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“The overriding story of our time”: The Varsity’s pledge to cover the climate crisis

We are joining over 250 media outlets around the world in the Covering Climate Now initiative

“The overriding story of our time”: <em>The Varsity</em>’s pledge to cover the climate crisis

In 2015, governments around the world signed onto the Paris Agreement to address the climate crisis. They agreed to implement plans that cut greenhouse gas emissions such that the rise in global temperature this century remains below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

But since then, governments and institutions continue to delay investing in a bold and sound climate strategy that significantly reduces emissions. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2014–2018 have been the five hottest years in recorded history. As of July, 2019 is set to take either the second or third spot. 

Canada is at particular risk: it is warming at twice the rate of the global average. A Council of Canadian Academies report from July indicates that the crisis poses major threats to Canada’s physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems, and fisheries. Extreme weather events, like the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires, are occurring more frequently and are more severe. In Canada, the economic cost of the crisis is measurable in the billions

That is why, this week, The Varsity has joined over 250 media organizations around the world in the Covering Climate Now initiative. A joint initiative of The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review, the campaign is intended to engage media outlets in a week of sustained climate coverage in the leadup to the crucial United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23. At that summit, world leaders have been called on to submit “concrete, realistic plans” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

The crisis is closer to home than we may think. Institutions like U of T are complicit. In 2016, President Meric Gertler controversially decided to refuse divestment from the fossil fuel industry, the overwhelming contributor to the crisis, and yet continues to present U of T as a global leader on environmental sustainability. 

Emissions historically produced by the industrialized north are the major contributor to the current crisis, though the global south is now also producing considerable emissions.  Despite this historical imbalance, vulnerable populations in the global south and Indigenous people around the world, including in Canada, are the ones who are disproportionately impacted. 

The climate crisis is real, it is here, it is urgent, and human beings are culpable. If we cannot rely on our governments and institutions to take necessary action, then ordinary citizens must tell the truth and call them out, and we, the media, must lead this charge.

Covering Climate Now

We are one of only four newspapers in Canada to participate in the initiative. The Toronto Star, our Queen’s University peers at the Journal, and our Ryerson University peers at The Eyeopener will also engage in climate coverage this week. Other Canadian magazines, journals, and digital news sites also chose to participate.

At The Varsity, climate coverage is nothing new. However, to participate in an initiative that treats the climate crisis with the global, collaborative, large-scale attention that it deserves is unprecedented for us. 

Between September 16 and September 23, The Varsity will publish at least one article every day to draw attention to the crisis. This editorial is the introductory article to our series, and each day of the week will feature a different section’s coverage: News, Comment, Business, Arts & Culture, Features, Science, and Sports will all participate. 

Like The Nation, we hope to convey that the climate crisis “is not just one more story but the overriding story of our time.” With coverage from all seven of our sections, the climate crisis affects us in all facets of our lives.

Our commitment to climate journalism

This week will be the beginning of an expanded effort to cover the climate crisis, especially as it concerns the U of T community. We will continue to cover efforts made by student activist groups and youth climate activists, such as the Fridays for Future campaign and Leap UofT, and hold the U of T administration accountable to its complicity the crisis. 

U of T groups and students will participate in Global Climate Strikes scheduled to take place this month, in line with the UN summit. The Varsity will be there to tell those stories.

Our Science section has just launched a “Climate Crisis” subsection to consistently cover the issue. Our style guide is being updated to ensure that the passive language of ‘climate change’ is avoided. Instead, we will henceforth use ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency.’ After all, when the world falls into a recession, we call it an economic crisis; the troubling state of the planet ought to proportionately receive an alarm, too. 

Finally, we will also be dogged in correcting any form of false balance surrounding the climate crisis: for example, any form of skepticism or denial of the crisis will be contextualized as false. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter, and journalists must fairly attribute weight to sides in a given story on the basis of evidence. For this crisis, the facts cannot be debated, politicized, or treated as partisan. 

In sum, we hope that the Covering Climate Now initiative will inspire our editors and contributors this year, and for years to come.

Deciding the next four years 

The need for climate journalism is also crucial in the context of the upcoming Canadian federal election. Consider when, last month, Elections Canada (EC) warned environmental groups that advertising the legitimacy and severity of the climate crisis could be deemed partisan. Such ‘partisanship’ could require such environmental charities to register as a third party with EC, subject them to scrutiny from the Canada Revenue Agency, and potentially jeopardize their tax status. 

