They’re probably still looking for a new editor to bring out The Edition next year. Not a bad time to read my piece from last Christmas about why they’ll have their work cut out.
The Edition aims to be an independent student newspaper for Dublin Institute of Technology. The paper’s chief subeditor Stephen Bourke examines how realistic the goal of an independent student publication is in colleges feeling the squeeze from education cuts and fee hikes.
Jarlath Moloney has to pause our Skype interview for a moment to throw another log on the fire. “This place is an icebox without a fire lit this time of year,” he says. The editor-in-chief of The Edition is already home in Tipperary for Christmas, resting on his tinsels after a hectic first semester of publishing.
The latest edition of The Edition (yes, the phrase is often struggled with) hit newsstands across the various DIT campuses last Friday, a change from its normal Wednesday. The paper was held up for coverage of the Budget, which meant a late-night layout slog for the editorial team. “Do you want to do an opinion piece for the comment section?” Moloney wrote to me on Budget night, “Do, go on like a good man.” I stayed up until three in the morning writing and proofreading finished pages before leaving Moloney and his deputy Barry Lennon to finish the job.
The switch to a bi-weekly publication schedule has been hectic, but rewarding. “I probably do thirty hours of work over the last two days before we go to print,” says Moloney. Since September, however, News Soc has produced six newspapers and a Freshers’ Guide magazine, dwarfing last year’s output of just four papers for the whole academic year.
Without any permanent newsroom or even an office for the editor, the working environment at the paper can be very casual and ad-hoc, with much of the work being done remotely. The editorial team often has to troop from one computer lab to another when a journalism Masters class needs the room for a lecture.
Moloney is often frustrated with DIT and the management structure of his paper. Under the current funding model, the News Society applies for funding to print the paper through the Societies Office. This often means answering to Campus Life staff who are often the only members of the editorial board to join the paper’s representatives at the meetings.
“I’d like to be paid on a proper basis like anyone else in the college,” says Moloney, “How can you be independent and write independently when they can drag it [articles printed in The Edition] up at a meeting discussing your pay?“
The society’s committee has some control over the editor’s pay – last year they held up editor Lúc Ó Cinsealla’s pay when an issue didn’t go to print because Ó Cinsealla went on holiday. Moloney isn’t happy with the situation of young undergraduates having control over the pay of a professional who has bills to pay. “You couldn’t have the captain of the rugby team cutting the manager’s wages because he didn’t like a decision,” he told me..
Student media funding comes from a variety of sources in Ireland. The University of Limerick’s An Focal is funded by the UL Students’ Union, and until this year was managed by the SU’s publicity officer and funded almost entirely by ULSU. While the SU model appears to supply a reliable source of funding, there can be strings attached.
In 1995, this was the model for student news at DIT. The DIT Examiner was backed by DITSU, employing a union staffer to manage the paper. However, when the Examiner printed articles critical of DITSU, the union shut it down.
DITSU still makes itself known when articles are not to its satisfaction. A critical article printed in the 2012 Freshers’ Guide provoked robust complaints from current and former officers of the union this September. This forced News Soc’s first publication of the year to be distributed with a retraction folded inside.
Student news in general seems to have little trouble finding advertisers, with as much as half of some papers’ running costs covered by ad revenue. The freesheet model isn’t widely pursued though; advertising is often sparse inside student papers, and rarely seen on the covers.
It’s clear there is potential for advertising to fill budget holes, however. At the AGM of the University of Limerick Students’ Union this October, a motion to stop printing the paper in order to save money for ULSU was defeated. One of the strongest arguments for keeping the paper was that the editorial team had secured enough advertising to pay half the paper’s operating costs.
A third of the Edition’s funding comes from advertising – December’s Edition included full-page ads from Raw Gym and Temple Bar Tradfest, among other sponsors. However, the paper still falls short of operating as a freesheet, as the bulk of its operating costs are absorbed by DIT’s Campus Life fund – the salary of the editor and the rest of the printing bill, for instance.
Brian Gormley is the manager of Campus Life at DIT, and a former editor of DCU’s College View. He spearheaded the establishment of DIT News under its current structure when he was first hired by DIT in 2006. He says an independent community newspaper for the college is a vital part of the student experience.
“Trinity News would be the role model,” he says, “College publications at Trinity are funded by a dedicated Publications committee which supports seven different campus publications.” This is different to the situation in DIT as the Trinity Publications Committee operates outside the societies network – perhaps allowing publications there a little more independence.
Gormley says he is happy with the current model with the News Society running the show. “My gut instinct is that it needs to be connected to students,” he says.
“It’s part of the quality control of the Institute,” says Gormley, “If the paper is a success — if it does its job right – it will be very critical from time to time.”