On March 9, 1982, UTSC students gathered in a basement and, with the help of campus publications and the Canadian University Press, established The Underground. While The Underground is now one of many campus newspapers, it was first a symbol of independence and editorial autonomy. The newspaper was formed in response to the closure of the Balcony Square, the former student publication of UTSC, whose funding was cut by the Scarborough Campus Student Council (SCSC) after publishing a critique of the candidates running in the SCSC elections.
Governance and funding play an integral role in the independence of student publications. The content that makes it into the pages of campus publications often depends on who is funding and running them behind the scenes.
The Varsity is funded primarily by a student levy of $2.01 per semester, paid by full-time undergraduate students, and advertising revenue. Since our funding does not come from a campus or student society, The Varsity has no conflict reporting on U of T’s administration or student governance, remaining entirely independent of these bodies.
This, however, is not the case for many other student publications.
Today, The Underground is published and governed by the Scarborough Campus Student Press (SCSP) — a non-profit corporation unaffiliated with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) — and funded by a student levy of $3.50 per semester paid by UTSC students, as well as advertising revenue.
“[The Underground] maintains its independent nature by being a not-for-profit, completely student-run publication,” Kristina Dukoski, the Editor-in-Chief of The Underground, wrote in an email to The Varsity.
“The UG is accepting of a variety of opinions, both controversial and not. Controversy is likely to manifest when the truth is told, which is a fact that the UG team accepts and proudly brandishes.”
the newspaper, which proclaims to be U of T’s “only truly independent voice,” receives its funding entirely from advertising revenue. Despite this, the newspaper has never felt pressured to keep its content “advertiser-friendly,” according to Alina Butt, the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief.
“In general, the people who advertise with us understand that we make no guarantees about what we are going to say because we are open to saying anything, if not at least considering it,” Butt wrote in an e-mail to The Varsity.
The financial independence from U of T also gives Butt a sense of separation from U of T that she says allows the newspaper to report fairly on the university.
“That’s credibility, and that’s so, so important to independent journalism (especially nowadays),” Butt said.
“the newspaper does not answer to the money, but to the students… and its content is whatever people are interested in it wanting to be,” Butt wrote. “We don’t have to stay dedicated to a certain opinion (or even a certain conception of objectivity) unless we want to.”
Sometimes, sources of funding can prevent student papers from securing complete editorial autonomy.
Chantel Ouellet, the Editor-in-Chief of The Howl Mag, is trying to apply for a levy to gain editorial independence from the Woodsworth College Students Association (WCSA). The Howl Mag’s content currently goes through a Publications Review Committee, consisting of WCSA members and some of The Howl Mag’s masthead.
“I believe that we feel at WCSA’s mercy because of the Publication Review Committee and the power their Board has over our funding,” Ouellet wrote to The Varsity. “While right now everything is above the bar, our structure is not designed for complete independence.” However, securing a levy is more difficult than anticipated: the decision is up to discretion of the Board of Directors, which places The Howl Mag in what Ouellet calls a “difficult position.”
“If The Howl has its own source of funding it has a better chance at sustaining itself and fostering a sense of legitimacy as a publication,” Ouellet wrote. “When you have a body that funds you and looks over what you produce, full independence and accountability is logically unattainable.”
Meanwhile, The Gargoyle, University College’s student newspaper, proclaims itself to be “openly political.”
The Gargoyle is funded by a University College student levy rather than funding from the college itself, which allows The Gargoyle to “openly critique” the University College Literary and Athletic Society, University College’s student council, without worrying about rescinded funding or censorship.
“Since we don’t have to rely on advertising or appealing to the wide majority of students in order to fund our paper, we can make a paper that’s geared towards those who often seem to get silenced in publications,” Taryn Parker, the content Editor-in-Chief of The Gargoyle, wrote to The Varsity. “While I’ve been at the Garg (since 2015) we’ve really embraced our leftist, queer, feminist roots and made a space where people who may not always have a voice do.”
While The Strand, Victoria University’s student newspaper, relies on the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) to approve its budget and write its cheques, it still has a budget independent of VUSAC and maintains editorial autonomy.
“Both our administration and student government recognize the importance of a free press,” Molly Kay, the co-Editor-in-Chief of The Strand wrote to The Varsity.
Although the Innis College Student Society (ICSS) provides The Innis Herald with annual funding, the ICSS does not control what The Innis Herald prints.
“The pros [of editorial autonomy] are that we can provide better and truer reporting to the students at Innis College about the politics that apply to them through unbiased reporting,” said Jess Stewart-Lee, the Editor-in-Chief of The Innis Herald. “The cons are that within a small community, controversial decisions can feel amplified, and it can be hard to report on these issues without worrying about the impact that our reporting will have on our future as an independent paper.”
The Hart House Review (HHR), U of T’s foremost literary journal, receives its funding from the Hart House Literary and Library Committee (HHLLC), but it mostly functions independently.
“I’ve never had any push-back for any of the pieces we’ve published and I’ve never felt pressure not to touch on a topic because of the way the HHR is structured,” said Adam Gregory, last year’s Editor-in-Chief. “We talk a lot about what the implications might be of each piece we publish, but not in terms of the internal politics of the Review or of Hart House.”
The journal is mandated by the HHLLC to publish writing from U of T students and Canadian writers, but Gregory said that the requirement never felt like a restriction or affected the quality of the HHR.
“In the two years I was at the Review we’ve never had a lack of good, publishable writing from U of T students,” Gregory told The Varsity. “It’s similar with Canadian content – it’s never really been too much of a restriction.”
Neither The Medium nor The Mike were able to provide comment for this article.
Disclosure: Sophia Savva is the incoming Poetry Editor at the Hart House Review and the Communications Officer for Hart House’s Literary and Library Committee.