In an op-ed I wrote for the Toronto Star during my first few months on this job, I espoused the importance of digitizing for student journalists. I haven’t told anyone that this was secretly a projection of my own internalized insecurities about my school’s student paper. In a self-effacing manner, I called for digitalization from the rest of the industry while I scrambled to make this a reality at home. 

We made gallant efforts towards that aim. The comment plugin integrated into our website in November by our brilliant website developers Aaron and Andrew Hong drew traffic. It fostered communication between and among writers, and continues to do so to this day. Our assistant news editor, Maeve Ellis, has become something of a TikTok celebrity with her viral news updates, and our newsletter — featuring a sardonic name and a kindergarten-level drawing of a teacup — has gained hundreds of subscribers since the beginning of the year. 

While these achievements have taken us a step closer to digitization, we still have a long way to go. 

Throughout the year, I’ve done the agonizing yet necessary work of analyzing other student journalism outlets from North America. One of my friends who goes to Princeton told me that The Princetonian has an app that students can download from the App Store, along with an interactive crossword game. Right next door, The Western Gazette seems to have galvanized bed-ridden university students, as their TikTok account regularly goes viral. And the Harvard Crimson has an audible section on all of its articles, increasing the site’s accessibility. 

While our online section has worked our hardest to bring itself on par with the best student journalism on the continent, we’ve fallen short, and much of it has to do with our internal structure.

The Varsity was established in 1880 when print journalism was the norm. However, like a windowsill plant that grows toward sunlight, we’ve hit a wall and are struggling to find another place to go. We copy-edit on the weekend because we print the newspapers on Monday, which restricts our ability to publish articles throughout the week. We have spreadsheets with elaborate word and page counts just to make the designers’ job easier. And bound volumes litter every nook and cranny of our office. 

I need not spend much time explaining the inherent contradictions of print journalism; they are obvious. In a university attempting to become carbon-positive, print journalism leaves a nasty carbon footprint behind. Print journalism is on the verge of obsolescence in a world that is turning from pages to screens. Yet we rarely engage in discussions about this aspect of our newspaper.

Print nostalgia notwithstanding, I encourage future Varsitarians to ask themselves: what could this publication look like if we took one ounce of the effort that we put into print production and transferred it online? The answer to that question would open a fiscal can of worms, but it would be a helpful thought exercise indeed. What I can say is that the online section desperately needs additional human labour, and our work cannot be truly great until we receive it. 

This is not a declaration of  war against the print section of The Varsity. Nor is it a diminution of the wonderful work that the online section has done this year. It is simply a written documentation of my desire for this paper to evolve past its paper roots and grow along the same path that the online section has attempted to carve out this year and the years before. It will be difficult, and it might not even happen. But I hope I can sit back and smile when I frantically check the website a couple of years from now. 

Here’s to change, 

— Mekhi Quarshie 

Managing Online Editor, Volume CXLIV