During the QM Elections I wrote a piece condemning the Students’ Union for imposing a raft of ludicrous restrictions on student media; to the point that any attempt at providing real elections coverage was bland, superficial, and pointless. This was my concluding paragraph.
And so it turns out we weren’t cynical enough.
Over the previous few weeks, sources have told us that QMSU staff members, i.e. Chief Executive Mike Wojcik and his merry band of self-entitled bureaucratic goons, have already kick-started plans to break apart the QMSU Student Media Group, without so much as consulting either students, or our elected sabbatical officers.
Over the next eighteen months, between now and September 2015, our eight media outlets will be radically restructured, and integrated with the ‘Societies’ sector.
Integrated with Societies? What does this mean?
All affiliated media outlets; CUB, QMessenger, Quest, QMTV, The Vulture, Politics Made Public, QM Sci, and QM Review; will be officially classified as individual societies (not student media outlets), and they will be expected to operate in the same manner.
They will fall under the remit of the Societies Officer, (not the Student Media Officer), and the Societies staff member (not the Student Media staff member).
Managing the Student Media Group is no easy job. We had our own Sabbatical Officer until 2011/12, but then it was made redundant. It took the Communications & Marketing Manager one year to acclimatise to the new student media responsibilities. There are now two additional staff members who manage student media with him.
Because the QMSU Student Media Group differs from Societies almost entirely in its aims, objectives, and operations, the Societies Officer and the Societies staff member (in 2015) will need a great deal of training, and luck, if they ever hope to successfully incorporate the needs of (now eight) student media outlets into their day-to-day roles.
At the very least, the Societies Bye-Law will have to incorporate a journalistic code of conduct, references to a different hierarchical structure (managing editors, editors, contributors, alongside traditional committee members), a media complaints procedure, training and handover procedures, a standard operating procedure, rules on advertising & sponsorship, as well as rules on content & distribution.
Additionally, the revamped funding structure will negatively affect both Student Media and Societies.
While societies were funded roughly £20,000 in 2013/14, five QMSU Student Media Group outlets were funded just shy of £10,000 in the same year. Merging the two groups means unifying the pot. But there are no guarantees that the available Societies funding will increase, or that funding will remain the same for any group from one year to the next.
This was the QMSU Student Media Group budget for 2013/14.
Note: in 2014/15, QMSU will be funding eight student media outlets.
The budget for 2013/14 for five student media outlets stood at £9,964. The budget for the previous academic year, 2012/13 was roughly £24,000. QMessenger was cut from 16 issues to eight issues. CUB was cut from seven issues to three issues. Both were able to print additional issues this year due to external funding. QMTV equipment was funded in both 2012/13 and 2013/14 by the Westfield Grant. Quest does not require funding beyond maintenance, affiliation, and online hosting. All media outlets were given budgets for publicity and online hosting.
While the survival of a society is measured by the existence of its membership base, a newspaper or a magazine cannot survive without a print run. Given that:
A) our existing media outlets have an immense reach (more on this later).
B) our existing media outlets are desperate for an increase in funding.
C) QMSU will be funding three additional magazines in 2014/15.
Where do you think most of the ‘Society’ money will be allocated? Merging the two pots will result in total funding insecurity at the start of every academic year. Both groups, and the individual outlets, will be in direct competition with one another – desperately clawing for funds.
But wait. Surely they must have consulted somebody about this? Well…
Three weeks ago (13/03/14) I was invited to join a secret review panel comprising Mike Wojcik (QMSU Chief Executive Officer), Tom Sutton (Communications & Marketing Manager), Vernon McClure (External Trustee), Sarah Sarwar (QMSU President), Charlotte Evans (Student Trustee), and Jane Slater (Secretary to the Board of Trustees). I was chosen to stand in for Tom Wyke, the Student Media Officer.
Yeah. Two students sitting on a panel of seven. Anyway. The group was formed to discuss the purpose of student media in general, to review the action plan, and to edit the poorly-written Bye-Laws, among other (tedious) matters. But the group, in reality, served as a mask for discussing the possibility of integrating Student Media with Societies. It was a rubber-stamping exercise.
This Student Media Review Panel was the first formal setting in which this merge was discussed. This is an excerpt from the unofficial official account (the unconfirmed minutes) of what happened at the meeting:
The minutes, however, do not show (my request for an edit was turned down) that I expressed a fundamental disagreement to the idea of Societies Integration. This is because student media outlets and societies have different aims, objectives, and operations. The review panel arrived at no conclusions (another way of saying we achieved nothing) and we left the meeting without fixing a return date. That was that.
