The Porter's Log's new bookThe Porter's Log

I didn’t know what to expect. The Porter’s Log – which defines itself as “a student-run satirical website” – is almost as well known for its anonymity as it is for its biting takes on Cambridge life. I had been told that I would be meeting with a section of the core team. But who or what would they be?

Disarmingly funny, it turned out. In hindsight, that shouldn’t have been very surprising. “It’s just 15 people in a room trying to make each other laugh, really”, said Marcus Atherton.

I asked about how they went about recruiting writers, despite their secrecy. “Sometimes we scout people. Us two [points to Steven Parsley] have been here from the very beginning. Other people send things in. Others are recommended by friends. Everyone gets a trial meeting, and hopefully isn’t too intimidated.”

We want it to seem like it could be an actual news story

Apparently, the current group involved are in the process of handing the baton onto a newer generation. I learned that I was not meeting “the whole team”. “The people currently editing the website are not here”. Oh well.

The site’s editors, I was told, are there largely to “meld” the content into the distinctive “Porter’s Log style”. And to be the one “act[ing] like a mature adult” in meetings. “Everyone else–”

“Everyone else is just trying to derail the meeting as much as possible”, someone interrupted, as if on cue.

“Exactly.” “We want to seem as close to reality as possible. We want it to seem like it could be an actual news story. Somebody could be scrolling through Facebook or surfing the internet and think ‘oh, this is a news piece about Cambridge’ and, maybe, for a couple of seconds there’s a little doubt.”

There was a moment of laughter. “The Daily Mail printed a quote of ours, directly.”

The Mail were “looking for a quote” on Caesarean Sunday. One student “called the reporter and said ‘yeah, there are people pissing on each other. My name is Marcus Atherton and I go to Peterhouse.’” “I put on a ridiculously posh voice and was outraged at the ludicrousness of these youngsters. They published the whole quote in full”, said Marcus, with a twinkle in his eye. “It was a bit naughty.”

I was surprised to learn just how recently The Porter’s Log was founded: Michaelmas Term 2015. Many people “don’t realise that it’s very new”, I was told. “There’s a sense that [The Porter’s Log] is the satirical magazine in Cambridge. That might have been there for decades or whatever.” “I think that’s because of our tone and because of our style – and because it’s anonymous. We have a consistent style.”

“It started with a group of five people”, Steven told me. “Marcus Atherton had gone around and spoken to people about how there wasn’t a satirical news thing in Cambridge and that everyone complains about Cambridge so much, so why isn’t there a thing that makes fun of Cambridge?”

There are big people in Cambridge who are quite insufferable and you really want to target them – but that isn’t fair

Apparently, the group’s anonymity was a product of those early days. “We were putting together the team at the beginning. At the first meeting, there were a lot of people who didn’t know each other at all”. “I just thought that, obviously some things are anonymous already – The Daily Mash, The Private Eye. Also, for that team spirit, you want everyone to feel like they’re contributing.”

“It’s also about having that consistency. If someone knew that it’s Marcus, or it’s so and so from that college, it feels like it’s their particular take on an issue. Then it’s just like Varsity. It’s just like The Cambridge Student.

Keeping The Porter’s Log unique seems to be a particular concern. The site, Marcus said, takes its “responsibility” as a commentator “very seriously”. “We don’t just publish stupid stuff on Facebook and not think about it.”

“It’s hard because you wanna just write an article about [redacted] and really go for them, but it’s also not very nice.” “There are big people in Cambridge who are quite insufferable and you really want to target them – but that isn’t fair.”

Instead, their aim is to hit “the underlying things that [such people] feed into.”

Cartoons often accompany the satiric articlesThe Porter's Log

Similarly, the team are careful to remain new. “If you read funny stuff on The Tab a lot of it – though not all of it – is just recycling these tired jokes about how Girton [College] is far away, how Trinity [College] is full of people who work really hard.” “Our challenge is to come up with a fresh way of making that funny”.

“One of the things which I regret is that we have often found it easier to take the mic out of The Cambridge Student than we have out of The Tab, because The Tab has its own protective covering of defensive irony.”

“We have taken The Tab to task, occasionally.” Rupert piped in: “There’s a bit in the book taking The Tab on.”

Marcus nodded, adding that “obviously, we can attack Varsity for its pomposity, sometimes.”

Our conversation moved to the real reason for our meeting: The Porter’s Log’s new book, currently taking pre-orders.

“I guess it’s something that we’ve always thought about doing, because we’ve been an online presence and we’ve never really reached the tendrils into the real world.” “Because it is anonymous, and because it’s all online, it’s sort of like when you leave there’s no record.”

“I want to have something to take away with me after Uni to remember what I’ve done. In that respect, I guess it’s quite self-indulgent.”

“We’ve written a lot of new content for it. It’s a collation of our best older stuff, along with a lot of new stuff and stuff that we may have written a while ago but that didn’t make it online for whatever reason.” Such content, I was told, includes everything from “opinion pieces” to “messages from the Dean of College” to even “a history of Cambridge” as if The Porter’s Log had been around since 1218. “We have a timeline. We even have cartoons and illustrations which are historical in style.”


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They were careful to make it clear that their targets are as evenly spread as possible. “We went through and we said, ‘have we got something that is hitting–’”

“The ADC”

“Yeah, exactly.” “We have multiple things for each of those” subjects.

The book is going on sale with the help of Cambridge’s Raise and Give (RAG). All funds go to charity. “We thought that we’d buy one each and then, maybe, our mums would buy a copy. But the uptake’s been really promising.” He pauses. His mum? “Oh, she’s bought several. She doesn’t even know it yet.”

Note: All personal names have been changed or redacted

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