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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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An Interview With G Palmer

Geoffrey Palmer was the editor of Salient for the first four issues of Salient in 1963. He had continued involvement with Salient throughout his time at university. He went on to teach in Iowa, back to Vic, become Prime Minister and now works at the Law Commission and has a very nice office over looking the Harbour. Politics editor Jackson Wood interviews one of the most famous editors of Salient and gets the scoop on VUWSA back in the day, women’s issues and Anarchists.

What was Salient to you?

It was an interesting experience in public affairs really. We had to cover student politics, which was a pretty complicated little item. Often SGMs, with the Anarchist society. We used to formulate against them…

The job I thought of the Salient editor was to criticise the student politicians, as is the role of the media to criticise other politicians. I always thought that was something you had to do. There were all sorts of power plays going on. The Anarchists tried to take over the whole students’ association. They had Special General meetings called, some of the carry on was a bit irresponsible… This man Dwyer, he was the president of the Anarchists Association. There was some abuse of the rules to call SGMs… I thought [the instruments of governance] were defective and I suppose that shows my long interest in constitutional reform.

It used to be printed by the printers who printed the racing calendar up in Newtown. I moved the printing contract to Truth NZ limited and it turned out a much better product, the type setting was better, they layout was better. I had always thought the lay out needed to be better. One of the reforms I did was bring in by-lines, and initials. I always thought that anonymity was not a good thing.

I remember a couple of things that we did. We had quite a talented staff. The present coroner, Gary Evans, was the art editor, critic, he was very good. Rob Laking was one of the members of staff and he secured a long piece from the head of the SIS, Brigader Gilbert…

I remember sending a reporter, there were a lot of complaints about an economic lecturer, and we ran a piece about the standard of the lectures. The professor of economics was Sir Frank Bones. He didn’t care for it much, but that was freedom of the press. My recollection was that the guy resigned, not too long after.

Highlights and lowlights?

I think getting the SIS story was the biggest scoop we had, they didn’t give public interviews to anyone in those days. The low part of it was that it was a distraction from my studies… The editor is sort of the conductor of the orchestra. It’s time consuming, which is one of the reasons why I gave it up. It was time for me to go into the law office, because I was a Law student. One of the professors said “Palmer, time for you to go into a law office”. I was selling Salient at the time. I think the main challenge was making sure every part came together so that we could get it out. These were the days of letter press, hot type and quite a romance to the production of a news paper in the hot type era.

What do you think the role of Salient on campus was back in the day?

It was to reflect the views of the student community, and to provide a forum for their exchange of views, there were pretty avid letters to the editor about all sorts of things. Students are full of alternative kind of views on everything, and the paper has to reflect that. If you are not thinking radical thoughts as a student, you will never think them…

Do you still have much contact with the university?

Up until last year I was lecturing. The first year I was president of the law commission I taught constitutional law, but I haven’t been able to do it lately because I am too committed, but I am still on the faculty list as a honorary lecturer.

If you were to come back to Salient what would you do?

I think one of the problems that students have today is the nature of the internet and the media scene. It is so big and large and distracting, that students don’t think much about things going on at the university.

One of your first articles was about women’s femininity.

These were the days long before feminism. It reflects the standards of the year. My opinion has changed.

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The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

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