Looking further than our front yards

We shouldn’t get rid of the Varsity at UTM; we need these points of contact with U of T

A good question was raised quite unexpectedly, maybe even unintentionally, this week: how wide is the scope of a campus paper?

A few UTM students started a petition to the UTM Students’ Union that asked the union to hold a referendum to have UTM students stop paying fees to the Varsity, the newspaper based at St. George, and to have that money either go to the Medium or go back in students’ pockets. UTMSU invited the petitioners, Varsity editor-in-chief Joshua Oliver, and myself to a board meeting at which the petition would be discussed. That was the first we’d heard of it, and as far as we were concerned, it came entirely out of left field.

For one thing, it was a very unorthodox way to go about it. UTMSU doesn’t actually have any authority over those fees, so the petition’s goals would be accomplished through lobbying the administration (and there’s little chance they would take the campaign seriously, in my opinion). Redirecting those fees to the Medium wouldn’t be so cut-and-dry either. Not that we couldn’t stand to improve our financial position—we most certainly could, ad revenue having fallen from $70,000 in 2009 to $40,000 the next year and never recovering—but we weren’t consulted, and I don’t think that research had been done. And finally, there was no forewarning. The Varsity is holding their fall meeting this Wednesday, and as Mr. Oliver said at the board meeting, direct routes like that are welcomed for raising complaints.

But this particular instance aside, the question at the heart of it is, in the words of Ms. Hassounah, one of the petitioners, whether there’s “any value in paying for both the Medium and the Varsity”. Isn’t the Varsity supposed to be St. George’s paper and the Medium UTM’s? How much UTM coverage is there in the Varsity? More to the point, can’t the Medium cover everything we need to know about UTM?

One thought that comes to mind is the question of resources: the Varsity’s per-student levy is under $4, less than half of the Medium’s, but they also draw it from many times the number of students and so their budget is higher. The ratio of services rendered to what an individual student pays is very good. As UTM grows, so will the Medium, but we haven’t caught up yet.

I have a different point to make, though. The (no doubt well-meaning) petitioners do have something right: if you flip through the last few issues of the Varsity, you won’t find much on UTM. Searches for “UTM” and “Mississauga” don’t turn up much that deals with our campus specifically in the past months. Last week they ran a story on UTMSU barring us from filming their AGM, after having read about the incident in the Medium.

But the key word here is “specifically”. There are two questions in play here. One is the question of what an audience can identify with most closely. This was the topic of disputes with certain editors in the past whose idea of our scope differed from the editor’s at the time. Take sports, for example. You can read about U.S. tournaments in any number of papers, many of them offering more informed coverage than we have. But nobody else covers UTM teams and games. The players, their coaches, their friends, their families, and their competition all read those articles. The same goes for the local clubs, departments, union, and so on. For things like these, yes, the Medium is the most appropriate paper.

The other question is what an audience needs to know, what concerns them. Obviously, the Medium pursues every UTM story it finds out about in that category. But UTM stories are not the only ones that affect UTM students. There’s a whole world of central U of T governance that trickles down to our campus, and frankly, most of the coverage of those stories is done by the Varsity. We at UTM may not need to read about a residence into which students are slotted without their foreknowledge, but we can certainly benefit from articles on U of T research in an entire separate science section—a section the Medium simply isn’t equipped to run yet. Maybe one day soon.

And it goes the other way too. We report on U of T­-wide happenings based downtown when we feel their impact is particularly relevant for UTM students. The installation of a new president, the creation of a new committee on mental health, the annual general meeting of the downtown union to whom we pay fees—in my view, these all require a UTM take in addition to whatever other coverage there may be, that is, a take with what UTM students feel is important. God forbid that someone should petition to take our fees away from us with the claim that the Varsity already covers these things.

The basic principle is to be careful about which information you want to have access to. UTM will always be the main interest of UTM students, but as long as we remain part of the bigger university, we should keep abreast of its news, too.

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