Students at the University of Southampton were last week all talking about the same thing. The subtle launch of The Wessex Mash had everyone giggling in the library instead of revising, Union insiders gossiping about its content and the possible identity of its creator, and the sensitive of those mentioned on the site offended at its humour.

The Wessex Mash hails itself as ‘the University of Southampton’s pointless and irreverent news website’. Using a combination of ‘sarcasm and nauseatingly cynical humour’, it is ‘satirical, banal and very tongue in cheek’.

The site pokes fun at members of the Sabbatical team, Union departments, places on campus, University staff and the general day-to-day habits and lifestyles of Southampton students, exaggerating and undermining to a gleefully humorous extent. It is well written, ballsy, and no one knows who is behind it.

Originally some students were offended at its content. It does, after all, call one certain person involved with the Union a ‘childish fantasist […] destined to one day be first to leave on The Apprentice’, and another, an  ‘alcoholic sex pest’. Other endearing comments refer to the Station Manager of SUSU TV as a baby, the Union President as a ‘ginger pixie’, and the president of Feminist Society as ‘an enraged feminist psychopath’.

However, with the merit of self-proclaimed satire and generous wit, the Wessex Mash seems to have gotten away with it, leaving many students at the University laughing.

But what does it mean for the ever-expanding plethora of student media at Southampton University?

Considering it does not offer any journalist, media or such vocational courses, the University of Southampton boasts a wide range of student news media outlets.

The official Union student publication The Wessex Scene –once a newspaper but from this academic year offering itself now as a magazine style publication and website – has been established since 1936 and offers comment and features on a variety of subjects, quite often non-student. It has a website very similar to that of The Guardian and, more recently, has become a platform for debate, with up to 100 comments posted on articles each week.

As one of the News Editor for The Wessex Scene, I work in a team where we take care to publish stories of interest, but also balance and variety.

The Soton Tab is a tabloid news website set up by a Management student hoping to rival content offered by the Wessex Scene. It claims to be about ‘light-hearted’ news, with a video titled ‘Sluts in Cake’ providing enough hits to, at times, rival those of The Wessex Scene.

The tabloid site also has more flexibility to comment on Union activities and local news as it is not a department of the Union; taking advantage of this, the website is currently conducting a survey on local landlords to be published soon, something the Wessex Scene – according to high figures within the Union – would be unable to do due the threat of libel.

Another alternative news blog, The Dolphin’s Blowhole, has been running for a few years and prides itself to ‘aim to report on and promote the activities and actions of local community and activist groups, as well as maintaining a local activist directory of campaigns and groups in Southampton.’

It is a fantastic site, objectively offering news specific to the local area, but because it does not concentrate mostly on news at the University it is unheard of by the majority of the student population. The Wessex Mash references it as ‘presumably about sex with marine mammals, although we don’t know because we’ve never read it and neither has anyone else.’

Furthermore and most recently, The National Student has begun hiring Campus Editors at each University to report on news from each campus to promote in both a national and local outlet. As a national publication, TNS has the ability to publish interviews with celebrities such as Natalie Portman. As appointed News Editor for the publication here in Southampton, I can also already see TNS moving into the ‘weird news’ domain, publishing stories such as the one about the bride who discovered her ‘man’ was actually a woman – the type of stories that students never get tired of hearing.

However, without sounding too patronising, there is something very different about each of these student media news outlets in Southampton. The Wessex Scene, Soton Tab, Dolphin’s Blowhole, The National Student and now, The Wessex Mash, each have their own target readership and very clearly define this in their content and style.

If a student is after comment on tuition fees then look no further than The Wessex Scene; interested to know the story behind the Vice Chancellor’s latest car crash…then checkout the verified rumours on the Soton Tab (another by yours truly); for more in-depth understanding on local Council cuts, then The Dolphin’s Blowhole is your first port of call; and, for national student news from a specialised or local perspective then step up The National Student.

The Wessex Mash offers what none of these news sites do – personal and tongue in cheek comment. Yet, each of these sites offers what The Wessex Mash, and the others, also does not.

The Times does not change its style in lieu of the popularity of The Sun, and vice-versa, and the more debate surrounding student news, the better.

Furthermore, at peak exam and essay time, the student population camped out in the library can only welcome the offering of another website providing further procrastination from the work in hand.

So as long as the mystery Masher continues in the way they are heading, and other news outlets remain confident in their content, style and readership, nothing can threaten the future of student news at The University of Southampton. And a bit of gossip never does any harm to picking up one’s game.

Oh, and the identity of the Masher? Well, unveiling that completely undermines a format so reliable on anonymity and mystery. You’ll have to all work that out for yourselves…

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