To our readers:
Last night, Trinity News published a piece on the back of the leaking of a document prepared by one of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) decision-making bodies, known as Union Forum.
The “secret” report, compiled by a number of senior union officers, accused The University Times of mistreatment of staff, biased reporting, and fabrication of evidence. Written in March and presented to the Board of Trustees in April, the allegations chiefly reference the coverage of the TCDSU elections by The University Times. Ironically, this secret report, full of anonymous allegations, ended with a request for greater transparency within The University Times.
While The University Times explicitly rejects all of the allegations made in the report and referenced in the article, which broaches 3,000 words, this statement will seek to address some of the more serious allegations in a concise manner.
If true, these allegations would indeed be “serious breaches of journalistic conduct”, as they are characterised in the Trinity News article. But the allegations in their entirety were dismissed by the Board of Trustees on the basis of there being nothing to investigate, while numerous officers involved in the report – including TCDSU President, Senator Lynn Ruane, and former Chair of TCDSU Council, Colm O’Halloran – clarified and rebutted some of the points made in the article in comments on the Trinity News Facebook page.
With regards to some of the particular claims, O’Halloran as well as Molly Kenny, the TCDSU Education Officer who serves as the Secretary of the TCDSU Electoral Commission, refuted the assertion that The University Times claimed to have video evidence of Caolán Maher distributing free cans, meaning that this allegation of “fabrication” amounts to nothing more than one person’s word, that of Maher’s campaign manager, Rob Cahill. Further to this, given – as was stated in the original piece in question – a reporter from The University Times personally saw Maher hand out cans, there was no need for video evidence. A journalist seeing something happen – a first-hand account – is the basis in newspapers around the world for the reporting of events every day of the week.
The claims that any staff were fired over the course of the year are wholly inaccurate, and the paper refutes the allegation that “undue pressure” was placed on any of its staff. Only a handful of staff left The University Times over the course of the year, something that is to be expected in a staff of almost 60 editors. Very few left in any circumstances relating to disagreements. One was elected to the officer board of the Union of Students in Ireland and another received a job offer that meant they could no longer contribute as much as they had hoped, for instance. Meanwhile, the paper’s staff grew by over 15 members over the course of the year, in a clear demonstration of the enjoyable and rewarding experience that the paper can provide to all its staff. The claim made by an anonymous source within the article that staff were “reassigned positions to where they weren’t dealing with Edmund directly” is also inaccurate. One staff member was reassigned over the course of the year – reassigned to another masthead position of equal importance that involved weekly meetings with Edmund.
Many of the other issues raised in the articles can be countered by reading our Editorial Standards and Ethics Policy, which is publicly available. For instance, pieces published by The University Times, as is the case with most good newspapers, are never removed unless a significant error or misunderstanding led to its publication. As soon as we learn of an error in a piece, we correct it and note this change with a timestamped correction note. And every piece published by The University Times must be reviewed by at least two editors. In the case of articles published during this year’s TCDSU elections, upwards of ten people, at least four of whom had covered TCDSU elections before, gave their approval before an article was published, leaving little opportunity for bias – intentional or otherwise – to present itself. Articles that are analytical – increasingly prevalent in an age where everyone is bombarded by journalism in their news feeds – are not the same as articles that are biased. And articles which properly analyse the events of an election are always going to leave some parties upset with the conclusions.
If the accusations presented in the report were “serious”, then The University Times is entitled to a fair hearing from TCDSU. This involves being allowed to hear the accusations levelled against our work, and being allowed to provide a defence. At no point over the course of the report being compiled was any representative from The University Times contacted for comment or clarification on the allegations. We were made aware of the report for the first time on Tuesday, following requests for comment from Trinity News.
There is no good reason why the grievances and complaints of certain individuals, if “serious”, were allowed to be made without consulting The University Times, or allowing senior editors to respond directly to the accusations in the report. Thankfully, the Board of Trustees was able to see through the report, but that could have been further aided by the inclusion of comment from The University Times in the document, allowing both sides to contribute to the board decision.
A report that just contains rumours and allegations is still akin to an investigation. There is still a drafting process involved, and a compilation of quotes. This is why, when such a report is leaked, it can cause serious damage, especially when rejected as unmeritorious by the Board of Trustees, and individuals such as Ruane and Kenny.
It must be questioned how Ruane and Kenny presided over the compiling of such a report and its subsequent presentation to the Board of Trustees, while simultaneously thinking it was “an account of some hearsay and rumours”. This is not the kind of thing a students’ union should be engaged in.
To leak such an inaccurately researched and poorly constructed document to a media outlet such as Trinity News, Ireland’s oldest student newspaper, with its own reputation to uphold, is irresponsible.
For those unhappy with any of this newspaper’s coverage over the course of the year, this report adds nothing new. Rather than attempting to prove or investigate any claims of wrongdoing, it simply compiles them. It leaves the distinct impression that the report’s authors did not even care about the decision of the Board of Trustees – that an intentional, anonymous leak was the the desired outcome regardless.
The University Times is editorially independent for good reason: such an arrangement allows it to criticise a union that represents 17,000 students, has a national platform with a real ability to effect change, and a turnover of €1.5 million a year. Suggestions, however, that the newspaper is not accountable to anyone are inaccurate. The Board of Trustees, which was presented with these allegations, has the power to convene an oversight board. The trustees, with esteemed members like Senator Ivana Bacik and Colm O’Gorman, chose not to exercise that power. Unlike much of the work conducted by those who hold other sabbatical positions in TCDSU, everything that The University Times produces is public, allowing its readers to see, publicly, that the Editor’s election promises are being kept. And this year, the Editor has twice voluntarily presented updates on the newspaper’s progress at meetings of the union’s council, meetings that any student can attend.
Some of the great successes of journalism have come from leaks of serious reports, often concerning important and powerful figures. This is not one of those occasions. This is a series of unsubstantiated claims given the status of a “report”, slapped with a TCDSU logo and leaked to Trinity News. Rather than furthering the excellent name of Trinity journalism, it has succeeded in lowering the standard to a tit-for-tat battle based on inaccurate rumours and anonymous gripes.
By doing this, no one is furthering the good such publications have historically done for students.