Palatinate demands independence

By and

The Editorial Board of Palatinate, Durham’s student newspaper, has voted by a margin of 97% to leave Durham Students’ Union and become an independent newspaper.

It follows Durham SU’s application to trademark the newspaper’s name without the knowledge of Palatinate’s Editors-in-Chief, after plans for independence were proposed in March this year. The trademark application is currently being opposed.

48 current and former Editors-in-Chief, including broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Vine, have endorsed an editorial in today’s edition calling for Palatinate’s
independence and accusing Durham SU of “abandoning their central commitment to the newspaper” when print funding was withdrawn completely in 2020. This was blamed on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the SU saying that it would work to develop the digital side of the product.

In the 2021/22 academic year, Durham SU offered Palatinate a £5,000 grant, however this was not allowed to be spent on print editions until all donations were exhausted. Only around £600 was able to be spent, mostly on awards ceremony tickets for the Student Publication Association national awards, where Palatinate wins included ‘Best Website’ and ‘Best Newspaper Design’. The remaining funds were returned to the main Durham SU budget at the start of the current academic year, for which Palatinate has been told it will receive no guaranteed funding whatsoever.

The Editorial Board voted by a margin of 97% to leave Durham Students’ Union

Durham SU were widely criticised for the funding cut in 2020, which threatened Palatinate’s constant print presence since its founding in 1948. Subsequently, the newspaper’s physical editions have been funded entirely by donations and advertising. In the absence of print funding, successive Editors-in-Chief formulated plans to leave Durham SU, including proposals for a new Board of Directors comprising former Palatinate Editors and respected local figures, sustainable funding streams and legal diligence on articles.

Today’s editorial states that when 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.”

Responding to the claim, a Durham SU spokesperson said: “Palatinate is, and should be, a student-owned and run newspaper owned by students through the
membership charity which exists for their benefit. The role of all of us who are involved in running and governing Palatinate is, ultimately, to preserve it as a community asset for future generations of students.

Palatinate has been funded, supported and developed as an asset for the benefit of student by Durham SU for decades and has been incredibly successful under the current support framework.”

This led independence proposals to be rejected out of hand, with Durham SU clarifying that it would not consider any attempt to leave the institution. This was despite the fact that, in June, Durham Debating Society was allowed to leave the SU to reaffiliate with the Union Society.

48 current and former Editors-in-Chief have endorsed an editorial in today’s edition calling for Palatinate’s independence

In the summer, it was discovered that Durham SU had applied for the trademark rights over Palatinate’s name. This application was submitted without the knowledge of the newspaper’s Editors-in-Chief, who discovered the move despite SU attempts to withhold the information.

Today’s editorial argues that owning the trademark right “would give Durham SU a right we do not believe it has over our independent student-led journalism.” The current Editors-in-Chief have submitted an application of opposition to the Intellectual Property Office, who will now facilitate mediation talks between the newspaper and the SU.

The co-signatories of the editorial represent seven decades of Palatinate’s history, with the earliest having edited the newspaper in 1965. Also featured is James Tillotson, founder and Station Manager of PalTV, the newspaper’s television outlet and current NaSTA Broadcaster of the Year. All signatories agree that there is “no alternative” to independence “given Durham SU’s behaviour” towards the newspaper.

Editors-in-Chief and said: “Since funding was axed in 2020, the relationship between Palatinate and Durham SU has become critically unbalanced. Our existence in print can no longer be guaranteed by the institution.

“There has been a disappointing lack of engagement on key issues from Durham SU, who chose to quietly attempt to seize the legal rights to our name through a
trademark application rather than address our grievances.”

Independence plans include proposals for a new Board of Directors comprising of former Palatinate Editors, sustained funding streams and legal diligence on articles

In response, Durham SU said that it has “engaged at length with issues raised by Palatinate’s Editors, including dozens of emails, provision of information and hours spent in direct conversation. Durham SU has compromised and offered additional support to Palatinate Editors on a range of issues raised by them.”

The Editors continued: “Durham SU do not want to own the trademark to Palatinate in order to protect student-led journalism, but simply to block a democratic vote to leave the institution. The SU would rather cling to one of its assets than allow the newspaper to thrive as an independent publication.

“The challenges of independence are clear, but we are confident that Palatinate can rise to these as one of the country’s leading student publications. A significant number of student newspapers exist outside of their SUs, and we have spoken at length with a number of Editors from these publications to ensure that we understand the demands of leaving Durham SU.

“At every stage, we have aimed for compromise with Durham SU because the student interest should be at the heart of both of our missions. A constructive relationship is not only possible but central to our conception of independence, however the SU have consistently shown an unwillingness to cede ground.

“We are certain that an independent Palatinate would better hold Durham SU to account for its actions, something that is undoubtedly in the student interest.

“We are clear that Palatinate will leave Durham SU and become an independent newspaper.”

“Durham SU chose to quietly attempt to seize the legal rights to our name through a
trademark application rather than address our grievances”

Joe Rossiter & Nicole Wu – Palatinate Editors-in-chief

Responding, a Durham SU spokesperson said that Palatinate has “shown its editorial independence in frequently publishing criticism of Durham SU, the Student Officers, Durham University and other organisations who impact on the lives of students. It is in the student interest that it continues to do so long into the future.

“Durham SU has spent thousands of pounds of resources supporting the paper every year and continues to do so.”

Photography of current Editorial Board holding 75 years of print, by

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