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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

Nineteen Years of Student Journalism

Nineteen Years of Student Journalism

'Bored at 24 is a common complaint of our day. For all such tired young people the cure is editorship. There is a new and different thrill each time one uses the editorial "we" with becoming gravity. So, with a sense of responsibility, we pen the following original effort . . .'

This was the beginning of student journalism at Victoria College—the opening lines of the editorial in the first issue of Smad, August 12, 1930.

In 1938, Smad was replaced by Salient, whose first editorial began:

'Smad is dead. With it has gone the policy that guided it for several years.

The change has been made not because that policy was undesirable, but because it was felt the spirit of the times demanded than any suggestion of Olympian grandeur or academic isolation from the affairs of the world should be dropped and should be replaced by a policy which aims firstly to link the University more closely to the realities of the world; and secondly to comment upon, rather than report in narrative style, the activities of college clubs.

Elsewhere in this issue will be found an expression of the opinion that students are not qualified to hold political opinions. The whole policy of this paper is founded on a diametrically opposite view.'

These two editorials are peculiarly typical of the journals they introduced. Smad was a College paper, and most of its contributors did not concern themselves with anything outside the day to day activities of students in their courses and recreations. It reported and exhorted, but did not criticise. Salient, in its eleven years of publication, has maintained an interest in the wider issues that affect the lives of students. Derek Freeman, 1939 editor, summed up his policy as follows:

'Send out, Salient, the swift satiric point
To smart the sluggard mind awake.
While freedom anywhere in bonds is pent
No compromise with falseness make.
Those freed today tomorrow forth must leap
Some further outpost there to take and keep.'

Up to 1930, The Spike was published twice a year. At the Students' Association Annual General Meeting in that year, it was decided that The Spike should become an annual review, and that a magazine, Smad, should be published six times a year. The Spike which appeared in October, 1930, welcomed the appearance in the college of ' a healthy young infant,' and in the subsequent years, the remarkable improvement in The Spike's literary and intellectual standards showed that the change was in the interests of both publications.

Smad took its name from the first letters of the words of the College motto, and its first editor, R. J. Reardon, wrote: 'It will be a University publication, devoted to the everyday life that we all know . . . Three things will be necessary to arouse your interest. First, a loyalty to College, secondly, a paper devoted to College, and lastly, contributions from students.'

The first years of Smad, during the depression, saw frequent attacks on academic freedom, and the editor defined his attitude to that question in the first issue:

'In late years there has been a tendency to curtail and restrict the natural rights of University students.

page 83

This is more the outcome of ignorance of student thought and the student mind, than of any feeling of actual hostility. Our aim must be to break down that barrier of misunderstanding, whilst at the same time preserving our right to guard, with all our efforts, those student rights which appear to be slipping into the background.'

From 1930 to 1934 Smad was printed in magazine form. Its typographical standard was not high, except in 1933, under the editorship of John Carrad, when a good deal of attention was given to layout and headlines, and most issues contained illustrations.

On July 17, 1931, Smad made its first reference to a question which has not yet been closed:

'It would be superfluous to traverse the manifold arguments in favour of a new building as long as the present dismal erection constitutes so useless a drain on the student revenue. If we set ourselves to raise a definite sum and to have a new building not later than 1936, we are confident that on the completion of the plan all our sacrifices entailed by such a 'five year plan' will have been worth while.'

In 1931, when there were 800 students, the circulation of Smad was 500. In 1948, with a college roll of 2400, the circulation of Salient was only 800.

It appears that those students who were able to attend the University in spite of the depression were not unduly concerned about it. The pages of Smad were full of domestic gossip, and argumentative correspondence about the 'shock tactics' of the Scm, but in two years the depression is hardly mentioned. When Signor Fornichella gave a talk at the College on Fascism, the following statement was printed without comment:

'Fascism stands for law and order, peace at home and abroad . . . Mussolini represents democracy in the highest sense of the word.'

