With a motion which threatens the very existence of student media set to be proposed at next week’s Students’ Union Council, co-founder of The University Observer Dara Ó Briain writes an open letter to UCD students highlighting the importance of student media.
Hello you. I’m that bloke off the telly. No, not that one, the other one, the one who went to England. That’s the one.
More pertinently, I’m also a UCD graduate and in 1994, along with a friend of mine, Pat Leahy, I founded The University Observer, the paper you have in your hands at the moment. We felt that the college needed a professionally run, regular newspaper that would use the best student journalism to do all the things a great newspaper can do; to campaign and entertain and investigate.
Right from the start we said that while this paper would be funded by the Students’ Union, it would be editorially independent from it, even if that independence often led to clashes with the Union. Editors have been fired and editions have been threatened with being pulped; this is all part of the fun of working in a student newspaper. Even though we had our clashes however, the paper has kept going for 17 years now, making it something of a college institution.
Now though, some within the Union want to take this part of college life and shut it down. They are proposing a referendum to be voted on by yourselves, to remove their obligation to fund a newspaper for you. They want you to help them to kill off this paper.
Now, I have no idea what the specific beef is with the paper. These fights come and go, almost as fast as Union officers, and newspaper editors, come and go. Importantly though, these squabbles and spats have never threatened the long-term existence of the paper. No short-term gripe has been deemed sufficient to close down the college paper. That is, until now.
I am so very, very old now, and probably unlikely to see another summer, but please take this long-term advice from me; a strong college paper is a Good Thing, and it makes UCD a better place. Our university has always been vibrant and discursive and filled with competing ideas. And it is no coincidence that the national debate in Ireland is dominated by UCD. Economists, historians, journalists and, yes, television hosts and comedians, all graduates of this, the most important University in the country. The University Observer has had its part to play in these debates, and could continue for many generations of students.
I am deeply proud of the talent and energy and almost 20 years of student effort that have gone into building this paper. You should be proud of it too. In fact, all within the Students’ Union should be proud of it. If it comes to a vote, I hope you can remind them of that.
Thanks for reading this, D.