Looking back for the year ahead

An open letter to the community

And we’re back! Everything is starting up again, and your student newspaper is no exception. A few points of business to start things off:

We are doing video! Like your happy grandfather, determined to stay relevant, we are belatedly and enthusiastically expanding our digital reach. Keep an eye out for videos long and short on our social media feeds and message us if you want to get involved with that.

Other positive news: the crossword is back! Your new humour editor Carly Penrose will be creating topical and local crosswords from scratch on a weekly basis. Also returning is Rev. Perkin’s enduring column, Through Stained Glass.

The covers will continue to exhibit the beautiful works of student art you have come to know and (hopefully) love. This year, as a step toward fairer compensation, we are paying non-staff contributors $50 for cover art.

Expect a renewed emphasis on columns and contributors. The newspaper will be drawing from a wider range of student voices to foster a more diverse and representative space.

Relatedly, an important focus this year is addressing and learning from past criticisms of the paper. Student voices should guide how we operate, so it’s worth taking time at the beginning of the year to look back.

Two main opinion pieces bookended this discussion last year: The first, a staff editorial at the beginning of the year, reorienting the paper from objectivity to fairness. The second, an open letter to the editors in chief from Willa McCaffrey-Noviss printed in the final issue. Her piece called for “less biased representation of student opinion in the Argosy,” specifically relating to the paper’s coverage of Divest MTA events.

Both pieces were created by writers I am personally close with who have established track records of seeking to better their community. This is my response to both, and my open letter to the community:

I stand with last year’s editors in their desire to “uphold fairness” and to “be a mouthpiece for student activity at Mt. A.” I disagree, however, that I get to choose what is fair or not, especially when we go to press on an issue that divides the campus, such as the Divest MTA events that Willa refers to.

Objectivity, neutrality, fairness and bias exist in a highly contested arena in journalism. And no one on this staff (made up of part-time, non-professional students) claims to have the answers.

Mount Allison and the Argosy are not alone in holding this conversation. This year we saw Desmond Cole’s attempts to negotiate what it means to be a journalist for the Toronto Star and an advocate for the Black Toronto community. Kovach and Rosenstiel, authors of The Elements of Journalism, are quick to point out that there are on record “nearly eight decades of skepticism about the notion of objectivity. What dominates the argument, however, is largely a confusion.” And just last year, Steve Woodward, Pulitzer Prize-winning UBC journalism instructor described to the CBC  how readers are seeking out different content and preferentially selecting “authentic” and “human” news.

Journalism is changing, and so are the rules. That said, there are straightforward practical solutions for improvement. This is what we are doing to be better:

Part of the issue last year stemmed from how politically homogenous the newsroom was. It’s hard to be unbiased when everyone selecting the stories and editing them falls on one side of an issue.

To address that, we have reached out on two fronts. First, we recruited aggressively over public platforms to applicants outside our social/political circles. Most of the staff are students I had not spoken with before this year. Second, we are heavily investing effort into getting contributors writing and/or getting them in the office. By diversifying the viewpoints of the people doing the pitching, editing and writing, we hope to be more representative.

At the end of the day, unlike the Globe and Mail, or the Tribune Post, or any publication in between, I think it’s irresponsible for us to editorialize in a way that alienates readers. Because unlike those papers, our readership can’t just get their news elsewhere. We’re directly funded by every student on campus and the only source of independent Mt. A news.

This is especially important now when it is easier than ever to filter out dissenting opinions. As discourse becomes polarized it becomes harder to view arguments as constructive instead of confrontational. And here it’s important to qualify. A lot of discussion is polarized because there is a wrong side to be on: white supremacists, climate change deniers and meninists can see themselves out. Let’s not make false equivalencies. But different ways of approaching social issues like student employment, environmentalism on campus  or housing in Sackville are helpful and much needed these days. We can be a good host to these conversations.

I think it’s important to point out that most articles are not directly political, but that coverage of issues that divide the campus tends to fall under the greatest amount of scrutiny and calls for more rigorous journalism. Politically speaking – meaning student politics, MASU politics and administrative politics – I would like for this paper to continue to strive to be a place where:

  1. students can find relevant information and critical thought they would otherwise not have access to, and
  2. all non-hateful voices can be heard in representative, open and helpful dialogue.

On a personal note: running a 146-year-old paper for 2,100 students is daunting. I’m nervous and excited. I’m very confident in our team and happy to be working alongside such a competent editor as Mirelle. I look forward to giving back to a community that has given me so much. I hope the paper informs, entertains and challenges you this year. As always, thank you for reading.

See you on campus,
Adrian Kiva

On Sept. 21, 2017, a condensed companion piece to this letter was published in print, signed by the entire editorial staff.

Edited by Mirelle Naud and Adrian Kiva, editors in chief

Adrian Kiva