SCANiversary: Adam Cumiskey

SCAN talks to Adam Cumiskey, former editor of SCAN from the mid-1990s

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Adam Cumiskey at the Today studio

A lot of us at SCAN now have written for the newspaper since we first burst onto the campus as eager freshers. Some of us want to write. Some of us want to tell stories. Some of us just want to see our name in print. But former editor Adam Cumiskey was enticed by a rather unusual entity.

“There was a competition in SCAN where the prize was to win two videos of The Day Today,” he explains. The Day Today was a cult satire series by Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, so it says a little about Adam that it was this that tempted him to SCAN.

Adam is now the producer for one of BBC 2’s flagship shows – Newsnight. Before this radio was his home, having plied his trade on Radio 4’s Today Programme for a number of years.

“I always liked radio but I didn’t particularly like going into URB [now Bailrigg FM], just because of the people and whatever,” he says. After winning the competition, he met then-Editor Louis Barfe (freelance journalist who has contributed to Private Eye and The Guardian to name but a few).

I asked Adam what years he was at Lancaster for, but that seemed to pose a little challenge to remember. What really matters is that Adam held the post of SCAN editor in 1996/97, succeeding Louis, and by about four votes. He seldom wrote (limited by his own ability apparently), but was still able to generate some discussion with what he did do.

“I did get a letter written to SCAN once saying ‘Who the fuck is this Adam Cumshite’, which I remember pinning on my wall proudly. I can’t remember what I wrote but it was to deliberately try and wind people up,” he says with a satisfied laugh.

I ask him about support from the Students’ Union, a difficult topic at the most of times. “Sometimes the lack of support was great, sometimes it was bad. Financially it was awful. A few years previously Graham Hibbert’s SCAN made three amazing magazines, then ran out of cash.” Looking at some of the papers and you can understand why there was friction with LUSU and even the university.

“We had a message from Maurice Kirby [provost of colleges] saying ‘The VC took great umbrage with the last edition of SCAN’, so we made an umbrageometer to monitor how much we annoyed the VC. When I took over from Louis, I said there’d be no injokes. But when you’re in a room with 3 or 4 people you just end up riffing off each other,’ he admits, ‘Maybe it was self-indulgent? We thought if we found it funny, fuck everyone else.

“There was so much news around. The University was virtually bankrupt, they built the Ruskin library with no money, couldn’t furnish the main library, they had no money for books. There were rent strikes and protests so it was an exciting time,” he says when asked about the stories they covered.

“We libelled people and had to literally cut the articles out of the paper because there was no legal support from the Union until after something had gone wrong. We were in contempt of court which we just got away with because our circulation was deemed to be too small to be of hold for jury members. It was idiotic, but that’s the great thing about being 21 is that you don’t give a fuck. For someone that now works at the BBC I think ‘oh my god’, but people loved it. People really did like it.”

Now Adam is producer for BBC’s Newsnight, a role he has held for only a short time. This is his first job producing in TV. But he didn’t step straight out of university into the BBC’s open arms. After a few years working in advertising, Adam went back to university – this time Birmingham – to study journalism.

A job working in local radio in Essex eventually lead to work on Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show, before rather spontaneously moving to Radio 4.

“Someone came up to me one day and said ‘Are you Adam Cumiskey?’, and pretty much offered me a job there and then,” he says with a bit of a surprised laugh. “I went in on the Monday and pretty much started editing immediately. I had the wrong stereotype of the people who worked there, they were amazing and interesting. It was surreal sometimes, I met every Prime Minister from John Major, I really should’ve taken photos looking back at it.”

Adam seems to have settled quickly at Newsnight, and is unsurprisingly enjoying the reign of control he has, comparable in some respect to his time at SCAN. And with one of the most fractious political landscapes on the horizon, there’s no doubt he’ll relish his time at Newsnight.