University Times editor candidate Dominic McGrath has emphasised his past experience working with the paper over the past three years; from deputy news editor, to news editor and now holding the deputy editor position under current Editor Sinéad Baker, it’s clear McGrath’s focus lies in developing a strong news section.
As part of his manifesto, McGrath outlines his plan to introduce a new Research and Innovation correspondent to keep up with College’s increasing initiatives on research, development and entrepreneurship and a team of dedicated Sports correspondents to widen their coverage of sporting events: “It’s really reaffirming and developing our relationship with flourishing sports teams in Trinity. And in terms of actually the introduction of Research and Innovation correspondent, I actually think, potentially, that’s quite a dramatic change.” He discusses how innovations hubs like “T-Tech” (the Trinity Technology & Enterprise Centre) and similar business and entrepreneurship initiatives, such as Launchpad, have grown rapidly, making College “an excellent environment for startups”.
“[Mc Grath] plans [on] holding a media conference, inviting members of Irish media into College in order for students to gain contacts in the industry.”
How does this feed into questions surrounding commercialisation? There are certain facets of the student body who view recent attempts to bolster entrepreneurship on campus with an air of scepticism – as going hand-in-hand with the Provost’s increasing attempts to attract corporations to campus and bring business to the fore. “If we’re covering the question of commercialisation this is an important aspect of it. It doesn’t mean we have a preference for it, it doesn’t mean we support it, but I think that a newspaper has to cover what’s happening in College and it would be bizarre if we weren’t covering one of the biggest changes happening.”
In terms of attracting up-and-coming journalists, McGrath hopes to run a more regular workshop series – this was also a part of Baker’s manifesto last year but has yet to fully materialise, though McGrath notes it is still possible it will be achieved by the end of this academic year. This will also feed into his plans of holding a media conference, inviting members of Irish media into College in order for students to gain contacts in the industry. Though uncertain as to where funding will come from, McGrath sees it as “very good opportunity to get outside sponsorship” along with Union funding support if they are happy to collaborate.
“I think it’s actually the best value for money you can get […] I mean, University Times is the best student newspaper in Ireland, it’s recognised internationally, it’s read by the Provost, by the Minister for Education.”
On funding the newspaper, McGrath hopes reaching out to the wider Trinity alumni network will prove beneficial, despite the fact the paper has only been running for 7 years. Discussing this, McGrath says that they have readers “who are not just students but who are academics, senior academics in universities across Ireland and maybe some of them would like to support the University Times, support the good-quality journalism that we constantly produce.”
When asked about the ethics of advertising and sponsorship, with specific focus on the corporatisation of media sources, McGrath states “it depends more on the form of advertising” rather than a black-and-white issue of big corporations versus smaller businesses taking out advertisements: “I mean I wouldn’t want be promoting KPMG from my Facebook for instance. But I’m open to running an ad for KPMG for a graduate training programme in the paper.”
TCDSU reports for the 2015/16 academic year highlighted the €30,000 deficit in their accounts was due partially to the creation of the University Times editorial position as a separate role; the arrangement prior to 2014 had the Communications and Marketing officer also holding the editorial position at the newspaper. Responding to whether he has an issue with the paper’s funding being cut to free up funds within the Union, McGrath feels the success of the paper speaks to its cost-effectiveness: “I think it’s actually the best value for money you can get […] I mean, University Times is the best student newspaper in Ireland, it’s recognised internationally, it’s read by the Provost, by the Minister for Education.”
“Students recognise that [they] fund the newspaper not to see their own views reflected; students fund the newspaper because they want to hear what’s going on around campus, but they also want to hear differing views”.
He also emphasises that this was a “predicted financial expenditure” on the part of the Union, as well as other expenditures such as the SU shops and big expenses like class rep training and the activist festival. On Kevin Keane’s manifesto point to cut the amount of printing the University Times does, McGrath states that the finances of the Union will be an issue discussed when the next sabbatical team is formed: “I’m sure that whoever is talking about making these promises is also looking at other areas of the Union that could be cut […] I’m sure they’re not preaching austerity just to the University Times when one of the biggest overheads is simply the cost of printing.”
The paper’s relationship with the Union is that of being financially dependent while being editorially independent; a tricky relationship to navigate. ” I don’t think […] Anyone could point to a situation where the University Times failed to criticise the Union or where its funding sources has affected its decisions […] I don’t think funding affects our editorial decisions whatsoever.”
“I mean we publish a lot of articles that can be deemed controversial, maybe that deal with difficult questions or raise, I think, legitimate questions and also just address issues that students aren’t always comfortable about. I think that’s a strength and that’s important.”
Relating to content choice specifically, and whether mandates or student opinion should have sway on such, McGrath uses the analogy of state-funded media criticising the government’s actions: “I mean look the story recently that RTÉ published about hospital waiting list figures; there were actually much higher than the government said. And that’s a perfect example of state-funded organisations not toeing the line [for] people funding them.” Further, he feels “students recognise that [they] fund the newspaper not to see their own views reflected; students fund the newspaper because they want to hear what’s going on around campus, but they also want to hear differing views”.
Recent discussion of alternative facts and whether or not there is an onus on media sources to take more responsibility in representing political agendas more explicitly are growing among College students. A recent article published by the University Times came under fire for challenging the idea of “no-platforming” for prominent right-wing figure Milo Yiannopoulos. Asked to what extent one should represent controversial opinion, McGrath feels it’s something to be decided on a case-by-case basis: “I mean we publish a lot of articles that can be deemed controversial, maybe that deal with difficult questions or raise, I think, legitimate questions and also just address issues that students aren’t always comfortable about. I think that’s a strength and that’s important.” However, he underlines the necessity to handle such articles with care: “You make obvious who the writer is, what are their intentions and what is their agenda.”
Interview conducted by Oisín Vince Coulter. Additional reporting by Sinéad Harrington.