The university is battling charges of censorship after its alumni magazine killed an article by veteran journalist John Lorinc days before the deadline, for reasons which may have more to do with government partnerships than writing quality.
Lorinc, the municipal affairs correspondent for Toronto Life magazine, was given a feature assignment by the U of T Magazine in August. The final draft of the piece, which was to run in the January issue, was a detailed and intensively researched article looking at the current challenges facing Toronto, such as environmental problems, homelessness and transit congestion. Lorinc argued that lack of funding and weak leadership from all three levels of government were exacerbating these problems.
Two days before the publication date, U of T Magazine editor Karen Hanley left Lorinc a message saying she had “terrible news.” She phoned him back and told him his story had been killed. One of the magazine’s publishers, U of T Director of Public Affairs Sue Bloch-Nevitte, had decided the story couldn’t run in its current form and needed to be revised. Hanley decided not to run it because of time constraints.
Lorinc says Hanley claimed the publisher’s decision had to do with the school’s upcoming residence developments, for which U of T needs the approval of the city to obtain building permits. In his piece, Lorinc was critical of the housing policies at all three levels of government.
“The province has eliminated rent controls. And the federal government, which once played an important role in financing rental and affordable housing, has turned its back on this social policy area. The reality is that if you live in Toronto and don’t own real estate, you have been disenfranchised by all three levels of government,” he wrote.
Lorinc stated that he received no further details as to why his story was cut, and Bloch-Nevitte never offered him an explanation. He sent an e-mail to university president Robert Birgeneau about the matter, which was not acknowledged.
Lorinc received the full pay of $3, 500 for the piece, though it was never printed.
“It’s unfortunate that [the university administrators] think they could be denied a development permit because of an article in an alumni magazine. I’d be flattered to think I have that kind of power,” he quipped.
But Bloch-Nevitte denied that upcoming building plans influenced the decision to cut. “The university has been involved in building projects for its entire history. There’s nothing new about this partnership with the city.”
She argued that Lorinc’s article was unduly negative, and that he wasn’t looking at “the ways the city is working.”
“My request was not that the article be killed, but reworked . . . in my view, the feature was not balanced. It was well written, but it presented a particular point of view, and it needed other points of view,” she stated.
“Was I uncomfortable with the points raised in the story? No. Just uncomfortable that these were the only points raised,” Bloch-Nevitte added.
Lorinc said that, despite the administration’s unhappiness with the piece, the “skilled and engaged” academics whom he talked to for the article were not reticent to speak critically about urban issues. “These are smart people doing good work. They are regarded very highly in city hall, and they are doing the kind of research that needs to be done.”
While Lorinc is a journalist and not an academic, he does see a connection between the way the school has stifled his views and the way they have stifled the views of their own faculty in recent years. “My situation is not just like that of Dr. Healy or Dr. Olivieri, but I think it’s a manifestation of the same impulse. Everything is about raising money, and [the school] wants dissenting views to be carefully controlled,” he reflected.
As well, he believes the U of T Magazine should fight to maintain its integrity as an information source rather than just a fundraising tool. “I know what [the alumni magazine] is there for, but it’s also a good opportunity to broadcast the ideas of the staff, and present new challenges to the powers that be,” said Lorinc.