My Education Week
Cathal O’Gara, co-editor, the College Tribune, UCD
Co-editors of the College Tribune at UCD, left, James Grannell and Cathal O'Gara. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
I need as much nudging as possible to get out of bed. This morning I only hit snooze four times: a new record. I take my phone off pilot-mode and start the day.
I walk from Phibsboro to O’Connell Street to catch a bus to UCD. Unlike the rest of my generation, I never listen to music on the bus – you never know when you’re going to come across a story.
Before becoming editor of the College Tribune I ran the fashion section and would always take note of what people were wearing while alighting and boarding the bus. Today I’m listening to three students debate the latest LawSoc scandal; the story’s a dead end.
Up early to begin writing a personal statement for my masters. I graduated from UCD last year with a BA in English and am on sabbatical to edit the paper before I start a masters. I intend to apply for English Modernities in UCC.
I arrive at UCD by 10am. One of the few perks of editing a college newspaper is that you make your own hours. A furious-looking girl is waiting outside my office. She is one of the many students unhappy with the direction a particular article went. I tell her to write a response within 48 hours if she wants to make the print run. This is how most writers are recruited.
I spend the next half hour on the phone to Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) in an attempt to see if I am eligible for postgraduate funding. I am transferred twice and am unable to find anyone who can answer my question.
My co-editor holds a news meeting in the run-up for the paper’s production weekend. Everyone seems to be interested in the Union of Students in Ireland’s congress. There is little in this life that I find more uninteresting than the USI. The College Tribune was set up to hold the powers in the university and the education system to account; the USI has no power today.
Today begins in the local employment office. Editing an independent student newspaper surprisingly doesn’t pay anything, but it’s not something you do for the money. Our newspaper relies completely on advertising, so it’s always a struggle. The paper is distributed throughout UCD and we don’t charge students for it. We do not receive any money from the college or the Students’ Union.
Once we pay our costs, whatever is left over – usually not very much – is income for the editors and design editor. None of the writers receives a fee. The other campus paper, the University Observer , is supported by the Students’ Union but is editorially independent.
In the employment office I search for any relevant jobs but nothing jumps out. Businesses nationwide seem to be wholly exploiting the JobBridge scheme. There are internships where I can learn to clean floors, stack shelves and pack boxes. I also notice internships that seem to replace full-time positions like graphic design and journalism. I leave disappointed.
I arrive at the office and look through the archives for inspiration with my co-editor and partner in crime, James Grannell. Certain stories seem to appear on a cyclical basis: student union debt, threats against the grants system, society scandal and motions of no-confidence pop up throughout the years.
Flicking through the newspapers, which go back as far as 1989 when the Tribune was founded, we begin to notice names of past writers and editors who now work in national media. I find the number of Ireland’s leading journalists that started out writing in one of UCD’s two newspapers astonishing. Vincent Browne founded our paper; TV3 producer Kate Hayes; Irish Times crime correspondent Conor Lally, and the Irish Independent ’s chief soccer writer Daniel McDonnell all wrote for or edited it.
UCD's other student newspaper, the University Observer, founded by Dara O’Briain, has also produced a rich crop of talent including RTÉ journalist Samantha Libreri, the Sunday Business Post ’s Pat Leahy and Irish Times arts editor Shane Hegarty. Irish Times news editor Roddy O’Sullivan had the unique distinction of editing both UCD student papers. This year’s Observer editor, Emer Sugrue, is also surely going to have a flourishing career in Irish media.
A story from the archives on the university president’s wages catches my eye and I decide it’s worth researching. I prepare some FOI requests for the morning and spend the rest of the day communicating with advertisers and graphic designers.
The day ends on a positive note with over 20 UCD students being nominated for National Student Media Awards. It amazes me that a student can graduate from UCD and essentially acquire two separate degrees: their chosen course, along with years of experience working in campus media – something that is never undervalued by potential employers.
I am surprised that UCD doesn’t do more to engage with its student media outlets, unlike UCC, which offers media internships for students via their student magazine, Motley.
Fridays are the last-chance saloon that can make or break a student newspaper. The office becomes a drop-in centre as sub-editors come to create a general design for their sections.
At lunch I learn that a large number of students are being faced with the threat of debt collectors knocking on their doors as a result of various unpaid UCD medical bills. I find it shocking that this measure is being taken so soon against those students whose medical bills arise from counselling in order to deal with depression and anxiety disorders.
The first thing I insert into the newspaper design is the advertising. I finish any writing I need to get done by 8pm as I am aware of the pressures that production weekend will bring.
The next 48 hours will consist of coffee, sleepless nights and a lot of reading and redesign.
I spend the morning communicating with writers on their articles’ development.
By lunchtime I’ve sent close to a hundred emails, tweets and Facebook messages. I find it hard to conceive how the paper was initially produced in 1989.
We treat ourselves to dinner in the Goat Bar & Grill before returning to begin the sports section which will take us well into the night.
Sleep-deprived, I begin to edit each news article as they come through. It’s important to have your wits together so I take Berocca combined with hourly expressos. This may not seem the healthiest of diets, but I’ve been doing it since my Leaving Certificate in Davis College, Mallow, way back in 2008, and it got me an A in home economics.
At dawn I take a stroll outside for some fresh air. I pass three girls doing the walk-of-shame home. This time last year I’d probably be joining them after a post-Copper Face Jacks Babylon sing-song but, surprisingly, I don’t miss those party nights that seem intrinsic to college lifestyle.
I return to the desktop fresh-faced and enthusiastic.
Time seems to fly by today. I spend the bones of the morning re-reading articles to spot any mistakes. This will be double-checked by my co-editor before we go to print. At 6am we send the files to our printers.
I’m back in Phibsboro for 11am and get five hours of shut-eye before having to return to UCD to collect the newspaper delivery.
With the papers hot off the press, I distribute them around the various college buildings, ready for the university’s morning rush.
This lifestyle’s not for everyone, but it’s the only one for me.