphic material into a whole (that is, an individual issue) which makes sense. I think it must be obvious that publication of 25 instead of 15 issues this year would have involved the duplication of many activities which are not relevant to editorial standards—posting out the magazine, for example).

Preconditions for a Good Weekly Salient

The favourable preconditions for a good weekly Salient are as follows:

More Staff:

A budget of at least $1000 for staff in addition to the Editor. I think it so unlikely that Salient will ever be any good again with one full-time staff member that I have no hesitation in recommending that a full-time (that is, no units at all) staff of three be catered for (which could be done under a payment scheme revised as above). I sincerely hope that my successor, should he be so unlucky as to inherit a situation which approximates mine, will prove me wrong. If he doesn't give it a go he shouldn't be the Editor.

The question of payments should be examined closely by the subcommittee. To recap the present situation; I am paid $700 per annum and I am allocated the sum of $450 to distribute as I choose amongst other staff. (It is worth noting that this is in fact a smaller amount-by $50—than was available in 1969 when $500 was paid to the Technical Editor. We are going backwards.)

I shall spend this money by paying $250 to my Technical Editor, a full-time employee of the Sunday Times, and $200 to my Deputy Editor, who is taking five law units this year. For the information of the subcommittee, the Editor and Technical Editor of Craccum are paid $720 each for their work on that newspaper. Comparison of the amount of technical work and editorial work undertaken in the case of Craccum with similar work in the case of Salient is complicated by the difference in the frequency of publication of the two newspapers. However, it is immediately obvious to the eye that there is less technical work involved in Craccum than there is in Salient. On the editorial side, the policy appears to be more passive than is the case with Salient but closer comparison is difficult.

Comparisons with some of the Australian universities whose newspapers are of reasonable quality would appear to be worthwhile and the subcommittee may wish to ask one of its number to write to some of these papers enquiring about their salary structures, accordingly. I do know that the Editor of National U-a fortnightly newspaper of rather less than Salient's size but of high quality (it is the best in Australia this year so far as I can see)—is paid $2400 per annum.

Publications Secretary:

A full-time Publications Secretary responsible to the Publications Officer but under the executive control of the Salient editor. It is becoming quite apparent that the hours of the Publications Board Secretary must be formally extended (they have been informally extended for some time). The job of setting Salient is bigger than we had imagined. It is also extraordinarily difficult to prepare material in order that its flow can be maintained at a steady rate. The answer to this problem is to give the Secretary more time and more responsibility. There are many routine jobs of sub-editing and preparing material which are time-consuming at present but which could be all but eliminated were they to be handled by the Secretary.

To take a small example: any letters to the Editor published in Salient are set in a standard type, density of type, column width and leading (spacing). The paragraph indents are always the same width, the headings and signatures in the same type, and the style of introduction remains unchanged. I have to indicate all of these individual points on each letter set at present. Were the Secretary to be a full time employee, she would have time to familiarise herself with the job to the point that I could, for example, just write the word 'Letter' at the top of the original and let her do the rest. And, to a lesser or greater degree, the same situation applies to nearly all of the material in any issue of Salient. The type-style of all interviews, reviews and feature articles (of the Exclusive Brethren type) doesn't vary from issue to issue. The news stories are a little bit more complicated but much the same situation holds true. The page numbers have to be set for each issue. And so on. A full-time Secretary could take a great load from the shoulders of the Editor or (if he's got one on hand to sub-edit material as it comes in) the Technical Editor.

The Secretary should, on a day to day basis, be under the control of the Editor of Salient—this for the obvious reasons that Salient has to meet deadlines and there is an enormous amount of work in each issue. This raises the question of relations with other editors and this is best dealt with under the next heading.

Salient Office:

Salient and its Editor must have their own offices. Most students are not aware that the expression "Salient Office" is the subject of a running battle between the 'Association' (that is, some members of the Executive and that benevolent mollifier, Ian Boyd) and the Salient Editor.

In fact, there is no Salient Office, let alone an office for the Editor. All Editors of Students' Association publications are freely entitled to use the Publications Office during the tenure of their respective editorships and they are responsible only to the Publications Officer for their behaviour in the Office. As is probably known to the members of the subcommittee, I objected strenuously earlier this year to the way in which the Editor of Student Handbook, Simon Arnold, used the Office. I think it unlikely that the Office will ever be able to return to its former state of chronic dishabille and still function at all. At times, it seems as if there are a million small pieces of fly-specked paper on the desks in the Office waiting to be pasted up. Untidiness and cold type just do not mix and the selfish use of the Office by one editor can no longer be tolerated.

I may seem to make too much of the need for a Salient Office (though Victoria is, as far as I know, the only university in New Zealand without an office for the exclusive use of the staff of its student paper) but I would refer to the case of Craccum once again, by way of example. The Craccum Office (that's what it's called and that's what it is—other editors may use it by arrangement with the Craccum Editor) comprises a room which is slightly larger than our Publications Office, a darkroom which is slightly larger than ours but infinitely more sensibly shaped (ever tried working in a room the size of a triangular coffee table?), a small office for the Editor (for which office we have no counterpart), a small office for the Advertising Manager (for which office we have no counterpart) and a small office for the Publications Officer (for which office we have no counterpart).

