Student newswire needs our help

March 24, 2014

NewspapersIt has launched the careers of countless young Canadian journalists, and now it’s facing a crisis it may not be able to crawl out of.

The Canadian University Press, Canada’s oldest student journalism cooperative, is desperately seeking $50,000 so it can remain the newswire service for dozens of university and college newspapers across the country.

As it tries to stay afloat, CUP has not only launched an online fundraising drive on Indiegogo. It’s also laid off a dozen part-time employees, including bureau chiefs, editors and support staff , sold assets and cut the salaries for its last two staff.

Although you may have never heard of it, the campus-focused co-op that was established in 1938 is a Canadian institution worth saving. It makes our campus newspapers better at what they do –giving them access to access to media lawyers, mentorship and professional development through an annual conference.

CUP isn’t entirely blameless for the situation it’s now in. There’s been a “series of missteps, misjudgments and missed opportunities,” to borrow from the Calgary Herald, that have put it in this pinch.

Over the past ten years, 35 of its member newspapers have jumped ship. Last fall, a handful of key student newspapers bailed on the cooperative, and formed a competing news wire service, creating an automated RSS feed of news stories from member newspapers that’s free of charge.

It didn’t help that the organization was recently audited by the Canada Revenue Agency, and was slapped with a $9,000 fine for mistakes with its tax. Add to that yet another year of projected deficits, and you get a piling on effect for a student news organization that’s genuinely in trouble.

What started as a “cash flow crisis,” in the words of CUP president Erin Hudson, turned into “an existential crisis.” Here’s hoping it can survive.

The student news cooperative isn’t isolated from what’s been happening to mainstream print media across the country. As the rest of the news marketplace goes through seismic changes, so have they.

The Canadian Association of Journalists estimates about 2,000 journalists have been laid off or taken buyouts since 2012 – as newspaper adjust to a new reality where Canadians still want news, but they don’t want to pay for it.

CUP’s advertising arm, Campus Plus, filed for bankruptcy last June, and the cooperate has been in revenue trouble ever since.

How CUP helps campus newspapers and student’s journalism careers is immeasurable.

In my university newspaper days, CUP was the standard by which good student reporting was judged.

Every single one of those skipped classes and bleary-eyed all-nighters to produce the latest edition was worth it when one of your stories would get put on the CUP wire and be re-printed by other student papers across the country.

CUP brought professionalism and experience to students still learning their way as fledgling reporters.

Students newspapers need a sustainable national news wire that fills gaps in news coverage and tell stories that aren’t being told in the mainstream press.

There’s no doubt the Canadian University Press needs to go through some big changes to adapt and thrive in the new media marketplace. It’s in the best interest of our campuses, our communities, and countless future journalists, that it does.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. Past columns can be read at Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord

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