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The end of my time as Editor of Redbrick has arrived and, needless to say, it has been a fantastic and rewarding year. From covering campus news, organising General Election coverage, and putting the newspaper together every fortnight, it’s been nothing short of an exciting year to be involved.
Of course, the paper would not have come together without the wonderful team that Redbrick has. Everyone involved has done a truly remarkable job. Everyone involved in Redbrick is a volunteer, balancing the production of the paper with their studies, and this is no easy task. When a problem arises or a breaking news story appears, our writers, editors and photographers rush to get our coverage done. You can’t underestimate their commitment.
However, I’m afraid, this Editorial is going to turn somewhat bleak. Editing the paper has not come without its trials, and certain experiences could have been easier. During the Summer break, I was asked to come in for a meeting with a Guild Sabbatical Officer regarding proofreading. Fortunately, I was in Birmingham at the time, so I obliged. However, when I sat down for the discussion, the topic was entirely different from what I’d anticipated. I was told, quite simply, that the Guild would not be supporting the financing of Redbrick after Christmas. Needless to say, this was not good news, and I began exploring other options for financing the paper. This, fortunately, was not necessary, as I was called in for another meeting the following week, where I was told by another Sabbatical Officer that this was not the case. Rather, there was a funding shortfall for the newspaper and, instead, the number of papers we would now produce would be fortnightly. This was not desirable, of course, but it was far better than the original proposal. It was a lack of advertisements that had caused our shortfall, so our committee began to contact companies to try to increase our advertising revenue, only to later find that we cannot organise the paper advertising ourselves. I’ll return to this.
Upon return to University in the new academic year, we set about producing our first edition, only to come across another problem: the Guild’s insurance policy for the Redbrick website had expired. For us, this means that we have no coverage if we accidentally publish something libellous or defamatory, or break the law in some way, the Guild – as Editor-in-Chief – would be sued for some money. Seeking to reinsure the website, the Guild Sabbatical Officers presented us with a proposal: that every article that would go online would have to be approved by the President or the Vice President (Activities and Development). Furthermore, all these articles would have to be sent at least two days prior to its publication.
We could not accept this proposal, as we had too many concerns. Firstly, it would have limited our publishing ability, particularly in terms of live blogs and breaking news stories. Secondly, it is completely impractical; the Sabbatical Officers already have enough work to do without the addition of between 40-50 articles a week to proofread. Thirdly, it completely undermined the authority and legitimacy of Redbrick as a (fairly) independent newspaper. Finally, requiring approval of every article to be published by Redbrick put too much power in the hands of our Sabbatical Officers. They could hypothetically veto an article if it was critical of them, or if it might damage relations with the University, with no valid reason. Bearing in mind that the Sabbatical Officers already have the final approval of our paper edition, all of Redbrick’s publishing ability would be transferred from Redbrick into a political organisation with its own aims, which we sometimes criticise. We rejected this proposal and, as far as we know, negotiations are ongoing (we haven’t heard anything for months).
Having come across this proposal, however, I immediately contacted other student newspapers through the Student Publication Association, asking for their thoughts and advice. This, somehow, got leaked out of the group, and I was contacted by a national newspaper to talk about it, as part of a wider article on censorship of student newspapers. I declined to comment, respecting how our negotiations were ongoing. This national newspaper, however, summarised our position, anonymising us. This was when I received phone calls from the Guild Sabbatical Officers, calling me up to their offices. I went there, knowing what the discussion topic would be (despite not being told), only to be shouted at for talking to other people about the proposal. Since then, I have refused to attend a meeting alone with the Sabbatical Officers that has not been organised on my terms.
We now return to marketing. One of our key priorities this year was to ensure the continuance of Redbrick in the new academic year by attempting to coordinate some advertising. We introduced a marketing team and later, at our AGM, introduced a Head of Marketing (we’ll be electing this in the new year if you’re interested!). This was when we found out that the best we can do is pass on the advertising requests to the Guild marketing department, and no more than that. This is what we did, getting somewhat confused when these never translated into actual advertising. This lack of advertising continues to manifest itself (ironically, not in this issue), especially when we found our first issue of 2015 completely void of adverts. Yet, it’s not that we don’t receive advertising requests. I am of the understanding that advertising has actually been turned down by the Guild this year. Why? Because it was for an external letting agent, and the Guild has its own letting agent; it would be contrary to the Guild’s interests. Bearing in mind that one of the reasons our funding was cut was that the Guild ‘did not want to be the main financial contributor’ to Redbrick, this decision did not make sense.
So, we’ve asked (many times) to be involved in these marketing decisions in some way. We’re currently not allowed; we can’t organise advertising, and we can’t see the financial accounts for advertising in Redbrick. We’re the only Guild society that cannot see, in entirety, its own finances.
I don’t want to end on such a bleak note however. Despite these difficulties and frustrations, being Editor of Redbrick has been fantastic and it will be something I miss. Nevertheless, I don’t want to finish my year without holding the Guild to account for these decisions.
I could not have got through this year without Redbrick’s amazing committee, editors, writers and other contributors. Good luck to my successor, Matt Moody, who I know will continue to produce such a high-quality student newspaper. On a final note, if you’re not involved in Redbrick yet, get involved now – you’ll not regret it.