Ontario’s student press has been dealt an unprecedented blow to its abilities to fulfil its core mandates of holding university stakeholders accountable and keeping students informed.
A provincial policy directive called the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) implemented this fall allows students to opt out of certain previously mandatory ancillary fees, thus completely upending the funding model for many student groups across Ontario — including student journalism.
Due to Ford’s directive, campus publications have had to rapidly readjust to a new financial reality of cuts and reduced operations. While perhaps the initiative was not intended to attack student media, that has been the unfortunate outcome of the SCI.
In the final days of August and early September, campus newspapers across Ontario were campaigning for opt-ins from their membership and started the #StayOptedIn campaign. We set up numerous information avenues and unique fundraising campaigns, such as Patreon pages and projects dedicated to explaining who we are and why we matter.
In many cases, student newspapers have been around for more than a century. Founded in the late 1800s, The Varsity and The Queen’s Journal have printed in three centuries, seen two world wars and are weathering the decline of print media. Other papers, like the Fulcrum, the Charlatan and The Eyeopener started printing at critical junctures in the last century, from the start of the Second World War to the countercultural revolution in the 1960s, respectively.
At some point in all of our histories, students established mandatory fees through democratic referenda. The SCI purports to stand for student choice, but it actually reversed student decisions, stripping future generations of resources that are crucial to many individuals at one point or another.
While one individual may not directly benefit from a service, its funding is crucial for other students, such as paid student jobs, student refugees and equity centres for LGBTQ2A+ or racialized students. Many will reap the benefits of a service only when it’s convenient, even after having chosen to not support them.
In the case of student journalism, when we break stories, community members can hear and read all about it, and not have supported the student journalists behind it.
Both on campus and nationally, student journalists remain an essential mechanism for accountability, not only for institutions, but for their communities at large.
Without campus newspapers, stories about public health, institutional accountability, mental health and more may never reach the national audiences that they have.
At Ryerson, The Eyeopener broke a public health story in 2018 confirming bed bugs in one of the university’s academic buildings — despite the school’s investigations.
At the University of Toronto, The Varsity has been following the university’s unpopular mandated leave policy and the subsequent student backlash around mental health services.
At Queen’s University in Kingston, The Queen’s Journal broke a story about a chemistry PhD student who pleaded guilty to poisoning his colleague with lab chemicals.
At Carleton, in Ottawa, The Charlatan brought crucial updates and held power accountable when a false alert was sent out by the university safety services about an attacker loose on campus.
Across the city, La Rotonde broke the news when fraud allegations rocked the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa last year.
At its heart, journalism works to bring new ideas to the public’s attention, shed light on unheard stories and voices and promote debate on the complex issues facing its readership. That’s especially important on university and college campuses, a formative stage for our country’s future leaders.
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Without a free and healthy student press, students across the province lack a platform to share the stories that make our campuses such vibrant places to learn and grow. If the student press slows to a standstill, thousands of voices of a wide and diverse range will be silenced, and the ideas and arguments that grow from our work might never come to life in the first place.
If you want to support student journalism, do it the same way you do any journalism: read our stories, learn from the countless articles we’ve published around how the SCI has negatively affected our students, share them online or send us a few dollars. Because a blow to campus media is a blow to journalism as a whole.