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Mag banned by student leaders marks 10 years

A student magazine launched by a journalism graduate initially banned by many Student Unions across the country is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The National Student was founded by University of Lincoln student James Thornhill in 2002 and released its first edition to UK campuses the following year with a 5,000-copy run.

The magazine, which has been web-only as of 2010, is aimed at students and run by a UK-wide network of student journalists.

To mark the occasion, it has been re-publishing interviews online with some of the A-list celebrities TNS reporters have spoken to over the years, including Natalie Portman and band Lower Than Atlantis, as well as some of its more unusual stories – such as when one reporter spent a day with an Mi5 whistleblower.

James spoke to HTFP about his plans for the future.

“Growing audience and engaging more with them is always our goal and we are looking more into original video content and more with music. We recently started running a mix series with up-and-coming DJs and producers and we will be expanding this,” he said.

“Other than that we are looking to increase our involvement with providing opportunities to student journalists and training them. We recently went to the first conference for the new Student Publication Association to give a talk and share our experiences.

“It was great to see so many really passionate young journalists and editors and have the chance to help them with problems they were having. This is something we want to do more of and feel it is one of the strongest things we do.”

Some of The National Student's front pages from the past decade

In a comment piece on the site, James said: “It’s mad to think we have been producing The National Student for ten years! When we first put out an issue there was no Facebook (in fact Myspace was just kicking off), Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the Arctic Monkeys were three years off releasing their debut album.

“If there is one thing I am most proud of it is the platform we have offered to student journalists to forward their careers. We now have over 700 student writers on the books, and our past contributors have gone on to work for the likes of The Guardian, NME, Music Week, Men’s Health, Front Magazine and the BBC. We also have authors, film-makers, radio-presenters and photographers who have gained more skills through working for us.”

It wasn’t always such a success – at first, many Student Unions refused to allow the TNS to be distributed at their university as they could not control what went into it, and feared for the competition in advertising.

But James said they resolutely avoided local advertising so as not to compete with individual Student Union publications.

In addition, the team managed to get their newspapers on a stand in Hollyoaks, which served as extra advertising, and James struck up a deal with accommodation companies such as UNITE which dramatically increased their circulation to its current levels.

In an interview with The Linc, the student newspaper at Lincoln, James said he had started TNS as there had been a gap in the market in 2002 for a national, independent student-oriented product.

He said getting off the ground had not been easy.

“This was before social media and initially we had absolutely no budget to do any promotion, so it involved a lot of emails and phone calls to student unions, university staff and other people we wanted to work with to try and grab their attention,” he said.

“Luckily the newspaper (as it was then) being out there was the best promotion for itself, the more regularly it came out and more people saw it we become an established part of the campus scenery.

“Students loved the idea, but politics got in the way. Some SUs were not fans of a publication as they had no say in being read by their students. One President told me: ‘I love your paper and what you are trying to do. But I won’t allow it to be distributed because I can’t control what goes in it.’

“Over the years, more and more student unions came round and we ended up having a good relationship with many of them.”

After seven years, TNS joined forced with BigChoice Group Ltd, and later in 2010 the magazine launched its TNS Campus Editor scheme, appointing editors at university campuses across the country.

And it relaunched in 2011 with a new-look website.

James added: “So much of it has been amazing. I’ve done amazing interviews and met amazing people, but the main highlight has been surviving and continuing to do what we do.

“There have been several times it could have all collapsed and we have kept it going.”