In the only hustings of The University Times Editor bye-election campaign, candidates Mairead Maguire and Ailbhe Noonan faced a broad range of questions covering topics such as their manifesto commitments, the paper’s internal culture and their plans to increase its accessibility.
The hustings began with a number of questions directed to each candidate individually. Noonan went first and was quizzed on her manifesto commitment to launch a University Times app. Responding to how the app would be launched and who would oversee it, Noonan did not go into great detail, admitting that the idea was “something that’s still in progress”. She said she hoped that more STEM students would get involved in the paper and would be willing to build the app, noting their part in developing the Trinity Live app. She proposed that these STEM students would work with her and other editors and writers in the paper to ensure that the app retained the layout of a newspaper.
Maguire had a more considered plan when asked why she would be successful in creating a Board of Advisors as outlined in her manifesto, something previous editors had promised but failed to deliver. Maguire argued that it would be important to have the Board of Advisors established within the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) constitution so that there is “something there in writing that holds us accountable and we have a specific structure that we can go by that is there for years to come”. Arguing that the pandemic was a major factor in collecting the number of signatures required to hold a referendum to change the union’s constitution, she believed that “it’d be a lot easier this time”.
Culture and Coverage
The paper’s culture and coverage was a recurring theme throughout the hustings with a number of questions addressed to candidates individually and together. Noonan focused on increasing the visibility of staff and making the paper’s structure more transparent when asked questions in relation to “alleged toxic structures” within the paper and systems that could be put in place to hold writers and editors accountable. She said that it can be “really scary to make contact with people above you in the paper” and that she has “experienced that [herself]”. To counter this, she proposed “putting ourselves out there” and said that meet the editor and section editors posts could be posted to social media so that people could “put a face to a name” and would be more likely to reach out. Noonan also argued that she would publish documents outlining the paper’s complaints procedure and make the editorial and ethics policy clearer.
Maguire was asked how she would ensure that the paper’s writers handled topics sensitively. She outlined how she wanted to “create resources for writers when talking about difficult topics” so “that they feel supported personally” and their “coverage is having a positive effect”. She emphasised the importance of using the right language when covering sensitive topics.
Responding to a question on how writers and editors should be held accountable, Maguire pointed to the importance of listening to students and suggested that town halls should be held more regularly to “not have those resentments built up”, as well as reiterating her commitment to implementing a Board of Advisors.
Both candidates had broadly similar views regarding the promotion of the Irish language within the paper which they believed should be expanded.
Both candidates responded strongly to a question concerning how they would make the paper more accessible for students with disabilities. Maguire spoke of her personal experience with a disability and her professional experience of working with Trinity’s Disability Service. It is clear that this informed her plans to introduce a mentorship programme for students with disabilities, update the paper’s website by adding alternative text to images and fixing broken links, for example, and working with the Disability Service to provide accommodations to students.
Noonan also provided a detailed answer on how to improve accessibility. She spoke of her experience covering accessibility in Trinity and the cultural industry and emphasised the importance of providing clarity to students with social anxiety and autism. She proposed that this could be done by preparing FAQ documents and clarifying who to email in relation to various issues. Noonan also emphasised that accommodations such as extensions on article deadlines could be made for students with disabilities and the importance of ensuring that social media content was also accessible.
In terms of making the paper more welcoming to trans students, both candidates reiterated their commitment to stop printing with the Irish Times as a result of its coverage of the trans community. Maguire’s experience dealing with this issue was highlighted when she spoke of how she has “already taken steps to achieve that”. Noonan has also promised to cut ties with the paper, alongside a pledge to scrap the print paper altogether.
Maguire also spoke of her plan to make a mentorship programme for LGBTQ+ students where to “make sure that we know that we value their skills” and that they would be free to write about whatever they would like but their voice would be important when it came to covering queer issues.
Noonan proposed a more external approach which involved reaching out to TCDSU’s LGBT Rights Officer and organisations such as BeLonGTo to provide training to staff so that they would be better allies to the trans community.