Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) Union Forum unanimously rejected the proposed budget of the University Times (UT) at a recent meeting of Union Forum on October 20.
Union Forum, which consists of the five full time sabbatical officers and 19 part time officers, also expressed concern over the accuracy of the projected losses of the SU-funded newspaper. Union Forum can only accept or reject the budget, and cannot return amendments.
According to figures given by UT Editor Dominic McGrath, the printing costs for nine issues of UT total €22,016, with the newspaper putting forward a total saving of €70 for the 2017/18 academic year in the original budget.
UT also receives a €100 budget for food on each of the nine newspaper production weekends. In addition, the three members of UT’s business section receive a 15% proportion of advertisements acquired by them.
In the minutes of the October 20 Forum meeting, McGrath says “we didn’t achieve as much advertising as hoped,” and blamed the lack of advertising on a single advertisement deal with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) that fell through. McGrath states that the deal did not materialise due to the USI President taking compassionate leave. However, a spokesperson for USI told Trinity News that “in that case, the Deputy President would take over from the President”. Within the Union Forum meeting, TCDSU Education Officer Alice MacPherson said she was “concerned about the reasoning used by UT on why it fell through”.
A number of issues about UT’s budget were discussed before the vote. TCDSU’s Communications and Marketing Officer Úna Harty expressed concern about “the SU being the sole providers for UT at times”. In reference to the three business staff receiving 15% cuts, Harty said: “They need to start working themselves.” Numerous part time officers felt the €70 worth of savings was “an insignificant cut” to “pacify the SU”. Others were not happy to approve a budget that his “hugely ambitious” and “not properly reflective with regards to expected losses”. TCDSU President Kevin Keane suggested reducing the numbers of copies printed of the newspaper.
In addition, Union Forum delivered unanimous decisions to reject the proposed €70 reduction in the production budget and to express concerns over funds raised to date. Recommendations from Union Forum also included UT being “less casual with such large amounts of money and losses”.
In response to questions by Trinity News, McGrath said: “The University Times wants to be sustainable and not be a burden on the SU. I want to do the best journalism we can. At Union Forum, we had a really productive conversation and I’m just going to do everything they recommended but we’re working really hard to be sustainable.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Harty said: “I think it depends which way the Union decides to approach commercialisation in the future. It’s really healthy that in Trinity we have two amazing newspapers and I think if we only had one then the quality would not be the same. It’s really good to see that competition and I think it’s healthy.”
She continued: “It can be frustrating at times when you feel like, particularly from my point of view I’m here trying to bring in money to make sure we don’t get a deficit, it’s frustrating to think that there’s something that I don’t have any control over [that] might be inflicting upon turnover.”
Speaking to Trinity News, Keane said: “This is very standard practise for Union Forum, I’m not at the liberty to discuss the details of Union Forum as it’s in camera. The relationship with UT is very good, it’s excellent and there’s no issue in that regard. There was a slight difference of opinion between members of Union Forum and the University Times but that’s natural and to be expected and we’re just ironing out those kinks at the moment.”
The next meeting of the Forum has been delayed from next week until Reading Week as McGrath was unable to submit the amended budget and an additional advertising strategy on time.
In the most recent financial accounts for the 2015/16 year, TCDSU recorded a deficit of almost €30,000. That report characterised the deficit as “not sustainable” and the effect this has on the day-to-day finances of the Union as “dramatic”. 2015/16 was the first year in which the role of Communications and Marketing Officer, and Editor of UT had been separated. This, as well as losses in various SU-run enterprises and the accommodation of then President Lynn Ruane’s two children, were highlighted by the report.