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#GoodbyeTNS – The founder’s thoughts

30th August 2019

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As The National Student closes its doors at the end of the week, founder James Thornhill tells us what the platform means to him.

As it is announced that is it shutting down for good, being asked “What does The National Student mean to you?” and “What has it taught you?” is overwhelming. How do I even begin to put into words what this publication means to me?

It means 17-years of my life (15 of those being in charge of the publication, up to 2010 being responsible for everything). It means being a 20-year-old with an idea to produce the UK’s first independent national student publication. It means a 74-hour straight workday to get an issue out. It means having a vision that hundreds of students could get the kind of opportunities and support I wasn’t getting as a journalism student.

I’m now 37. I wouldn’t be who I am without The National Student, and it wouldn’t be what it is without me. It’s strange to see it go.

In 2002, in a few short months, I learnt about printing, editing, distribution, advertising sales, legal matters, writing business plans, selling advertising space and, somehow, we released a test issue of 5,000 in April 2003.

I suddenly learnt about politics - as many Student’s Unions didn’t want an independent student voice on their campus. I leaned to problem-solve to a greater level, finding a distribution network via the biggest private student accommodation companies all over the UK. In February 2004, 100,000 copies went to campuses.

The rest, they say, is history. I have enough stories to fill a book. It may be a story that I will tell in future, but the real story to tell right now is its legacy of students who now work in the media.

Over the years over 1,000 young people got their start with us and thrived because of the support we gave them. They work at the Times, the Guardian, Metal Hammer, NME, the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, the BBC, LBC, and Heat to name just a few. Renowned photographers, filmmakers, novelists, policymakers, researchers and radio hosts also tasted the media with us.

Take the story of Lucy Miller, who ends as Editor-at-large of the publication. She started off writing, became a Campus Editor for Lancaster and did such a good job. She was given an internship at BigChoice Group and never left. She became my strongest on-going ally in delivering on The National Student and its manifesto of helping students.

Alone, Lucy would be enough of a success story. She reflects the real legacy of The National Student and what I am most proud of. This was always the point.

Look at the things we’ve done! We interviewed Amy Winehouse at the start of her fame, infiltrated the Church of Scientology, visited child survivors of the Lord’s Resistance Army, got tied up by Lucy Lawless, annoyed Liam Neeson with our questions, got complaint calls about our April Fools story suggesting all students would have to attend morning assemblies and had an article on self-harm incorporated into a handbook on the subject for school children.

This is less than 1% of what we did. Every student who has contributed has their own story about what they did for The National Student, their own story to tell.

We started with no money, survived near bankruptcy and made it financially sound, only to ride a recession, all the while getting the publication out and giving our writers a platform.

In 2016, having been working with BigChoice Group for six years, we redefined what a student print magazine could be, again, with a stunning relaunch. That issue is a proud moment in our history.

What does The National Student mean to me? Everything, but right now mostly pride. I didn’t know how it would all work out but seeing the number of people doing what they love because I took a risk, with no money and no clue is my proudest achievement.

It's hard to be too sad when thinking about all the excellent content we published, the careers we started and the lives we changed.

It may be going, but the legacy lives on in all the work being produced by those that got their start with us. I couldn’t really ask for much more.

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