The Saint Turns 25: The Insider View

Updated: Apr 28

The Saint in 1997

On this weekend, twenty-five years ago, Issue 1 of The Saint was let loose upon the streets of St Andrews. Two hundred and sixty issues later, it remains a permanent, and occasionally controversial, fixture. Though by no means the only St Andrews student newspaper of modern times, it has long dominated the publication landscape here, despite many rebrandings.

Alternately called Quorum (1962), Aein (1962-1984), and the St Andrews Chronicle (1984-1997), in 2019 The Saint (1997-2022) overtook Aein as the paper’s longest-running manifestation.

The St Andrews Chronicle was its immediate forebear, described by The Saint’s founder Tim Samuels as “dull”. Coming from The Chronicle’s Features section, he decided a rebrand into “something that reflected the truly unique, bizarre and magical three streets of Fife” was necessary.

As can sometimes happen in student journalism, he swiftly found himself subject to a “mutiny” by “half the staff”, who turned up, unhappy, at his flat. Nevertheless, the paper’s launch went ahead as planned, with the idea being “to combine proper journalism with a sense of satire”. Samuels’ favourite example of the ‘New Journalism’ was “a social climbing wall chart we gave away, so people could effortlessly plot their paths to becoming red-trousered Yahs.”

The formula was a winning one—the paper won Student Newspaper of the Year, prompting “an open-topped bus celebration of the town, until the local police had other ideas.” Revelry of this kind has sadly since been shunned by The Saint, but is perhaps due a welcome return.

Samuels’ Editorship set the tone for his successors. Andrew Murray-Watson (1998-1999) told me that he “had big shoes to fill” due to The Saint’s “immediate success”. His goal was to “break big stories, irritate the powers that be by covering news that they would have preferred remained unreported and provide an entertaining read for students.”

Once again the paper tasted success by winning “several student media awards”, this time resulting in, Murray-Watson nostalgically recalls, a “huge night out” in Glasgow, aided by somehow managing to receive the Scottish Student Newspaper of the Year prize money “in cash”. It is worth noting that these days there is no longer enough money in journalism to be throwing it at student newspapers like this; thus, the memory is tinged with a ‘those good old days’ sadness.

Alex Brant-Zawadzki was the paper’s seventh Editor, taking over from now-Telegraph columnist Robbie Collin in 2002. He told me that his role was “more like a janitor than an editor”, due to the success at the Glasgow Herald’s Scottish Student Press Awards of the two years previous. Brant-Zawadzki was modest about his own achievements, telling me that he “relied on his staff” and that his primary goal was “simply to make sure the paper got to the printer on time…[and] to make sure my staff had solid CVs.”

But once again The Saint won the top prize at the Herald’s awards. Brant-Zawadzki summarises—his own opinion: “You know The Herald would have liked to spread the appreciation around. But we left them no choice. Our covers were dynamite.”

His favourite memory fits with many of the half-surreal events that Saint Editors are exposed to during their tenures. Sir Clement Freud (grandson of psychoanalysis titan Sigmund, Liberal Member of Parliament for fourteen years, and award-winning journalist), had beaten Germaine Greer to the position of St Andrews Rector that year. Brant-Zawadzki recalls:

“Sir Clement Freud once summoned me to his de facto study in his suite at The Scores Hotel. He happened to be Rector when I was Editor. Of course I was completely ignorant of his publishing prowess. But he had a page in each issue, and he thought it was quaint to send in copy elements that did not comport in any way with our formatting. I would inevitably stretch things about and move things around to make it comport.

So the one time the Rector summoned me to his study, he sat me down, poured us both a Scotch, settled himself in his chair, looked me in the eye, and said, “Right. Quit fucking with my copy.

All I could think was, Sigmund Freud’s grandson just cursed at me.”

A healthy mix of silliness and seriousness seems to have characterised the early days of The Saint. Jo Kerr (2004-2005), recalls that St Andrews at the time was “light of ‘real’ news”, and thus much of what they did was approached “with a dose of irony, inspired more by comedians of the time like Dave Gorman”. Her standout memory (besides hanging out in the newspaper’s office “eating chips, drinking pints of tea (or gin) and smoking cigarettes”) was of dressing up as a man and trying to get into the Kate Kennedy Club “to draw attention to how misogynistic the culture was”.

Kerr’s Editorship saw a Saint scandal hit national headlines for the first time. She gives a full account of what happened behind-the-scenes:

“We ran a front-page story about the backlash against a student play called Corpus Cristi in which the character of Jesus is gay. The director was getting a lot of hate mail, particularly from a Christian group in Wales. I wrote in my editorial that, "I have secretly suspected the Welsh of evil doings, ever since they spawned the caterwauling Charlotte Church." That's a good indication of my writing style at the time.

“The Union sabbs weren't happy, as there had been an incident with a poorly-worded photo caption in Halo a year earlier and they suspended the Saint from using the Union offices. It was then that we realised the paper was very behind on rent to the Union, so we were in dire straits.

