SPA National Conference 2018 inspires The Spark

If you haven’t been following The Spark’s social media channels this past weekend, and therefore haven’t been inundated by the excitement of our three editors who attended the Student Publication Association’s annual conference, here’s your chance to find out exactly what the team got up to.

To add a little bit of background information, the SPA is a national network for student publications which was founded in 2012 and has since acquired 112 member publications. Each year, SPA hosts its annual conference SPANC which this year took place at Cardiff University over the weekend of the 6th-8th April. In addition to the yearly change of location, the conference offers a unique schedule of workshops, board discussions and, most notably, its glitzy awards ceremony.

This year three of The Spark’s members: former Print Editor, Emer Scully, Lifestyle Editor, Rosie Neville, and Entertainment Editor, Taz Usher, attended the conference on behalf of the newspaper where they were joined by student journalists and representatives from student newspapers across the United Kingdom. Throughout the weekend, the girls were lucky enough to attend workshops led by professionals from the journalism industry and some of the top newspapers who shared their wealth of knowledge with the students that attended. In particular, Lifestyle Editor, Rosie, enjoyed an inspirational talk by Ellen Scott, Lifestyle Editor at The Metro Online, who answered questions on how to write an engaging lifestyle story. She commented: ‘It was so great listening to all of the amazing speakers, as well as meeting so many fellow students from their incredible newspapers and magazines. As Lifestyle Editor at The Spark, I love reading the impressive entries that we get from our writers, however generating new and interesting content for people to write about which hasn’t been covered hundreds of times before is difficult as an editor. Ellen gave some great advice on how to tackle this issue, so I’m looking forward to introducing some different stories and articles over the next year.’

Another memorable and hugely helpful talk across the weekend was given by a member of the South Wales Police Department, Paul Fisher, who spoke about dealing with crime stories and the police when reporting. This speech was a slight eye-opener for many of his audience as he discussed how to strategically approach sourcing information and gave reassurance on the police department’s willingness to cooperate with journalists who have the intention to accurately and sensitively cover breaking news.

The unity of the student journalism community at the event peaked first at the conference’s ‘Publication swap-shop’ session which saw all attending publications swap, commend and seek inspiration from the other student newspapers and magazines on display. And to the delight of The Spark team, there were multiple students from other publications who were eager to compliment The Spark’s recently renovated design by our hugely talented design editor, Eden Sinclair.

Equally, this sense of unity was not restricted to the swap shop and, in fact, by the third day of the conference, pervaded every aspect of the event. This resulted in a consistently lively feel of students eagerly introducing themselves to new faces and probing into the workings of each other’s publications.

The unquestionable highlight of the weekend was the glamorous awards ceremony which took place on the Saturday night and, aside from the delicious three course meal and bottles of wine that the students were treated to, reached an exciting climax at the announcement of the award winners. Amongst the eighteen awards, which were selected from over 1000 submissions by a board of professionals and SPA trustees, were recognitions for triumphs ranging from ‘Best Newcomer Publication’ to ‘Outstanding Commitment’; all of which were met by extremely grateful acceptances from well deserved winners. After the event, Emer expressed:  “It was so heartwarming to see the passion each individual student journalist felt for their own publication and writers. Each editor received their publications awards with so much gratitude for the entire team. It’s that team spirit and joy for the success of others that makes the SPA such an amazing organisation to be a part of. Even though we didn’t win anything this year I know the Spark can build year on year and achieve great things in the future. Best of luck to the new team, enter all of the awards next year and bring back some trophies”.
The final award of the evening for ‘Best Publication’ was awarded to Durham University for their fantastic student newspaper: Palatinate.


Overall, the conference was an apt display of the passion and endless hard work that student publication committees from across the United Kingdom have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, to their university newspapers and magazines. It was an experience that this year’s representatives from The Spark look forward to revisiting at SPANC 2019 alongside a larger group of UoR’s writers.

Taz Usher

English Language undergraduate and Entertainment Editor for the Spark Newspaper.

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