In 1932 Smad began boldly with a plea for serious thought on the issues between Christian and atheist, capitalist and communist, but soon settled down comfortably into the old routine of gossip and introspection. There is even an attempt to justify the sending down for a year of the editor of Critic by the Ou Council, for printing seditious material. An unsigned article states that 'as university students we have contracted away part of our powers of self government so far as they relate to academic life.'

In the same year the executive placed a ban on liquor at student dances.

In 1933 and 1934, academic freedom became a vital issue. One editorial puts the case as follows:

'Attacks by certain public bodies and private citizens on Victoria College students generally, accusing them of unpatriotism and other equally harsh charges, and of particular admiration for the Soviet State in all its workings, show how far some people lose their sense of proportion in matters.'

In 1934 there was an inquiry into College affairs, both within and without the lecture rooms. Smad states that 'such inquiry disproved the allegations made by correspondents in the daily press. Only last week at a meeting of the Court of Convocation, splendid support was given to present students in their efforts to preserve the right to academic freedom.'

1934 saw the establishment of the Anti-War Campaign, the Free Discussions Club and the Labour Club, whose activities, reported in Smad, make very interesting reading. The year before, The Spike had been withdrawn and reprinted, minus some 'indecent' and 'seditious' articles, and Smad joined in the chorus of protests.

In 1935, Smad became a weekly four-page newspaper 'to allow the discussion of current topics and recording of university activities to be maintained in a more interesting vein, hitherto quite impossible.'

In its new format, the paper diverged considerably from its original policy of 'a University publication, devoted to the everyday life that we all know.' There were articles on 'The Russian Mind and Communism' and 'The Economic Drive to War'; and a start was made on critical reporting of the activities of college clubs. One issue contained a full page of Capping photographs, and another a twelve point questionnaire on 'Would You Fight?'

In the following year the same policy was continued, and there were editorials on 'The Labour Party in Power,' 'What is a Degree?,' and 'Exporting Brains.' These two volumes, edited by J. C. White and R. C. Connell respectively, were Smad's best. Layout and headlines were of a high standard, and gossip was almost eliminated.

In 1937, however, although the paper remained technically good, there was a return to the old idea of confining the paper to purely student issues. The reports of club activities are mostly dull, the only bright spots being the debating reports and an article on the New Education Fellowship Conference which was held in Wellington that year.

The different policy of Salient, which first appeared in 1938, has already been mentioned. It is not possible in an article like this to mention one tenth of the issues raised by a paper whose declared policy is to raise issues. In 1938 and 1939, Salient was a weekly, and not a week passed without the appearance of several provocative, well-written and well-informed articles. Writers like Bonk Scotney (editor '38), Derek Freeman (editor '39), and Ron Meek were as prolific as they were stringent. Interviewing celebrities was part of the new policy. Those interviewed in 1938 included Mr Nash, Professor Shelley, Uncle Scrim and Aunt Daisy, a Loyalist Lieutenant back from Spain, and Count von Luckner. Salient's treatment of the comic-opera count caused some dismay at the time, but subsequent events justified page 84 the writer's suspicions. The sports side was different too. Successes and failures were analysed and suggestions were made. The sports editor even went as far as to say that although Vuc had won the Easter Tournament, the standard of play was no higher than in previous years.

The same high standard was maintained in 1939. The literary page included dramatic, film and book reviews of a very high standard, and some not too bad original verse. An issue devoted to food, health and malnutrition contained some astounding information, but a similar one on patent medicines was regarded by the printer as too hot, and had to be distributed in cyclostyled form.

At the Annual General Meeting that year, Salient was attacked strongly, mainly on the grounds that the views it was putting forward were not those of the students who should be its readers, and a guest editor, Mr W. S. Mitchell, was appointed for two issues. From reading these two issues, one gets the impression that his policy was similar, but that his views were different.

The war hit Salient early. It was thought likely in 1940 that the Emergency Regulations would prevent free discussion in a printed Salient of just those subjects which were most urgent at the time, so for one year it became a cyclostyled journal. The idea did not succeed. A short story, ' There's a war on ...' provoked the fury of the Olympians, and no further issues appeared until some members of the Executive had given an undertaking to the Prime Minister that they would see that no more seditious material was published. Only eight issues appeared that year, and half of them did not contain the unfettered views of the writers.

