For Ailbhe Noonan, being the subject of a University Times article, rather than the writer, is a departure from convention. Admittedly, not much about the situation in which the paper’s Deputy Radius Editor finds herself is conventional. Only a few weeks have passed since Trinity students decided to re-open nominations for Editor of The University Times, a decision that will undoubtedly be enshrined in the annals of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).
As a candidate, Noonan herself also breaks the mould. If elected, she would be the first Editor not to have served as Deputy Editor – and, even more unusually, she would take the paper’s top job without even having sat on The University Times masthead, or section editors.
“I don’t shy away from the fact that I’m not experienced, I embrace it”, Noonan says. “I have a new voice to bring, but there’s also a lot that I need to learn.”
Nevertheless, the two positions she’s held in Radius, the paper’s culture supplement, stand to her, as does the fact she has written for other sections and been involved in coverage of recent TCDSU elections.
I don’t shy away from the fact that I’m not experienced, I embrace it
What’s more, she’s willing to learn: “I would love to work with the current Editor and Deputy Editor, just because they are the people who would know the most. I’d also love to work with the News and Sports Editors in particular, because those are the two sections where I don’t know very much about them.”
Although the role – which involves the successful candidate taking a year off books – is a demanding one, Noonan does not seem overly concerned: “I got thrown in the deep end when I first started and I have come this far.”
So, evidently, Noonan is not fazed by a challenge. When quizzed on the bread-and-butter issues that the Editor has to deal with year upon year, she is willing to go against the norm: “If it comes down to it, I think it might be a better idea to move digital to create almost like a digital archive or digital repository.”
Expanding on this, she explains her vision for a University Times akin to “the other Trinity apps like Trinity Live, Trinity My Day”. While this would represent a major change for the publication, Noonan tells me that she is keen to retain some elements, for example, “the layout experience”.
Her vision for The University Times is a paper akin to ‘the other Trinity apps like Trinity Live, Trinity My Day’
Nevertheless, as she points out, such a transition is unlikely to go smoothly as there is currently a constitution mandate for The University Times to publish physical papers during term time. Becoming online only would involve “either an understanding to kind of get around it or a referendum in which the entire student body votes to change that line of the wording that frees us from our kind of obligation”.
One advantage of a move online is that it could, as Noonan observes, “boost engagement with graphic designers, with STEM students or science students who have an interest in digital technology”. It would also, she adds, enable The University Times to resolve a controversial issue and cut ties with the Irish Times, which it has thus far failed to do.
However, should a move online not be feasible, distancing the paper from the Irish Times would likely be more challenging. But she will pursue it nonetheless: “I think, I’d like if at all possible … I would like to possibly cut ties with them.”
“We’re [currently] mandated to print a paper once a month, but if the print edition is hurting people, and it’s causing people to cross a picket line, to have to choose between seeing their writing in print with us and their own moral compass or their own sense of identity, then there has to be something that we can do.”
Indeed, this stance fits well with her plans to increase transparency within the paper and to move away from the image of the Editor as “this bastion figure who’s just kind of known as the editor”. Noonan plans to achieve this by increasing the paper’s use of social media and appointing a social media team.
The big thing for me would be increasing lines of communication
Social media, Noonan explains, will be key to increasing transparency and providing those outside the paper with an insight into how it works. Indeed even small things such as putting up posts introducing members of staff, including the Editor, would, Noonan thinks, make a difference. She tells me: “The big thing for me would be increasing lines of communication, and also making our editorial and ethics policy much clearer … that’s as simple as putting that in a pinned tweet in our Instagram bio, highlighting it very clearly.”
Through features such as a “weekly roundup of our top stories this week”, Noonan also plans on utilising social media to draw attention to sections of the paper that may receive less attention.
Certainly, Noonan is an untraditional candidate in an untraditional election. But she seems confident that voters will trust her decision to openly “embrace” her lack of experience, and she’s sure her “cultural background” in Radius will stand to her.