Strengthening student media

Student fees for the Manitoban have increased

Manitoban newspaperPhoto by Carolyne Kroeker.

As of this past fall term, student fees paid to the Manitoban have gone up from $4 to $6 a semester.

A proposal was put forward by the Manitoban to the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) in late 2014 to increase per-student funding to be comparable to other student papers in the province, thus enabling an increase in staff wages and an increase in the number and calibre of services provided by the paper.

The increase was passed by the UMSU council in February 2015 and by the university’s board of governors in June.

As was stipulated in the original UMSU motion, the additional fees have been held in trust by UMSU until a new contract could be signed to update the relationship between the student union and the Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation, the non-profit which publishes the paper.

While the terms had been settled in late 2015, it wasn’t until Jan. 19, 2016 that representatives of UMSU and the Manitoban were able to sit down and finally sign the new contract.

The additional fees are already increasing pay for reporters, associates, and editors as well as services to students, but it’s important that readers understand why.

Staff wages have been stagnant for years – prior to this month reporters’ weekly pay had only increased by $5 over 10 years – and staff have historically been drastically underpaid. While we do recognize our role as a learning paper and open forum for students to volunteer and get involved in a casual capacity, the number of hours and intensity of work that staff put into production justified a pay increase.

We’re also trying to provide increased services. That means more content and more resources dedicated towards our online presence, which is an increasingly popular format among our readers, who are primarily U of M students. As we’ve previously announced, we’re making a push to put up new content online every day and are making greater efforts to reach students through social media. We’ve hired additional reporters to ensure we can adequately cover campus news, research, arts, and athletics while also making plans to provide increased coverage of the Bannatyne and inner city campuses.

A $2 fee increase may not be a huge difference for each individual student, but it will give us a major opportunity to improve the quality and scope of our coverage. We will strive to make the difference tangible in our final product as we continue to put out a paper of substance every week of the school year.

A model for media

While the reasons behind the Manitoban’s proposed fee increase were very practical, there’s also a more abstract value in having a strong student press. That is, having a functional alternative model we can look to in producing the news.

This past week Postmedia, the media giant that owns the National Post as well as a number of the country’s most popular regional newspapers, fired roughly 90 journalists, announcing plans to merge the newsrooms of the Sun chain of newspapers with other prominent Postmedia dailies: the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, and the Province (based in Vancouver). In each of the four affected cities two papers will share a newsroom and editorial board.

Postmedia is also moving to centralize all of their sports coverage to come through a single desk in Toronto.

It’s an unhealthy dynamic, this shrinking number of voices in our news media. The remaining voices are increasingly corporate ones, as we saw when it came time for papers to announce their editorial endorsements for the 2015 election.

There may soon come a day where we recognize Canada’s media crisis for what it is and plan to rebuild. When we do, it’s important that we have a model we can look to. Something local, something funded by and produced by members of the community. If at that point people can look to student media as a functional alternative (in terms of structure, if not scope of coverage) to the status quo that is corporate, debt-leveraged, Toronto-based media conglomerates, then we might have a chance.

Thanks

A few people deserve special thanks for their work towards the funding increase.

I had the pleasure of working on the proposal with former editor-in-chief Fraser Nelund. Developing the proposal, motion, and sharing a vision for the project and future of the paper was a great adventure. I’m extremely proud to be able to oversee the changes that came of a project we started together.

Former UMSU president Al Turnbull has by his own admission had a tense relationship with the Manitoban – a dynamic that is likely true for most any UMSU president. Despite his own disagreements with the paper, stemming from coverage during his time as president, he saw the value of the Manitoban to the campus and had the strength of character to push for the motion in both UMSU’s finance committee and UMSU council. I remain in admiration of his willingness to put personal differences aside and champion the motion after deciding that it was the right thing to do.

Last year’s UMSU council heard our request (and the motivation by Turnbull) and had the foresight to see what we could do with the additional funding and what value that would produce for students. Collectively, I’d like to thank them for hearing our presentation and passing the motion brought by the finance committee.

Adrian Kaats of Kokobi Consultants assisted in the negotiation and drafting of a new contract with UMSU as part of the final stage of approving our fee increase. The relationship between a student union and an independent student paper can be tense and it’s possible, if not likely, that negotiations would have hit a brick wall without his assistance. I’d like to sincerely thank him for the role he played throughout the process.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’d like to thank U of M students for supporting the Manitoban. Not only with your student fees, but as readers and writers. This paper is made for and by U of M students and the U of M community: this is your paper. Those of us who are lucky enough to work here for a couple of years can only do our best to produce the finest possible paper and keep you informed and entertained. We thank you for the opportunity.