A tabloid news website launched two years ago at Cambridge University has gone national with sister sites launched at 11 other universities.
Founders of The Tab Jack Rivlin and George Marangos-Gilks now say they want to launch the tabloid-style student news website at every university in the UK and overseas as well.
The pair launched The Tab in 2009, while still undergraduates at Cambridge, as an online rival to the two weekly student newspapers.
“We were dissatisfied with the existing student offerings” Rivlin tells Press Gazette.
Other student papers look very sober and serious but they don’t do that much actual reporting; they don’t write about what students really care about.”
New editions of The Tab launched at Durham, Exeter, UEA and UCL at the start of this year.
And in June the founders, joined by recent Cambridge graduate Tristan Barclay, secured a six-figure investment after winning a competition run by Downing
Enterprise, which provides funding for Cambridge alumni. This was enough to get the project up and running.
Up until this point the sites were run part-time, mainly by Marangos- Gilks with help from Rivlin and from local students working on a voluntary basis.
After securing the investment Barclay left his job as a sub-editor on the Metro and Rivlin left his as a night reporter at the London Evening Standard to devote their full attention to launching The Tab as a national project.
Rivlin says: “I don’t have any doubts or regrets. This is a huge prospect, it could be really big.
“Someone or some people are going to crack online news, do it really well, make it a real thing and work out how to make money out of it. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be us.”
The Tab has encountered some criticism from the existing student newspapers it is competing with.
George Ryan, comment editor of Warwick’s student newspaper, The Boar, says: “There is nothing wrong with a student tabloid. But The Tab is a top-down organisation, run out of an office in London.
“When you take the student out of student journalism you lose everything about it – it just becomes a money-making monopoly.”
Anthony Collins, editor of the country’s oldest student newspaper, Oxford University’s Cherwell, said: “I think there is something depressingly corporate and homogenised about The Tab franchise.
“The nice thing about traditional student papers is that they are suffused with the culture and character of the student community out of which they arose.
“The idea of having a student newspaper company with versions of the same website farmed out to various different campuses does seem to run counter to that spirit of individuality.”
But other student journalists have been more positive about the emergence of The Tab.
Pippa Shawley, editor of Bristol University’s student paper Epigram, says: “I’m surprised this is only just happening in 2012.
“I would have thought that, considering the boom in student numbers in the last decade, combined with the meteoric rise of online news sites, someone would have tried this at least five years ago.”
Miranda Atty, former news editor of Gair Rhydd, Cardiff University’s student newspaper, says: “I definitely think there is room for different types of student journalism just like established national papers – there’s room for the Daily Mirror alongside The Guardian, so why not?”
The Tab plans to make its money out of display advertising, recruitment and business partnerships.
Countering the critics, Rivlin says: “We want to get people back to basics – going out and speaking to people, breaking news and reporting on what really matters.
“We want to put some life back into local reporting. There are far fewer jobs on regional papers – it is hard to crack into when you are young so student journalism is the perfect answer.”
Former Exeter Express and Echo editor Marc Astley launched the website Exeter Daily in competition with his old paper in October.
He says he is already making money out of the site and has registered more than 50 domain names for daily titles across Britain, with plans to roll these over the next few months.
He is optimistic about The Tab’s chances of success: “The Tab appeals to a very niche advertising market as it’s only for students. Having said that there is a lot of business that revolves around students, where students are a target audience.
“The more websites they launch the greater the potential to raise revenue through advertising.”