This ‘partisan’ ruling, and blatant suppression of climate speech, was a result of the position of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, according to an EC official which espouses climate denialism among other far-right views. That is the unfortunate reality of climate discourse today. Whereas our leaders should be debating how to best tackle the problem, we are stuck at debating the reality of the issue itself. 

Inadequate approaches to the climate crisis are not exclusive to fringe politics. Our supposedly progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, offers voters a paradox: he believes that Canada can reduce emissions and address the crisis while it continues to invest in pipelines, extract Alberta’s tar sands, and empower the very cause — fossil fuels — which is responsible for the crisis.  

The climate crisis is not debatable, and it is certainly not resolvable through halfhearted policy. Furthermore, ‘the environment’ cannot just be another issue among the myriad of other issues in this upcoming election. Rather, the crisis is entangled with other concerns that voters may have — like economic growth and development — and, in fact, presents us with an opportunity to re-envision how we organize ourselves on this planet. Taking care of our environment is necessary to have a viable economy; economy and environment go hand in hand. 

Indeed, the crisis is not about economic sacrifice, but about transformation. It is about divesting from fossil fuels and using our technological ingenuity to immediately and fully transition into alternative sources of energy. It is about embracing the future, and restructuring our economy in a way that will create new, sustainable sources of livelihood. 

The role of media, then, is to cover these positive opportunities that the crisis provides and to challenge politicians who are impeding our progress. Ahead of this federal election, the crisis is a top concern for voters, and media must commensurately cover the issue. This is about deciding the next four years — and taking immediate action to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. 

As U of T students, we must recognize that we are the future. Soon, we will be graduates, workers, and leaders in our community, country, and the world. It is us who will inherit the planet, and it is up to us to create a sustainable planet for those that come after us. Let’s vote accordingly. 

And journalists, including student journalists, must be committed to responsibly telling the story of our lifetime. That is why we are dedicated to Covering Climate Now. 

 

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Science graduate students hone communication skills at inaugural ComSciConCAN conference

U of T students, faculty represented at Canada’s first national science communication conference for graduate students

Science graduate students hone communication skills at inaugural ComSciConCAN conference

Science communicators from universities across Canada sharpened their skills at ComSciConCAN, the country’s first national science communication conference for graduate students, held from July 18 to 20 at McMaster University. 

The two-and-a-half-day event drew inspiration from the US-based ComSciCon workshop series on science communication, which was first held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013.

ComSciCon has since expanded to include flagship workshops across the US, but ComSciConCAN marks the first time the conference has been hosted in a different country.

The inaugural Canadian conference featured four panel discussions, six hands-on workshops, and over 25 experts from a diverse range of science communication careers.

In attendance were 50 graduate students from 26 different institutions across Canada, who were selected out of a pool of over 400 applicants from a wide array of scientific backgrounds.

Conference trains students with skills in science communication

To Dr. Maria Drout, a member of the ComSciConCAN organizing committee and professor at U of T’s Dunlap Institute, the conference’s main goal was to give graduate students the tools they need to succeed in any science communication endeavour they choose to pursue.

“The idea is to empower graduate students to be leaders in whatever field they choose, and to be able to effectively communicate in those ways,” Drout said to The Varsity.

“No matter what field you’re in, your effectiveness comes down to not only how good you are at the technical aspects, but [also] how well you can share your findings.”

To this end, the workshops and panels held throughout the conference focused on training graduate students with the skills they need to succeed in all forms of science communication — from working in media and journalism to effecting change through science policy and activism.

In the “Media Interview Skills” workshop, for example, science communicator and Daily Planet television series co-host Dr. Dan Riskin taught students how to effectively talk about science “outside their wheelhouse” of expertise.

The students participated in mock media interviews and learned how to craft key talking points to use in the face of even the most unexpected of interview questions.

They also had the chance to present their research in one-minute ‘pop talks’ that were meant to be engaging and accessible to a non-expert audience. Audience members could hold up cards labelled as either “JARGON” or “AWESOME” to keep the talks on track and jargon-free.

Another activity was the Write-A-Thon, during which attendees were divided into peer editing groups and assigned an expert reviewer to help craft a publication-ready science communication piece. 

Many of the pieces written at previous renditions of the conference have since gone on to be published in major media outlets.

