After a long and tense breakup conversation at last Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, The McGill Tribune is finally on the road to independence.
SSMU Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that will see The McGill Tribune become editorially and financially independent by 2010, with the Students’ Society pledging to support the paper through any referenda and negotiations with McGill.
The motion, brought by most of the SSMU executive, was drafted just two days before Council – without consulting The Tribune editorial staff.
Editor-in-Chief Tiffany Choy criticized SSMU at the Council meeting for not coming to The Tribune with concerns.
“This is not the way to initiate this type of change,” Choy said.
“In a perfect world, that motion would have been scrapped entirely. It should not be initiated by SSMU; it should be [The Tribune] stepping forward and declaring its own independence,” Choy added later in an interview.
Many SSMU councillors sided with The Tribune, saying the paper should have been consulted, and that more time was needed to construct a sound business plan for the future.
SSMU President Jake Itzkowitz publicly apologized, but pointed out that the issue of independence had been brought up repeatedly in recent years. SSMU executives said they had privately discussed Tribune independence since January.
“We’ve already had the ‘How is our relationship going’ talk. This is the breakup talk,” Itzkowitz said. “A decision has to be made one way or the other.”
Both The Tribune and SSMU acknowledged that the relationship had soured in recent years.
“Right now it’s the worst of both worlds. We’re legally liable, and yet we have no control over editorial content,” said Senate Caucus Representative Erica Martin, adding that taking away The Tribune’s editorial autonomy was “a disgusting idea.”
But the process of moving toward independence remains hazy. According to the motion, The Tribune must become fully autonomous by January 2010 – though next year’s Council could move the date ahead if it chooses.
Council voted to amend the motion several times before it was passed. As it stands, SSMU will take several steps next year toward The Trib’s independence, including striking a committee to establish a business plan, initiating a student referendum, and helping The Tribune in negotiations with McGill. SSMU has also pledged to conduct consultations with students.
Itzkowitz said that SSMU could continue to provide free rent to The Trib for as long as five or 10 years, until the paper can attain financial stability.
“They’ve had a good year this year, but the newspaper business isn’t profitable these days,” he said. “Who knows how long it will take them to get on their feet?”
The McGill Tribune currently costs SSMU about $200,000, and generated about $120,000 this year, Itzkowitz said. A new fee would have to make up the remaining $80,000, meaning a new undergraduate student fee would be at least $2 per semester.
SSMU would likely not reduce its base fee, and The Tribune will have to ask students to fully support the paper financially – a prospect that worried Choy.
She pointed to last year’s Daily Publications Society (DPS) referendum to increase the fee for The McGill Daily and Le Délit by $1.50, up from its current fee of $5 a semester. Students voted against the fee increase by a 12 per cent margin.
“I feel like a lot of students agree there should be multiple venues of independent press. But whether they want to fund it is another question,” she said.
Still, SSMU VP External Max Silverman argued that with Council support for a referendum Yes committee, students would likely support a new Tribune fee. He pointed to the DPS’s successful referendum this year on renewing the current fee for The Daily and Le Délit.
“We saw a 80.9 percent vote for a newspaper that pisses off a lot of people. I can’t imagine people would vote No [to The Tribune],” he said.
The McGill Tribune was founded in 1981 after The Daily became fully independent from SSMU.