I am writing to express my distaste with the dangerously irresponsible front-page of your October 1 print issue. I do not know how the team concluded to publish a photo of Faith Goldy supporters on the front cover, but as a student paper that has covered her racist behaviour, you all should know better. Goldy is a white supremacist – based on her participation in an actual neo-Nazi podcast, her recitation of a neo-Nazi motto (the 14 words) etc. – and mainstream professional journalists have spent the last few months debating whether to cover her candidacy for mayor and if so how, but I can assure you they would all agree that putting a photo of her on the front page of a major paper without any context would be a complete no-go.
The Varsity’s most egregious mistake this time round was not publishing the photo, but publishing it without any explanation as to who Goldy is or why she is controversial. As such, the photo presents Goldy as an ordinary candidate and any passerby who merely glanced at the photo without reading the accompanying article would see, “Let Faith Debate.” This could imply that protesters feel the mayoral race is silencing religion, or it could imply that the mayoral system is unjustly preventing her from debating. Moreover, rather than linking the photo to one story about the protests, The Varsity chose to use it as a general indicator of its election coverage. This is dangerous and borders on misinformation as it normalizes Goldy’s candidacy and readers who only read the article on, for example, University-Rosedale candidates, would not learn the full story.
Furthermore, the photo itself is troubling, because it is not possible to tell who is a protester and who is a bystander. For anyone in the photo who dislikes Goldy, they might be unfairly associated with her. In some protests, this is merely unfortunate, but in a situation involving something as heavy as white supremacy without the balance of a counter protest, it is the responsibility of the newspaper to make sure they provide enough context to the photo.
Finally, this individual front-page decision reflects poorly on the entire Varsity team. While I cannot believe this decision is representative of everyone at The Varsity, other readers might not be so sympathetic. Moving forward, The Varsity would do well to consider how individual decisions might impact how readers will view the team as a whole. As U of T’s newspaper of record, your readers should be able to trust you. You have a responsibility to make sure that you consider all the consequences of your coverage very carefully. This time, I was extremely disappointed at how far The Varsity missed the mark.
P.S. In case you’ve missed the journalism ethics discussion on Goldy, here’s a decent Canadaland article on how to (or not) cover her.
Rachel Chen was The Varsity’s Managing Editor last year. She graduated in June 2018.