The Varsity occupies an important role at the University of Toronto because it satisfies two functions: it provides readers with information that they want to know, and it shares information that they ought to know. Sometimes, these objectives exist in tension with each other. Traditional news media, especially print media, is valuable because it emphasizes comprehensiveness. In an era of Facebook algorithms that make it possible to exclusively encounter news that affirms a reader’s personal belief system, there is something refreshing about reading a newspaper from cover to cover. It allows readers to encounter a diversity of subjects, from arts and sciences to sports and business. It should also introduce readers to a variety of thoughtful and carefully articulated political viewpoints.
Indeed, this requirement is entrenched in The Varsity’s Code of Journalistic Ethics, which requires The Varsity to remain true to its readers by presenting news and opinion pieces accurately and fairly. This includes providing a balanced and impartial presentation of all relevant facts or substantial opinions, striving to maintain an open dialogue with readers, and giving due consideration to all relevant points of view. This is the minimum standard for responsible and ethical journalism at The Varsity. Failure to meet this standard instigates a breakdown of trust between the newspaper and its readership.
Some readers believe that this trust has been breached. They see The Varsity’s Comment section, which is predominantly filled with left-leaning critiques and political viewpoints, as contradicting the newspaper’s institutional commitment to comprehensiveness, fairness, and accuracy. As one reader articulated, the demographic that publishes in The Varsity “is very much the social-justice left. This is not representative of the university as a whole, but is a product of the current political climate.” Comment Editor Ibnul Chowdhury attributes the Comment section’s political slant to the fact that most Varsity contributors have left-wing views.
The reader conceptualized The Varsity’s Comment section as a feedback loop in which conservative viewpoints are consistently marginalized. This occurs in two ways. First, “there is a sense among non-leftists that having your name on an article that criticizes social justice rhetoric, even if it’s completely correct, will damage future employment opportunities.” According to the reader, issues like race and sexual assault have become so contentious that it’s impossible to challenge aspects of these debates without facing disproportionate public backlash. This deters people from contributing opinions that are not in line with popular intellectual, moral, or political consensus.
Second, the reader fears that The Varsity’s editorial process is more rigorous for pitches featuring controversial opinions than for those that align with the dominant political views of The Varsity’s readership. Chowdhury rejected this assessment. He argued that “making this about ideology shields the real conversation, which is the quality and relevance of contributors’ pitches and arguments.” Any difficulties with accepting reader contributions may be attributable to argumentative issues surrounding the article rather than its underlying political viewpoint.
Nonetheless, the reader I spoke with views the current political climate alongside The Varsity’s editorial practices as a perfect storm that marginalizes unpopular, conservative, and controversial viewpoints. According to the reader, potential contributors whose opinions do not align with The Varsity’s apparent politics begin to self-select out of contributing or are filtered out in the editorial process. In turn, readers who don’t agree with the Comment section’s left-leaning slant gradually stop engaging with The Varsity, since their points of view aren’t represented.
For its part, The Varsity makes a concerted effort to publish diverse political perspectives. During my conversation with Chowdhury, he expressed a sincere commitment to publishing fair, accurate, and comprehensive content within the Comment section. However, this is a task that requires all of us to work together. Readers of and contributors to The Varsity need to engage in a type of political discourse that values self-reflection, respectful criticism, and a willingness to learn from the community. The newsroom isn’t supposed to be an echo chamber; it is a space for diversity and debate.
Morag McGreevey is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at [email protected]