CUP needs to survive to help student journalism thrive

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Photo: flickr/Andrew Louis

The organization I work for, Canadian University Press, is in the midst of a debilitating financial crisis. Without support from you, it won't recover.

CUP is a democratic student-run organization with representatives in every province. It was founded in 1938 on New Years' Day by a group of student editors who were attending a conference for student politicians.

Back in the 1930s, CUP was tasked with keeping students informed of what was occurring on campuses thousands of kilometers away. A newswire service was set up and communications systems built up over the decades. Student newspapers became members and owners of the cooperative, making them eligible for CUP's services and eligible to vote on the direction of the organization.

Now, 76 years later, CUP's mandate has broadened significantly. CUP exists to unite, strengthen and support student press in Canada. We are the only organization dedicated to doing so and unique in the world.

CUP offers its members access republishing rights to all other members' content, access to a curated digital publication of members' content and original content, legal services from one of the top media firms in the country, mentorship and professional development opportunities, free entry to a series of campus journalism awards, student journalism events throughout the year and Canada's only annual student journalism conference.

So how did this great, long-lived organization fall into financial ruin? Well, like most things, it was a fatal combination of factors that landed CUP in its current predicament.

The first was significant change within the industry itself. With the widespread use of the Internet, media outlets everywhere continue to struggle with a strong business model in the digital age. For CUP, the ease of sharing information online eclipsed its essential role as a news service.

Then, in 2008, the decline of print advertising began to be felt in earnest -- revenue dropped and spending on anything but the necessities quickly became impossible for most media outlets. 

The two straws that broke CUP's back came in 2013; a CRA fine and the bankruptcy of its advertising arm, Campus Plus. The one-way road to financial crisis was paved.

You may be thinking, as many have said to me directly, give up now -- why not let CUP die a dignified death as many organizations do after they've outlived their use? My response is a resounding no. CUP cannot die now. It hasn't outlived its use, in fact quite the contrary. Student press in Canada will be significantly weakened if CUP's support disappears.

Several of our members wouldn't have a paper to publish if it wasn't for CUP. Others will be left alone next time their student union, printer or administration takes issue with their coverage. Furthermore, there is still a fundamental need for a national organization that brings students from all over the country together, amplifies their individual voices when necessary or speaks as one when warranted.

CUP trains young journalists in their craft and provides them with opportunities and resources for improving themselves and their communities by improved coverage. Without CUP, many young journalists would have had to spend a significantly larger amounts of time and money building their networks, credentials and experience before they could break into the business.

That's why I'm not giving up on CUP. We know that a national community of young people organized and managed by young people means there is a lot of strength and talent ready to rebuild this organization.

The road to rebuilding is tough and necessitates hard decisions. In the last two months alone we've had to lay off part-time employees, cut full-time employees' salaries, eliminate a physical office space and restructure our full-time employees from two to one. Nothing has been easy, but it does mean we are now, once again, spending within our means.

The next step is transforming CUP's work to bring it in line with the work our members need us to be doing most -- providing accessible support and resources and maintaining a national sense of community between our members. There's so much room for improvement and so much potential to achieve the goals.

The time is now, but we will need a leg-up. Please help us support young journalists on their journey to wherever they're going.

Erin Hudson is the President of Canadian University Press and tweets at @EK_Hudson

Photo: flickr/Andrew Louis

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