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|Owner(s)||Reading University Students' Union|
|Headquarters||Reading University Students' Union Media Centre|
The Spark is the student newspaper of the University of Reading. It is produced monthly during term time (previously fortnightly), and as of June 2011 the newspaper has reached Volume 57 Issue 3, following a convention of increasing volume number with each new academic term. It is available as a paper edition distributed across University halls of residence, academic and administrative buildings. The current editorial team are in the process of redeveloping the newspaper's website, with a view to uploading the newspaper in a digital format and providing web-exclusive content to maximise volunteering opportunities. The paper follows a traditional newspaper layout: the front portion of the newspaper is devoted to news issues, particularly those concerning students at the University.
Spark* was established in 1934 as 'The Shell', and varied considerably in design, style and quality with the change in the demographic of the University, the advancement in printing and editorial techniques, and the change in political orientation of the editorial team. In 1984, the newspaper changed format to a more magazine-style publication, rebranding itself as the short-lived 'Splat', before changing again to Spark* in 1988. Spark* reverted to a newspaper format in 1990, under the title 'Spark'. At this point the newspaper was published weekly. In 2006 the then Reading University Students Union (RUSU) President Dave Lewis took the decision to have Spark* published fortnightly, to reduce costs and to give the volunteer staff more time between issues whilst completing their degrees. This move coincided with a move to printing in full colour and the rebranding as 'Spark*'.
In January 2008 Spark* was radically redesigned and restructured under the leadership of then editor Claire Taylor. The new design was introduced to create a fresh and modern brand for the paper and to ensure individual sections were easily distinguishable. The first issue of 2008 featured an exclusive in depth interview with the newly appointed University Chancellor Sir John Madejski.
Over recent years, Spark* has expanded considerably, with the addition of Debate, TV and Creative pages in 2008, the addition of Science and Technology and Fun and Games pages in 2009, and the addition of Political Comment, Beauty and Food pages in 2010. The newspaper now varies between 40 and 48 pages (rendering it one of the largest student publications in the UK by page number) and is published 15 times per year.
In recent years, Spark* has been aiming to increase the quality of the newspaper, particularly following an incredibly scathing Independent article in 2005, where a former Varsity editor described Spark* as 'about as visually appealing as a punch in the retina'. Since then, the newspaper has had a major redesign by University Typography and Graphic Communication students, and has upgraded its design software to Adobe InDesign CS3 thanks to a kind donation by the University's annual fund. Spark* is currently in the process of upgrading its ageing eMac computers to faster, more modern iMac systems.
The paper has a 25-strong editorial team consisting of current students from all years and academic disciplines, who edit the newspaper alongside work on their degrees. Formal recruitment of a new editorial team is carried out in the spring term of the academic year, with section editors largely being recruited from within each section's pool of writers. The outgoing and incoming editorial boards then elect the Editor, Deputy Editor and Head of PR at the Annual General Meeting of the newspaper.
All students at the University are encouraged to write for the paper and many sections of the paper have weekly or fortnightly meetings to discuss and allocate stories for the next edition - there are opportunities to join each section team at the Freshers' Fayre at the beginning of the year or by emailing the relevant section editor. There are also opportunities to get involved in proofreading, photography, PR or the newspaper's website.
Spark* takes a strong pro-student stance, and often places itself as the voice of the students, though it believes in ensuring that students are provided with all of the facts, and will therefore commission articles arguing for the opposing side in any debate. Spark* insists on editorial impartiality, and has therefore published controversial articles criticising the policies of RUSU, the University and the government of the day, often against the wishes of RUSU student officers or University officials.
Spark* has no party political line or stated political sympathy, and the editorial team is keen to avoid promoting any specific political agenda in order to avoid alienating readers and to ensure that volunteering opportunities are open to the entire student body. A broad range of views are expressed, and the centre of gravity tends to change frequently, owing to the rapid turnover of editorial staff.
Relationship with Reading University Students' Union
Despite receiving all of its funding from Reading University Students' Union (RUSU), Spark* is keen to maintain its editorial independence from its parent body. There have been occasions in the past when Spark* has published articles that criticise the union's administration or decisions, and Spark* editors believe that their role should be to uphold freedom of speech and the right to scrutinise and criticise decisions made by the Union's student officers. However because Spark* is funded by RUSU, it is required by Union policy (ratified in 2010) to refrain from advertising or promotion of venues, events or products that directly compete with the Union's commercial undertakings. This led to problems in 2005 when Editor Gavin Whenman allowed the publication of an article containing a reference to a jazz club in Reading town centre. RUSU President Dave Lewis held that this went against the Union's advertising policy and froze the accounts of the newspaper, despite a 'gentleman's agreement' that had previously allowed Spark* to advertise events where there was no directly competing night at the Union. A lengthy altercation ensued, creating a situation where Spark* editors were petrified to go against the wishes of the Union for fear of losing funding or being shut down altogether. The situation was resolved in the 2009-10 academic year, when the Editor, Deputy Editor and News Editor negotiated clear terms and conditions for the Spark* editorial code of conduct, which was cemented as RUSU's media policy, proposed by the 2010-11 Deputy Editor and seconded by the Editor.
In 2011, following a series of disagreements over editorial content, the Deputy Editor formulated Spark*'s first operational policy, which was to govern its dealings with RUSU elected officers and staff, its rights and responsibilities, and the manner in which the editorial team would handle complaints.
Spark* is frequently nominated by its editorial team for the Guardian Student Media Awards in a number of categories. Although not successful since 1997 when a Spark* journalist won the award for Best Student Reporter, Spark* continues to strive for improvement and hopes for award success in the near future. The newspaper is also frequently nominated for the student media categories of the NUS Awards.
2010 was a particularly strong year for Spark*, beginning with two writers, Georgina Mills and Marcus Greenslade, winning first and second prizes respectively in Up to Speed's student journalism competition.
Later that year, 2009-10 editor Rebecca Varney was invited on an all expenses paid trip to Australia by the Tourism Australia board, recognising Spark* to be one of the top four student newspapers in the UK.
In November 2010, Spark*'s music editor Kate Allen received the gong for best student writer at the Record of the Day Awards 2010, which recognise contributions to music journalism. Kate was heavily commended by the Guardian's Film and Music editor, Michael Hann.
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- "Alumni and staff make record-breaking donations to Annual Fund - University of Reading". Reading.ac.uk. 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- "Student journalism update: Sky names Bob Friend Scholar, Up To Speed awards announced | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog". Blogs.journalism.co.uk. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- "Students have the Spark for journalism - News - getreading - Reading Post". getreading. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- "Record of the Day". Record of the Day. 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- "Record of the Day". Record of the Day. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2010-12-15.