Musings on Defeat

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Guest commentary from Muse editor Kerri Breen

Just last week, as part of students union elections, there was a referendum on increasing the media levy paid each term, from $2 to $4. The levy is used to cover costs associated with producing the Muse, the student newspaper of Memorial University.

On the face of it, it seemed like a reasonable request. In fact, it would have made sense to just increase the fee and be done with it. After all, the Muse delivers good value with every issue.

However, any increase - even one this small - requires the approval of the student population. Hence, the referendum.

In the vote, held March 17 and 18, students rejected the increase. The paper must now deal with a shrinking revenue base, while struggling to maintain a quality product. Kerri Breen, the talented editor of the Muse, was crushed. I invited her to write a guest column, to get some frustrations off her chest. Her commentary appears below.

When I found out we lost, it took everything I had not to cry.

What does $2 a term mean to MUN students? Apparently more than the Muse is worth.

On March 17 and 18, students the less than 2,400 that bothered voted almost 60 per cent against a measly fee increase of $2 to sustain their campus paper.

Students already pay $2 for the Muse, and another two bucks for CHMR-FM. We were asking for an initial increase of $4 per term, and incremental increases based on the Consumer Price Index thereafter.

MUN students pay by what my research concludes is the lowest media fee in Canada. Calling the Muse underfunded is like calling the desert hot.

Our printing costs are going up in September, national ad revenue is down, and we pay our staff some of which are full time, like me patronizing honorariums.

Each week students grab papers fresh off the distro cart as they are being delivered. Compared to other student services, the Muse is widely known and widely enjoyed.

Or so we thought.

We did all the usual promotion: A Facebook group, cheeky posters, ads in the paper we even made a YouTube video. But at the end of the day, it seems not enough students knew about our cause or cared to support it.

Was our message lost? I heard students thought we were asking for $2 per issue, and thats why they voted it down.

One MUN Students Union board member, Alexander Troake, was actively campaigning against us. He wrote on his Facebook wall that he wanted the paper to cease to exist and called us worthless. He also campaigned face-to-face, claiming that the Muse was anti-everything and encouraging students to vote against us.

He did not form an official no committee that would have meant he could be accountable for spreading his vitriol instead he went the informal route.

It was a deliberate move to undermine our operation based on his interpretation of our coverage of him. It was also an abuse of power. Other board members were informally supportive of our increase, but the union has yet to claim any responsibility for Troakes dickish conduct.

But enough about him. He wasnt the only problem and it would be foolish to scapegoat.

Some students expressed issues with how many copies we print. At 12,000, the Muse is one of the biggest publications in town, and though all leftover papers are recycled, the publication does have an environmental impact. But the Muse cannot significantly reduce distro without extra funds to offset the decrease in ad revenue. This is not something students want to hear.

Not that many were listening anyway less than 20 per cent of students voted. Are the results a completely valid measure of how the readership feels about the paper?

Right now I would say no, but on Thursday night, after I found out the results, it sure felt like we had failed at more than the campaign.

I called my best friend, a former Muse editor who now lives in Toronto. Thats when I permitted myself to bawl like a youngster.

How could anyone deny the paper the publication that we put so much thankless work into the right to a continued existence at the low, low price of two bucks a term. It seemed so cruel.

The Muse is what it is. Im not saying its the New York Times, but it deserves to exist, even if we do screw up the crossword more often than not. There are things going on at MUN that students deserve to know about that the rest of the media is missing.

Who keeps the students union accountable? Who covers student activism and campus sustainability? Who can run the word douchebag in a headline?

Consoling me, my friend said there was a positive side to our defeat. We now have enough sincere feedback to allow us to make a better paper. Its with this new inspiration that we head into our 60th year of publication.

Its bittersweet, of course. Morale is low, but were sticking together, as usual.Journalism is not the kind of field people get into to make friends, but Ive ended up making the best Ive ever had.

Working at the Muse isnt a job for most of us. The pay is horrible; the reward, if there ever is one, is often indirect. It takes a lot of courage to put your name out there every week. The only almost-logical reason to work at the paper is a belief in the value of the student press and a respect for those who are brave enough to sustain it.

It sounds tragically corny, but its this sincere love of newsmaking and good friendship that will keep the paper going fee increase or not.

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  • Andrew
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Sorry to hear about this. The Muse is a valuable resource for students both reading and writing the paper. It's what gave me my start in print media, and I was really glad to have that opportunity.