By Holly Downes
I will always remember the first article I wrote for Palatinate. I was an apprehensive fresher, lacking all the experience that makes freshers, well, freshers. I was part of the cohort that started university during a global pandemic, and although at the time this didn’t seem like the brightest idea, if I look back now it was actually the best decision in disguise. At a time when socialising outside of your household was prohibited, freshers’ week was on Zoom, and the days consisted of endless rounds of UNO in a kitchen that reeked of mouldy bins and alcohol, I had no wider university experience. No societies or sports could run effectively, and I didn’t know Durham had a student newspaper, let alone that I could write for it.
So, during my second term –spent in my childhood bedroom due to Covid restrictions – I spontaneously submitted an essay for a competition run by my college. The task was to write a piece commemorating an inspirational female figure for International Women’s Day, and I titled mine: Amelia Earhart: The Airborne Activist. I won the competition, which came with a generous £200 prize that I now consider to be reparations for my tarnished first year, and I wanted to publish it anywhere that was willing. As I sieved through Facebook for any independent outlets, I came across the Indigo Creative Writing Contributors group. I quickly discovered that there were Facebook groups for every single section of Indigo – travel, food and drink, fashion, film and TV, etcetera – and eagerly requested every single one.
As requests got accepted, I discovered that any Durham student could write for the newspaper and magazine: as long as you had an opinion, an interesting outlook, and could write an intelligible sentence, the editors wanted you. So, naturally, I started to claim some content calls. I sent in a creative writing piece titled My Temporary Escape describing my regular walk near my house (I could even request a personalised illustration!) and challenged myself to a comment article about vaccine passports.
I remember my first printed article – Pandemic journalism is a recipe for disaster – that was published at the end of my first year. Seeing my words printed on paper, distributed to, and read by students and locals, was such an achievement. I was so ecstatic that I had found an outlet where I could experiment with my writing, share pieces that had actual web links, and be part of something outside of my college. I had found something that I truly enjoyed: contributing to the university newspaper, perhaps enlightening a reader along the way, and feeling like I had a purpose outside of university assignments.
I became determined to get onto the editorial board, and soon became Travel Editor with Gracie, a tired third year who answered every question I had; every problem; every (frequent) ‘I’m so sorry I have no clue what I’m doing’ message. I attended editorial board meetings; laid up the print edition every fortnight; and made an amazing friend (hi Felicity!). I then dipped my toes into the newspaper and became Deputy Comment Editor, and soon after became Comment Editor.
Being part of Palatinate has been both rewarding and challenging. I’ve learnt a lot along the way – been humbled, dealt with countless print lay-up nightmares, and gained invaluable journalism experience that I will always cherish. Overall, though, my experiences have taught me the importance of student journalism. Being able to observe and comment upon one’s surroundings is an invaluable skill that I habitually practise. I go out and think: what can I comment upon? How can I change my take on a popular opinion? How can I amuse, inform, entertain, provoke thought or even provoke action among readers?
This student newspaper has enabled me to materialise these thoughts. I can simply send an editor my idea, get their approval, and then within a week it is published on the website or chosen for print. The paper is a playground to voice my opinions, express my individual writing style and work with like-minded people. It has become an inclusive platform where every single student can write with full autonomy. And it is so important to utilise this freedom.
The most fulfilling aspect is knowing that I play a part in allowing students to exercise their autonomy. Knowing that without the joint effort of editors the paper wouldn’t be award-winning is enough to make me happy. Every section editor has a job to ensure the paper remains successful. The time spent thinking of article ideas, editing articles, working with the editor-in-chiefs, laying up the print edition, emailing back contributors are all duties that provides students with a platform to speak. It has formed everything a student community should be: a place of autonomy, inclusivity, and creativity.
Although I’m sad to be leaving, all good things eventually come to an end, and I remain excited to see what is in store for Palatinate in the years to come and the journalists it will produce. The paper has continually shown itself to be a platform for future journalistic excellence, and I know there will be some famous journalists that come from the paper. So, thank you Palatinate, for everything.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova