Donie O’Sullivan looks back at three years in UCD, two years writing for the College Tribune, and discusses the importance of student media.

Don’t be putting that in the paper now,” an expression I have heard almost every day in the past two years writing for the College Tribune newspaper. I mostly hear it from self-important hacks who think that I, and the rest of the student population, care about what they had for breakfast.

Walking in the Clonskeagh gate of campus, as I have done every morning for the past two years, I come across two signs hanging on the fence surrounding the new student centre. One reads: “we apologise for any inconvenience caused during construction work,” the other: “No Access”. In many ways, the two signs characterise the student experience in UCD for the class of 2012, and more aptly, summate my experience as a writer for the College Tribune.

Firstly, I am sure many of the class of 2012 won’t be able to help feeling somewhat hard done by, graduating only months before the opening of a fantastic new student centre. During all of my three years here, UCD seemed as much a construction site as it did a university campus. One cannot dispute that construction on campus is, on a whole, a positive – it will make a better university for future students and development is an important part of any thriving university.

However, does UCD have its priorities right? Logging onto the UCD website, one will notice on the left hand side of the screen a panel that reads: Prospective Students, International Students, Current Students. This is the same format as almost any university website in the world, but for UCD, the list (read in that order), reflects a ranking of importance.

In between opening campuses at the other side of the world, entering deals with former Goldman Sachs chairmen, and filming slick television adverts, UCD has forgotten about its own students. Students are not the number one priority in UCD. There are more vice-presidents in UCD than I can name, but every year the same problems reoccur: chaos for module registration, confusion surrounding campus accommodation allocation, and longer queues at the student desk because UCD have shortened the desk’s opening hours.

Don’t get me wrong, almost every member of the academic, library and office staff I have encountered has been nothing but helpful and outstanding at their jobs, but there certainly appears to be a disconnect between the senior, highly paid management of the university and the student body. The sudden closure of the athletics track last winter is perhaps the best example of this.

Deals with Kylemore, Britvic and others may not offer students the best value. Deals such as these are lucrative and must generate substantial revenue for the university – but where is this money going? Lecturers constantly tell their students the university does not have enough money to buy new books.

UCD is becoming increasingly commercialised with very little student input. The irony is not lost on me that I lament the increasing commercialisation of UCD in a paper that the university essentially allows to exist. The College Tribune is a uniquely independent paper in the sense that it relies entirely on revenue generated from advertising -the paper receives no formal funding. However, the university facilitates the production of the paper by providing it with an office (and in Dublin 4 rent isn’t cheap), a telephone, light and heat. The Tribune is an anomaly in UCD as it does not come under an umbrella, like literally everything else in the university.

Unlike the claims of some former and current Tribune writers, I do not believe the paper could survive without its Belfield office. A base is important for many reasons: for writers to meet up, for people to drop in with stories, and for somewhere to go in between class.

I would hope that the university allowing the paper to continue, despite it being a thorn in their backside, is down to someone, somewhere in the university realising the important role a paper independent of students’ union or university funding can play – either that or they have just forgotten we are here!

The second sign hanging from the fencing surrounding the new student centre construction site reads: “No Access.”

I cannot help but feel if the students’ union may have been more open in their affairs the €1.4 million debt may never have accumulated.

When I began writing for the College Tribune one of my first assignments was covering the release of the then SU president Paul Lynam’s projected operating budget to SU council. As a complete newbie, I looked at the budget in shock, surprised at how much detail it lacked. The whole thing covered less than two sides of an A4 page.

I interviewed Lynam, my first ever interview, and asked was there a more detailed budget. He explained to me that the A4 sheet was only a projected budget. He said that more accurate end of year accounts are prepared. I asked for these several times. They never came.

The students’ union debt is not only a failure on the part of the SU, and some would say the university, but also the campus’s media. The Observer costs enough money and the Tribune makes enough noise, that between the two of us, we should have demanded to see full accounts at least once in the past four years – and a campaign should have been launched until they were released.

Then again, hindsight is 20/20 and things are easier said than done; particularly with UCDSU which, in my experience, has never been very open to those with opinions which radically challenge the status quo.

Karl Gill, a second year student, organised a campaign against the SU and its decision to close its print bureau and make long term staff members redundant. Karl organised the collection of several thousand signatures, enough to hold a Union General Meeting, as per the SU constitution.

Some in the SU criticised Karl for wasting Union money on holding the meeting when it failed to reach quorum. To see elected student representatives criticise a student for correctly utilising a democratic process within the union’s own constitution was disappointing – the union were not as critical of themselves last week when their own “preferendum” failed to reach quorum.

Campus papers, the College Tribune in particular, are often cited as being overly critical by some in the SU. Critics of the paper will often say it is “easier to sit on the sidelines and criticise than it is to get involved.” What these people do not realise is that by working in a college paper we are getting involved.

The media plays a fundamental role in any democracy, and I would argue in the world of student politics, particularly UCDSU which lacks an effective internal opposition and where accountability is poor (as evidenced by no SU accounts in over four years), student newspapers play an even more important role.

The new SU constitution includes a lot of measures to ensure proper accountability, increase deliberation and encourage debate – and this can only be welcomed. But these new measures will only be effective if attitudes changes with them – a student, like Karl, should never be criticised for properly utilising a process the union itself sets out.

There are some fantastically devoted people involved in the students’ union; the current president and the president-elect are only two examples. College newspapers do not try to take away from the good work done by the union – but those who lead must, and generally do, realise the importance of fair criticism. If student media does its job it puts more pressure on student representatives to do their job – there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to involvement in either. Both groups (should) have the best intentions and are what make any university great.

Writing for the College Tribune, “the College Rag,” or “there’s a paper in this university?” (as most students would ask), has been a privilege. UCD is a great place for any aspiring journalist to cut their teeth because, put simply, so much crazy stuff goes on. Whether it be trying to calculate Hugh Brady’s astronomical salary, guessing what Law Soc are going to do next or figuring out how to get a straight answer out of a up and coming politician – there is always so much going on.

Vincent Brown, the now famous (or notorious) journalist, set up this great newspaper over twenty years ago, and recently wrote of it: “The surest way of knowing whether the College Tribune was doing its job was how much the college ‘authorities’ disliked it, deemed it ‘irresponsible,’ and wanted to shut it down.

That’s the test.

Go to it.”

I hope we have.


15 thoughts on ““That’s the way it is”… allegedly”

  1. Don’t forget that that SU puts expensive ads into your paper in every issue. You may claim that it’s only advertising. No one is questioning the journalistic independence of the Trib, but it’s silly to suggest that you could exist without such funding. Good work this year folks, but this whole “independent” nonsense is a bit foolish.

  2. Wayne thats nonsense, it is only advertising. If the SU didnt want to put their advert in the paper, then some other company would instead. The tribune arent relying solely on the SU ads, and would certainly be able to exist without them. They advertise in the tribune because its a good way to get SU news out to the students

  3. Alright Tom. It seems bizarre that a paper that wants to distance itself so much from the SU then dedicates pages of advertising each year to said union is only fooling itself and its contributors.

    If it can get advertising elsewhere, which it obviously cannot, then surely that would look far better. That said however, I believe there was a half a page of memes atop a story about suicide in the most recent edition. Maybe the editor(s) is more dense than I am giving him credit for!

  4. Just because the paper isnt under the SU umbrella, doesnt mean it is anti-SU. No-one in the paper has any problems with an SU advert. Why would they look for another company to advertise (which i assure you there are plenty willing to), when a nearby organisation already are trying to put there adverts in. You are acting like the tribune are dependent on SU advertising, just because they let them pay to have their ad in it. There is also a griffith graduate course advert in the paper, yet i dont see you commenting on how the paper isnt independent from griffith college.

  5. Good Lord Tom, that’s a stupid thing to even write. I’ll explain why in the simplest terms I can.

    The Colllege Tribune newspaper is a University College Dublin’s (apparently) independent student newspaper. University College Dublin is arguably Ireland’s best university, with its main campus located at Belfield in (apparently) Dublin 4.

    Griffith College is a third level institution independent of UCD (something which The ‘Trib’ could only dream of being!) on the South Circular Road. In fact, it has absolutely no affiliation with UCD, as far as I can see. Why they would write about a college they receive no funding from and of which none of their contributors are current students or alumni seems fairly obvious to me.

    If The Tribune can get more money from other bodies elsewhere, why was it holding a Pub Quiz after Christmas this year? Surely they could initiate a bidding war which would bring in extra money for the paper, and thus prevent them from having to seek money from their contributors/the SU sabbats who were present at the quiz/the UCD students who attended the quiz?

    I’m not acting like anything Tom. Factual statement one: The Tribune has its power, phone lines, and an office space paid for (for now) by UCD. UCD is funded, in part, through the money every student pays for the privilege (!) of being a UCD student.

    Factual statement number two: The Tribune is paid for advertisement space by the UCD SU. The UCD SU is subsidised more or less entirely by the students of the university. Thus, for them to perpetuate the fallacy that this makes them an independent is disingenuous at best.

    To reiterate what I wrote earlier on, few could question the journalistic independence of the Trib, especially when it comes to SU matters. That’s not the issue I raised however. Hopefully this makes it as simple as possible.

  6. Wayne, dont take too much offense to this but you are bit of a tube. Please re-read Donies article and the above comments and you will get your answers to your points above. Your original issue was that the tribune would not survive without SU advertising. It obviously would, as the SU is just advertising the same way as griffith college is also advertising in the paper (just a comparsion you failed to understand. There have even been adverts turned down as there was no space for them. As for your completely stupid example of the quiz, dont you think an enjoyable pub quiz is a more fun way to raise money for equipment than simply putting an extra advert in the paper. Well thats what the editor thought and thats what he did. I will also remind you that the paper has made a profit this year. There have been even instances this year where issues have had no adverts in them because the editor didnt need any. And those are factual statemens. So, unless you know the inner workings of the paper, please stop commenting on such a pointless argument.

  7. I would wager a guess that I’ve far more knowledge of the inner workings of the paper than you do but sure whatever you think yourself.

    The paper ran a profit and a table quiz, so you have completely contradicted yourself there.

    Bringing up a lack of content about Griffith College is easily the most stupid thing I’ve ever read in any of the comments sections of either of the papers in the history of both papers having a presence on the internet. To attempt to claim that Griffith College and UCD SU have the same relationship with UCD and that taking money from the former is the same as taking money from the latter… the mind boggles, it really does. You’re either very stupid or utterly naive.

    For the third time, the paper would not survive without UCD and UCD SU help. It’s plainly wrong to suggest anything otherwise. This theory of mine will be put to the test next year if/when UCD kicks The Trib out of their office in the Newman Building. Just to clarify, I really hope this does not happen. The Tribune’s journalism is, as I’ve said before, more independently-minded that The Observers without question.

    To claim it’s independent “in the sense that it relies entirely on revenue generated from advertising -the paper receives no formal funding” is a cop-out. Even you might admit this “Tom.”

  8. Well ,firstly having spent most of the year in the office with my brother (the editor), i actually do believe i have more knowledge than you have when it comes to inner workings of the tribune and when it comes to the advertising. The first comment I disagreed with was about the paper needing SU adverts, you have since tried to change the argument to one about the papers independence which i didnt even mention.

    Secondly, the quiz was held after christmas, and the paper got profit at the end of the year, so not a contradiction as for all you know the paper may not have been making profit at that stage.

    Thirdly, the griffith college comparison is confusing you, so il use another one. The interailing advert is just an advert. So is the SU advert. This has nothing to do with the papers independence, because as stated before the paper would be able survive without either. This has nothing to do with eithers affiliation with UCD as its just plain advertising.

    Finally, as stated many times before yet you fail to understand, the paper would obviously survive without the SU. It does not rely on it. The question of it needing the universitys support for office etc, can be argued, but the SU would have nothing to do with this as its between the University and the paper only. This topic is greatly described by donie in the article.

    Also my name actually is “Tom” short for Thomas, unlike you im not so insecure that i have to use a fake name to voice pointless criticisms about a topic you know nothing about. Now please stop writing stupid pointless comments.

  9. You didn’t mention it but I did. You see my opening comment was two fold. The Trib gets SU funding but it is also not independent, in the true sense of the term. Hence, I have consistently remained on those two points. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to understand.

    The paper needs money > the paper rejects sponsorship, according to you > the paper “may not” have been making a profit after Christmas > it holds a table quiz. So why did it reject sponsorship, as you (falsely, let’s face it) claim, if it was not definitely running at a profit? Seems almost as though you are talking crap!

    Right, I questioned whether you are naive or just stupid. You’ve proved to me that you are the latter. If you consider the relationship between UCD SU and Griffith College/Iarnroid Éireann to be the same thing, then you’re a moron. Next we’ll have James Atkinson claiming that joining UCD archery is as political a move as joining the KBC!

    I argued about the paper’s independence. This obviously includes its relationship with UCD, as well as the UCD SU. Very simple really.

    I’m extremely insecure, but I’m afraid it doesn’t make me incorrect Tom. Best of luck to you.

  10. “You didn’t mention it but I did” So in other words you are arguing with yourself .All i was talking about is the paper not relying on a certain advert to exist, i dont give a shit about your views on independence or sponsership (which i did not even mention like you said). Would you just give over already , 99 % of students dont give a flying fuck about what you are talking about anyway

  11. No, I’m having a discussion with you. As far as I’m aware, you and I aren’t the same person.

    You seem a bit angry; is there anything the matter Tom?

    It seems your only argument which proves the independence of the paper is that you “dont (sic) give a shit” about it. It seems like you misread my opening post and now instead of admitting this, you are angrily rebuking what I’ve written without any evidence… except for your “99%” stat; is that another “Trib insta-poll?!”

    Thanks for your time Tom. You have only proved what your apparent brother would never admit.

    All the best,
    Wayne.

  12. Oh, I’ve had reverse psychology thrown at me. In that case, I’ll never comment again!

    Still, good to see you have calmed down Tom. Good lad.

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