The global economic woes affecting daily newspapers are also hitting the student press in Canada. In early September, editors of the Ubyssey at the University of British Columbia announced they were following the lead of several other student newspapers by quitting the news-gathering cooperative Canadian University Press.
During the summer, the Ubyssey’s editorial board decided the paper’s bottom line could no longer afford the membership fees for CUP, despite the fact that the paper was one of CUP’s founders back in 1938. “It’s economic. Our fee last year was $7,000 and that’s a significant chunk,” said Geoff Lister, the paper’s coordinating editor, who pointed out that most student papers have seen their advertising revenues go down and budgets shrink since the financial crisis hit in 2008.
CUP fees are indexed according to the size of the university paper, which, Mr. Lister pointed out, meant his paper was paying 20 times more than some of the smaller student newspapers to belong to CUP. The cooperative also provides services that the Ubyssey did not need, such as legal advice, since the paper retains a lawyer, and CUP’s mentorship program, because UBC’s journalism alumni already play a mentoring role. However, Mr. Lister says they will continue to attend CUP conferences by paying the non-member fee. “CUP does conferences very, very well,” he said.
Erin Hudson, president of CUP, said the co-op regrets the loss of the Ubyssey but said she wasn’t surprised when the decision was made official. “They had communicated their financial situation before their decision was made,” said Ms. Hudson, adding, “Those signs and symptoms are not necessarily unique to the Ubyssey.” But, she said CUP remains strong with 60 members and is currently discussing a number of initiatives.
Other large university papers have cancelled their CUP membership, too. “There was a major financial crunch and we had to cut budgets,” said Josh Oliver, editor-in-chief of the Varsity at the University of Toronto, who pointed out student papers face the same problems as the larger newspaper industry. “I still believe in a national media … Our relations with CUP are friendly.”
Although the big university papers generate enough material from their own campus or city to fill each edition, there are times when they do need to cover events happening elsewhere. An example would be last year’s student protests in Quebec, according to the Ubyssey’s Geoff Lister, who has contacted ex-CUP member papers to see if some sort of informal reciprocal relationship could be set up to handle those occasions without charge.
Those efforts have led to the creation of a new group dubbed the National University Wire composed of the Ubyssey, the McGill Daily, the Varsity, the Gazette at Western University, the Dalhousie Gazette, the Martlet at University of Victoria and the Link at Concordia University. The Varsity’s Mr. Oliver said the name NUW was chosen because the group needed “a tagline” to meet the rules for crediting stories they use from other publications, but said it is not meant to be a replacement wire service.