The message Ratatouille’s Chef Gusteau left us was “anyone can cook”. Well, the message I want to leave is “anyone can write”. This is at the heart of The Oxford Blue, Oxford’s new independent and co-operative newspaper, the first new paper for students in 30 years.
Let us finally introduce ourselves: I’m Lois Heslop, the Editor-in-chief, and a Physics undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall. My co-founder and the Managing Director is Phoebe Hennell, a Philosophy & Modern Greek undergraduate at Christ Church. I was Deputy Editor on one of the other Oxford newspapers, and Phoebe has practical business experience from working professionally in start-ups and recruitment during her two gap years.
We didn’t put our own names at the forefront of this project because it’s not about us two – this is not a vanity project. It’s about celebrating the wonderful community around us.
We seek to be a disruptive new voice, celebrating individuality, battling elitism and heralding a new direction for student journalism, which is in urgent need of a fresh perspective. And people seem to agree – in only two weeks, we’ve had upwards of 250 applications to join us.
It was over the summer, during my tenure as Deputy Editor on another paper, that I realised things needed to change. Student journalism had been stagnant for too long. Through this and through the overwhelming response we’ve had, I’ve learned that the student journalism world was hard to break into – predominantly privileged backgrounds were represented, the application forms were long and complicated, and the teams seemed like impenetrable cliques. If students didn’t get involved at school or in Michaelmas of first year, there was a feeling of having missed the boat.
That is why we have put accessibility and inclusivity at the heart of our mission – so that, no matter where you come from, your previous experience, or who you know, your voices can be heard. We seek to celebrate individuality through columnists and long form investigations, inclusivity with partnerships with student societies representing the underrepresented, and accessibility by making this paper open to all.
We will dedicate time to nurturing new talent – when I wrote my first news article, I googled “how to write a news article” because I had no idea what I was doing and there was no one I could ask. This is also, crucially, why student newspapers make mistakes and get themselves into legal battles. As Oxford is under the spotlight so often, we need to get it right. This is why we’re running journalistic writing workshops, offering whole weeks to articles from a variety of new writers, to encourage those who find the prospect of pitching daunting; and opening the doors of our team meetings to all.
We want to build an engaged readership, forming a connection between the reader and writer. We want our articles to spark conversation. We will include interactive material, including Letters to the Editor, where readers submit short pieces engaging with previous articles written, a Puzzles & Games page, recurring columnists and illustrators with a distinct point of view, and collaborative articles – just like this one!
Initially, we are launching online. A lot has changed since the publication of the first newspaper in 1690. Newspaper circulation peaked in 1990 – two years before the founding of the last Oxford student newspaper. With the information age upon us, there came a paradigm shift in the way news reaches readers. We aim to embrace this change. The decision whether or not to go into print, and its frequency, or to focus exclusively on digital media, is to be made at a later date.
Our structure is different to other newspapers, to encourage collaboration. The paper is split into four strands: Current Affairs & Global Outreach (CAGO), Culture, Lifestyle & Columns and Opinion. Each of these is led by a Senior Editor – Leo Nasskau, Soren Wang, Emmeline Armitage, Breeha Mazhar and Kemi Agunbiade – and within these are all the individual sections. We also seek to be a global paper – our Current Affairs team is joint with Global Outreach – we are working with other student newspapers around the world to try and break out of the Oxford bubble and find out what is important to students right across the globe.
I never expected this little spark of an idea I had a few months ago to turn into a flame, and for this I can only thank all of you for bringing your creativity, enthusiasm and individuality to us. I am unbelievably excited and thankful and humbled by this incredible response – and now I’d like to hand over to the wonderful, founding Oxford Blue Editorial team for them to share their thoughts and why they have taken a leap of faith and joined this new newspaper. We have already grown this little spark of an idea to a flame, and I am confident that with all of your talent, we can grow this flame into a roaring, unstoppable fire.
Lauren Coleman (Lifestyle Editor):
“I found the application process for The Oxford Blue easy and accessible, and I really like that positions on the team are even open to those without any previous experience in journalism, like myself. I think that part of the key to a successful shake-up will be offering guidance to those who are new to writing articles, if they want it; many have a talent for writing or opinions that they want to share that will really get people thinking, but if they aren’t sure how to format or formalise this, they might feel put off from contributing. Communication with members of the team who have more experience in student journalism may help some people feel more confident about putting their first piece out there.
“Broadening the demographic of contributors will give us a wider range of content and voices, which is really what I’m hoping to see from the project.
“I also think that it would be fantastic, if, as well as doing our best to open up student journalism to whoever wants to be involved, we could write articles geared towards making other aspects and extra curriculars of Oxford life more accessible too. Many feel that the student drama scene, for example, can be difficult to get into for those from a working class background. We will compound the common practice of writing reviews of plays in student papers with adverts for the auditions that are happening this term, to encourage people to take up new opportunities.”
Oliver Shaw (Features Editor):
“It’s really important that student journalism is more instantaneous, responsive and on-the-ball than ever. Today, news stories go viral in seconds, and student journalism has to keep up. I hope The Oxford Blue will pioneer a new kind of university journalism, that’s more committed than ever to inclusivity, diversity and transparency, while delivering news stories and opinions to readers with a rapidity that’s essential to being credible, accountable and relevant.
“It can feel like you have to know someone or have done loads of writing before to break into the university journalism scene; The Oxford Blue represents a totally fresh start, a chance for people to express opinions and have discussions in a way that wasn’t really possible before. It’s an extremely exciting thing to be a part of.”
Katie Diss (Fashion Editor):
“For me, the established paper seemed intimidating – their reputation proceeds them in a way that places them on a pedestal, and therefore out of reach. It felt, especially as a fresher, that if you weren’t the crafted journalist already, then writing was not for you. The thing that attracted me to apply to The Oxford Blue was that it said ‘no experience needed’ very clearly, and therefore made me hope that my interest in writing and the limited practise I have had would be sufficient.
“I’d love The Oxford Blue to be a paper about experimentation and opportunity – a space for people to try things out and see what happens, a opportunity to experiment with new techniques and ideas, that could be equally genius or dreadful. I think so many people at Oxford are perfectionists, terrified of not being good enough, or failing – it would be great if The Oxford Blue could break that mould – give people a space to experiment and fail safely, but that also be the opportunity to realise writing is something they are really good at, and they find exciting. I know a space to write, which breaks away from the perfection and pressure of Oxford is greatly needed, and I think The Oxford Blue could represent this as a new, fresh start. “