The importance of representation in science media

In addition to gaining hands-on experience, a running theme throughout the conference was the importance of representation — both in scientific fields as well as in science communication endeavours.

In the “Communicating with Diverse Audiences” panel discussion, Professor Hilding Neilson, from U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, spoke about acknowledging and listening to unique audience perspectives. Neilson works on blending Indigenous knowledge into the U of T astronomy curriculum, and he shared his experiences by incorporating those knowledge pools into astronomy.

Dr. Carrie Bourassa, the scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Indigenous People’s Health, also spoke about the importance of prioritizing Indigenous sources of knowledge. Bourassa was a speaker in the panel discussion on “Communicating through Policy & Activism,” and currently leads the advancement of a national health research agenda aimed at improving and promoting the health of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples in Canada.

“[The conference] made people think on a number of occasions,” Drout said. “Not just learn immediate skills, but actually think about how to position themselves and their research in the context of society in Canada.”

Drout also told The Varsity that she was really pleased with how the conference went, and feels excited about ComSciConCAN’s potential going forward.

“This was just the launching-off point. The hope is for it to continue to grow, because clearly there is a huge appetite, and many students who’d like to participate,” she said.

“Within Canada, we’re now hoping to launch many more workshops in the next few years — both continue to do these nationwide conferences, but also do local versions in many cities across the country.”

Support 140 years of campus journalism — The Varsity’s levy is worth it

Why the student press is vital under the Student Choice Initiative

Support 140 years of campus journalism — <i>The Varsity</i>’s levy is worth it

In 1890, on the 10-year anniversary of The Varsity’s founding, its editors wrote to the student body to thank them for their support of the young newspaper. In words that still ring true to this day, they promised “to make The Varsity a mirror of the events, the lights and the shadows of college life, and moreover a true exponent of the views of the undergraduates of the University of Toronto.”

The Varsity is one of Canada’s oldest student newspapers and one that takes its role as a platform for student voice no less lightly. Yet we are presently facing an existential threat: the Ontario provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which allows students to opt out of our levy.

After almost a century-and-a-half of serving the University of Toronto community, we are writing to you now to ask for your continued support of our mission to provide meaningful and balanced journalism. Please stay opted in to The Varsity’s levy.

We know that this is no small favour. While our per-semester fee is one of the lowest in Canada — $2.87 for undergraduate students and $0.80 for graduate students — there are students for whom opting out of all fees would provide enormous financial relief. However, for those with the means to do so, we ask that you consider supporting The Varsity’s work. 

This includes our efforts to keep students informed about our community, to act as a watchdog for campus institutions, and to provide a platform for students to speak on the issues of the day. We also provide a wide range of opportunities for students to develop their professional skills, whether through writing for seven different sections, or through photography, illustration, graphic design, and copy editing. Through their contributions, students can be a part of the larger student life and community at U of T. 

With our consistent record of financial transparency and journalistic excellence, we hope that you will put your trust in us to keep you informed.

Our recent work

Whenever news breaks that affects campus life in a major way, The Varsity is always there to uncover the truth and deliver it to more than 100,000 students, staff, and faculty at the University of Toronto.

Consider when the then-Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and current Minister of Long-Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton, announced the SCI back in January under a cloud of suspicion. Our reporter was the only journalist at the Queen’s Park press conference to ask about an apparent lack of consultation with students and campus organizations in the decision-making process.

We were also the first newspaper, ahead of other more established media outlets, to publish the unofficial guidelines of the SCI, lifting the veil on what had been a highly secretive process until that point. It was the first time that the public was able to see which groups were specifically targeted.

Our reporting has also drawn attention to important administrative decisions on campus. In the fall of 2017, we revealed that U of T was proposing a university-mandated leave of absence policy, which allows the institution to unilaterally place a student on leave from school for mental health reasons.

We covered the policy from start to finish, amid strong public outcry from students and even the intervention of Renu Mandhane, the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And since then, we have been on the ground to document the ongoing mental health crisis on campus.

The Varsity’s journalism has also brought along real change. When The Varsity and The Queen’s Journal, the student newspaper of Queen’s University, reported that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities had come under fire for delaying the results of the provincial survey on sexual violence on campus, the survey was released to the public soon after, shining a light on the important topic.

