The Long, Hard Road…

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

My last post was serious. It was a call for some sanity. It was, also, according to one Exec, unhelpful.

Nonetheless, I persisted and sent a version of it to the President, with one addition: a request to meet and talk this through.

Let’s make no bones about this: this should have happened from the start. After the last meeting was cancelled at the last minute, we certainly had no desire to chase people who, we felt, had gone out of their way to bypass us. It really was a decision to do this.

And it may work. This morning I will have an initial meeting with the President to discuss this problem. There is a lot to discuss, not least what we expect of the magazine as a final product.

We are open to change and have played nice in giving in to their demands before now; but we are very aware that we are the ones reaching out. As such, this brings the expectation of reciprocal action.

My fear, my worst case, is that the ground has already been too poisoned; that the editors will move on, our writers will lose an outlet. Meanwhile, the SU will lose a success story and have to start again from scratch.

Let`s hope it goes much better than that, eh?

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Dear Yeashir…

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

(I write this on my own.  I hope that I capture my colleague’s feelings, but ultimately I am here to express my own frustration.  If the Execs don’t like it, they could, perhaps, try the innovative concept of talking to me about it)

Dear Yeashir,

Yesterday, I and my fellow editors turned up at with the expectation of meeting the SU execs.  It wasn’t a small event; I expected to come and talk about exec plans, made without reference to any of those whom it would affect, about greater SU control of Verve magazine.

I had come expecting to thrash any problems out out.   I came expecting the  SU officers to finally have the testicular fortitude to say things to us directly, rather than acting behind out backs.  I came expecting a chance to talk about the things that we were promised, but never given.

When we got there the room was bare, save for the Communications Officer.  You had swanned off to City campus for an interview with ITV (did you regurgitate the briefing I gave you, or actually say something original?), while the Execs told our Art Director and witness that dealing with us wasn’t a priority.

You asked for this meeting. I came in on my day off, with with magazine and uni deadlines pressing down on me.

And then we were offered the same ‘compromise’ as before; instead of taking over the mag (which would fall apart about five seconds afterwards) you simply wanted a couple of extra pages.

I know that you have trouble with English, but your misuse of the word ‘compromise’ is breathtaking.  Compromise comes from sides negotiating.  You have not offered us anything, let alone fulfilled old promises.  Execs complain about cost, asking where their money goes, but has done nothing to get cheaper, better printers and the advertising income that would reduce our impact on your budget. You know, the stuff we asked for last year, the stuff that is the SU’s responsibility.

Actually, let’s hang there a minute.  What do you get for your two grand a month?

Well, that’s an interesting question.  Especially as full-time execs receive a full-time wage, while one of the first acts of last years’ Council was to re-instate wages for part-time Execs.  This wage was withdrawn by the university after wage fraud committed by previous officers.

So, what do you get?  You get a load of unpaid labour.  We are a large and active project with many editors, writers, photographers, illustrators and designers.  Were we paid, even at minimum rates, our bill would be a large multiple of the printing budget.

You get a magazine so well designed and written that it could pass as a pay-for product.

You get a magazine that has reached out to a diverse student body and entertains thousands monthly.  We have caught the big names that appear in paid-for publications, yet we hand it out for free.

You get a failed brand turned around into a vibrant and growing one,

But what do we get in return?

Not support, that’s for certain.  Not even a ‘job well done’, but instead assumption that you should have your names spattered in lights upon our work.  You haven’t even managed to do the simple things we were promised, but somehow you deserve accolade that we don’t get.

What else do we get?  Secret, dictatorial plans to take over.  You talk of complaints, but we see you most days in the week.  Why didn’t you raise it then?

How are your moves anything more than envy, anger that something is popular and doesn’t carry your pictures on every page, adoring The Party?  How is this justifiable when SU magazines up and down the country don’t go through this intrusion?

A monthly lifestyle magazine is not even the place for SU communication.  For that you need a fast-moving and regularly updated thing – a paper, website or radio station.  We have asked since last year for a website, but so far we have nothing.

And it’s hard to take these alleged complaints seriously when the first we hear isn’t that there is a problem.  Somehow the SU went from ‘I have a complaint!’ to ‘I know, we’ll take it over!’ without the interim stage of ‘is this complaint even serious?’ or ‘let’s bring it up with them, let’s see what they have to say and what we can do about this’.

