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March 15, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Roger Steele: “Running the revolution”

Salient Editor Sarah Robson talks to Roger Steele, one of Salient’s most radical Editors in its 72-year existence.

Roger co-edited Salient in 1973 with Peter Franks, and in 1974 he edited the magazine on his own.

Each Editor of Salient leaves their own mark on the magazine. What legacy do you think you left?

Salient has always had a conscience, whereas the university tries to be the critic and conscience of society. Salient has always tried to be the critic and the conscience of the university as well. It’s always had that role—and long may it have it—as well as having a bit of a role in keeping a watch on society.

We saw ourselves as being heavily part of the revolution. There was a very strong revolutionary spirit alive at the time, which some of the immediately preceding years had picked up on. The flower power years, were what, the late 60s, and this was still cutting across Vic into the 70s. Students were mobilising as they’d never done before, in numbers and regularity they’d never done before. We wanted to be part of that and reflect that.

We were happy to subsume the campus information role of Salient. I kind of regret that in a way. It is possible to do both, and I see in recent Salients that you’ve been more successful in that, in being very good newspaper and information bulletin, and also still having a bit of a conscience in society. We went all over the top and [while] we weren’t disappointed when we put student stuff on the front page—we were perfectly happy to—if there was some student scandal we wanted to expose. But generally our front pages were about political events in Africa or Vietnam or that sort of thing.

What were some of the big stories of your time?

We were heavily involved in anti-tour activities, anti-Vietnam war activities. On the local front, the biggest story was the Rama rent strike. Salient was like a branch of the Tenants Protection Association, and we were certainly the eyes and ears, and the typesetting machine of the revolution. As well as doing Salient, we were bringing out other radical stuff for the Tenants Protection and various other political organisations.

What were some of the major obstacles in printing Salient during that time period?

We hired the typesetter in house, and we would hand write stuff or type stuff and she would, with this golf ball machine, turn it into beautifully crisp black font on strips of paper. Then we would have to cut the paper out and lay it down on layout sheets. When there was a correction, because we had reasonably high standards of proof reading, we would then have to retype that word and with scalpels, over a light table, cut out the individual letters or the word and put it down. It was a very meticulous process doing it that way. It meant you had to be of a fairly sure hand and know what you’re doing. It still takes time to do it on a computer these days, but it was really tough work then. It was just physically difficult and we were all huddled in a cramped little office.

You were running on pretty tight deadlines then?

We had to send the thing off to press—I think—on the 5am bus to Whanganui. We would work all that Monday night, and we’d often work all night on the Sunday night as well, so we were pretty wasted by Tuesday. We’d have it out on campus the following day, but if there were problems with the printer, as there often were—we were censored all the time by the printers—there might be delays. Mainly they just blanked things out and sent the magazine down with stuff blacked out all over the show.

How did you cope with the censorship issue?

We took it with a sense of humour, and every now and again we’d say “what the hell” and bring it out as a broadsheet.

What was the response to Salient on campus?

It was mixed. I think conventional and conservative students regarded us with a certain amount of derision of disdain, which is fully understandable, but I think most people were pretty excited. The magazine was snapped up and the piles were often quickly emptied. Everybody read it. While we were “running the revolution”, we did it with a lot of humour and a lot of shit-kicking and satire.

Was Salient making waves in the wider Wellington community in your day?

The word was that when Salient would hit the stands at the university, it would only be a matter of less than an hour or so that members of parliament would be seen reading it in the House. I don’t know how often that happened, we never polled it or checked it, but there is no doubt we were quoted in the media quite often, and attacked for the points of view that we were pushing. It had a wide readership, there’s no doubt about it, the other press was pretty muzzled in those days, so lots of people came to us to get the only airing that they would get.

What do you think was the defining moment of your editorship?

I think the thing I’m proudest about it is the large amount of space we gave to Maori issues. We printed stories in Te Reo Maori, and because I was heavily involved in the Te Reo Maori society, we gave them lots of airtime. I think we opened up lots of people’s eyes to injustices that were being done, and had been done to Maori people. I think that’s the strongest thing we did, changing the name [of the magazine] to Te Ao Marama once a year, and having as much Maori content on a regular basis.

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About the Author ()

Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (4)

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  1. KARA says:

    What revolution?

  2. Miller says:

    The hippy revolution, isn’t it? In varsity? When they like, smoked some grass and some flowers and shit?

  3. KARA says:

    oh i thought that was a pauly shore movie..

  4. Miller says:

    Harsh.

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