The LEGACY Issue: The legacy of student magazines: “It was a brilliant time to be in the city.”

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As aAh! celebrates its tenth print issue, we look back at the origins of our student magazines

“It was a brilliant time to be in the city,” says Janet Conroy. Janet was the editor of PULP magazine from 1991 to 1992 at the height of the ‘Madchester’ music scene. PULP was the student union magazine for Manchester Polytechnic (re-named Manchester Metropolitan University at this time), focusing on the arts, culture and politics.

Janet says: “There was so much new music and clubbing. There was lots of poetry and the theatre scene was great. It was a booming time for the arts.”

In the year Janet was editor, PULP released 15 print issues, the most ever published in a single year. Janet got involved in the magazine while studying for a BA in English at Manchester Polytechnic. “I loved writing and I knew that I would quite like to create a career in journalism, publishing or writing,” she says.

Janet’s role was a one-year paid position and in her role as editor, she invested in computers and brought the production in-house for the first time. “I was very proud of it, and it was quite fun actually,” says Janet. “I absolutely loved it.” As editor, she felt it important for the students to gain as much experience as possible. 

For Janet, getting involved in PULP was an opportunity to work on actual magazines and to make friends with like-minded creative people. One of those was Richard Davis, a social documentary and portrait photographer, based in Hulme. Richard photographed an emerging band from Seattle who had a gig at Manchester Met in 1989 for the magazine. Their name? Nirvana.

For PULP Janet interviewed musician and TV presenter Jools Holland and Richard O’Brien, writer of The Rocky Horror Show. The magazine ran features on high-profile individuals such as Johnny Dangerously in 1990, Sean Hughes in 1991, Derrick May in 1992, Boy George in 1993, Trevor Nelson in 2005 and The Walkmen in 2006.

PULP took bold political stances, raising awareness of political conflicts, wars and issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. They debunked sex myths and spread awareness around sexual issues with features about AIDS, female masturbation and more.

The magazine lasted for 30 years but was shut down in the 2009-2010 academic year. After six years without an outlet for students wanting to work on their own publication, Humanity Hallows was created in 2014, which became aAh! Magazine in 2018.

Brontë Schiltz was one of the first generation of editors at aAh! Magazine, which set out to cover stories about the arts, culture and humanities both on campus and in the city, celebrating Manchester and the creative individuals who make it a brilliant place.

Like Janet, Brontë was studying for an MA in English at MMU and got involved in the magazine because she wanted a career in writing. She is now the Northern Correspondent and Digital Editor for the Big Issue North.

“It was sort of a new era in Manchester Met’s history,” she says. “I really loved how varied it was. The themes of our issues would be open enough that people could bring so many different ideas to it.”

One issue Brontë worked on was The YES Issue of May 2019. With a theme like that – everyone in the world understands yes – and because of the diversity of the university, aAh! was able to take its message to the myriad of cultures and perspectives in Manchester.

Then the pandemic struck, and the campus had to close. Students were stuck at home with only their laptops and phones connecting them to the world. So The DISRUPTION Issue made a virtue out of the pandemic, and was produced remotely by a team all working from home. Released in April 2021 as the fourth issue of aAh! Magazine, this instalment demonstrated what can be achieved despite life’s disruptions. It’s also an edition that captures what we all went through as a legacy of that time: self-isolation, sanitising, separation…

Post-pandemic themes reflect the spirit of a student community emerging somewhat dazed and bewildered from Coronavirus … There was The FREEDOM Issue, The ENERGY Issue and The CHANGE Issue.

Lisa Silva, a graphic designer and illustrator, worked on all three. She got involved because she was keen to try as many things as possible relating to magazine production and design.

“Being involved with the magazine did wonders for my skill set,” she says. “It made me much more confident and secure in my abilities to take on publication-based jobs in the future.” Lisa now works in-house as a graphic designer for a tech company as part of their marketing team. Result, Lisa!

The sixth print issue, The CHANGE Issue, came out in May 2022. It focused on changes in the world and how they affected young people — a perspective often overlooked in mainstream media. For the team it was an opportunity to reflect on our experiences in the long shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the crisis in Ukraine, the theme became even more timely.

The CHANGE Issue graphic designers came up with some brilliant pixel-inspired designs to document how we all adapted to changes like online teaching and hybrid working. Digital themes crossed over into our real world as covered in a long-form feature on Zoom Dysmorphia. Then came The CHANGE Issue that changed.

aAh! proofreaders were checking the almost print-ready magazine when Russia invaded Ukraine. Everyone came together on a Teams call to discuss how we could incorporate world events too significant to miss. The team quite literally changed the entire direction of the issue’s content and design to reflect the world’s biggest story.

Via the social media app Telegram, Journalism student Alice Stevens spoke to a student who had fled Ukraine, and this ran alongside an interview with her best friend – a Russian-Ukrainian exchange student studying in Manchester. The front cover design of a chameleon – think ‘change’ — incorporated the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and served as a springboard for aAh!’s #StudentsSupportUkraine campaign.

At the heart of the aAh! Magazine philosophy is that ideas are valued and that everyone gets credit for their input: the graphic designer, photographer, illustrator and artist are namechecked on every single spread throughout our magazine alongside our student journalists and contributors.

The idea is that each edition of aAh! Magazine can be a passport into the magazine, media or journalism industry, but the real world isn’t always as friendly as at aAh! – especially for women.

Janet’s first job after leaving PULP was a bit of a shock. “It was quite challenging because it was two men who owned it,” she said. “I had a production editor who worked for me. He was older than me and struggled with having a young female boss.”

But she credits her work on the student magazine as paving the way for her entry into what has become a successful career as a journalist.

“Take every opportunity you can at university,” she says. “I would say to anyone who’s harbouring a secret wish to do it but thinking ‘I don’t think I’m good enough’ or ‘I’m too scared to ask’ to absolutely go for it. Get as much experience as you can. Make contacts through the work you do and keep in touch with all the contacts that you make.”

Brontë agrees: “Getting the range of experience that aAh! Magazine offers is valuable – and also quite rare. It forces you to get out of your comfort zone, because journalism can be quite an uncomfortable job at times.”

Having solid experience on a student magazine in a city the size of Manchester – and the print copies with your name in so you can prove it to editors – can be a huge step forward in the creative industry, Lisa says. Another important element is persistence.

“The industry I think can be difficult at first. It reinforces feelings of insecurity which feeds into your impostor syndrome, if you have one. I’d say just accept that it can be hard, but don’t give up trying.”

So the legacy of our student magazines PULP, Humanity Hallows and aAh! is that together we have launched several generations of brilliant creative minds into orbit who are now working in the arts, culture and humanities sector. They assembled the building blocks of their future on the same campus you are at while keeping students informed about what’s happening here and in Manchester.

As we look back at 200 years of the university and forty years of our student magazine, we celebrate the greats from our history and we look forward to the future. Join the team, come with us – and be part of our legacy.

About the author / 

Makenna Ali

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