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Orbitoil: Union paper runs low on funds

Tom Matthews
Friday 29th January 2010

The Orbital and its supplementary magazine Junction 13 are to become online-only publications amidst funding problems and an Editorial resignation.

The announcement, made at the SURHUL General Meeting on Tuesday 12th February, stated that the move to an online-only format for the student-funded publication would only be temporary whilst the Editorial Board increased their budget through ‘external funding avenues’. However, contradictory statements from various sources interviewed by The Founder indicate that this may not be the case.

A further announcement at the General Meeting indicated further problems at the publication, with Deputy Publications Editor Keta Hunt resigning from her position with immediate effect, stating she had been “demeaned” and “overlooked” by Publications Editor Nick Stylianou.

Mr Stylianou, who took over as Editor of the publication after an unopposed election last year, made the decision, against the will of some within SURHUL, to change The Orbital to a Maga-Newspaper format, printing two publications in place of the previous one. Yet barely six months after this decision, Mr Stylianou cites environmental concerns as one of the primary reasons for the change to an online-only format.

Whilst the change of format did not significantly raise printing costs, the increase in publication frequency and a lower-than-expected advertising revenue meant that the publication has now hit severe financial trouble. David Cummins, Vice President (Communications and Services) at SURHUL told The Founder: “The Orbital has not run out of money. The budget line for the publication is still above zero, by approximately £2,500.” He also stated that concerns were raised “last term” that The Orbital was not gaining enough advertising revenue to continue in the current format. SU President James Pidgeon told The Founder the Union had “tightened The Orbital’s financial expenditure.”

Former Deputy Editor Keta Hunt revealed: “David Cummins has requested that the remaining money be left where it is to fund the first issue that the new Editorial Board will produce in the summer.”

The statements from Hunt and the SU seem contradictory to the comments made to The Founder by Editor Nick Stylianou, who stated “We merely feel that it is the perfect time to engage with students in a new form, one that is far more sustainable and friendly to the environment…We would like to reflect the changing demands for media today.” Clearly this is contradictory to statements from Ms Hunt and SURHUL, stating that the Union had intervened and requested that no more money be spent.

Mr Stylianou’s words in recent days also seem contradictory to those made both prior to, and shortly after, his election win. In his speech at Candidates Question Time, Mr Stylianou stated his aim was to “improve how [the publication] is running at the moment: online and in print”. The Orbital website also clearly states, in a passage written by Stylianou, how the aim of the publication is to “inform the students of Royal Holloway, both online and in print.” So why the sudden change of heart?

In a conversation with a member of The Founder Editorial Board in September 2009, Mr Stylianou stated that he would need “about £1,000 in advertising” for every edition of the publication, in order to make it financially viable. With the credit crunch still biting business hard, the advertising market has notably decreased in the past 12 months, with companies as big as ITV and Channel 4 expressing concerns about the future of their funding.

It thus remains unclear as to why, in such a tough economic climate, members of the Editorial Board did not decide to reduce expenditure, rather than to increase the frequency and size of the publication.

Former Deputy Editor Keta Hunt told The Founder: “Nick will maintain that he chose to print The Orbital on a more frequent basis in order to ensure that the publication remained up-to-date and relevant…This is a fantastic aim but only if it could be maintained throughout both terms.”

Whilst the publication will continue as an online-only publication, it seems strange that the former Deputy Editor, the VP ComServ and the President of the Students Union all seem to disagree with Mr Stylianou’s insistence that the move to an online format was made purely to embrace new media technologies, and out of a recently-found concern for the environment.

Mr Stylianou also informed The Founder he had managed to secure a Benefactory Grant from the RHUL Annual Fund in order to purchase new equipment to “set up The Orbital for years to come”. However in a statement, Royal Holloway told The Founder: “We had not heard that the Orbital would not be producing any more issues this year and can assure anyone who asks that the agreement to give this money will be re-examined in light of the development.” Students we spoke to questioned why a publication which simply failed to properly manage its finances should be bailed out by a College fund.

Mr Stylianou told The Founder the money would be used to ensure the publication “can offer up-to-date training to budding journalists for the next decade and beyond”, but rejected claims that this amounted to providing “journalism training for a select few” with College funds.

According to the minutes from the last SURHUL General Meeting, Mr Stylianou insists he is developing a new form of publication and is ‘so excited might wet himself’.

At the same General Meeting, Deputy Editor Keta Hunt announced her resignation, with immediate effect, sparking fears of deeper problems within the Editorial Board of the publication. A letter of resignation, read out by VP ComServ David Cummins stated Ms Hunt had been “unable to achieve [her] aims” due to being “demeaned” and “undermined” by Editor Nick Stylianou.

In her letter of resignation, Ms Hunt claims the duties of the Deputy Editor were severely curtailed by the alterations to the constitution made by Mr Stylianou, and also maintains that “the Editor has shown very little public respect to me…I have been demeaned by the Editor on several occasions, both in person and via email, to a point that has made other board members feel uncomfortable.”

Mr Stylianou insists that some of the points raised by Miss Hunt about the operation of the publication “are erroneous, and should be taken with a pinch of salt.” He also states he believes Ms Hunt resigned due to “personal constraints”, which Ms Hunt vehemently denies.

Ms Hunt, in a statement for The Founder, said in response to Mr Stylianou’s comments on her resignation: “Nick was very much aware that I was not happy with the way that he was acting towards me…I explicity told him that his actions had upset me during the summer but he chose to, in his words, ‘politiely ignore’ that information.”

Mr Stylianou has wished Ms Hunt all the best in her next endeavors, whilst Ms Hunt wished “everyone at The Orbital the best of luck” saying how “everyone on the Editorial Board works really hard and they have been doing a fantastic job of producing a publication to a very high standard.” Ms Hunt’s replacement will be elected at the next General Meeting on 2nd February.

The Orbital will continue to be available to students as an online-only publication through their website www.theorbital.co.uk