[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the past few years, The Varsity has significantly expanded its operations. We’ve added a number of new positions to our masthead, introduced a Public Editor, reformatted our semesterly magazine, and redesigned our website. In September of 2017, we created an entire website dedicated to articles translated into Simplified Chinese.
But like many news organizations across Canada, The Varsity is facing tough financial circumstances — and we need your support.
This month, The Varsity will be seeking a levy increase of $0.80 per session from all full-time undergraduate students, as well as a new $0.80 levy from full-time graduate students. It’s a small price to pay — considerably less than one TTC token — but it will go a long way.
Traditionally, The Varsity has done more with less. Our current sessional levy — $2.01 from every full-time undergraduate — is considerably smaller than that of other Canadian student newspapers. And, like most news organizations in today’s media industry, we’ve experienced an overall decline in ad revenue since the financial crisis of 2008.
In response to reader demand, the scope of our coverage and the speed at which we release it have changed drastically. What we write about no longer pertains only to the full-time undergraduates who pay our levy, but to anyone affiliated with the university and to anyone concerned about its ongoings. While this may have somewhat heightened our costs, these extra expenses have certainly been manageable — until recently.
Why the increase?
Largely due to the Ontario government’s increases to general minimum wage — an increase to $14 per hour in 2018, slated to reach $15 per hour in 2019 — The Varsity must spend tens of thousands of dollars more in salary expenses for its employees. For all the hard-working students employed by The Varsity, this increase is well deserved. But it puts the organization in a sticky situation: without a greater stream of revenue, The Varsity is forced to choose between running a deficit or cutting important expenditures in order to balance the budget, such as circulation, jobs, or editorial projects.
As a campus newspaper whose duty is to inform and provide a voice for students, we want The Varsity to thrive. Accordingly, the increase we’re proposing not only supports the new costs that come with the rising minimum wage, but it facilitates The Varsity’s potential for expanding and improving coverage.
The funds provided by this increase would allow for a few expansions of our regular operations.
It would allow us to add two new positions to our masthead: a UTM Editor and a UTSC Editor. For far too long, The Varsity has struggled to deliver timely, consistent coverage of the campuses furthest from our downtown office. We’re constantly attempting to improve our coverage of UTM and UTSC, but we’ve discovered how difficult that can be when we’re located so far away. This difficulty is detrimental to conveying important news stories to our readership in Scarborough and Mississauga, whose unions and institutions are as much in need of active scrutiny as those at UTSG.
The introduction of new positions at both campuses could change this. To really know a place, you have to work there, and that’s exactly what our UTM and UTSC Editors would do. These editors would primarily be responsible for overseeing coverage of local news, and would function to grow our team of contributors at either campus as well.
This, in turn, would allow our news team at UTSG to double down on local news coverage, which can only improve if our staff is able to allocate more time and resources to it. Our Deputy News Editor can focus on a story unfolding at St. George while our UTSC Editor covers another in Scarborough.
We would also use this opportunity to expand our resources for budding student journalists, designers, and other contributors. A portion of these funds would go toward hosting more workshops, inviting more guest speakers, and providing greater access to journalism-related conferences that would allow our volunteers and the membership at large — meaning anyone who pays our student levy — to develop their skills.
Many students who pass through The Varsity go on to have successful careers in journalism, and many more go on to apply the skills they learn on the job to other initiatives. By providing students with more learning opportunities, we can help prepare them for their futures.
Why graduates too?
Although our current membership consists only of full-time undergraduates, the prospect of expanding our membership to include full-time graduate students is an exciting one. An expanded membership would open doors for graduate students interested in getting involved in student journalism.
The scope of The Varsity’s coverage has expanded significantly to encapsulate the stories that are important to the graduate student experience. In our most recent reader survey, a common response to our question of “Why do you read The Varsity?” was “To be informed about graduate affairs.” We’ve reported extensively on this year’s negotiations between CUPE 3902 Unit 1 and the administration, we actively covered the TA Strike in 2015, and we often write stories concerning graduate funding and employment.
The perspectives that are often missing from this coverage, though, are those that belong to graduate students. According to our current bylaws, employment at The Varsity — meaning anyone elected to the masthead, be it News Editor or Video Editor — is limited to our membership. By including graduate students in this category, we’re extending the opportunity to obtain part-time employment on our masthead and to vote in our internal elections and Annual General Meetings. We’re also extending graduates the opportunity to ensure accurate and adequate coverage of graduate affairs by joining our Board of Directors. As such, our bylaws would be amended so as to reserve a seat specifically for a graduate student.
Support the student voice
Newspapers, especially those on campus, face increasingly precarious circumstances. The decline in ad revenue we’re experiencing is not unique to The Varsity, but rather it is emblematic of difficulties faced by media institutions everywhere. As a result, student papers must depend more on students to fund their operations.
The levy, although small in size, greatly benefits The Varsity’s potential for expanding and improving coverage. Ultimately, this is something that should be considered a success not only for a student organization, but for the prosperity of democratic society at U of T.
On February 28, March 1, and March 2, please help us continue to serve you by voting ‘yes’ to The Varsity’s levy increase at voting.utoronto.ca.