The Flounder vs. The Snorbital

Outgoing Editor Thomas Seal
Outgoing Editor Thomas Seal looking only a little bit too snide.

Other than my degree, The Founder has been my favourite thing about my four years as a Hollowegian. This span of time coincides rather neatly with Matt Smith’s four year stint as The Doctor…but more on that similarity in a moment.

This is my 29th and final issue writing for the paper, and after a brief flick through the archives, I see that this brief farewell constitutes nothing less than the 70th article I have written for it. I’ve been here too long.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed is our rivalry with The Orbital, and with with this article I seize my final opportunity to address one or two persistent misconceptions that seem to swill around that subject.

The first is one regarding class. At times the rivalry between the papers has been petty and vindictive, and at other times it has been high-minded enough to foster a competition that has forced each publication to outdo the other. This year, like most, was a bit of both. As I distributed this year’s fresher’s week issue, a member of The Orbital team heckled me from the SU with a cry of ‘The Founder sucks!’, and their new editor, Mr. Rawlings – as lovely as he is – compared me to a rat before he had even learnt my name. Having just got back from a year abroad, and having met none of these people, I wondered what I’d got myself into.

Despite the unrelentingly rapid turnover of those who produce the two papers – which is inevitable in a university setting – the rivalry is always drawn along the same battle lines. We at The Founder are posh and elitist, and The Orbital represents the everyman. We’re the callous, monied Bullingdon Club (to quote Dan Heley and others), and they’re the approachable, fashionable union guys! We’re Radio 4; they’re Radio 1. You get the point. But is this really the case?

It would be spurious of me to deny that The Founder has a couple of, erm, politically outspoken editors (who, yes, tend to be the same ones with an inexplicable preference for tweed), but such snap judgements tell us nothing about the content of the papers themselves. However, if you would like to judge us based on superficial, background details, here are some more: I design this paper on a 3-year-old, coffee-stained laptop which has barely enough RAM to open iTunes, while our competitors sit in a complementary, comfortable iMac suite, with prepaid software. And, like Mr. Heley, I was also crudely stamped with the dubious honour of being born in Luton, and was educated entirely in non-selective state schools. So authentic are my credentials that they didn’t even have grammar schools where I grew up. Without using any more autobiography as ammunition, suffice to say that – unlike the newspapers themselves – it’s hardly a black-and-white issue.

Here is what the difference really is: The Founder is consistent. It has an identity; even with this year’s redesign, you know what you’re getting when you pick it up. You can make jokes about it by virtue of the very fact that there is something substantial there to tease; it has developed an underlying character. Every year since it was founded by Jack Lenox in the primordial year of 2006 – back when Facebook was still an in-joke amongst American Ivy Leaguers –The Founder has been a newspaper.

Much like Doctor Who, on the other hand, every time an Orbital Editor comes to the end of his time, be it through low morale, editorial rebellion or graduation (and all three seem to occur on an incredible regular basis), the paper regenerates into a barely-recognisable new form, with an initially jarring ‘quirky’ personality. ‘This time it will be different!’ they shout, freshly-elected on the podium in Medicine. Then, once everyone has just about got used to their version, they leave, and some new visionary regenerates it again. Perhaps this cyclic process provides The Orbital with a sort of Protean appeal… for the same reasons Groundhog Day was a very popular film.

In my first year, The Orbital had just undergone a ‘revolutionary’ transformation into a newspaper. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) It was then promptly run into the ground by the beginning of Spring Term. The man responsible for that is now working full time at Sky News, so I suppose we can all learn something there. Then, in my second year, it mutated into an edgy magazine, full of desaturated photos of hipsters in Englefield Green back gardens. I was in Canada last year (contributing little to The Founder except the occasional tip-off and leak) but I could see online that The Orbital had transformed back into its ‘traditional’ format: a bright and colourful magazine, once more. This, in my opinion, is what it does best. And this year, just long enough since the previous attempt that everyone who might remember had left, it became a newspaper again!

This is because The Orbital is run democratically. It is difficult to argue an alternative method, as it is funded by the students, for the students, but we can see this brings with it a whole host of problems. The paper is dictated to a large extent by freshers and other students who have not seen the detrimental effect of the immense fluctuation it manages to decide upon every single year.

The form Rawlings’ Orbital will ultimately take is now subject to a student referendum (or ‘survey’), but it seems likely it will change back to being a magazine once again. One can see that he, too, unsuccessfully tries to escape the cycle: have you noticed there is no date on its flashy cover? There are only the words ‘Issue 1 2013’.

If there is any dichotomy that separates us from them, it is not one of class; it is one of content vs. form. Hence, ‘The Orbital’: it keeps on moving forwards, but always ends up in the same place it started. But, like Doctor Who, it will retain its legions of devoted fans no matter what form it takes. And good luck to it, I say.

(Of course, I wish just a little more luck to the hacks responsible for assembling future editions of The Founder.)

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