This sort of resource—a decent office (an office of any kind, please?)—is imperative. It has a priority one, I understand, on the plans for the new administrative block and so it bloody well should have. The close conjunction of the Publications Officer in Auckland to the Craccum Editor leads me to a last point.

Take a Pride in Salient and Take Politics Out of its Administration:

There must be a profound reorientation towards Salient on the part of students at Victoria. Guidelines for a physical reorganisation have been laid down in Auckland University's establishment of a Craccum Administration Board. This is a wholly administrative body —it hires and fires, it allocates sums within a budget which has already been mapped out in broad terms, it discusses in depth precisely the kind of problems that this letter has page 13 sought to deal with. This year, the Craccum Administration Board was given $8000 by the Auckland Executive (Salient, has, by comparison, approximately $5600-a dollar for every student) and charged with the task of producing a weekly Craccum. In that, the Administration Board has succeeded, whatever the failings of Craccum as a whole, and it has succeeded for two reasons: (i) the Board is an administrative body, and (ii) the climate of student opinion at Auckland is very pro-Craccum (and has been for several years, regardless of the paper's politics-President Mike Law gives copies away to Rotary meetings!)

I'd be happiest if there were no SRC members on the Publications Board. The only valid argument for their inclusion is the training of new Publications Officers. The contribution they've made has been even worse than my initial and fairly uncharitable estimation of its unlikely value. As far as I am aware, none of them has ever reported back to the SRC, so we're not even benefitting from some public relations. For all the impact the SRC appointees have made, the Board is just as 'unrepresentative' as it ever was. The only SRC appointee who has shown any real imagination and understanding in discussions hardly ever attends meetings. Then there is the subcommittee itself: discussion of reversion to weekly publication of Salient has been crippled by the fact that the members of the subcommittee cannot even be persuaded to gather enough energy to meet. And two members of the subcommittee are SRC appointees elected on the basis of a shrill promise for a weekly Salient. Now the Executive appointee on the Board is no longer a member of the Executive—as was the clear intent of the new constitutional provision—but Simon Arnold, whose contribution promises to be as completely negative as it has been in the past.

This is chaos. You have no right to expect that a good Salient will emerge from it in 1971. One may emerge in spite of this administrative cock-up. The appointment of an Editor is not per se a political matter. Allocations of funds within a budget for salaries, materials, expenses and so on are not per se political problems. Weekly publication is not per se a political question. Politics can be brought into these questions, but for the health of the newspaper it must not be allowed to enter into discussions.

We have already seen three instances this year of gross political interference in Salient: the first was the rabble-rousing debate over weekly publication—never has so little been said by so few to so many about nothing etc. etc. ("if the Dominion can be published daily, why can't Salient be published weekly?" asked one moron); the second was the successful move to introduce politics into the appointment of the Editor of Salient-a move which, more than any other single step, seriously threatens the editorial independence of the paper; and the third was a move to suspend payment of my salary until weekly publication was resumed or, when that gambit failed, to cut my salary in half. (I, presumably, was expected to assume a total and personal responsibility for a decision by the Publications Board to suspend weekly publication). I am often accused of placing too much emphasis on personalities—and I admit that I do tend to feel that it is hypocritical to conceal the fact that one detests someone if one does in fact detest him—but the members of the subcommittee may understand my point of view a little better if they recall that Arnold and Logan were together involved in the first two attacks and Arnold, at least, was prominent in the third. I don't know whether Arnold and Logan feel that they have the interests of Salient at heart or whether they simply feel the same way about me as I do about them. If the former is the case, I would suggest that they have done Salient no good in the positions they have adopted.

All of which leads me to this point: just as some changes (administrative ones, principally) can be made, so some changes can be led. Here I look to the individual members of the subcommittee, to the Publications Board as a whole, to the Executive and to other students who care about Salient to start espousing a feeling of pride in the campus newspaper. Salient is a good newspaper. I don't think one has to be a friend of mine to see that. It is worthy of support. And one doesn't have to agree with all of the points in this letter—or any of them, I suppose-to reach the conclusion that a good Salient is a vital factor in this community. If one agrees with this, and I hope that your subcommittee members can prop themselves into wakefulness long enough to concede the point, then I'd suggest that the questions outlined earlier need to be discussed seriously and dealt with now. It's getting nearer and nearer to the time when students won't be talking about 'Harcourt's Salient' any more-it'll be somebody else's (in that strange sense of 'possession' which appears to mean something to everybody but the Editor of Salient). And it'll then become clear, perhaps, that what was at issue was not 'Harcourt's Salient', just Salient. Then someone will have to make some decisions in a hurry. They might as well be made now and they might as well be fully informed.

I'd very much appreciate an opportunity to discuss the question of weekly publication of Salient with the members of the subcommittee.


David Harcourt