Editorial: The Trinity News Constitution: no elected position should be non-removable

Last week, Trinity News voted on its first constitution, passing with a 100% majority

As of last week, Trinity News has passed its first constitution, which outlines the rules and regulations for staff. Staff outlined in the constitution refers to editorial staff: our copyeditors, section staff, multimedia staff, senior staff and the editor themselves are all included in and subject to the document, which can now be found at trinitynews.ie/constitution. 

Voted in by our staff, the constitution passed with a 100% majority. The constitution was written by myself, the current editor. A meeting was held with staff a week prior to the vote, to add, change or remove anything at the staff’s request. This constitution is for our staff, and any staff in the future, and should exist for them; everyone received a vote, and everyone’s requests for changes or additions were discussed in the meeting and a general decision on the request was made. 

The constitution is to provide safety and clarity for staff, including the editor, of what is required of them, and what offences can have them removed from their position. The constitution is broken down into five sections: Staff and Editor requirements, Violation of the Code of Conduct, Removal of the Editor, Resignation or Incapacitation of the Editor and Election of an Editor. 

The first section, Staff and Editor requirements, outlines that staff and the editor are subject to the rules and regulations laid out in the TN Handbook, which is given to staff once they are hired. It also outlines the necessity for the editor to consider conflicts of interests staff may have when they are being hired, such as society membership, to ensure fairness and integrity in our writing.  

The second section, Violation of the Code of Conduct, outlines that all staff within Trinity News are subject to the code of conduct and ethics policy, which is laid out in the handbook. It outlines stipulations for staff when working within or for Trinity News, as well as identifying instances in which staff may be asked to step down. If there are multiple minor infractions of the code of conduct, or one major infraction, the editor may ask for a review of said staff member. This review involves an investigation board, with the chair of Publications, a past member of another student representative group and a past editor of Trinity News. As a paper made for the student body, we want representative members of the student body to have their say in the conduct of our staff. 

This board will be established to review the case alongside the editor; if the editor is involved, they are also subject to an investigation by this board. The second section also outlines that if staff are deemed by the board to have violated the code of conduct, they will be asked to step down, or if it is deemed appropriate, they will be removed from their role by the editor. 

Section three then outlines the instances in which an editor of Trinity News can be removed, and how an impeachment can be called. The constitution outlines six instances in which an editor can be removed, including a breach of ethics and failure to communicate with staff about workings of the paper. A case can also be made to the chair of Publications in relation to a violation of the code of conduct. If staff believe their editor has committed any of the instances outlined, or breached the code of conduct, they must write to the chair of Publications with 15 signatories, calling for an impeachment vote.  Upon the receipt of this email, the chair of Publications will establish a board made up of two executive members of the Publications Committee, a former member of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council, and a former editor of Trinity News. The board will investigate the claims made in the impeachment letter over a two week period. If it is determined by the board, beyond reasonable doubt, that the editor failed to meet the requirements outlined, an impeachment vote will be called by the Chair of Trinity Publications. All editorial staff will be given a vote, and a majority vote will rule. 

The fourth section then outlines for the resignation or incapacitation of an editor, should they no longer wish to, or are unable to, hold the position throughout their term. Upon the editor’s resignation or incapacitation, the deputy or assistant editor will take over in the interim until such time as an Executive General Meeting (EGM) of all staff can be called. This section also allows for the editor to take medical leave, for a maximum period of three weeks, or the duration of one issue. 

The final section outlines the procedure in which an editor should be elected for Trinity News, and outlines the guidelines for a handover process. All editorial staff are given a vote in the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the election of a new editor, and a majority vote will decide the election. 

We are in the middle of the TCDSU sabbatical elections, where students will decide who will organise their events, look after their welfare and safeguard their education for the next academic year. No matter who is elected on March 2, the TCDSU constitution guarantees these sabbatical officers can be removed from office via impeachment where necessary, protecting the student body against a sabbatical officer who is unable or unwilling to fulfil their role. A similar system should exist in our publications.

Here at Trinity News, we are of the opinion that no one, including the editor of a publication, should be non-removable or unimpeachable. If you hold an elected position, and are responsible for any cohort of students on a day-to-day basis, you cannot be above reproach; we owe more than that to our staff and our audience. 

We do not envision that an editor of Trinity News should ever need to be removed, or that staff should need to be investigated, but in an institution such as College where there is an entirely new network of staff roughly every four years, we cannot predict what will happen among future staff of Trinity News. We felt a responsibility to future generations of our paper to outline, and outline clearly, what they should do if these things do happen.