Later, however, I found out that staff members had already began to internally discuss Societies integration, and had even developed an integration plan, all before this review panel was even scheduled.
The first few changes will incur this summer, with total integration occurring by September 2015. This is how.
QMSU staff agreed, last week, to commit funding for the new ‘Queen Mary Media’ websites (one for each outlet), which will be built over the summer.
They will be investing in a long-term online presence which will last for at least two-three years. By the way none of this, in case you were wondering, was mentioned on the student media review panel.
The new website will be more refined, and require less maintenance. This means for the duration of the existence of this website, new content can be uploaded and edited; but cosmetic changes such as design, layout, format, and social media integration cannot be altered. Smart, right? Just imagine where Twitter was two years ago. And what happens if Google Plus takes off?
Anyway, the new ‘Queen Mary Media’ websites will remove all mentions of the unified QMSU Student Media Group, as will the QMSU website from August. QMSU staff will be signing off on the payment for the new websites this week. By the way none of this, in case you were wondering, was mentioned on the Student Media Review Panel.
Currently, Student Media has its own section on the QMSU website, which you can find under the ‘Activities’ tab. This will be removed. The page will be redirected to the ‘Societies’ section, and ‘Media’ will become a society subcategory like ‘Faith’ or ‘Campaigning’.
These (primarily cosmetic) changes will extend to marketing student media outlets at Freshers Fair 2014. Student media outlets will not be referred to as “student media outlets” and will instead be advertised as “societies” to both new and existing members.
Finally, towards the latter part of 2014/15, the Bye-Law changes and appropriate documentation will be drawn up by lawyers and QMSU staff for Student Council approval. This includes changes to the organisation and funding structures. Integration will be fully approved in time for Freshers 2015.
By the way none of this, in case you were wondering, was mentioned on the Student Media Review Panel.
So, why are they doing this?
The main problem arises in the conflict of interests in the role of Tom Sutton, the Communications & Marketing Manager. When the old Communications Sabbatical Officer role was removed in 2012, Tom took on the responsibilities. From 2012/13 he was tasked with managing student media (including the equipment), approving everything for print, and scanning content for libel. He even has the power, if he so chooses, to withdraw content.
Meanwhile, Tom is also paid to make the Students’ Union look good in public. So when we write, print or submit content criticising QMSU, he’s realistically unable to perform either role to the best of his ability.
But a cynic would suggest, (where have we heard this before?), that the move is just as financially-driven, as it is ideologically-driven. The reality is that QMSU has been looking for an excuse to cut student media for years. CUB is the perfect example.
The (now) culture magazine, the oldest publication at Queen Mary, was nearly cut completely towards the end of 2012/13, despite winning the Best Media Outlet award that year. Thankfully, however, the outgoing editorial board negotiated funding for three issues in 2013/14. The fourth issue, which was not released due to an internal cock-up, was funded by the Arts & Culture Fund. In 2014/15, CUB will only be given enough money to print two issues.
Worse still, senior management sees student media as an unhealthy financial investment, on which they get zero return; despite the fact that the careers of dozens of students have been kick-started after their direct involvement with student media.
And yes, the move is also ideologically-driven. QMSU staff members view the QMSU Student Media Group as a group of societies which must be equally represented in the wider Union.
The role of the ‘Executive Editor’ of 2012/13 (Kaz Gander) was demoted to the ‘Student Media Officer’ for 2013/14 (Tom Wyke), in order to boost student media representation on Student Council. Tom didn’t show up to a single Council meeting, but that’s irrelevant. This, of course, was ironically after Student Council demoted the role of the Communications Sabbatical Officer (Sam Creighton) in 2011/12.
But we, over at Student Media, meanwhile, do not view Student Media as “a group of societies which must be equally represented in the wider Union.” As I have been saying, QMSU Student Media Group outlets differ almost entirely from Societies in its aims, objectives and operations.
- While societies are generally leisurely-based shared interest groups, student media outlets are work experience programmes for those with career ambitions, and for those unable to secure external work experience.
- While societies are run by members of a committee, (president, treasurer, etc), student media outlets are run by a managing editor, and members of an editorial team, who take up unpaid part-time jobs.
- While societies aim to expand in members from one year to the next, student media outlets only require a small editorial team, with a variable base of ‘freelance’ contributors.
- While societies can fundamentally exist so long as its members do, student media outlets need a constant steam of funding for equipment and print runs – because student media outlets are primarily concerned with producing content.
Need I go on?
But seriously. Why is ‘Societies Integration’ such a bad thing?
