For seasoned observers of SU elections, the race for Communications Officer is usually the most exciting and unpredictable. The prospect of defining the SU’s communications policy and holding the reigns over the University Times usually result in some interesting ideas, and this years candidates may possibly be the last ones to have the chance to be elected both Communications Officer and UT Editor.
It is always interesting to note how the people vying for the position of Communications Officer present themselves; how it is they choose to ‘communicate’ their message and ultimately to see who emerges successful, and why. This year, two have stepped forward in the hopes of becoming next year’s Communications Officer; Samuel Riggs, 3rd Year English Student and PJ Moloney, 4th Year Film Student. There is both a crossover in their policies and stark contrast in how both candidates have decided to get their ‘message’ to the student body.
It wasn’t hard to track Sam Riggs down in the Arts Block, as he was flanked by a crowd of his forest green campaigners. Some of these campaigners were engaging passing Arts block students, pointing to Sam’s crooked close-lipped smile on the cover of his flier; the others peered up as Sam talked strategy with them. He greeted me with a wide smile as I pulled him aside to conduct the interview. When I asked him how he had been finding the campaign trial, he gushed “It is very stressful, but I absolutely love campaigning. The main thing I think I love is the lecture addresses, especially when they’re first years.” He emphasised how much he enjoyed meeting people, stating simply “I’m a people person”, and his eminent charisma from the very start of our conversation was testimony to this.
Later, PJ Moloney arrived for our interview in the Publications Office and adjusted himself quietly into his chair. PJ was a composed presence amid the busyness of the office, unperturbed by the activity around him. His measured countenance mirrors his choice of campaign strategy – PJ’s presence cannot be felt to the same extent in the Arts Block as Sam’s, bar some striking, unadorned yellow and black posters simply bearing “PJ Moloney for Communications”. PJ has opted to focus his energies on the online platform, most notably through his video Trinity Can Be Happy, which has as of now garnered over 3,000 views. When asked why he made this choice, and whether he felt that not presenting in person was taking a risk, he explained “I think campaigning online has been an interesting experience. I think it has highlighted the issues that need to be dealt with regarding the the EC’s rules of campaigning. I can absolutely see why someone would think it has damaged my reputation but at the same time I think I went into this campaign with a very clear purpose; that I am running to change the way the Student’s Union communicates to students and the outside world. I didn’t want to just say it, I wanted to show it.”
Sam expressed admiration for PJ’s video, saying that it has gotten a “marvellous amount of hits”. However, he stressed the importance of engaging students in the public sphere. “I think this is a battle that can be fought online but won on the ground.” He continued “I love meeting people and getting them excited about the role of Communications Officer.”
On the subject of the role of Communications Officers, this year’s candidates have to contend with the very interesting debate of whether the Communications Officer position should be made separate from the University Times editorship. While the University Times has always been, according to the Constitution, “editorially independent”, concerns have been raised over whether it’s possible to wear the two hats at the same time. PJ Moloney has, in his campaign, advocated in favour of this separation, suggesting that the UT editorship is not synonymous with the position of Communications Officer. “According to the Constitution, the Communications officer must produce a Union newspaper, The University Times. I wouldn’t interpret this as meaning that the Communications Officer acts as editor, though I can see how someone could interpret it differently.” He continues “effectively, it says that the Communications Officer is the managing editor of Union publications.” He has suggested that if elected, he would introduce cyclical editorships. ” I would edit the first edition of UT”, he explained, going on to say that the editorship would then be taken up by a core group of 3 – 4 editors each taking turns so as to reduce their workload.
Samuel Riggs has said that he is also in favour of the proposed separation, but has also stated “I think it should be something that goes towards the students first.” Riggs raised the question of whether “the quality of the University Times [would] suffer” in the event the proposed split. “At the current minute the reason we have a Communications Officer who also takes on the role of University Times editor is that they can give it their all”, explaining that if a student took on the role of editor part time that their grades could suffer as a result.
The separation raises questions of the function of the Communications Officer as a stand-alone position, and both candidates have expressed a distinct idea of the ultimate purpose of the Communications Officer. Samuel Riggs has said he feels the role of Communications Officer is “to represent the public face of the Union”, while PJ Moloney has stated that he wants the Communications Officer to be someone “who liaises with the student body and encourages dialogue between students.”
This dialogue is particularly important when considering the pervasive apathetic attitudes of students towards both voting and campaigning in general. Samuel Riggs has suggested that he would collaborate with the Campaigns Officer and work to “push [campaigns] via social media” and to “liaise with students” PJ Moloney has expressed a similar strategy, though stresses the importance of “getting the message of the SU to the students” as well as getting the students to talk to each other. “We don’t talk about getting students to discuss things, not engaging with the SU necessarily, but engaging with each other.” He further detailed the intention to launch a “press strategy and a lobbying strategy”, elaborating on this by saying he intends if elected to “talk with journalists from different papers outside the college.” It is difficult to say who will emerge victorious in this race – a recent Trinity News poll has indicted that PJ Moloney has emerged with 43% of the vote, while Sam has 34%. Pending the results of the University Times poll, this is the only indication of the voters’ leanings. When asked about the results, PJ explained that he did not want “to get too cocky”. Sam Riggs congratulated his opponent on the result, expressing that he was happy for PJ, but posited that the results came out this way because “not everyone had been able to see the force that Team Riggs could bring.”
Both Samuel Riggs and PJ Moloney have made monumental efforts to sway the voters, with the former opting to speak with students on the ground and the latter hoping to gauge the effectiveness of online campaigning and how receptive the modern student is to this approach. This reporter will undoubtedly be watching the Election polls with bated breath, for the results will have extremely interesting implications for the fate of how our Student’s Union will choose to communicate with us in the coming year.