Students deserve better than student newspapers profiting off the housing crisis

It is hugely hypocritical to take money from luxury student accommodation blocs, while also telling housing activists how to run their campaigns

The advertisement in question from The University Times’ Instagram account

When the University Times posted an advertisement for the private luxury student accommodation bloc #LIVStudent on its Instagram account this week, many students were shocked. Such was the strength of the criticism to this post, the University Times felt that it was necessary to turn off comments underneath. And that isn’t the only instance of the University Times advertising luxury student accommodation; adverts for Liv have also recently appeared on their website, while Host advertisements have made several appearances on their site over the past few weeks.

It was only this time last year that students felt betrayed and offended by College administration, advertising luxury accommodation in Kavanagh Court for €900 a month. College was rightly attacked by students who felt that they were out of touch with the student body, offering no tangible supports to working class students priced out of education by the housing crisis. The Editorial Board of the University Times called out the College for failing to listen to its students who simply cannot afford to pay exorbitant rent prices. However, they have made the same mistake, and let down students who should expect better from the newspaper they fund, through Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).

The University Times Editor is a relatively prestigious position, with a lot of responsibility. Editors are elected each year for this reason. They claim to be the voice of students in holding College and the wider higher education sector to account, and receive the majority of TCDSU’s publications budget of over €43,000, as well as the Editor’s sabbatical wage and free accommodation, to do so. Profiting off the housing crisis by giving advertising space to private blocs creates a conflict of interest for the newspaper. How are they supposed to accurately report on the most pressing issue for students if they are simultaneously in partnership with major contributors to this crisis? Can the University Times write editorials on what student activists should be doing about the lack of student accommodation while at the same time benefiting from it?

It was only earlier this month that the University Times’ Editorial Board published an article criticising student activist group Take Back Trinity for losing focus by joining the national housing movement. Despite affordable student accommodation being a foremost priority of the group since its foundation, it was argued that joining the national housing movement was a tenuous link to their primary aims. Now that the paper’s financial relationship with a leading provider of exorbitantly priced student accommodation has been revealed, one has to wonder if the Editorial Board’s concern with the direction that new student movements have taken is entirely well-motivated.

And while we might now question the University Times’ legitimacy to report on the crisis in an unbiased way, we also have to worry about how the paper’s promotion of Dublin’s “best new #Student community” normalises the dire housing situation. When advertisements like these appear on the Instagram feed of a newspaper that is a supposed representative of student opinion, it gives legitimacy to the idea that paying €265 euro a week for accommodation is acceptable. Sure, a small minority of students will be able to afford this, however these are not the students that will struggle to find a place to live. €265 euro a week for a room is not a viable option for students who are often working a part-time job on top of coursework to pay their fees. Private blocks such as this one should be laughed at, not collaborated with.

The University Times Editor, Eleanor O’Mahony has defended the decision, commenting to Trinity News: “I understand the anger surrounding high-cost private purpose-built student accommodation. The University Times has been covering the accommodation crisis for over four years now, and we’ve featured countless pieces condemning the situation, long before it hit national headlines. We’ve run ads from similar companies in the past with no objections and I know that Trinity News have too.”

O’Mahony continued: “Any business decisions we make do not impact our editorial content and vice versa. This is standard practice in any newspaper and I think it’s clear from reading our content that this advertisement has not impacted our housing coverage. The reality is that we are under immense pressure to bring in more money. Our financial position was something that I was grilled on, particularly by TCDSU officers and other candidates, throughout the election and I promised to bring in more funding. Student and local newspapers around the world are under threat for their future and it is my responsibility to ensure that our paper is adequately funded – a difficult task, with lower and lower circulation each year.”

Trinity News also featured an advertisement for a similar housing company last year, with its Editor, Niamh Lynch, commenting: “The particular advertisement that Eleanor refers to predates my election as Editor. However, it was undoubtedly a mistake to publish it. I can assure readers that Trinity News has a strongly held commitment to ethical advertising and sponsorship and no such ads that are contradictory to our editorial stances will be accepted during my year as Editor.” 

Students deserve newspapers with integrity. At the very least, they deserve to be listened to by those that claim to represent student opinion, not ignored. When the University Times turned off commenting underneath their Instagram post, they failed to listen to students trying to hold them accountable. The University Times needs to take down the advertisement, apologise, and be transparent with students about how much they are earning from such collaborations. At the very least, they should refrain from telling grassroots activists how to combat a housing crisis which they are benefiting from.