Membership should provide value

The downfall of a media organization and how others, like the CFS, should receive the news

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

The CFS should look at the crumbling of CUP as a sign that maybe they should provide more than fee protests to its membership. Joey Coleman/Flickr Commons

The CFS should look at the crumbling of CUP as a sign that maybe they should provide more than fee protests to its membership. Joey Coleman/Flickr Commons

It was recently announced that Canadian University Press (CUP), the national campus media collective that The Omega is a member of, is in dire financial straits and without immediate attention and aid will likely fold.

For the three years that I have been an active member of this organization, there has been constant discussion surrounding restructuring – both in fee-payment and organizational form – and yet nothing was done. Now we have a situation where the entire organization will likely cease to exist because of its own unwillingness to adapt to a changing landscape.

It used to be that a national organization for the promotion of campus media needed a centralized location from which to do business.

Back before the whole Internet thing happened, we had to send our physical papers to Toronto so they could cut stories out with scissors (or retype them or whatever… I wasn’t around for that) before sending them out via fax to membership so they could be disseminated within member papers if they were relevant to audiences other than the one they were originally written for.

This hasn’t been the case for many years, yet CUP has remained in its expensive office in downtown Toronto running a wire service on the Internet that could be run from anyone’s basement and would at best be called “unimpressive” (for example, as of the writing of this piece on Feb. 23 the most recent news article on the site about anything going on in B.C. was posted on Jan. 17) and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from its membership for the opportunity. The perception of much of the membership is that it has seen the number and usefulness of services and overall value of the organization decline while the cost of membership increases so that two people can relocate to Toronto for a year to get a leg up in their journalism careers.

And the self-perpetuating cycle – membership decline causing fewer dollars to be available, causing fewer services to be offered, causing membership decline – continues.

But it’s a collective, and in that regard, the whole membership is at fault for its current state.

It has rightly been pointed out that CUP shouldn’t be seen as a “pay for services rendered” type organization, and I completely agree, but I also think that any organization that doesn’t offer appropriate value for what membership is putting in (either in terms of effort or money) needs to be re-examined on a very foundational level.

That value doesn’t necessarily need to come in the form of services. It could come in the form of advocacy or advancement of causes, in the form of education or other benefit. None of this value is currently offered in any recognizable amount by the organization.

It kind of reminds me of another organization, actually.

That organization would be the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The CFS is a group of student’s unions (including your own here at TRU) that takes money from students in the form of membership fees and you get… what, exactly?

You get a “Drop fees!” campaign, and then your fees go up. Over and over again.

It seems as though people are starting to ask the same questions about membership in the CFS that they have been asking about CUP.

Multiple schools have recently decertified from the CFS (University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University for just two that are close to home), and many more are exploring the option (Capilano University, Kwantlen Polytechnique and UBCO could all be named just to keep the discussion in B.C.).

Let me be clear here: I am not advocating for or celebrating the downfall of either of these organizations. I love what both CUP and the CFS should be. But what they should be is nowhere close to what they are, and until they both recognize that they are not serving their membership the way their membership wants to and deserves to be served, they are heading in the wrong direction – that direction being plummeting out of the sky towards the Earth.

Unfortunately for CUP, it looks like it started that descent from a much lower altitude and needed to pull up much sooner.

Organizations like the CFS should take this imminent crash as a warning that if they don’t start providing some perceived value to their membership, they, too, might find themselves in a downward spiral that’s hard to pull out of.