I have to wonder if it’s serious because no-one approached us to talk about the things that are so apparently so urgent that a secret motion had to be drafted to take our magazine away from us.

You at the SU talk of ‘compromise’, but you offer nothing in return except for threats to cut our funding and take us over. Your so-called compromise involves extra pages for you, when you couldn’t even fill one regularly last year, is sleight of hand.  It was made, as usual, without any reward for those who would lose their page space.

You talk of ‘democracy’, but you were barely elected. Our circulation is in the thousands, yet only 403 people voted for you as their first preference.

You expect us to walk the street of negotiation alone and we prefer company.  You act like you have a mandate, but our mandate has been earned purely on the back of our effort.

I am not going to offer to talk to the Execs, to ‘resolve our differences’.  We are so far on, you have so often disappointed and mistreated us, that the onus to sort this out in a reasonably manner rests on you.  You have to prove good faith and honest intent to deal fairly.  You have to show that you can even be trusted.

Not us.

I would like to think that this letter will affect events, or even be read, but I doubt it.  But you will not come and talk, you who are fully paid and free to use your time, will not come and talk to those who give their time freely even though we could be doing our coursework. 

Even when you arranged for that meeting in the first place.

I could be doing something better with my time.  So far you have done little to convince that anything else could be a greater waste of my time than you have made this magazine.  I already hear that these alleged complaints have prevented us from going to print; even now, your petty and vindictive behaviour wrecks over a years’ work from many good people.

I hope you on the Executive are happy with this trainwreck.  No-one else has cause to be.

Mark A. Oxley

Subeditor, Vervezine.

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More on the SU’s demands

October 26, 2010 2 comments

So, how are things moving along?

According to President Yeashir, what we were told by another SU officer (the one who dissented against their plans and warned us about it) was overblown – the SU merely thinks that it should see a return on it’s investment in the mag by receiving (presumably supportive) coverage. What they really want is some more page space.  As an ex-editor pointed out to me, that’s how it starts; four page,s then six, then eight.  And then the uni, sensing weakness, also comes along with a list of demands.

Thing is, it turns out that they’re unusual in getting even the page space they already have.  You see the old Comms Officer looked at a bunch of SU magazines as a way of figuring out best practice and, hey, it turns out they don’t get interfered with in like this.  A couple of examples:

This is Impact magazine, funded by Nottingham University’s Student Union.  Feel free to look for the kind of SU coverage that our SU is demanding; I haven’t spotted any.

This is Leeds Student, Leeds uni’s award-winning rag.  They don’t have an SU-specific section either.  Funny, that.

Do I think that it is important to cover the SU?  Well, yes; I’ve agitated for it before.  But a monthly magazine is not the place for something as fast-paced as events and all their complaints would mean something if they had actually tried acting on their concerns before now.  By stepping in now and not in the last ten months or so we’ve been working, it’s easy to feel that someone’s trying to piggyback on our success.  Especially people who demand to know where am I? in the magazine’s first issue, as if their appearance was axiomatic and not needing a reason behind it.

This kind of content – talking about events and campaigns within the SU, getting their comment on stories – should be for Verve Radio.  And this isn’t said as a way of throwing them onto Gareth; I’m making work for myself, as I thoroughly expect to be involved in making those programs.


There is a Student Council meeting at 4:30 today.  The events calender doesn’t include a room, but it’s usually in the Tower Block somewhere.

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SU’s secret plans to take over Verve magazine

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Let’s start at the end: If you are incensed by what you read, please email the Executive Council and tell them they’re doing it wrong.  I’ll start you off with the president’s email, which is:

On with the show…

I recently received a call from the Editor; the SU Executive Council has decided that they want to take over the magazine because it doesn’t focus on the issues they’re not in it enough.

The meeting’s on Wednesday.  The first we heard about it was late Friday.  Before that they haven’t come and talked to us, just put this plan in motion.  And what a plan it is.  They want to take over running the magazine and to change it’s name to something clearly SU-based.

Let’s skip the part where ‘Verve’ was forced on us as an umbrella band by the previous SU officer and go to the bit where they didn’t mention this name change in the six months or so spent planning the new logo…

Now, I’m not averse to more SU content in the mag. But we on the editorial team have to cover things of interest to students, which is not always the same thing as covering what the SU thinks is important.

