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From late-night layouts to a lifelong career

A chance meeting at Coventry Station led Sheena Harvey (neé Taylor) to a successful 40-year career in journalism. Those early years on the University’s newsletter created incredible memories for Sheena (BA Comparative American Studies, 1977), and paved the way for decades of writing and editing on magazines found in homes all over the UK.

Can you tell us about your career in journalism and how your time at Warwick influenced that?
I began my career in 1977 as a trainee sub-editor with Thomson Magazines in London, working on Family Circle – a popular monthly women’s magazine in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. It took me three years to qualify as a journalist with on-the-job training and a short course at the London College of Printing. Over the next few years, I worked for TV Times, Chat, and Woman’s Weekly, where I was editor for four years. I was freelance for a while, before becoming Editor of Bird Watching magazine. This was a departure from the mass-market publications I was used to, but I loved spending my working days immersed in my nature-watching hobby.
"From there, I edited Landscape, Wild Travel and Discover Britain before becoming Editor of BBC Wildlife, which was my last job before retiring. Since retirement, I’ve written and edited a couple of magazine specials: William and Harry – A Tale of Two Princes and The Story of The Windsors, and have other commissions in the pipeline.
My career choice was influenced entirely by the work I did on the Warwick Boar. And my degree in Comparative American Studies was hugely enjoyable, and the discipline of the coursework – thoroughly researching and writing essays, questioning and discussing topics with people holding different opinions to my own, and exposure to the writings of excellent authors – helped develop my personal style and approach to writing and managing teams that I employed throughout my career.

What are your most special memories of working for the Warwick Boar?
I worked on the Boar in my first two years at university. It began with one of the second-year students, Gary Vaux, who was part of the welcoming committee at Coventry Station when I first arrived. He was the Boar’s Production Editor and suggested I visit their stand at the Freshers’ Fair, which was where I signed up. I also enrolled for ballroom dancing, but that didn’t last nearly so long!
The Boar had been launched the year before, and I started work on issue 18. In those days the newspaper – print only, of course – cost 4p and was produced weekly from an office on the top floor of the Rootes Social Building. We sold roughly 1,200-1,300 copies a week, which represented about two-thirds of the students, so it was a popular read!
Computerisation wouldn’t reach print media in the UK for another ten years and student papers were produced on a shoestring in a very hands-on fashion.

Are there any memorable interviews or breaking stories?
My first year at Warwick saw the Students’ Union occupation of the Arts Centre, immediately prior to its grand opening. The issue was over the finances and control of the facilities in the newly planned Students’ Union building. So those first issues of the Boar were reporting on the dispute, with the Editorial criticising not only the University authorities, but also the Union Executive for being divided in its approaches.
Then, in the following term, there was a rent strike after high rises in campus accommodation costs were announced. The five-week strike included a three-and-a-half-week occupation of Senate House and the Telephone Exchange. Opinions were divided among students about the effectiveness of the strike and the Boar, in a model of balanced journalism, gave a platform to all sides in the debate.

How to make a (1970s) student newspaper in seven steps
  1. We worked on large sheets of graph paper divided into columns and spread out on desks or, more often, the floor.
  2. The Editor would mark out in pencil the dimensions and position of each story and its images.
  3. The reporters delivered their copy largely in longhand and once a week a paid typist, Jill Moore, came in from Coventry to type out each story, setting her manual typewriter to a narrow or wide column width as defined by the Editor.
  4. These typed columns were cut into strips by those of us on the Production team, and the strips were pasted onto the graph paper using Cow Gum.
  5. When one column was filled, the strip was cut, and the next leg stuck in the second column. Jake Bernard, our photographer, produced printed out images from his darkroom and these were marked up for positioning next to the relevant copy.
  6. Captions were typed up and cut out to a wider measure to fit under the images.
  7. Box rules were added by hand using a felt-tip pen and ruler. Finally, we used Letraset to rub the headlines into position above the stories.

We did all this work on a Monday evening, often late into the night and then the stacks of paper layouts were delivered to the printers first thing the next morning. I remember rarely getting away much before 2am; quite often dawn was rising by the time I got to bed – not great for attending Tuesday lectures! Adrenaline, cigarettes, teamwork, and good humour kept us going long after the rest of the building had descended into darkness.
From January to December 1975, I took on the role of Production Editor but then, along with a few of my contemporaries, gave up the paper to concentrate on my academic work – and to get a decent night’s sleep on a Monday!

Sheena Harvey in her grad gownAlumna Sheena Harvey