The SCI as a challenge to student community

A student newspaper provides a service central to a campus community from which all members can benefit, as we’ve noted in a past editorial. Levies enable students to collectively pool resources to provide services accessible to all. As noted in that editorial, the opt-out model is problematic because it treats students as private, individual consumers, as opposed to participants in a broader community.

Consider Canada’s single-payer health care system: we all pay into and benefit from essential health care services. But the dilemma, as with health care, is that students do not always know that they need a particular service until they actually need it. Even if you do not regularly interact with The Varsity today, you could benefit from our services in the future — such as our ability to hold campus institutions, especially the U of T administration and student unions, accountable.

National media outlets also rely on campus newspapers like The Varsity to pick up on campus stories that would otherwise be underreported. We have a track record of doing this, from reporting on Muslims Students’ Association executives receiving surprise visits from law enforcement, to covering protests to student death on campus. These are just two recent examples of U of T stories that have received wider attention.

We also understand that students are frustrated that their levies might be abused, especially by student-run organizations. But The Varsity is on the frontline when it comes to student union accountability and financial mismanagement, such as when broke the story about the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) lawsuit against its former executive director and two executives.

While student unions such as the UTSU still have much of their levy considered to be “essential” under the provincial government’s guidelines, The Varsity does not. Staying opted in to The Varsity enables us to ensure that student organizations spend your essential fees responsibly.

The opt-out option makes it difficult for us to hold institutions accountable. The challenge is not just the possible loss of our funding. Each year, The Varsity must wait until autumn to determine our funding, rather than be assured of it well in advance. The opt-out option therefore destabilizes our operational stability by creating financial uncertainty and thereby obstructing long-term plans and projects.

Future projects 

With the federal election coming up, we hope to be the definitive source of information on student issues for the University of Toronto community. Much like how we covered the recent provincial and municipal elections, we aim to profile candidates running in all three University of Toronto ridings, host debates, and provide political analysis.

The Varsity also aims to increase coverage of the crucial issue of the global climate crisis. The University of Toronto is an immense institution and there are a myriad of stories waiting to be unearthed about how the school and the people in it are helping — or not helping — the fight against the climate crisis.

Moreover, we hope to continue our expansion of UTM and UTSC coverage, which was made possible with the creation of bureau chiefs for the two campuses last year following a successful levy increase the year before. Having these positions enabled us to break major stories and cover student unions more effectively, and we plan to expand into covering other areas of student life.

Finally, there are countless ongoing projects that require more resources, such as our blog, our efforts to highlight marginalized groups on campus, our video coverage of U of T sports teams, and our new events calendar, which we hope will become the go-to place to find a comprehensive list of events around the university. 

These projects are made possible through our student levy, without which we would not be able to fund them. We are very excited to bring them to life and others like it, but we need your support to make it happen.

Earning your trust

We are humbled by the past century of trust placed in us by students and we hope to keep it through not only continued truthful reporting but also through financial and governance transparency.

On our website, you can find our audited financial statements of the past decade. The Varsity is grateful to be funded by students and we are committed to telling you where your money goes. This includes how we pay our editors a fair wage in line with other student publications and provide professional development opportunities to our hundreds of contributors.

The Varsity is also committed to openness in governance, and our Board of Directors, which is run by students and open to all members, provides oversight on our operations. Any student can run to serve on it. Likewise, our Public Editor holds The Varsity accountable and addresses readers’ concerns.

For the past 140 years, The Varsity has been fortunate to have had the support of the students it serves, and we hope to be able to continue to provide the U of T community with comprehensive and trustworthy coverage for years to come. The University of Toronto is a vibrant university filled with brilliant, compassionate members from diverse backgrounds. It is only with your support that we can continue to be both a mirror and a spotlight for our community.

Students can choose their opt-out selections for the fall 2019 term on ACORN by September 19.

To learn more about our work, and why you should stay opted in to The Varsity’s levy, visit https://thevarsity.ca/dont-opt-out.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Journalism in the Age of Fake News: journalists go head-to-head at Hart House Debate

Panel discusses misinformation in Canadian politics, on social media

Journalism in the Age of Fake News: journalists go head-to-head at Hart House Debate

Amid strong political criticism against media outlets in recent years, the Hart House Debates and Dialogue Committee hosted a panel on January 21 with four professional journalists from across Canada. The debate, titled “Journalism in the Age of Fake News,” asked panelists about their thoughts and perspectives on the rapidly evolving role of journalism in the age of misinformation and skepticism.

