Student media must not lose its edge

In October 2005, details of the first documented instance of US-funded military research in an Irish university were uncovered by an Irish newspaper. Between 2002 and 2004, it was revealed, College had received funding from the US Air Force for a research project on self-organising wireless networks that could potentially have been used by US forces in remote areas of Iraq and Afghanistan. The news was met with broad criticism from political parties as well as youth groups, and went on to be raised as an issue in Leinster House. It was a major investigative story broken not by a national media outlet, but by Trinity News, College’s independently-run student newspaper.

Student newspapers are unrivalled when it comes to uncovering instances of undue influence, financial impropriety and discrimination in the third-level sector. The most obvious reason for this is the insight of our network of on-the-ground contacts and reporters. As our coverage increasingly extends beyond campus walls, however, our most important asset is our editorial independence.

Trinity News was not afraid to publish details of the firing of award-winning journalist Gemma Doherty by Independent News and Media in October 2013 after she revealed that penalty points had been wiped from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s driving record.  Along with The Phoenix, we were the only Irish media outlet to document her treatment at the hands of Stephen Rae, editor-in-chief of the Independent titles and former editor of the Garda Review, the official magazine of the Garda Representative Association (GRA).This is just one example of how we have tried, in recent years, to hold people in positions of power and privilege in wider society to account.

We are proud of this tradition, just as we are proud that our college-orientated coverage has generated much debate on campus over crucial third-level issues such as privatisation.

Student media faces new challenges too. The decline of advertising revenue and recent cuts to publications’ funding from College has left us with fewer resources than previous years. But, as our focus increasingly shifts to online coverage, our role as the fourth pillar of student democracy remains the same.

It is our responsibility to ensure that student voices are, if not listened to, at least heard by corporate-minded university bureaucrats as education becomes increasingly commercialised in Irish universities. This academic year will be a critical period in mapping out the future of College. The launch of a new five-year strategic plan in October will outline the university’s direction until 2019, and, if events of recent months are anything to go by, its values will be neo-liberal, geared toward the idea of education for economy rather than education for society. Cuts to student services, the opening a new office for “corporate partnership and knowledge exchange” and the announcement of plans for a new business school to drive “entrepreneurial culture” are all testament to College’s increasingly techno-bureaucratic vision of our university since the beginning of the last academic year.

Strong student voices and opinion are needed now more than ever. We accept this challenge as another academic year begins.

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.