The Phoenix wants to be independent and autonomous from the SU because we want you to have a better paper.
The Phoenix is a service provided by SU to you. That service is a newspaper. In order to be a legitimate news and content source for you, we cannot be controlled by a political interest that we also cover. When the people we have to write about are the people who are signing our cheques and helping us out, there's the potential for shenanigans and conflicts.
Currently, we are a publication of the students' union. That means that our budget is run and controlled by the UBCSUO, like the Well or the bookstore. They never specifically tell us we cannot print something, and they have never outright told us we cannot spend the money allotted to us.
However, there is confusion over where we stand with the Students' Union. As an organizational component of the union, we give them the back two pages every issue, at an estimated advertising value of $16 000, for free, but we are charged a lease, as though we were an external organization. We are expected to report to the students' union financially like a component of the organization, but we are also expected to do so without the support of a full-time staff member, unlike components such as the Well or the Bookstore. We also do not have our surpluses returned to us; they go back into the general SU budget, even though we are not funded out of that budget—we are funded directly by students through the Student Media Fund into which you pay.
This has caused strain between the Phoenix and the students' union. There are many ambiguous things that the students' union does for us that depend on what has been described by them arbitrarily as a “working relationship”. These include things the SU pays for us, such as our membership in the Canadian University Press national student media cooperative. The SU donated money for us to attend the most recent CUP national conference, argued for us to be the sole beneficiaries of the students' media fund, their staff provides us with advice—if the relationship is good—and until this year, they have sanctioned us as the exclusive media outlet for students on campus. This "working relationship" has become strained as a result of editorial content in the newspaper.
This past year, when we have been more critical of them, they are understandably less inclined to help us out. We think this is an inherent problem to the currently structured system. It's a frustrating situation for everybody. Inside the students' union, we hear that they wonder why they support a group like us that says things they don't like. This creates a hostile environment for us. As one SU executive suggested to us, we are attempting to shit where we eat.
The problem is that we can't stop shitting or eating, so we need to create a situation that works for everyone. We have suggested to the students' union that we remain under the SU banner, but that we can run our own finances, so we will be financially and editorially autonomous, with the Student Media Fund bylaws acting as the framework for financial oversight.
The Ubyssey Publication Society (UPS), who publishes the student paper at UBC Vancouver, has offered to act in an advisory role to help us arrange our business office, and we are in discussions to potentially enter into a partnership that will allow them to help us grow until we can stand on our own, as an independent and autonomous newspaper. That being said, we plan to be financially independent of the UPS in as many ways as possible, including opening separate corporate bank accounts.
We plan to overhaul our governance—we will provide a constitution and financial documents to prove to the and to students that we are accountably and transparently governing the Phoenix and its money appropriately. The UPS has an annual audit through an independent accounting firm, and our finances would be checked over either by the same firm, or another independent firm.
We would like to work with both the UBCSUO and the UPS to become a better newspaper. This arrangement will allow us to grow and benefit from a wealth of expertise in student newspapers while remaining partners with the SU, which, in its various forms, has been involved with the Phoenix from the beginning.
We, as a paper, want to be able to maintain a sole relationship with the students' union: the journalist-source relationship. It will make our life easier, it will make their life easier, and it will allow us to provide the students of UBC Okanagan with an autonomous and independent newspaper. We deserve it. You deserve it.