CUSU say TCS has been losing money for several years

An internal CUSU email seen by Varsity sheds light on the “structural problems with CUSU’s funding model” that have resulted in plans to end the print edition of The Cambridge Student.

The email was sent to members of the TCS Trustees and CUSU sabbatical officers by CUSU’s General Manager, Mark McCormack. It explains what he characterises as the “difficult situation” that has led to the “reduction in resource allocation for TCS in the 2016-17 budget”.

It lists the “reduction in revenue capacity of some income streams”, the “increased size of the sabbatical team” – including the new Disabled Students’ Officer role – the “increased organisational cost-base”, and the “lack of university support” as part of this situation.

These problems, which the email claims have “been understood for some time”, have led CUSU to consider a number of cost-cutting initiatives.

These include “restructuring staffing in the business team”, “forming a shared service with the GU, with profit and cost sharing”, and, in the short term, “reducing the size of the sabbatical team”, including deferring the election of the next CUSU Coordinator until a “fuller review of the constitution takes place” before the start of the next financial year.

The proposal that “TCS go online”, which would bring to an end the newspaper’s 17-year print run, was justified on the basis of the assertion that “the cost of the paper has for some time outweighed the revenue it brings in.”

The nature of the financial situation is disputed by the newspaper’s editorial team.

While the email notes that “profit margins aren’t the most important criteria [sic] for CUSU’s decision-making”, it explains that CUSU “does try to gather modest surpluses in the very least so that we can continue to fund work for students.”

McCormack listed the other options available to CUSU as “reduc[ing] the size of the staff team, which supports other core activities from the compliance to mission advancement […] or, rais[ing] affiliation fees, which would risk disaffiliation.”

He added that he “sincerely hope[s] that the TCS Board will understand that the proposal of a move to online is regrettable yet necessary” in financial terms, and that he had “continued very hard to sustain the paper in its current form.”

Zoah Hedges-Stocks, Editor-in-Chief of TCS in Michaelmas and Lent 2011, described how she found the suggestion that the print production could be closed down with so little warning shocking.

“It could be the beginning of the end for TCS, and it would be a very sad loss for Cambridge student journalism if it were to go. The university has such a strong journalism scene precisely because the competition between Varsity, TCS and The Tab drives up standards.”

She also stated: “CUSU’s behaviour appears to be both unconstitutional and bafflingly illogical. Unlike many student papers in the UK, TCS is still turning a profit.

“Not only does it make money, but alongside the other student mediait serves as an important tool to hold the union to account.

“It seems very strange that a financially-troubled student union would want to cripple something that makes money and helps students.”

Jem Collins, Chair of the Student Publication Association, said: “‘It may sound overblown, but student media really is vital to both university life and democracy, keeping students informed and holding power to account.

“It doesn’t just benefit those who participate, but the whole student body. For SUs to try and pull the plug on funding for something this important is frankly an embarrassment, especially when you look at the consistent quality of the work at TCS.”

Rob Cashman, CUSU’s Education Officer, stated: “No decisions have yet been taken on whether CUSU will continue tofund the print editions of TCS.

“We have informed TCS of the rationale behind what is a proposal from the Board of Trustees, and we are committed to continuing to meet with TCS so that together we can explore ways in which CUSU can undertake its activities in a way which makes best use of its limited resources.”

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