In a huge loss to the Canadian student media landscape, and to the Canadian post-secondary student community at-large, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) voted in favour of a referendum to defund their independent campus radio. This is part of a larger trend of apathy (and outright antipathy) towards student journalism, and it’s beyond time to address the need for student media.
UOSU had their fall 2023 by-election in October, and students voted to halt the $4.99/year levy that funded CHUO 89.1 FM. While this was passed with a majority of 69.7 per cent, the voter turnout was only 7.7 per cent.
In effect, less than 5.37 per cent of their membership decided to shut down a valuable campus institution, refusing to pay the equivalent of two iced coffees per year. What is clear is that only a little over two per cent of students actually cared enough to try and protect it, while about 92 per cent were completely apathetic.
This is by no means an issue limited to the University of Ottawa. Ask student journalists across the country — including your peers here at Imprint — and they will all share the dichotomous experience of feeling underappreciated yet having to put their best foot forward due to the importance of their work.
Student media is the only level of media that actively serves our college and university campuses. Alongside informing the community, we are responsible for keeping our institutions and their leadership in check. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I will assert that no one else can keep our universities and student unions accountable like we can.
At Imprint, we have brought attention to important student issues like the lack of public access to WUSA board meetings last fall, and how WUSA and UW were hindering advocacy projects undertaken by the student-run services.
A lot of major stories have been broken by student media across the country — the recent hate-motivated stabbing here at UW (Imprint), the violation of the sexual harassment policy by a professor at the Univeristy of Toronto Mississauga (The Varsity), the inhumane hazing incidents at sororities at the Univeristy of Alberta (The Gateway) and Carleton University (The Charlatan), and many more stories that no one else could prioritize.
Beyond informing the community in real time, student media also has the very essential responsibility of record-keeping. So much valuable history of university and college campuses would be forgotten if student media doesn’t or isn’t able to do its job properly. We’re always covering major events and stories of campus to ensure that there is an independent record of them.
At universities like ours, which don’t have a journalism program, student newspapers do the job of a J-school. I have learned everything I know from Imprint, as have many Imprint alumni. It is this experience that has led me to an internship at The Toronto Star, and for this and every future professional development, I will remain indebted to Imprint.
Of course, there is no denying that as student journalists, we are also supposed to work towards ensuring that we actively engage the community and do a thorough job of actually covering it. Accountability is important everywhere. As student journalists, we want to hold our institutions accountable, so it makes sense that we would need to be held accountable to the community we serve as well. Healthy and constructive criticism of our work is not only welcome but absolutely necessary for our jobs.
However, beyond that very vital commitment and accountability, we also need resources to be able to do our jobs — human and capital.
Until earlier this year, most of us at Imprint used to work on a volunteer basis, which among other things, meant that the number of people who could afford to contribute their time were limited and those who could were inevitably overworked.
We need to be able to provide more people the opportunity to work in student media — and be compensated for it — so that we can commit to serving our communities.
I assure you the drive is there. I have had the pleasure of interacting with student journalists across the country, as part of conferences and as the current Ontario representative to the Canadian University Press, a co-operative of student newspapers across the country. What I have seen is that most of us want to ensure that our communities are well-informed.
I have regularly seen the passion firsthand here at Imprint, where I have worked with many talented student journalists in my various roles including section editor and managing editor.
My time with student media is soon coming to an end but Imprint will always be where I got my start. Even when I am no longer working here, I want to see it thriving and positively contributing to the UW community, just like I want the larger Canadian student media landscape to continue to actively serve our university and college campuses across Canada.
After seeing all this passion on this side, seeing the apathy on the other side really hurts. It is my sincere request to everyone to please support your student media in any way you can — opt in to the publications fee, contribute to the publication, advocate for its growth, and read and share the work your student media is doing.
What happened at the University of Ottawa is a heartbreaking example of the indifference that student media experiences, and I hope we can move towards a future where its need is appreciated and it receives the support it deserves.