In 1941, the editor, Shirley Grinlinton, wisely decided to accept the restrictions on publication in wartime, and Salient became a printed newspaper once more, smaller than before the war, but making a desperate attempt to maintain the standard. Much good work was done this year, and in succeeding years, in keeping students in the forces in touch with what was going on at the College, and to a certain extent with one another, by careful attention to club reporting and by printing news and letters from students overseas.

1942 was even more difficult, as the college roll was lower than it had been since the depression, and the few students who were here had even less spare time than usual. The staff of Salient found it hard to believe that the university system was properly geared for helping the war effort, and were more critical than usual of the syllabus and lecture system. Students were taking life more seriously, and the following extract from Cecil Crompton's editorial on ' University and the War' probably reflected the consensus of opinion:

'Anti-fascist speeches alone will not keep the Japanese away—where trained and spirited defence will. Many students are serving in the armed forces, at home and overseas, but that does not excuse us from taking our part. There are men in the Eps who should be in the Home Guard; there are women who imagine they are too busy to devote one evening a week to the Eps.'

In 1943, Salient, with the co-operation of the Executive, took the lead in organizing student work-days for Patriotic Funds and a Liberty Loan campaign in the College. Editorials exhorted students to swot harder, to ' study for victory.' The standards of typography and reporting were improved once more, and a number of illustrations were used with good effect. A well known ex-student wrote to the editor congratulating her on the good job she was doing.

Audacious innovations in layout, headlining and reporting were a feature of Salient 1944 and 1945, under the editorship of Kemp Fowler. Some of these were not quite successful, like 'Salient met affable, fair-moustached Signalman Cyril, ex-Vuc, in the Terminus. Likes a pot, talks easily when drinking.' (interview with an escaped Pow); but the general effect was a greatly improved paper. The aim to make the paper brighter by the use of arresting headlines, good illustrations and snappy reporting was achieved, and by the time the war was over and ex-servicemen began to return to the College, Salient had returned to its pre-war brilliance, although it still lacked the sharp irony and ruthless logic of 1938. It was strongly biassed towards reporting College events, which it did remarkably well, but it gave little attention to interviews or to the wider social and political issues.

In 1946, this omission was rectified to a certain extent. There were interviews with the New Zealand delegate to Unesco, with a French resistance worker, and with the leaders of the major political parties. A scoop article featured some interesting facts about United States military activity on the Chinese coast.

Salient was in trouble again that year, but the editor cleverly turned the tables on his opponents by moving a vote of no confidence in the Stud. Ass. Secretary at the Annual General Meeting.

Troubled by shortage of space, the 1947 editor decided to cut down College reporting to make room for critical articles. There was more poetry than before, and an attempt was made to include cartoons. In spite of the fact that there was a larger staff than ever before, the literary standard of the articles was generally poor. Two articles which include good material—one on the banning of the radio serial 'How Things Began' and one on Dutch intervention in Indonesia—are not as effective as they should be for this reason.

1948 began with a 10th anniversary number. The first editor wrote an article on how it began, which concluded:

'I am glad Salient is now ten. It has survived difficult times but appears to be a healthy specimen, constitutionally sound, so that it can reasonably look forward to further years of activity. I hope this proves page 85 to be so. It appears to have become a Vuc tradition. But should Salient ever fall behind the times, then it is to be hoped the students of the day will have the good sense to make another change and produce Salient's successor."

The second ten years began with a fight, in which Salient loyally took the side of a disgraced Executive, even producing an extra issue, cyclo-styled at midnight, to support its view. The year was made difficult by two changes in editorship, and a change to a cheaper but less satisfactory printer. As a result, it is hard to decide just what has been the editorial policy, and still harder to guess at what it is likely to be in the future. It seems safe to assume, however, that Vuc will continue to have publications which will preserve the ideal of the first editor of Smad, when he said:

'He serveth not another's will,'


'Whose armour is his honest thought,
And silly truth his highest skill.'

Alec McLeod