#GoodbyeTNS - A note from your former Editor
Share This Article:
DISCLAIMER: I could not get myself to cut much of Lucy’s piece. And it’s totally worth the (long) read. Camille
There are many, many things that I could say about The National Student, about BigChoice, about the relationships it fostered and the headaches it gave me and the careers it started.
What I do know is this.
I joined The National Student in February 2012, seven months out of university. It was a fluke. After two weeks on the intern desk at the Independent (RIP), I was supposed to spend the year working as an au pair whilst doing my journalism training. Situations conspired that meant I couldn’t become the au pair - but, knowing I was moving to London anyway, the mother of the family invited me to stay in her back room, rent-free, whilst I started my NCTJ and worked out what I was going to do instead.
(If anyone tells you Londoners are rude, they’re lying - or they’ve met the wrong ones. I credit this particular Londoner as the first of many that, in their own small ways, made my life what it is today.)
So. I was 21, I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and I was not thinking about what came next (that seemed like an overwhelming and impossible task). I came back from lunch, sat down in my anonymous spot at the intern desk, refreshed my Hotmail inbox (RIP), and saw that The National Student needed an intern.
I messaged James. It was Thursday afternoon. I started on Monday.
I was supposed to be BigChoice Group’s editorial intern for three months, which was quickly extended to six, and then to a year. And then, of course, I just… didn’t leave (not for a while, anyway.)
My first year in London, and at BigChoice, was defined by a handful of standout moments. Being told to “check for gaps” in the ill-fated Courses & Careers website (RIP) and “just fill them in” on my first day was memorable (thanks, James). The same site being hacked by a Viagra company (still in week one) was another surprise.
The year swung from vague educational content plans, to interviewing Sean Bean at the Groucho Club and feeling like I’d fallen through the rabbit hole, to my first ever overseas press trip (a Eurolines coach to Paris, then to Lille, and then to Antwerp). A Jane Austen-loving friend, via BBM (RIP, again), messaged: “If you interview Colin Firth, I will stop speaking to you.” By October, it had happened (she’s still speaking to me, don’t worry.)
12 months in, I sat in a room with Mila Kunis, James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, discussing Oz the Great and Powerful and wondering at the fact that I had graduated in a recession and that everyone I knew from uni seemed to be working in admin. What on Earth had I done to deserve this?
I still have no idea how I could have struck so impossibly lucky.
Also: sausage burgers. Kopparberg. The District Line. Libertine pizza. Accidentally moving in downstairs from the CEO. Clapham Common. And so on, and on, and on.
Recession, relaunch, pubs: The National Student defined my 20s
In many ways, working at The National Student defined my 20s: fresh out of uni, the limitless energy that’s required to sub-edit 20 articles a day, to focus enough to give coherent advice to 18-year-olds with big dreams, to switch your brain around for a conference call, to form friendships, to drink shit wine until closing time, to fall asleep on sofas, to wake up at 3 am and put the laundry on because you’ve run out of clothes after not being home before midnight for 19 consecutive evenings. And then to get up and do it all again.
As we know, it wasn’t all great. We were coming out of a recession, we had no money, and we were struggling with resource and lack of direction; we were in a media industry that was going through a number of rapid, seismic, devastating changes. We sat around pub tables, more than once, strategising about what we’d do if, when, the company closed down. A handful of times, I applied for other things, slid out for “doctor’s appointments”, and sat opposite strangers discussing jobs I didn’t want and wondering whether I could actually imagine working anywhere else. I couldn’t.
In 2016, we launched a print magazine - and I was reminded, again, that it was a good thing that I hadn’t quit when it got difficult.
Here are some things that we covered in the print magazine, off the top of my head: a campaign to change the way sexual assault is dealt with on campuses. Jameela Jamil’s i_weigh movement. How The Wombats want to save the NHS. The #RemainerNow campaign. Visiting Albania as a child, and then later as an adult. Why we shouldn’t give up on the Great Barrier Reef. Why Queens is the new creative heart of New York. Interviews with Margot Robbie, John Boyega, and Ruby Rose. The fashion brands raising money for mental health and fighting child slavery. And so, so much more.
Of course, the print magazine alone made me cry more times than I can count. Managing the entire process myself (with my team of, erm, just me) and not having a cover star two weeks before going to print in April 2018 was a highlight. I developed a refrain in my mind: get a job that doesn’t make you cry in the pub on three consecutive Fridays. Please.
I looked online. Reading the job descriptions for other potential roles fried my brain with their mundanity and their terrible pay. So I didn’t quit. I did shout at some people, most of whom deserved it.
Get yourself a Camille
And it was lucky I didn’t quit, because one month later Camille walked into the office and (and I cannot over-emphasise this point enough) changed my damn life.
When you’ve been working in a situation that makes you feel like you’re alone, having someone highly capable walk into the room and tell you that you are right, that you are good at your job, and that all your foibles are completely justified, is revelatory. It can change your working environment, and your mindset, in an instant. A new refrain, this one for you rather than just living in my own head: get yourself a Camille. Please.
