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The rise and fall of USyd’s video powerhouse

Update grew faster than perhaps any other student media outlet in the country. Then it stopped.

After a barnstorming start, USyd Update has all but disappeared this year. After a barnstorming start, USyd Update has all but disappeared this year.

Two years after its creation, the University’s first student video organisation has disappeared off the grid. No videos have been posted since May. Their website has expired. Update’s Facebook reach and YouTube views have plummeted. The regular feed of independently-made content has halted altogether, leaving both Update’s team and the public in the dark. So what happened to the fastest growing journalism outlet on campus?

USYD Update was brought to life by Rémy Numa and Cooper Darling-Blair, now fourth year Media and Communications/Law students. The founders saw a gap in student video publishing on campus. After months of planning, they negotiated a room in the Education Building and assembled a small team to cover production, post-production, editorial, marketing, finance, and governance. The premise was clear: Update would not be owned by the University, Students’ Representative Council, University of Sydney Union or any political group on campus. They would hold a non-binding agreement with the Faculty of Media and Communications (MeCo) for the ‘office’ and production equipment, but MeCo would have no control over the project itself.

After three semester-long seasons, Numa and Darling-Blair resigned from their posts in December last year due to work commitments. They left Update having accumulated 250,000 views on its videos and standing as the fifth most popular student media platform in the country.

“When we left, there was just the most amazing team of 60 people … Given the talent that was in the show, we were very confident that a good leader who put time and effort into the job would absolutely be able to [take over],” said Numa.

The executive producers were replaced by Lachlan McKirdy and Liam Bruton in a ballot vote a month later. McKirdy and Bruton had previously paired together during an internal campaign to keep USYD Update’s current name after Numa and Cooper-Blair proposed to rebrand the organisation as ‘Outsider’ in October 2016.

Semester one soon rolled around, and Update’s fourth season bore no pilot. McKirdy was producing the musical theatre society’s Grease at the time, which was performed during week three of semester one. The extensive preparation and commitment this role demanded made McKirdy an absent figure during most of Update’s preliminary editorial meetings. Bruton, who was in the process of renegotiating Update’s deal with MeCo, was also a rare sight on Update’s communication channels.

“[Running Update] is not easy to do, especially with the team size, and because it’s a relatively new organisation, some of the processes are still new and are still being refined… we were definitely conscious that we wanted it to survive beyond our leadership,” reflects Cooper-Blair. 

Adding to Update’s woes, a recently purchased DSLR camera was out of action due to a manufacturing fault. Phil Glen, a MeCo staff member, believes the error was either a mark on the sensor or sun damage. Update was offered temporary camcorders of lesser resolution, but McKirdy and Bruton rejected them in order to maintain a consistent recording style.

“At the end of the day we took the decision to wait until semester two to release content as we didn’t want to compromise the quality of the program, and we wanted to spend some time recruiting in some more people into the organisation over the holiday period,” says McKirdy and Bruton.

The current executive producers also attribute the the lack of videos to a sudden homelessness throughout semester one.  Update’s previous room, Education 226, was repossessed by the Media and Communications Department to house the University’s radio studio a week before semester one began. In July this year, McKirdy and Bruton arranged a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Sydney Union (USU) to secure a room in the Holme Building as the new Update base. 

“We never agreed that [Education 226] was a permanent home… it was always with the caveat: ‘please, look for your own space’. There was resistance [from Numa and Cooper-Blair] about going to the Union… but a bit of pragmatism [from McKirdy and Bruton] had to come into play”, said Glen.

In exchange for 24/7 access to the Holme Room 3.23, Update must include an acknowledgement credit in all videos. Their videos will be shared on the USU’s channels and Update must also collaborate with the Union’s own news platform, Pulp Media.

“[W]e only entered into this agreement because the USU was approached by Update for help. We were of course happy to oblige given we see USYD Update as a valuable student media organisation on campus” said Courtney Thompson, USU president.

Both the USU and Update’s executives maintain that Update will continue to exercise complete editorial autonomy. According to internal posts briefing the Update team, any negative stories about the USU will be reported with full integrity. The same arrangement lies with Pulp Media, however all their content must be checked for liability infringements by a Board Director before publishing. McKirdy and Bruton emphasised that the USU will have no say or connection over Update’s content — the executive producers alone will continue to approve videos. However, given Pulp’s situation, it remains unclear as to whether this liability arrangement will change in the future.

“It was unfortunate the amount of issues that arose in semester one and disappointing that it took us some time to find a solution,” said McKirdy and Bruton.

“However, the agreement with the USU has resolved this issue, with both parties very clear on USYD Update’s editorial independence and what is to come for the organisation”, they said.

Despite what felt like an abrupt cease in production, both current and former team members are hopeful that Update can once again pick up its momentum. A workspace has been assigned, the camera fixed and a crew of roughly 60 per cent tenured and 40 per cent recently recruited members has been assembled. The ghost of Update’s online presence can only be attributed to personal commitments, lack of communication and a poorly timed chain of bad luck. However, a new page has turned and according to McKirdy and Bruton, a schedule of three to four weekly videos will recommence from week four onwards. All parties involved hope for Update’s successful resurrection.