Speakers included Jesse Brown, the founder of CANADALAND, a crowd-funded news site and podcast that discusses and criticizes practices of large legacy media outlets; Tamara Khandaker, a Toronto-based journalist working at VICE NEWS; Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief at the Toronto Star; and Asmaa Malik, a journalism professor at Ryerson University.

The event was moderated by Marva Wisdom, the director of the Black Experience Project in the GTA, a seven-year research study of the experiences of the Black community living and working in the region.

On the topic of misinformation in Canada, panelists shared conflicting views on fake news in Canada.

Lies aren’t new and bad reports aren’t new,” said Brown. He added that the reason that ‘fake news’ was the term of the year is because of  the growing phenomenon of spreading disinformation, which has sometimes been popularized by US President Donald Trump.

Brown addressed the overall context of ‘fake news’ in Canada, comparing the business of pay-per-click content in developing countries to those in North America. “We just don’t have a population base here for [fake news] to be an effective business to get people to click on just absolutely fraudulent stories,” said Brown.

Panelists also expressed the need for readers to look through different sources of information, noticing a pattern of political affiliations in news sources.

“I think as a journalist, and as citizens, we do have an increasing sort of ‘bubble problem,’ or a treatment to our own self-curated social media feeds, our favourite websites, and we’re just not aware it,” said Dale.

Those with left-leaning views were found to consume legacy news sites such as the Toronto Star and CBC, while those with right-leaning views were found to consume newer media such as Breitbart News and Rebel Media.

Because of this, Dale suggested audience members broaden their sources to gain a better perspective of filtered information on both sides of the political spectrum.

“I urge everyone to refresh their news sources and sometimes I think that means reading sites like Breitbart or Infowars, which are purveyors of often eager, inaccurate information, so you’re aware of what is filtered out there in bubbles that are not your own.

A number of the panelists shared their views on the need for media literacy in Canada.

“I think fake news as a political cry to rail against good journalism is deeply problematic and it is causing a huge effect,” said Malik.

Malik drew from her experience in academia, commenting on the difference between misinformation and disinformation.

“I think that we’re dealing with a huge media literacy problem and I think that what’s happening is that people are rarely going to direct sources for information, but instead are getting multiple news in multiple ways and that sort of loses the connection to where it actually came from,” said Malik.

Social media was also a consistent topic throughout the debate, centring around the emergence of newer media sites such as Buzzfeed and VICE, and their unique approach to news coverage.

Brown sees these sites as “much more aggressive in pursuing stories” because of their social media presence, which has allowed them to be “sort of understood… [as] the new standard there.”

“I think that the larger phenomena of social media itself [is] probably a greater force than this kind of small but significant ecosystem of news sites,” said Dale.

The panel ended with questions from audience members. One individual asked panelists for a piece of advice they wished they had known early on in their career in journalism.

“Stand up for your story ideas and perspective in a newsroom,” said Khandaker. “I think when you’re starting out you… let people say ‘no,’ and you can be really passive.”

“If something is interesting to me, it’ll probably be interesting to other people.”

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings

Motion claims that student media are “abusing” position, “misrepresenting reality”

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings

Claiming that “student media have been abusing their positions as disseminators and aggregators of information,” the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Board of Directors voted unanimously on December 12 on a first step to passing a motion to control student media accreditation and access to meetings.

The item was moved by Director of Political Science Raymond Dang and was carried from a previous meeting held on November 27. At the December meeting, the board voted to refer the item to its governance committee for further amendments.

Dang wrote in his motion that student media have been “misrepresenting the reality of the situation,” and that “recent days have shown the entire campus can be misled on important topics relating to their lives.”

During the discussion, Dang said that “it was very disappointing to see a lot of the reporting not just by existing student organizations but start-up student organizations this semester reporting falsely on what the Board of Directors have done.”

However, since Dang would not “repeat any sort of false information or misleading information that was said or not said elsewhere,” it is unclear what coverage Dang was referring to.

The Varsity most recently covered the SCSU’s November Board of Directors meeting, in which Dang moved a controversial motion to give $4,500 to the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre, despite students voting against giving the funding at SCSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The Varsity and The Underground have also reported on the string of food quality issues that have occurred at SCSU-affiliated outlets this semester.

