Donal MacNamee, a Senior Sophister English and History student from Limerick, is the sole candidate in this year’s election bid for Editor of the University Times. MacNamee has led a successful campaign so far, coming out on top in the recent Trinity News poll, with the highest percentage of first preference votes at 81%. He has emerged from the four campaign hustings as a well-liked candidate with support from a large campaign team. He sat down with Trinity News to discuss his reasons for running, his manifesto points as well as the divisive issue of the paper’s significant deficit.
In a campaign season that has seen a re-open nominations (RON) Facebook page created for the Communications and Marketing race, the issue of voting for, or against, uncontested candidates has never been so topical. When asked why students should give their first preference vote to MacNamee rather than voting for the option to re-open nominations, he emphasised his love and passion for the paper, describing it as an “obsession” of his. He also explained how his experience serving as the paper’s current Deputy Editor makes him a suitable candidate for the role, saying that his love of working with the paper’s staff inspired him to run: “As deputy, I interact with seventy incredibly talented editors every day and I get such a buzz off working with people. I love the opportunity that this affords me, to work with such talented, genuine people.”
MacNamee believes that UT, under current Editor Eleanor O’Mahony’s leadership, functions “exceptionally well”. He wishes, however, for the the paper to become more accessible to all students and include not only those already involved with UT. He plans to increase the paper’s accessibility by creating a new structure in the paper; a Community Engagement Team. This team will organise events and hold workshops, opening the paper to a wider audience.
During her time as Editor, O’Mahony has failed to achieve several manifesto policies which she ran on last year. When discussing the issue of accountability within the paper, MacNamee explained how he hopes to hold public monthly meetings to provide a platform for students’ voices and discuss what UT is doing: “You go on to our Facebook page on a Wednesday afternoon and you see lively comments sections. People have a lot to say and I do think it’s great that people are really engaged, but I would like to meet these people, and not just see their names on a computer screen”. He believes these open forums would be particularly valuable as they would provide students with the “opportunity to hold us accountable”, as well as giving the paper a chance to “explain not just what we’re doing but why we’re doing it”.
With a deficit of over €16,000, the University Times is undoubtedly a continuous strain on the SU’s budget. Touching on the issue in his manifesto, MacNamee outlines his plan to make UT’s funding an “absolute priority”. When asked to elaborate on what steps he would take to address the deficit, he explained that staff in the paper have “spoken to the Alumni Office, we’ve spoken to outside groups, we’ve spoken to companies”. MacNamee hopes to introduce systems similar to those implemented by other societies to secure funding. He gives examples of “the Phil and Law Soc, [who] have teams, [who] have structures that allow them to interact with the community”. He also plans to introduce a “contribute” button to the paper’s website to provide an additional source of funding, and to decrease the paper’s advertising prices as he believes they are currently too high.
When asked about making cuts to the paper’s expenses, in terms of the cost of print issues and the Editor’s salary, MacNamee stated that UT had already cut an issue this year and he would rather increase the paper’s revenue rather than introduce more cuts. MacNamee was also not phased by the previous promises of UT Editors to balance the budget and make the paper sustainable: “I’d be very shook by the idea that we wouldn’t be able to sort this out. I think we will, and if I didn’t so, I think I’d be much more worried than I am.”
Since the establishment of the paper’s separate sabbatical officer position, all bar one of the races for Editor have been uncontested, with the only candidate contesting it being the joke candidate, Michael McDermott, last year. When asked if this signals a severe lack of engagement with his own staff, he said that the staff at UT are incredibly engaged and that he does not know why other members didn’t run for the position, adding that he “can’t speak for specific people”.
In addition to the issue of uncontested races, all Editors since the role was split from the Communications and Marketing position have previously served as the paper’s Deputy Editor. It was put to MacNamee whether he believed this was indicative of a coronation of sorts, that disincentives other staff members from running for the position. He responded by emphasising the efforts the current Editor made to encourage staff members in the paper to run but once again noted that he “can’t speak for specific staff members”.
Speaking about the editorial stance of the paper, in his eyes, MacNamee said it “vehemently sets out to defend the student’s interests”. He believes that “UT is a service to students and the Editorial Board’s stance is to stick up for students, the paper’s job is to stick up for students”. MacNamee also believes that main purpose of the paper is to serve students and to hold College accountable, outlining that he would regard his tenure as Editor as a failure if he failed to do this. He sees holding those in decision making positions within Trinity as the main reason “students fund us”, saying that “if you’re not doing that, you’re not doing your job right”. In addition, the paper also sets out to hold students in leadership positions accountable as their “mission is to be a service to the overall student body”.
UT’s Editorial Board has received criticism in the past for certain stances – most vocally from activists who have stated that there is a certain level of ignorance and lack of consistency in the board’s stances. Speaking to those criticisms, MacNamee commented that the Editorial Board takes stances on things that people are not always going to agree with and that the “Editorial Board doesn’t take anything lightly”, with “hot debate” often taking place in the paper’s office. He went on to say that he does not believe that “the Editorial Board once it takes a stance is married to that forever”, admitting that “every Editorial Board can get things wrong once or twice”.