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As some of you have already noticed, and have vehemently tweeted at us about, The Silhouette no longer Livestreams every SRA meeting.
“What?! How could you do this? What did the SRA ever do to you?” The answer to these questions is: yes it’s true; we did it following the guidelines of the MSU constitution and Silhouette bylaws; the SRA did nothing to hurt us, this is simply a decision of content management.
It has been brought to my attention that there has been some miscommunication about this decision, as well as some misinterpretation of The Silhouette’s role as a news outlet on campus.
According to the MSU’s operating policies, The Silhouette “shall remain completely autonomous in terms of the editorial content and the basic format of the newspaper” (Operating Policy 1.3.1- The Silhouette, section 2.9). Being autonomous means that we have the freedom to cover what we want without the influence of the MSU. This is not limited to our print product, it also includes social media such as Livestream.
Every year The Silhouette changes its social media to reflect the feedback and interaction we get from the year past. This year, we chose to add three forms of social media — Snapchat, Instagram and we joined Reddit. We also decided to stop using one form of social media — Livestream. We made this choice because we found it was a waste of our money and effort. It costs $504 a year to have a Livestream account, and when we hosted a stream of a meeting or debate, on average our links to the stream only recieved a single digit number of clicks on social media (like our last SRA meeting Livestream which peaked at 8 viewers). Compare this to the hundreds of views we get on our own videos and the thousands of clicks we get on written online articles, and it is clear that this is not the most effective form of media to get a message across to students.
We don’t hate the SRA. We cover their meetings in whatever form we deem most appropriate — whether that is with an article (in print or online), an infographic, a series of tweets or a Livestream recording.
We would have been happy to Livestream last week’s meeting as it discussed an important student issue that we have been keeping up with online and in print, but I did not feel comfortable sending one of our staff members into a meeting before having made a concrete and written decision about the long and short term plans for the future of Livestreaming. Based on the emails I have received, the messages that have been sent to us over Twitter, and the conversations I have had in person, there is a clear misunderstanding about The Silhouette’s rights, and I was not going to send my staff members into a space where they would be bullied for exercising their freedom and editorial autonomy. Instead, this week we had a reporter cover the meeting in person, and they left a recorder to get the full meeting, since they had other school-related commitments to attend to on the night of the meeting. And for the record, no one from our staff promised to cover this meeting. I mentioned that we would consider it while at our Oct. 29 Board of Publications meeting, but no one reached out to me to confirm whether we would be there or not. If someone told you otherwise, you have been misinformed.
Just as The Silhouette acts to hold the MSU and SRA accountable, these two bodies also hold The Silhouette accountable in terms of our spending and budget. The argument for consistent Livestreaming has been that a portion of the budget has been allotted specifically to this cause — this may have been true in the past, but this is not true this year. This year we have a reduced subscription budget due to a few changes within the organization, we have not allotted any money towards purchasing equipment, and none of our job descriptions require that our staff Livestream any meetings or debates as a mandatory part of their job. It is simply not true that we are going against our budget or constitution by stopping the Livestream of these meetings.
I understand that having a Livestream of SRA meetings is important for accessibility, but making SRA meetings accessible is not The Silhouette’s job. We will make news about the meetings accessible, as well as any criticisms or praise of decisions made during the hours of meetings — but the meetings themselves? That falls on the shoulders of the MSU and the SRA. The MSU needs to make its services and decisons accessible to the public. We hold them accountable for this. This being said, The Silhouette is happy to lend its equipment to the MSU when or if they decide to do this.
The Silhouette will be covering some of the future meetings with Livestream, and other meetings through a medium of our choice. But, since The Silhouette does have autonomy, we do not need to say yes to demands related to coverage from the MSU, unless they are in writing as part of our operations. If we begin saying yes to these demands, at what point do we draw the line? At what point do we stop being a paper whose coverage is run editorially independent of the MSU? At what point do we become a mouthpiece for the MSU’s agenda and become a paper that is unable to hold our university and its students union accountable?