Closure of Cambridge University student newspaper draws heavy criticism

Former editor says death of paper will 'seriously damage' state of Cambridge student media, making the university community 'significantly less accountable'

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Tuesday 17 May 2016 10:19 BST
The Cambridge Student announces its possible closure on the front page in April (via The Cambridge Student/Issuu)
The Cambridge Student announces its possible closure on the front page in April (via The Cambridge Student/Issuu)

The students’ union at Cambridge University (CUSU) has drawn heavy criticism for its “appalling” decision to close a popular on-campus newspaper after a 17-year long print run.

The Student Publication Association (SPA) joined the paper in question, The Cambridge Student (TCS), to publicly condemn the action taken by CUSU following a council meeting on Monday evening.

SPA - the national body that represents around 130 student newspapers, magazines, and journalists across the UK - and TCS said in a joint statement the paper has a “clear and committed audience” which is proven by the paper’s multi-national award nominations.

The SPA acknowledged the challenges students’ unions can face over media funding, and said it always seeks to help in such incidences.

However, with TCS reportedly turning over a profit - the paper made £8,000, according to the last available set of accounts - the SPA said the decision to close was a hard one to justify.

Dan Seamarks, SPA’s chair, described student media as being “vital for democracy.” As well as this, he said it is essential in holding unions to account, something TCS “does only too well.”

Mr Seamarks added: “Let me be clear: this decision is appalling. The SPA stands with the #SaveTCS campaign. We are sorry their handwork, dedication, and passion for student media has been ignored.”

TCS staff had announced last month that CUSU sent an unexpected email informing the team its board of trustees had proposed a radical “reduction in resource allocation” for the paper in its 2016/17 budget which led to a hard-fought campaign to prevent the paper from moving online only.

Two-time former TCS editor, Jack May, described the decision as “heartbreaking.” Speaking to the Independent, he said: “A decision made on sound economics, in extensive consultation with us, and in good faith would have been a blessing. Instead, CUSU chose to backhandedly rush this decision through in the middle of the exam period.”

Highlighting how he felt negotiation attempts were stifled, Mr May added: “At the end of the day, it’s the students CUSU purports to represent who will lose out the most. The de facto death of TCS will seriously damage the state of student media in Cambridge and, in doing so, will make our colleges, our university, and our students’ union significantly less accountable. This is a sad day for all Cambridge students.”

Elsa Maishman, chair of the board at TCS, described the decision as “devastating,” and said: “This has been a harrowing process for all of us. We’ll be considering all other options once our exams are finished and will work with the SPA to try to ensure CUSU’s cruel and overhasty decision doesn’t spell the end of TCS.”

Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, was one of the advocates to have thrown his support behind the campaign to save TCS.

Mr Streeting - who served as CUSU president from 2004 to 2005 - told the Independent students at the university were benefitting from having two quality weekly papers.

He had said prior to the decision: “I hope a way can be found to save TCS paper edition so that it can continue its fine tradition of producing high-quality journalism and journalists for the future.”

Mr Seamarks said the SPA will continue to work with those who had hoped to save TCS to establish a way forward, adding that, if TCS decides to become independent, the SPA will be “dedicated in its support” in offering any guidance required.

CUSU has not responded to the Independent’s requests for comment.

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