Mairead Maguire did not come to Trinity with plans of being a journalist. A history and politics student from Donegal, the University Times (UT) “wasn’t something on [her] radar” and she “knew barely nothing about UT”, until she applied for societies editor in the summer of 2020. According to Maguire, she applied for this role due to her interest in College’s “unique society culture” rather than an interest in journalism generally.
However, reporting quickly became “one of the best experiences of my life”. She became news editor in the summer of 2021 before being promoted to deputy editor last December. After what she describes as a “baptism of fire” as deputy, Maguire hopes to take the final step and be elected editor in the upcoming by-election.
Speaking to Trinity News, Maguire pointed to her love of student journalism and UT as her reasons for running: “It gives a voice to people, whether that be through actually being a staff member or being interviewed, that’s really important.” Maguire believes that student newspapers provide “so many opportunities” to those involved and often have more value than a journalism degree, which Trinity currently does not offer: “In Trinity, UT and TN fill that gap.”
As the pandemic abates, Maguire thinks that “we have a really unique opportunity to reimagine the paper and come back better.” If elected, she plans to make UT “a fun place to be” and create a sense of belonging: “I want people to feel like it’s their ‘thing’, and that they have other people who are like them and also different to them. I love just meeting different types of people in UT and I’ve found that I’ve changed and learned so much from being with them.”
This is not Maguire’s first bid for UT editor. Maguire previously ran uncontested for the position in the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical elections in March, but a majority of students voted to re-open nominations (RON). This marked both the first time RON has won in an election since the ballot option was introduced in TCSDU elections approximately twenty years ago, and the first time an incumbent deputy editor of UT was not elected editor since the latter role was made a sabbatical position in 2015.
Speaking about her first election campaign, Maguire describes the loss as a “brilliant opportunity” to prepare more: “I’ve had a few weeks now to consult with more people and come up with a comprehensive vision, and I feel like I know even better what students need from the paper.”
When asked about why she chose to run again, Maguire asserted that she has a “vision” for UT she wants and plans to see through, and that her experience within UT means she is still the best candidate: “I just really think that students deserve an editor that has a wealth of experience and a track record of dedication to the paper and dedication to student journalism, and I have that.”
Allegations of misconduct
An active RON campaign was run during the last election following the publication of an article by Trinity News, in which students whom Maguire had previously interviewed (for an article about harassment and assault in College societies) alleged that confidential elements of their testimony had been leaked. Throughout her campaign, Maguire maintained that confidentiality had not been breached, repeatedly calling these allegations “false and defamatory”.
In a previous campaign interview with Trinity News and during election hustings, Maguire refrained from discussing the issue, saying she did “not think false allegations deserve any more attention.” Discussing whether she now wished she had addressed the allegations further during election season, Maguire did not regret her choice: “It’s a difficult situation because I was really aware of how sensitive the topic was. I didn’t want to, in a hustings when there’s a hundred people, I didn’t want to upset more people unnecessarily or without warning.”
“It’s not about me, I didn’t want to make it about me, which is why I didn’t want to be massively vulnerable about it.”
After the original elections, Maguire gave a statement at a town hall organised by UT. Maguire explained that she began working on the article, entitled “Phil, Hist Accused of Perpetuating Culture of Harassment and Bullying”, while she was Societies Editor. She described the “months long” investigation as “the kind that keeps you up at night”. She maintained that she had not violated the confidentiality of any sources or leaked any sensitive information. “When the article was published in September none of my sources expressed any problem with the article,” she said.
Maguire stated that, following complaints of misconduct from students to UT in November, the editor of UT carried out an “internal investigation” and found that Maguire “had not breached source confidentiality.” There is no paperwork from UT concerning this investigation, and incumbent Editor Emer Moreau explained at the town hall that it consisted of her talking to Maguire about the issue and then speaking to a lawyer.
Speaking to Trinity News, Maguire emphasised the serious topic that her article highlighted: “I wrote the original article because I believe victims and I think their story should be heard.”
“My one sort of thing is that that story’s out there and it’s not going to not be out there and that’s sort of consolation to whatever happens.”
Individuals interviewed by Maguire have also come forward to express discomfort with how Maguire conducted her investigation. According to these sources, people were concerned about a list Maguire kept that contained names of people that Maguire would ask her sources about. One explained that this list contained “not necessarily men who there had been stories about”, which confused those involved. Another student also said that actual names were brought by Maguire during their interview with her, which they believed to be mishandling of information. Sources also felt it was not always clear what was on or off the record.
Asked if she would conduct her investigation differently now, Maguire said… “ultimately the general process is the same and it was just all about painting an accurate picture”
Discussing these concerns, Maguire said that her “priority was making sure that people were comfortable with how their stories were being told, so I do think there was good communication there”. She said that “did not go into [the investigation for the article] with the final piece in mind,” and her intention was to be as accurate as possible: “It was really important to understand whether it was an issue that was endemic in these societies or not, so I think it’s important to know if it’s one person or it’s ten.”
Maguire again denied that complaints had been made to the Press Ombudsman about the UT’s alleged breach of confidentiality: “there was one complaint about something small that was resolved through mediation.” Trinity News has seen three Press Ombudsman complaints which were submitted about this investigation.
When asked if she would conduct her investigation differently now, Maguire said it might be slightly different considering that she has gained “quite a lot more experience since then”, but “ultimately the general process is the same and it was just all about painting an accurate picture of what was happening at the time.”
