The editor of the University Times (UT), Cormac Watson, has announced a petition to amend the constitution of Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) in order to create a board of advisors that would advise the staff of the newspaper.
The proposed advisory board would “advise the editor about matters concerning the newspaper, including journalistic practice, staffing, strategy, administration and finance”.
It would meet at least three times per year and comprise nine voting members with expertise in media, law and student politics.
If implemented, the board would compile a report once a year looking at how “effective and efficient” the newspaper was over the previous year.
The amendment requires that the report be sent to the President of TCDSU and stipulates that a summary of the report should be “published prominently” in the University Times.
In order to trigger a college-wide referendum on the proposed change to the union’s constitution, the petition will need to collect signatures from 500 current Trinity students.
Watson, who was elected editor of UT in February, pledged during his campaign to create a board of advisors “consisting of experts in media, law and student politics to assist the newspaper in the running of its business”. He promised that the board would bring greater accountability to the paper.
Announcing the proposals, Watson stated that the board would be “absolutely essential for the future of the newspaper”.
“No one is certain what the post-coronavirus media and third-level landscape is going to look like. The University Times would benefit massively from having expert advice at hand to deal with the challenges it faces,” he added
Speaking to Trinity News, Watson said he hoped to have the board established and functioning during his tenure as editor.
Watson told Trinity News that by enshrining the new board in the union’s constitution, he hoped to make the board a more “concrete” institution rather than something “informal”.
The University Times is funded by TCDSU and thus some of its governance and finance structures are regulated by the union’s constitution.
The constitution states that the paper shall remain editorially independent of the union.
Under the proposed amendment, seven members of the new advisory board would be subject to the approval of the TCDSU’s Board of Trustees, having been nominated by the editor.
The editor would also sit on the board of advisors, while the staff of the paper would elect a standards editor to sit as the ninth voting member of the board.
Part of the standards editor’s role would be to handle complaints from students regarding coverage in the University Times, and to oversee that writers for the paper handle students and student issues sensitively.
Watson’s press statement included words of support from TCDSU President Eoin Hand.
Hand described the proposed advisory board as a “fantastic mechanism to ensure that Editors going forward will have the support they need”, stating that “the union supports the spirit and the principle of this amendment”.
Referenda to amend the TCDSU constitution can be triggered either by a petition of 500 signatures or by a two thirds majority vote of the union’s Council. Once a referendum is declared, any member of the union, bar sabbatical officers, may join a campaign to either support or oppose the resolution.
A referendum must take place within two and five teaching weeks after it is called.
TDCSU’s constitution mandates the union to “provide impartial factual information on the resolution of any referendum”.
The position of editor of the University Times is elected by Trinity students, alongside the five sabbatical officers of TCDSU.