In what Opinion Editor Matt Chesser called a “do-or-die” situation, The McGill Tribune’s future will be determined by a SSMU referendum next week. Should the referendum question pass, the Tribune would become fully independent after 29 years as a publication under the auspices of the Students’ Society.
The referendum question asks SSMU members if they would pay a $3 fee each semester to replace the financial support the Tribune currently receives from SSMU. The fee would supply approximately $120,000 per year to the newspaper, covering the majority of the Tribune’s operating costs.
The referendum is the climax of a two-year process that began in 2008 when SSMU mandated that the Tribune become an independent organization, a response to both the newspaper’s and the Society’s mutual conflicts of interest.
“We think [the Tribune] is a very excellent paper,” said SSMU Vice-President Clubs and Services Sarah Olle. “However, we think that it is inappropriate for a student government to have a newspaper that reports upon that student government.”
SSMU also no longer wants to be legally liable for any content printed by the newspaper.
“If we print something that is libelous or slanderous, then SSMU as the organization is the one that would be sued for that,” said Chesser, who served as editor-in-chief last year.
While editors are optimistic that the question will pass, they said that a defeat would strike a serious blow to the newspaper’s future. The Tribune is currently dependent on SSMU for its office space, insurance, and advertising manager, all of which the newspaper would be responsible for as an independent organization. Without either the support of SSMU or a student fee, the Tribune would run yearly losses of approximately $100,000.
“Honestly, if the Tribune were to fail in this referendum, I don’t see how it can continue to exist in the form that it exists now,” Chesser said.
As a result, the newspaper plans to run an extensive campaign this week, involving handbills, canvassing, and posters featuring the slogan “29 Is Too Young to Die.”
Chesser calls vote “do-or-die”
Should the question pass, the Tribune’s editorial board and coverage would remain substantially the same, but a number of other things would change.
“We will become more directly accountable to the students,” Chesser said.
Like the McGill Daily, the Tribune would have a board of directors elected from the student body. The board would have yearly meetings at which students would be able to propose changes to the newspaper’s constitution and by-laws.
The newspaper has also had to engage in various negotiations to prepare itself for its new costs. To aid in the process, SSMU would exempt the Tribune from paying rent for its Shatner office next school year, loan it money to cover its initial insurance costs, and donate the office equipment that it currently lends from SSMU.
Olle was optimistic about future relations between the two organizations.
“I am sure that we will continue to have a positive relationship,” she said.
Administrative changes aside, editors have agreed that the Tribune’s independence would be a significant part of its development as a publication.
“We really do think it’s a great idea,” said Thomas Quail, the current editor-in-chief. “It really legitimizes us as a school newspaper. The strongest school newspapers across Canada are independent organizations, and at 29 years old, it really is a natural step.”