I know this distinction seems small, but it’s important; it means the SU officers can’t simply expect to get their words handed down; they have to engage with students and their priorities to gain their interest.  This is an important element to democracy.

That said, this is the same SU Executive Committee that hasn’t contacted us to talk about their work.   Well, barring the Comms Officer, but she also dissented from the takeover.  I’ve reached out to a couple of people, but the same people complaining they’re not covered are also the ones who haven’t bothered talking to us.

We can get random people emailing about the sex column, but the mighty SU Execs can’t reach out? (Hint; our emails are on the back page.  They’ve always been on the back page).

In additon, this is the same SU executive that couldn’t fill one page last year and certainly never on time. They didn’t seem to understand that deadlines are inflexible – and when we did delay publication for them, we invariably got complaints that the magazine has been delayed.

So yeah, this is a monumentally bad idea by people with no idea of what damage they’re doing.  As I said, the meetin’g on Wednesday; we’re going to fight to keep the magazine properly independent.

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Our long, hard, column…

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Warning: the following is my opinion only and not official policy.  I just felt the need to say some stuff.

This afternoon the Editor flashed me her Blackberry (fnar); we had received an email from someone complaining about the sex column.  We don’t get many of these; I think we’ve had two or three over our four issues, so as far as I’m concerned they’re written by cranks who don’t really represent anyone other than themselves.

But at least this one wasn’t oh-so heroically, verbally abusing a woman.  Because that kind of behaviour gets old.

Anyhow, this email is pretty bad.  Bad spelling, terrible grammar and barely coherent when read as a whole.  Oh, and the content was unpleasant too.  Apparently we were bad people for publishing the column and we should be thinking about what we’re doing.  (Apparently the UK is also ‘very liberal’ – obviously this guy has never been to France, or Germany.)  Fortunately I’m quite liberated and so have no problems in accepting what I and the writer do with own own – and others’ – bodies*.

Now I know exactly what I’m thinking about the sex column – I’m thinking an intelligent sex column is a great idea.  People manage to unnecessarily complicate sex and we should help people understand what what they’re getting into.

Writing about sex from a sensible, safe and open-minded way is both necessary and awesome. Pretending that it doesn’t exist, or happens in certain ways (disturbingly, the UK only criminalised marital rape in 1991) isn’t healthy and can lead to some tweaked views about human behaviour.  Education is necessary and that’s why we go for these pieces.  Take celibacy, for example.  Study after study has shown that people who are only taught celibacy as a contraception method  (i.e. taught nothing beyond ‘don’t do it’) will eventually have more and more dangerous sex than people given typical sex ed classes.

And most magazines are terrible when it comes to sex anyway – men’s magazines mostly exist in the land of ‘hurr, titties’, while women’s ones, the ones supposed to be on women’s side always seem to be about ‘how to please your man’.

Can’t he please himself? (a survey of 12-year old lads would say ‘yes’ and ‘shut that door before my parents see me!’)

And what is this, the 1950s?!  Women aren’t supposed to please ‘their man’.  Men aren’t supposed to just please ‘their’ women#: people are supposed to please each other and that’s what we support.  Safe, boisterous and creative enjoyment.

Hell, if you do it right, sex is even subversive against patriarchal hierarchy.  There’s a reason the government in 1984 tried to control orgasms and why religions also have controls on sexuality.

Of course, I’m just the sub; the final decision rests with the editor and the SU comms officer.  Both of whom are women and both of whom fully support the column.

And good on them, say I.

*Just to be totally clear, I don’t do anything with the writer’s body; we both have Significant Others and are quite happy with that.
# Or man/man, woman/woman, woman/octopus or human/robot; just insert your choice of pairing here, I ain’t discriminating.
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ACTA: still active

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In issue 2 I wrote about ACTA, an international treaty that pretty much forced countries to accept a corporate wishlist of copyright law, as law and without public discussion.

The issue is still ongoing; this week Westminster Skeptics covered the issue, with MP Tom Watson and sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow taking questions.

The podcast is here and is recommended listening if you want to catch up on the issue.  It’s pretty illuminating for Cory’s description of how copyright was negotiated at the UN.


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And we’re off!

The agazine’s first editorial meeting of the year has been called.  It’s at TM1-41, starting at 6pm on Monday.

Anyone interested in getting involved should come along, even if you’re not sure where to start.  We’re very gentle with newbies and even if you don’t say anything it’ll give you an idea of what our processes are like.

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