“I called up another former Editor who worked at the Telegraph and played on the fact that the press was desperate for any St Andrews stories at the time, thanks to the Prince William effect [who was a student at St Andrews at the time, referred to in the paper as “William Wales”]. The Telegraph covered the story on page six, taking a free speech angle, and other papers followed suit. Most were supportive, understanding that my comment, though crass, was coming from a good place.

The Guardian was less positive…[and] the situation made me unpopular with our Rector at the time, Clement Freud. I received my fair share of poison-pen letters from Christians around the country too.

“Fortunately, we were able to navigate the situation thanks to my excellent team and support from the University. The front-page of the next issue read 'Saint Resurrection' and we had a party at the Westport with a live band mysteriously titled Big Weird Finger.

“By the end of my time as Editor, we were on the wrong side of the Global Investment Group, whose horrific 'Anything For Money' party saw female students trading sexual favours with men for the chance to win a second-hand BMW, but maybe that's a story for another time…”

Florencia Soto Nino-Martinez (2006) paints an idyllic picture of what it was like to run The Saint fifteen years ago. She told me about “the office with piles of newspapers… the whirring of the old computers that would break down on us without notice, and… the junk food that was being consumed in large quantities.”

During her time, scandals abounded. She says that “we had scandals over theatre reviews, parties gone wild, politically incorrect cartoons” as well as huge backlash over their decision “to interview the former President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami”.

Nino-Martinez also deftly encapsulates the stresses of Editorship. She relatably summarises her life at the time, saying:

“I spent countless hours in that office and up to this day, I've never worked as hard as I did when I was Editor. I hardly slept thinking of all the money we needed to raise in advertising or what I would write for an editorial. I neglected classes. I wrote badly-written articles. I edited some good ones. I argued and laughed and cried with my fellow Editors and writers. I learned a lot about computers and people. I wouldn't change a thing.”

In 2009, Scott Newton inherited a Saint that had only recently ditched a cover price. Circulation had “trebled” as a result, yet still the paper worked out of “an old laundry room round the back of the Union”. Newton recalls returning from summer break to find an office that had been “taken over by freezers full of frozen peas”.

It was around this time The Saint began to attempt to clothe itself in the garb of respectability. Newton, attempting to run “a very unpretentious operation”, did away with “Halo!”, a risque column that exposed students’ misdeeds on nights out.

The aspect of fun that accompanies Editorship was not lost, however; Newton remembers his first print deadline landing on Raisin Monday, and “bouncing between the office and a raucous party for about a dozen academic children.” He tells me, fondly:

“My eye for a typo might have been slightly impaired by the end of the day and a botched bit of photoshop on the front page haunted me for months, but as always we made it just in time!”

Illusive typos are the bane of the Editor’s life.

So is office space. Rachel Hanretty (2010-2011) was Editor of The Saint when it was run from “a really dingy office beside the Union but behind bin stores”, but such is the result of often rocky relations with the Students’ Association. The Editorial line of the newspaper has always been that maintaining independent status is key. The line has not changed from a decade ago, despite the office changing numerous times—”Moving into the Union would have felt like we were in debt to them and couldn’t maintain the independent bias and scrutiny we felt we owed the student population.”

One of Hanretty’s disciples was Richard Browne, whose Editorship (2012-2013) represented something of an administrative masterclass. During his time, he notes, he oversaw “something of a golden generation of talent coming through”, naming three later-Editors (Lye, Davies, Bucks) among his team, as well as achievements of a web overhaul, print re-design, journalism workshops, and the creation of a newspaper archive.

That year saw the first ever Saint ball in Freshers’ Week, titled, cleverly, “The New Saint at the Old Course”, as well as a live music event called “The Saint Live”.

The paper’s “rude health”—which both men attribute to the stellar work of business manager Ryan Cant and his wife-to-be, production manager Camilla Henfrey—meant a period of Saint decadence under Craig Lye (2013).

On Thursday evenings (traditionally the day of issue publication and evening social), Lye remembers celebrating “in the upstairs room of 1 Golf Place…often closing down the bar”, with the “brilliant, tight-knit team”. Wistfully he tells me that “the paper was a labour of love for us all; we worked hard and partied harder. They are days I really miss.”

It wasn’t all events and inebriation, however. Lye recalls that during Browne's Editorship St Andrews witnessed the establishment of The Stand, whose competition drove The Saint to “set out to be the best news operation in town with high journalistic standards”. It was at this time that the newspaper became “a rolling 24 hour news website”, a project that demands emulation by future Saint teams.

The talent of the team under Lye, and the financial security of the paper—one of Lye's primary intentions for his Editorship—meant that The Saint could be expanded by four pages, on top of new pull-outs for key events like Freshers’ Week and sabb elections.

Lye’s successor, Elliot Davies (2013-2014), built on this strong foundation further, noting that during his time “we aimed to publish new stories every day”. The power of these stories are Davies’ proudest achievement. One in particular stands out for him: a report “exposing the university for mistakenly expelling a student with mental health issues – a story that earned us a very ill-tempered meeting with the Proctor, among other things.” As an aside he notes that, in a meeting, the University claimed that they “had never "expelled" anyone, by way of a defence, because the correct term was in fact "termination of studies"”.