“Defunding” UT and town hall
A petition was later launched to change the funding structure of UT, namely removing the editor’s salary. Discussing this, Maguire asserted that “people should be paid for their work” and that UT would not see the same “quality and quantity” of content without a paid editor: “They work extremely hard and they work beyond the 9-5 for sure, that would not be possible if they were not being paid.”
In light of these concerns from students, Maguire has developed plans to build trust back up between UT and students. The town hall meeting was held after the launch of the petition, in which students were able to ask questions of Moreau, Maguire and other UT staff, and raise concerns. Maguire found this meeting to be “really productive” and plans to hold one town hall per semester if elected editor: “It was really great to actually see students, we often don’t get the opportunity to talk to students in that way.” Maguire pointed towards Sierra Müller-Owens’ suggestion to get professional support involved for articles on difficult topics as an example of what UT staff learned from the experience.
Board of advisors
Maguire also plans to implement a board of advisors to ensure accountability and transparency in UT. According to Maguire, this board would consist of “a group of journalists [and] lawyers” who are “unbiased against [UT]”, and it should be enshrined in TCDSU’s proposed constitution which has yet to be voted on by students. Maguire does not think that this board will be established “overnight”, but it will be achieved “with the right support and the right conversation happening.”
Maguire hopes that this board will “hold [UT] accountable more and also just provide support to the editor and senior masthead.”
“It will have such a good effect in the upper echelons, so for example if you have an editor who’s well advised they are in a better position to advise everyone else in the paper. It is a hierarchy, a top-down approach.”
Accessibility and diversity
Maguire also believes that increasing staff numbers in UT will work towards building more trust: “Showing more students how valuable [UT] can be and giving them that experience and giving them that community can really build trust, as more of the student body kind of reap the reward of being in UT.”
In order to support staff, Maguire plans to establish one mentorship program per semester, one for LGBTQ+ students and another for students with disabilities, in which senior editors would act as mentors for junior writers through one-on-one support and regular meetings. According to her, such a program will protect and empower students: “My whole ethos and approach means that hopefully more people will feel like they can write for us because we really do value their voices.”
Accessibility is also a priority for Maguire. She has reported on accessibility on campus since her time as societies editor. UT’s office, along with other sabbatical officer offices, is currently on the third floor of House Six, a building with no lift or wheelchair access. Maguire explained while that UT still offers an online option for all in-person meetings, it still needs to go a step further to allow all students to participate: “It wouldn’t be right if someone with a physical disability couldn’t make it to the office just because it’s in House Six. I would definitely be open to hiring another space.”
Maguire also hopes to improve accessibility by appointing an “ents editor” to organise accessible social events and creating a stronger sense of community within UT. These events, Maguire hopes, will include both nights out and non-alcoholic socials. To Maguire, accessibility is “paramount” in connecting students with UT: “have all the ideas you want, if they’re not accessible they’re bad ideas.”
Maguire believes that accessibility and diversity goes hand in hand, and she plans to promote inclusion in UT through their coverage and staff: “diversifying our staff diversifies our coverage and improves the paper.”
Drawing from her own experience as an example, Maguire explained, “I’m queer myself, so I know that there are issues within LGBT spaces that need to be highlghted along with a myriad of other things… We’re trying to have coverage that matters to students so it needs to cover all cohorts of students.” Maguire cited the mentorship program as a way to foster diversity in the paper.
Relevant, representative coverage is a core promise in Maguire’s campaign. Maguire plans to cover more climate-related issues to reflect students’ experiences and concerns: “As we go deeper into this [climate] crisis, there will be international students from countries who are really badly affected.” When probed on UT’s print issues, Maguire said that she plans to continue producing six print issues per year, but she explained that UT is an “online-first” newspaper and noted that UT reduced the number of pages in their last issue.
Maguire also plans to include more Irish language content in UT: “I’ve gotten to know the Irish section more in the past few months and I really respect them because they’re so small and work so hard.” She plans to reach out to Cumann Gaelach and Scéim Cónaithe, while also offering opportunities to people who are not fluent Gaelgoirí but want to improve their Gaeilge.
UT has been funded by TCDSU since it was founded in 2009. It is part of the union, but TCDSU’s constitution stipulates that the paper has editorial independence. When UT was first established, the Communications & Marketing Officer also acted as editor, but the UT editor became a separate sabbatical position in 2015. Discussing the relationship between the union and UT, Maguire said that TCDSU funding is something she “ would not be looking to get rid of at all”, but “editorially, we want to hold them to account as much as any other capitated bodies or societies or institutions.”
Maguire hopes to have a “positive” relationship with the other sabbatical officers, though she will not allow any relationship to affect UT’s coverage: “As long as they understand our role as a newspaper and we understand their role as sabbatical officers then I think everyone will have enough respect for each other and each other’s roles efficiently, and of course I’ll hold them to account when necessary.”
Maguire does not think that the SU should have any more regulatory power over UT than it already has, saying that as members of the Press Council, “we’re a student service but we’re a newspaper as well.” Maguire noted that the UT is still subject to the TCDSU Oversight Board, and union members can direct concerns there if necessary. She also believes that the proposed board of advisors would work to hold the paper to account.
Maguire admitted that holding an election for a newspaper editor might appear to be a “strange system”, but ultimately one she is in favour of.
“It’s not just about the candidates it’s about the paper, you get that conversation going every year about what the paper needs to be, what students want, what students need and also about the staff in the paper, reevaluating what needs to be done there.”
Campaigning for UT editor began yesterday, April 4. Voting will take place from April 6 to April 7.
A disclaimer on these series on pieces can be found here.