If you look past the anti-democratic, behind-closed-doors manner in which unelected staff members are toying with the Union, there are several (objective) reasons why playing Russian Roulette with the future of the QMSU Student Media Group is not a very clever move.
The QMSU Student Media Group, in its current form, is a phenomenal asset to QMSU.
Statistics show that the QMSU Student Media Group has a vast domestic, and international, reach. It’s important to note that these statistics are not freely available to the managing editors, or students involved in the advertising & marketing roles, because it would generate “unhealthy competition” between the media outlets. Only the online statistics for four of the eight media outlets were available. “Physical impressions” are not easily measurable.
Edit: Since the time of writing, it has been pointed out that online views are not a viable measure of how successful a print outlet may be. The online content is produced by the same members and writers incentivised to contribute because the outlets offer print runs. Otherwise they could, and would, just write for a blog.
In red you will find data showing the combined unique visits for the four student media outlets CUB, QMessenger, Quest and QMTV from August 2013 to March 2014. These figures represent the number of individual visitors who have accessed the outlets’ websites within the allotted time period. Data accurate as of 26 March 2014.
In blue you will find data showing the combined webpage views for the four student media outlets CUB, QMessenger, Quest and QMTV from August 2013 to March 2014. These figures represent the total views from every page & article published on the outlets’ websites within the allotted time period. Data accurate as of 26 March 2014.
Within an eight month period the website and webpages of the four individual student media outlets drew 4.9 million total views while averaging 40,500 individual visitors per month. For reference, there are roughly 17,000 students at Queen Mary.
If you take a look at the available geographical data, you’ll find that the reach of our media outlets extend internationally. The four outlets (of eight) are each viewed in more than 25 countries on a regular basis. Astonishingly, roughly 30 per cent of CUB’s online readership comes from the United States (source).
As I said, this data is not freely available to managing editors of the individual outlets, or those students tasked with seeking advertising and sponsorship funds. The Google analytics (slightly skewed) can be provided to students who make a formal request. This, again, is to discourage “unhealthy competition” between media outlets.
Funding will no longer be secure for anybody.
Currently funding is drawn up in Spring for the coming Autumn so that incoming managing editors have a feel for they will be contending with when the take up the role at the end of July. Under the new structure, however, funding will most likely not be presented until the Autumn.
Furthermore, outlets will forever be in direct competition with one other, and every other society – shamelessly haemorrhaging the available society funding. Even then, that cash won’t be enough to concurrently run eight student media outlets.
Without a free press, who else can hold the University, and QMSU, to account?
The one thing that corporate-like institutions like the University, and QMSU, care more about than money (if that’s even possible), is their public image. Without student media at Queen Mary, no other group on campus would have any interest in impartially reporting on stories like this, or this, or even this.
Without a newspaper there would be no news reporting; the same for the TV Station. Without the radio station, there would be no candidates debates, or multi-thousand pound fundraising efforts. And without a culture magazine, there would be nothing for QMistakes to take the piss out of (no but seriously CUB has a 30% American readership).
So what now? Well the integration is happening in 2015 whether we like it or not. We can only ask you to read & share, while taking away the message that QMSU is not a democracy. It is run by the Chief Executive Mike Wojcik, and a select few staff member puppets. And our elected Executive Sabbatical Team, meanwhile, probably knew just as much about this as you did ten minutes ago.
The above article represents the the views of Lauren Cantillon (CUB Editor-in-chief), Sarah Power (QMessenger Editor-in-chief), Fin Milligan (QMTV Station Manager), Carolina Santos (Quest Station Manager), Ozzy Amir (QMTV Deputy Station Manager), and Keumars Afifi-Sabet (Student Media Cohort Representative).
For a less bitter (and more heartfelt) take student media and its community spirit, read CUB Style Editor Eleanor Doughty’s new column for the Telegraph here: Student journalism: one big media family.
Disclaimer: This is not a piece of satire, nor is it an April fool’s joke. It’s been suggested that I write this disclaimer due to my continued interests in
taking the piss regularly constructing satirical witticisms. I should, finally, note (if it has not been clear) that the information from this article has come from anonymous sources from within the Students’ Union. They have told me that Sabbatical Officers were not aware of the full extent of these plans at the time of writing.
Edit: Media staff from the Union would like to make clear that there are no written plans to merge student media with societies, although active discussions will be taking place in the future. Dependent on the University grant for 2014/15 (we anticipate a funding cut) staff say that the position and future of student media would have to be considered in accordance with the new QMSU 2014-2017 Strategic Plan.