The 2010s marked the completion of a culture change at the newspaper that had begun in the late Noughties. Students looking to graduate into media had, in some way, to distinguish themselves from others across the country, and producing serious, professional journalism was accepted as being the best way of doing that.

Meilan Solly (2017), tells me that The Saint was in a position of strength when she took over due to the publication of “several front-page investigations that sparked conversations across the University.” She continued this trend, noting that under her Editorship The Saint published “an investigation into the culture of harassment in St Andrews' hospitality industry that was shortlisted for Best Article at the Student and Young Person at the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards.” The Saint was also shortlisted for Best Publication, Best Design, and Best Website by the Student Press Association Awards.

Awards success was the order of the day. According to Andrew Sinclair, one half of

the Andrew Sinclair/Olivia Gavoyannis partnership (2018), the standout achievement of their year in charge was winning ‘Best Publication’ at the 2018 SPA Regional Conference—the first time in sixteen years the paper had done so.

The winning formula was this: making sure that “the quality of journalism and prose in every issue was of the highest quality”; ensuring that “the paper was in a more financially stable position” (credit, Sinclair says, must go to Business Manager Sasha Veliko-Shapko for this); and making “better and more structured use of The Saint’s social media channels.”

Sinclair, probably rightly, attributes The Saint’s achievements in later years to this period. Tom Williams, News Editor during Sinclair and Gavoyannis’s reign, took over in 2018 and felt the paper was in a strong enough position to completely rebrand, changing “the paper's branding from blue to a more traditional red”, thus solidifying “The Saint's appearance as an independent student paper.”

In the past five years, the disruption of Covid has unsettled the paper. Archie Batra’s (2020) short stint at the helm (into which he says he was “co-opted”) led the paper into Covid and saw the print run cut, due to a “very stern and rather scary pandemic meeting with the University’s Press Office in March 2020”, two issues before the end of his Editorship.

Nevertheless, despite being “cruelly overshadowed by the health and strength of the paper… [which was] bursting with talent and cash”, his short but sweet reign included a “sell-out issue”—something to do, perhaps, with his war on “typos and errata”, and definitely not to do with his refusal to apologise for “demonstrably false allegations of The Saint’s historic racism.”

Angus Neale (2020) was left with the unenviable task of keeping the paper alive during this unprecedented (a word of which he is now sick to death) time. Leaving The Saint in such a strong position, he claims, he owes to “the assistance of a brilliant deputy in Tamara McWilliams and business leader in Henry Gamble.” Nevertheless, The Saint’s current design, which drips with professionalism, can be attributed to him.

Online publication continued for his successors, Laura Beveridge and Natalie Pereira (2021), whose primary goal, they told me, was managing “to establish an online format of The Saint that mirrored its former in-print reader experience.” As a member of their team myself, I can only imagine how hard it must have been coordinating us all across solely digital channels.

High quality journalism characterised their Editorship, and being online tended to suit long-form stories, such as interviews with Sally Mapstone, Fiona Hill, and Willie Rennie, as well as an Investigative piece charting the developments of the St Andrews Survivors Instagram page. Their hard work paid off as, at the end of their stint at the top, they were both invited by the University to cover a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to St Andrews on behalf of The Saint—something Beveridge especially considers a highlight of her tenure.

The Summer of 2021 saw lockdown ending in Scotland, meaning that myself and Olivia Bybel (2021-2022) were tasked with returning The Saint to its rightful place in print. We consider this to be our most noteworthy achievement, followed closely by the commissioning of a new website when the last one had to be abandoned, as well as the paper’s success at the 2022 Student Publication Awards.

If this article has proved anything, it is that, on its twenty-fifth birthday The Saint’s legacy remains a clear one. It was born out of a need for something popular, and different, and survived through the talent of its writers and directors. It moved with the times, and if nothing else has been consistently successful at awards ceremonies.

The Saint may well find the next stage of its life difficult, for a multitude of reasons—not least the continued polarisation of political views, and expectations of increasing professionalism of student journalism. In my and Olivia’s reign, we tried to push back against these two forces, with differing success.

Its Editors, meanwhile, have missed print deadlines, inspired the ire of the student community, enjoyed fractious relationships with all manner of University staff, and, yet, throughout, made and maintained strong friendships with their peers. It is the strength of these friendships that kep the paper running.

As almost all the Editors testified, The Saint has a habit of taking over your life. We now hand over the chalice (not poisoned) to Sophia Brousset, who will carry the newspaper into its next quarter-century. She will do so in her own way, set her own goals, and make her own memories.

Whilst I look forward to being approached for comment in another twenty-five years’ time, for the moment I really am left with only one more thing to say.

That is, Happy 25th Birthday, The Saint!

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I first met Alan in third-year Russian class, where we bonded over our joint struggle to get to grips with the nightmarish agglomeration of case endings and grammar rules that the language threw our w