Edinburgh student newspaper faces campus crisis as readers opt for online over print

It is the oldest student newspaper in Europe, tracing its history from a campus publication established in 1887 by no less a literary figure than Robert Louis Stevenson.

Copies of The Student was set up in 1887. Picture: Neil Hanna
Copies of The Student was set up in 1887. Picture: Neil Hanna

But the global pressures facing the print industry in the era of digital media have now caught up with The Student, the venerable voice of undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh.

In a scathing front-page article, an outgoing editor described the paper as a “sinking ship” and claimed its issues were no longer being picked up by students from university buildings across the southside of the capital.

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“We are the oldest student newspaper in Europe, but our issues are no longer being picked up and this title is not going to save a sinking ship,” the editorial on the front of the 29 January edition read.

“Rather than reading The Student to find out what is going on in this university, you are more likely to read Facebook pages such as Edifess, or even the Edinburgh Tab.

“And I am not blaming readers for it because the editorial team does the exact same thing.”

Manvir Dobb, who wrote the editorial, told Scotland on Sunday the piece was intended to draw attention to the paper and its predicament.

“When you look back through the archives, you realise how much the title has changed,” she said.

“Twenty years ago people were writing letters to the editor, and offering their thoughts on student activity as a whole.

“We realised our paper wasn’t picking up on that anymore. The content had changed. A student paper should be fun – but now it is running more and more essays.

“There is a lack of engagement between the paper and the students.”

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The title’s management recently vetoed a call for it to become an online-only publication, but senior figures have admitted it is “only a matter of time” before its print product vanishes from the Teviot and Potterrow union buildings.

The Student was reborn as a weekly freesheet almost two decades ago after a financial crisis temporarily halted its production in 2002.

The problem staff faced then was a lack of print advertising being sold. Now the title faces a much more existential problem: students are failing to read the publication at all.

The paper’s current editors hope a renewed editorial focus on issues important to students, as well as an improved online offering, will ensure it continues to play a role on campus for years to come.

Co-editor Rob Lownie said he largely agreed with the points made in Dobb’s editorial.

“Printed student journalism is something that many people on campus are no longer aware of,” he said. “Things are moving on to digital platforms so quickly.

“I don’t know how things are at other campuses, but certainly in Edinburgh, many people don’t even know there is a student newspaper, which is a sad state of affairs.”

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Lownie added that many students were now coming to university having never picked up a newspaper before.

“I don’t see why they would start to change their reading habits, unless we provide them with something that changes their minds,” he said.

“And that’s something that I, and my co-editor Rob Bazaral, are working on. We want the paper to be more accessible – without dumbing it down – and to deal with issues that students can relate to.”

A Past in print: famous faces who worked on the Student

Editors and journalists who have worked on the Student over the last 130 years include some of Edinburgh University’s most distinguished alumni.

Gordon Brown

The former prime minister’s links to Edinburgh University are well known. Before he was elected rector in 1972, Brown served as a news editor on The Student. In an interview with his old paper in 2018, he recalled writing a prize-winning article on the famous workers’ dispute with Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

Tom Bradby

The current ITV News at Ten anchor – and respected confidant of the Royal Family – was a Student journalist while studying for a degree at Edinburgh in the late 1980s. Looking back on his time at the paper, Bradby recalled writing some “poorly argued left-wing editorials”.

Anna Coote

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A principal fellow at the New Economics Foundation, Coote made national headlines as Student editor in 1967 after she challenged then university rector Malcolm Muggeridge to make contraceptive pills freely available on campus.