In September 2018, the utterly unthinkable happened and my mother, who had been fighting ovarian cancer for two years, was given a terminal diagnosis. My boyfriend and I dropped everything and headed north, where I stayed for ten days, working short mornings from my childhood dining room table and thanking the universe that I was with a company that afforded me this flexibility.
We worked out a plan, and I came back to London. And the next day, she died.
What proceeded was a full month where BigChoice let me stay at home, 200 miles away, organising a funeral and closing down phone contracts and spending what seemed like hours on the phone to bereavement teams from Yorkshire Building Society to British Gas to Virgin Media.
Nothing was expected of me. BigChoice let me do what was needed to be done. I didn’t have to think about work once. I’ve heard no stories of any other companies acting as generously, either before or since. And I can’t begin to thank Simon (and of course Dave, my rock since the very earliest of days) for that month. However frustrated BigChoice might have made me before, it came through when it mattered. And that’s it.
Camille, of course, was there through it all. You can read more about that on the Grazia site in September (yes, that is a shameless plug for an upcoming commission - but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s relevant.)
I came back in January, ready to stay at The National Student for as long as was needed to make my life feel stable again.
And then, two weeks into the new year, our letters came. Letters for 70% of the office. A surreal day. One with shock, and tears - mainly from those who hadn’t expected it for years; those who would now, unexpectedly, need to find new jobs before the settlement ran dry.
But I’d always expected this. And I knew, by the end of the afternoon, what I needed to do.
Being made redundant can be a good thing, if you’ve been at a company for seven years and have always secretly wanted to go freelance and have recently had a large dose of perspective dropped on you. And Camille was staying, so I knew The National Student would be in good hands. I accepted my package (seven years service pays out a decent amount, it transpires), negotiated that I would stay on as a freelancer for eight hours a week… and then stayed for another two months to see out my notice period.
Armed with Camille, The National Student continued to weather the storm, where a vast number of independent publications (and larger ones) had not. A brief overview of the last few years in our industry:
February 2016: The Independent, where I’d spent my very first weeks in London pounding the phones and fruitlessly chasing bylines, stops printing. July 2017: Vice pivots to video and lays off 2% of its global workforce. October 2017: Glamour makes its magazine, the bible of my teenage years, bi-annual. November 2017: Buzzfeed lays off 100 members of staff under the guise of “reorganisation”. April 2018: The Debrief closes down, four years after its launch. January 2019: Major layoffs announced at HuffPost. February 2019: The Pool closes, failing to pay its staff or freelancers what they’re owed. June 2019: I go to watch Booksmart on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and have a missed call from Camille when I leave the Ritzy. She doesn’t need to tell me what’s coming. I’ve known since mid-January, but also for years.
Is it really the end?
The National Student is closing. It’s been with me since I was running around Borough in floaty skirts with a fruit cider and a vague worry about whether I was likely to pass any of my NCTJ modules whilst also spending this much time in the pub (non-spoiler: I did, even shorthand. I could probably have done better in some of them, but I maintain that bunking off occasionally to develop friendships on Clapham Common was the correct way to prioritise. Seven years on, I have the NCTJ and I still have the friends - so I think I win.)
I’m nearly 30 now (I know, it’s hard for me to believe it too) and I’ve learnt so, so much. About when to persist, and when to say that enough, definitely, is enough. About friendship, and loyalty, and letting go. About how much stronger you are than you could ever begin to realise - until you have no choice.
Also, my 22-year-old self would be mystified to learn than I’ve dispensed with the rubbish, mouldy flats and the hippy skirts and even the pear cider (yes, really). She’d probably think I’m boring now (I moved back to Zone 3 after swearing to never). I hope she’d realise that there are some strong learnings coming for her, and that she’s ok to stay where she is for now.
Really, the seven years I spent in the BigChoice offices in Borough, then Oval, then Shad Thames, and then Borough again (moving day refrain: Borough High Street here we come, right back where we started from, Borough High Streeeet, here we coooome) have made me who I am. It turns out that when you’re the editor, chief sub, picture manager, social media manager, account manager, marketer and probably a hundred other things, other companies will be fairly impressed by your skills afterwards. I’d recommend contracting, for a brand new ego boost every couple of months.
God knows, we’ve earned it.
As The National Student approaches its final days, we’re all feeling a bit reflective. But the closure of this publication after 17 years isn’t the end - in fact, in many ways it’s the beginning. It’s the beginning of what I know will be wonderful careers for lots of our writers and editors, and it’s the beginning of the next step for myself, Camille, James and everyone else who has remained involved in The National Student over the years. This, of course, was what The National Student was always about. This is its legacy, and it’s a legacy that remains.
There’s nothing really left to say, other than that it’s been an eye-opening, frustrating, unexpected, yet ultimately positive almost-decade. Would I have changed some aspects of it? I think we can all say, unequivocally, that yes - yes, we would.
But would we have changed the experience overall? No. Of course not.
So, here it is - my last ever article for The National Student. It’s number 1,905, and as ever, I’ve gone way, way over the word count. But I think that’s probably something that Camille can deal with [I did not].
If you’ve made it this far, good luck for the future - although I don’t think you’ll need it.