Student journalists unite!

Arthur attends the Canadian University Press conference

Why is university journalism so important? Well, it’s a rather honest, frank approach to the industry. Student Journalists enjoy a level of freedom and independence that is almost unheard of in mainstream papers. While being very critical of mainstream media, student journalists are also connected to it, since they increasingly see themselves as embodying the future of the industry.

In an effort to make the most of our time in student journalism, we took part in the 66th annual Canadian University Press (CUP) Conference in St John’s, Newfoundland. Over a six-day period, we networked with university newspapers from across Canada, participated in workshops and seminars, and attended speeches from notable journalists.

University newspapers are lodestones of communication on campus, and a good paper fosters good communication. This conference provided us with a rare opportunity to speak with the staff of papers from every province. Papers ranged from small-scale publications, such as Arthur, to veritable giants such as the University of Alberta’s Gateway, and the University of Toronto’s Varsity.

From Margaret Wente to Jonathan Kay, the speeches were the most memorable feature of the conference. Margaret Wente spoke about the value of writing from your heart, Jonathan Kay emphasized the importance of considering the logic of other peoples’ beliefs and opinions, and Neil Macdonald gave a very candid, realistic talk about journalism as a profession.

Wente, a Globe and Mail reporter, gave a challenging speech centering on the recent events in Iraq. Wente’s travels in Iraq and first-hand experience led her to draw several conclusions about the situation. She offered insight into an issue that she claimed has been bogged down by so many reports, books, facts, figures and news conferences. Through an emotional account of the personal experiences of the Iraqis, Wente argued that the American Intervention was justified, since It ended a horrible regime.

Yet Wente’s claim to have “seen Iraq” remained fundamentally problematic; she saw it from the eyes of a foreigner, a Westerner, a blonde woman that spoke English and used a translator. Her “truth” about Iraq is no better than the “truth” we all see on television; as someone who stayed in Iraq for about two weeks, her “real experience” is as real as that of an American tourist in Communist China.

Jonathan Kay, arguably the most right-wing speaker of the conference, attempted to explain the major historical events of the last 15 years that led to the particular political situation before, during and after the war on Iraq. Kay argued that the end of the Cold War triggered massive regroupings within the Left and the Right, but the major blow of the collapse of communism was directed towards the Left, since it lost its claim to a successful economic alternative.

According to Kay, the Right split as well, but September 11 was the event that brought it together, united, arguably a lot more than the war on Iraq mobilized the Left. Despite being clearly a defendant of the Right and Bush’s rationale for the war, Kay’s analysis was a sound and courageous attempt to understand the war in Iraq within its broader political context.

Another speaker was Chart Magazine editor Aaron Brophy who started his career at Chart as an intern. During his six-year tenure, his magazine has moved from an independent publication to a popular mainstream magazine. He took a rather pragmatic approach to journalism, stating that one had to follow the market in order to succeed. Whereas most of the speakers were guarded in their comments, Brophy was straightforward and realistic.

CBC foreign correspondent Neil MacDonald was the most interesting and accomplished of the speakers. His enthralling speech highlighted his 28-year career in journalism. He spoke candidly about the restrictions of freedom in the media and society, particularly since September 11.

One of the biggest threats to journalistic integrity, he argued, is the diminishing independence of the media. MacDonald is troubled by the recent trend in the American media of journalists “cozying up” to public officials. “It’s our job to question the officials” he asserted.

Many well-intentioned student journalists believe that we have a role to play in speaking out against injustice. MacDonald laments that when this ideal is exercised in professional journalism, it can leave the journalist in a precarious position. Like any other career, journalism is a way to put food on the table.

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, who has been blogging here for nearly 25 years. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings on my own online platform. From 1998 until 2017, I worked as a journalist, and I have posted most of my articles in the 'News' section of this website.