You can’t be transparent and silent

When parties refuse to speak to each each other, the coverage doesn’t get more objective. It gets one-sided

As an editor-in-chief who stepped into the role after three years not as a journalist but as a copy editor, and who abstained on his own candidacy, I’ve been grappling with the question just as apparent to me as to our potential readers: why do we need a campus newspaper at UTM?

If it sounds adversarial, it’s because it is, a little. I first worked here as I would at any job: I did the work and was paid. The above question is a live one for me. But it’s also a question that, over the last month—in which I’ve been plunged into a thousand things I’ve never had to do before, learning to be publisher, board member, human resources, media liaison, and more—I’ve begun to answer.

If not for the campus newspaper, there would be very little space for a platform for public representation of various organizations. That became clear as we were investigating the recent resignation of the UTMSU orientation coordinators, Lara Stasiw and Neelam Din, which you can read about in the news section.

Ms. Stasiw and Ms. Din emailed the frosh leaders first to tell them what had happened, and emails followed from Raymond Noronha, the president of UTMSU, and Walied Khogali, the executive director, to the frosh leaders and the executives of academic societies and clubs. The discrepancy between the two versions is best summarized by the fact that each party accused the other of harassment and by the conflicting attributions of the resignation to “personal reasons” (Mr. Khogali) versus “the hostile environment” (Ms. Stasiw and Ms. Din).

From here the press coverage could have gone one of three ways. To begin with, it could have ended there. Nobody might have spoken up, and the average student might never have caught wind of the fact that Orientation, an event for which they pay an entrance fee, had a rocky planning phase.

Or only one party might have spoken up publicly and created a one-sided dialogue. For a while, that’s what it seemed would happen. Both UTMSU emails reached our news editor, Larissa Ho, by different means; she followed up with Ms. Stasiw and Ms. Din and with Mr. Noronha.

Whereas Ms. Stasiw and Ms. Din immediately gave both online and in-person interviews, Mr. Noronha declined on the reasonable grounds that the executive team was exceptionally busy with Orientation. He subsequently declined a phone interview for the same reason, but also to avoid a risk of “misquotation” by the Medium. In the first place, this concern might be more understandable had UTMSU made any formal requests for retraction in recent years. More pertinently, this attitude represents a step away from transparency and accountability to stakeholders.

Such a position is perplexing, and this is not the only suggestion of it. Ms. Stasiw alleges that she asked to see the previous year’s budget as part of her planning but was told she could only have limited access. This isn’t a question of the executives’ confidence in the coordinators themselves: the document should by no means be private, being a record of how student money was used.

Mr. Noronha initially agreed to supply email answers, eventually taken from his original email to the frosh leaders and resulting in non-sequiturs. Thankfully, after repeated requests (Ms. Ho raised the issue to me), the third possible option was reached: both parties spoke at least somewhat openly about the events. Ms. Ho received a more detailed and direct set of answers to her follow-up questions, which turned out to be crucial to what I find is the article’s balanced perspective.

The professional benefits to everyone are obvious, but I also benefitted personally: although I originally pursued this disclosure out of obligation—as just one of the issues I was juggling as I prepared for this unfamiliar position—I became more aware of the importance of what we were seeking. We aren’t out to give either side a platform for a press release; the student newspaper needs to be a conversation, not a monologue.

Behind the general clamour and excitement of Orientation, froshies are probably already hearing from friends and classmates not to get their hopes up for an exciting campus. Actually, things do happen at UTM—we just need to talk about them openly.

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