Even Varsity had its tabloid era...daisy cox and Varsity Archives (Daniel Hilton)

History repeats itself; first as tragedy, then as farce. The third act (and then in Varsity), dawned on me this summer, while immersed in our digital archives (2000-2023) – at the point when headlines began to stand out not for their uniqueness, but for their ubiquity. News became its inverse: ‘LOW TURNOUT FOR CUSU CAMPAIGN EVENT’, ‘KING’S BREAKS RENT PROMISES’, ‘LABOUR TOPS VARSITY POLL’, ‘COLLEGES INVEST “UNETHICALLY” IN ARMS INDUSTRY’, and ‘CRISES AT THE UNION’ were written in 2015, 2000, 2004 and 2008 respectively – and yet could have all been feasibly printed since last term.

Streeting featured on our front page in 2004Varsity Archives

After misreading ‘ACADEMIC UPSET’ (2006), I started to look for the headline containing the least actual news: Varsity’s period as a daily paper (beginning Monday the 14th of June 2010, and over by Thursday) produced ‘BUILDING WORK DISRUPTS STUDENTS’, but was ultimately outdone by an issue from March 1971, reported on in 2001. In a forlorn attempt at self-affirmation, the article is titled ‘NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS’, and reads, “it’s time to reflect on Cambridge’s greatest non-event – the term. Politically and artistically it was a bummer, boredom unparalleled.”

If (and it is a reasonable question to ask), there has been any change in student news since the early 2000s, then it is one of style rather than content. The 2000s can be described as the tabloid era – when Varsity itself references “the constant jibes … that we are “too tabloid” or “too sensationalist”” (2001). Things aren’t “good” in early 2000s Varsity, they’re “better than sex”. Academic musings are the “semen of intellectual masturbation”, and double entendre the criteria for good writing.

While we shamed Sidney in 2023, noughties Varsity was more about the students than collegeVarsity Archives

Occasionally articles are genuinely outrageous: in terms of quotable material, it would be entirely possible to run a feature aimed solely at cancelling today’s marketing executives/lead consultants for what they wrote in the early 2000s. The paper’s tendency towards “shameless exploitation of the female body”, as one tongue-in-cheek editor writes in 2001, is particularly noticeable.

Generally however, there is a sense of desperation to the sex fixation, and the assertion that “This is outrageous! This is contagious!” (Peep Show) reaching its zenith with ‘THE SEX ISSUE’ of 2004. Ironically, if we can trust the surveying methods of 2002 Varsity, then we are having more sex now than we were then: the percentage of virgins dropping from 25% to 16%, and the average number of sexual partners increasing from four to seven.

And yet despite having more sex – or perhaps because of it – we seem to have lost our eagerness to establish ourselves as wild young things, and prove that “Cambridge is losing its stuffy image”. Perhaps in some ways it has; in 2004, one in ten students were still sleeping with their lecturers, and 85% of all students were heterosexual – a figure which dropped to below 50% last year. And yet, at the risk of creating another historically vacuous headline, it is hard to declare that 2000s Varsity achieved its ambition: safer instead, to write that Cambridge is yet to be un-stuffed.