Happy 72nd birthday, Palatinate

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This is a time of national and global anxiety, fear and uncertainty. In Durham, the city is starting to empty of students, and plans are being cancelled left, right and centre for the foreseeable future. Exams are distant and third term feels like a far-off dream – we are living through a series of day-to-day updates, meaning we are constantly informed in the moment but have very little idea what will happen next. To illustrate that, when I started writing this article the Billy B was open; by the time I finished its closure tonight was announced.

Amid this, then, a small piece of good news lifted my mood this morning. Today (17th March) marks 72 years since the first edition of Palatinate. On this day in 1948, Editors-in-Chief L. W. George and A. Burman published the first edition of Durham’s new student newspaper. It began life in Palace Green Library where, according to Sir Harold Evans, one its earliest Editors who matriculated at Castle in 1949, “a few of us ambitious ink-stained wannabees had shivered in a cold room pasting up columns of type that originated on clapped out keyboards.” The editorial board was a small team of three or four students.

In 2020, Palatinate lives in a small office in a corner of the DSU, so out-of-the-way that most of my friends don’t know it exists. We have three computers, the front pages of previous editions taped all over the walls, and a chest of drawers containing a copy of every edition of Palatinate since that very first one, published over seven decades ago. We are a team of dozens of editors for sections from News to Politics to Music to Books, producing a print edition every fortnight of term time, including Indigo, an arts and culture pull-out first introduced in 2010. Every other Thursday of term, you’ll reliably find enthusiastic people carrying stacks of newspapers standing on Kingsgate Bridge, asking “Would you like a free copy of Palatinate?”

Of course, the certainty of something like Palatinate’s regular publication has, in the wake of the last week of COVID-19 updates, become less certain. At the time of writing, it looks unlikely that students will return on 27th April, when Easter Term is due to start, and we are awaiting an announcement about how exams will be taken. Since becoming Editor-in-Chief six days ago, I’ve been joking that I’ve picked my moment to start running a university newspaper – and this has become increasingly apparent in the last few days. I’m proud that we are supplying an up-to-date feed to reliable news on the situation with Coronavirus in Durham, a source that students can rely on to find out what is going on at this most surreal of times; you can read about it by clicking here.

For me, the last week has really proved the power of Palatinate – as a platform with a following across the Durham University community, at a time like this it couldn’t be more important that we keep up-to-date and informed on the situation. It’s been a privilege to be part of the team providing this information, and to be the latest in a long, continuous line of Editors-in-Chief from 17th March 1948 to today. Names like Jeremy Vine, Sir Harold Evans, Hunter Davies and George Alagiah always come to mind, but I was blown away by the number of Palatinate alumni from the last few decades who reached out to me on social media when I took on the role (memorably, one of them mentioned that her Palatinate t-shirt is older than me).

So happy birthday, Palatinate. The future couldn’t be more uncertain at the moment, and we need to continue publishing reliable information now as much as ever – we couldn’t do it without you.

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