Independence

This editorial has been endorsed by 54 current and former Editors-in-Chief of the paper, spanning seven decades: their names are listed at the end of the editorial.

Durham Students’ Union says that its purpose is to be “the champion of every Durham student.” It is there to represent us and to act in the student interest. But in the last two years, Durham SU has axed the budget of this paper, thwarted the democratic will of our editorial board and sought to snatch the legal right to our name.

Back in 2020, Palatinate’s print funding was cut entirely by Durham SU. This decision was never reversed, meaning the newspaper now survives through individual one-off donations and advertising funding.

At the time, our then-Editors wrote that “print journalism is a crucial skill, and the chance to learn about it at undergraduate level has, and always will be, invaluable.” Most would recognise that this sentiment remains true today.

The total withdrawal of financial support made clear that Durham SU had abandoned its central commitment to the newspaper. Hours of student-led donation drives and advertising strategies, at times stymied by reluctant accounting on the SU’s part, has placed the paper on a more stable financial trajectory.

In the last two years, Durham SU has axed the budget of this paper, thwarted the democratic will of our editorial board and sought to snatch the legal right to our name

Yet the informal contract with the SU – funding in exchange for organisational oversight – had been shattered. For the paper, there now seems very little to gain and an increasing amount to lose by remaining a part of the organisation.

Successive Editors-in-Chief have explored the possibility of operating outside of the SU, with plans for independence finalised in spring of this year. These were not rash proposals, rushed through in heated moments of frustration. They included financial projections, thorough legal advice, and plans for a new Board of Directors, comprising former Editors-in-Chief and respected local figures. Our hope is to maintain a constructive relationship with Durham SU, while having more scope to scrutinise an institution which, for the sake of students, is certainly in need of accountability. Having a newspaper with a duty to probe the publisher on which it was financially dependent was always an uncomfortable dynamic. We would like to leave that behind for good.

When put to a vote of Palatinate’s editorial board, the proposals were overwhelmingly supported and brought to Durham SU for consideration. Instead of recognising the considered will of a student organisation to chart a new course, the plans were faced with rude dismissal. The referendum was patronisingly rejected, yet the 221 votes in favour of our independence represents almost double the number of votes for the SU’s sabbatical postgraduate officer in July.

At this stage, without the knowledge of Palatinate’s Editors-in-Chief, Durham SU applied to trademark the paper’s name, seeking to assert its right to a brand created and maintained by students for nearly 75 years. The cost of legal fees for this move were over £400.

Our position is clear: Palatinate will become an independent newspaper and leave Durham Students’ Union

We are in the process of disputing this trademark application, which would give Durham SU a right we do not believe it has over our independent student-led journalism.

Though it is clear that independence is necessary, we do not underestimate its challenges. There will be huge demands on funding, an imperative to institute sustainable structures of governance and an unbroken obligation to Durham students. This is not, however, an untrodden path: Oxford’s Cherwell and Cambridge’s
Varsity, among many other student newspapers, are independent of their SUs.

We understand the significance of this course of action, but believe we have no alternative given Durham SU’s behaviour towards us.

Most articles in this paper must be read and approved by Durham SU staff before going to press, including this one. When we gave notice that we planned to report on their actions in print, we were told that we would “take the consequences” of doing so. So be it. Our position is clear: Palatinate will become an independent newspaper and leave Durham Students’ Union.

This editorial has been endorsed by the following list of current and former editors. This list will be updated with responses.

Nicole Wu
Joe Rossiter
James Tillotson
Poppy Askham
Max Kendix
Toby Donegan-Cross
Tim Sigsworth
Tash Mosheim
Tim Mitchell
Jack Taylor
Cameron McIntosh
Eugene Smith
Ryan Gould
Charlie Taylor-Kroll
Olly Mawhinney
Josh Smith
Tom Fenton
Christopher Somers

Justin Villamil
Ben Hamer
Jill Ward
Harriet Line
Flo Snead
Delaney Ross
Hannah Shaddock
Daniel Johnson
Hugh Anderson-Elliot
Jack Battersby
Rosanna Boscawen
Alice de Coverley
Vincent McAviney
Christopher Lamb
Stephen Naylor

Kitty Donaldson
Katie Kouchakji
David Nield

Andrew Hebden

Stuart Rayner
Ian Hall
Robert Plowman
Sarah Richardson
Toby Beresford
Jon Walsh
Helen Lees
Aisling Irwin
Wendy Pilmer
Jeremy Vine
Adrian Wells
Tim Burt
Joel Donovan
Tim Alden
Caroline Gluck
Steve Dickinson
Chris Ramsden

Cartoon: Rosie Bromiley

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2 thoughts on “Independence

  • Can I sign too? I’m a former editor. Kitty Donaldson

    Reply
  • Please add me to the list of former editors who support the move.

    Reply

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