Although UCC has an assorted history of student publications, the UCC Express traces its origins back only 17 years. That corresponds to the first ever issue of the University Examiner on the 9th of October 1997, a publication which was founded by Fionnán Sheahan.
Sheahan had been the penultimate Editor of the Gazette, the Examiner’s predecessor, which was a miscellany of Letters to the Editor, titled ‘Hate Mail’, student opinion and some student news.
“Official eyes are today studiously averted from the pages of the weekly Gazette, which regularly offers a rough diet of sexual explicitness and anti-religious effusions, and makes extensive use of a rich scatological vocabulary,” observed John A Murphy in his history of UCC, The College.
However Sheahan’s election as Publication Officer/ Editor-in-Chief resulted in what Sheahan termed a “formidable step forward;” a more informative paper with a focus on college news.
The University Examiner was the only weekly student newspaper in Ireland, publishing 23 issues, and titled after their partners/ printers, the Irish Examiner. However the paper was managed by students from start to finish, including the laborious tasks of typing, scanning, typesetting and designing.
“Official eyes are today studiously averted from the pages of the weekly Gazette, which regularly offers a rough diet of sexual explicitness and anti-religious effusions.”
‘Hate Mail’ was still encouraged, while a 12-pack of Coors was offered to winners of the popular crossword. But the most notable inclusion in the first five volumes were the centre pages, or ‘shift pages’, sponsored by a succession of alcohol companies, where a photographer captured UCC students in compromising positions in pubs and clubs and at balls.
The first four years seemed to run relatively smoothly, but “a failure to agree presentation and production terms” led to the end of the Examiner partnership and a name-change to the Campus Chronicle.
This year coincided with the extension of the Student Centre and, with the Chronicle moved from their original office to a storeroom, conditions proved inadequate for the production of a paper. In January 2002, then Editor, Brian Power, quit and released a ‘Protest Edition’. This edition outlined a long list of grievances, including a lack of internet and phone access, allegations of censorship as well as having the design and proofing of the paper taken from their control.
The following two years, as the University Xpress, also saw editorial changes mid-stream, as a period of editorial instability coincided with a low-point for the Students’ Union, as officers resigned, positions were unapplied for or uncontested and disputes with the Student Centre raged on.
In 2003, incoming Editor, Adrian Russell, likened the quality of articles under the previous regime to the product of “a dyslexic chimp that typed wearing boxing gloves.”
The following year, under the late Denis Clifford, the University Xpress became the UCC Express, expanded news and sport, switched to a fortnightly print-run and produced a glossy culture and entertainment supplement, Ex2.
Clifford later penned a seminal piece, ‘Freedom for my paper’, which made the case for a media independent of SU influence. A pair of sackings by the union, whether justified or not, had highlighted their contradictory management role, while the lack of a provision for a full-time Editor was also bemoaned, although this has not seen any change.
The Ex2 insert changed from glossy to plain paper in 2006, presumably due to production costs in a time in which a university-wide alcohol advertising ban had been introduced by President Wrixon. However a 40-page, glossy Ex2 Style magazine was published as a once-off.
In 2007 the Express won the prestigious People’s Choice award at the Student Media Awards, its first such honour. Since then its writers have captured individual awards for news, features, humour, travel and sports writing, as well as a photography honour. The paper is regularly the only student newspaper from outside of Dublin nominated for Newspaper of the Year.
The following year the Express, led by Alan Good, won its independence, as a Media Executive was created as an autonomous sub-committee of the SU, aping the Clubs and Societies Executives. A referendum was also passed where 57% of students voted to pay €2 as part of the capitation fee directly towards this body.
Adrian Russell likened the quality of articles under the previous regime to the product of “a dyslexic chimp that typed wearing boxing gloves.”
However this Exec did not function effectively in the following years due to disruptions to the editorial continuity of the Express, as well as the temporary removal of the Comms Officer position. That lack of continuity also saw the demise of Ex2; however its replacement, Verge, came into being in 2012.
This summer the Media Exec has finally been constituted to serve students by “facilitating, regulating and representing UCC student media.”
In some ways the paper has failed to move on from 1997. The office, desk and phone remain the principal facilities; however the office now takes the form of a disused chemistry lab in the Windle.
The Protest Edition outlined the facilities available to Trinity News in 2002; however the provision of eight computers and a €40,000 university grant are still a pipedream for the UCC Express 12 years later.
Despite this the paper has improved hugely. Much of this is down to the newer technologies personally available to editors, which allow more accessible design, ideas and information.
Ultimately the Express still embodies many of the ideals of its predecessors, and what once was Ireland’s only weekly college paper remains Ireland’s most frequently published student newspaper.
Former Editors-in-Chief include: Fionnán Sheahan (Irish Independent Political Editor), Mary Smithwick (Evening Echo Political Editor), Cathy O’Sullivan (Head of News with the New Zealand Herald) and Adrian Russell (Editor of TheScore.ie).