Dang wrote in his motion that “students rely on their fellow student journalists to accurately report the truth and hold power to account,” and called for student publications to submit requests to be recognized so that they can cover the SCSU.

The union’s bylaws already recognize student publications as “The Varsity, The Underground, Fusion Radio or any other student media either print or online.” Bylaw changes must be ratified at a meeting of members, such as the AGM.

Under Dang’s proposed policy, an ad hoc committee that would consist of the vice-president operations, vice-president external, and three directors to be chosen by the Board of Directors would make decisions on media access.

The SCSU would also adopt the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics standards as “guiding principles.” The guidelines touch on subjects such as independence, transparency, and accountability.

Since the motion was originally moved at the November meeting, the dates proposed in the text have already passed. As such, it is unclear when the committee will meet and by what date student publications will be required to submit applications, although Dang motioned for the governance committee to discuss the item at its first possible meeting.

According to the motion as it stands, changes will come into effect on January 1 if immediate action is taken, and will be enforced throughout the remainder of the academic year. All student media must apparently apply or reapply for accreditation for the union to either reaffirm or deny access.

During the board meeting, The Varsity was asked not to live tweet or photograph the events over concerns of online harassment of board members.

The chair of the meeting, Hildah Otieno, emphasized that this ban was not about media protocol but about protecting board members from intimidation.  

The Varsity tweeted once thereafter to post the text of the media accreditation policy motion. Upon discovery of the live tweet from the meeting, Otieno asked the reporter to remove the tweet, which The Varsity did not.

The SCSU currently has a Media Communications Policy, which outlines the media’s access to public meetings and spaces provided by the union. However, there is no policy regarding live tweeting under their bylaws and governing documents.

This incident comes shortly after two Varsity reporters were also barred from taking photos and live tweeting at a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union meeting held on December 3. The reporters were subsequently asked to leave the meeting after continuing to live tweet at the direction of their editors.

The Varsity has reached out to the SCSU for comment.

Graduate Students’ Union’s failed AGM puts organization at risk of financial default

Tensions arise over concerns of financial transparency, opposition to presence of student media

Graduate Students’ Union’s failed AGM puts organization at risk of financial default

The membership of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) failed to pass the organization’s 20172018 audited financial statements at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on December 3 due to a lack of quorum. According to the union’s finance commissioner, this puts the union at risk of defaulting to the university.

At the meeting, some GSU members complained that a draft report of the financial statements from the 20172018 fiscal year was not made available in their AGM packages, despite having to vote on the item. A portion of the meeting was spent debating how to logistically distribute the financial documents given the short notice.

Members were concerned over the failure to provide the financial statements in the agenda package. Members were supposed to receive the financial statements at least 13 days before the AGM.

Several members left the meeting out of frustration, though they suggested a future date for another general meeting.

After members left the room, the AGM lost quorum and the meeting was adjourned. A previously-scheduled General Council meeting was held immediately afterward.

During the General Council meeting, discussion followed on how to address the failure of the AGM to pass the 20172018 audited financial statements.

Finance Commissioner Branden Rizzuto claimed that the UTGSU would financially default to the university if the membership did not pass their audited financial statements for the past year.

During the General Council meeting, Rizzuto pointed out that The Varsitys reporters were live-tweeting that meeting and had live-tweeted the events of the AGM.

The Varsitys reporters were allowed to be present at the AGM on the condition that they neither take photographs nor live-tweet the events. Under direction from The Varsitys editors, the reporters purposefully ignored the condition to not live-tweet the events of the AGM.

Conditional seating is an unusual request at student union meetings, and this is the first time that Varsity reporters have been faced with conditions to their presence at a student governance meeting in recent years.

There was no vote or objection to keep the reporters in the room or to allow them to continue their work.

Since The Varsitys reporters were asked to leave the General Council meeting, it is unknown whether the audited financial statements were passed at that meeting.

Afterward, the UTGSU executive emailed The Varsity to say that The UTGSU General Council/Board-of-Directors unanimously accepted the Draft 2017-2018 Financial Audit at the General Council/Board-of-Directors meeting on December 3, 2018.”

“The UTGSU Executive Committee has been in communication with the University of Toronto Office of the Vice-Provost (Students) and they have indicated and confirmed that the UTGSU is in good financial standing with the University of Toronto,” wrote the executives.

“A motion to appoint a financial auditor for the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year will be presented at a future meeting of the General Membership. The UTGSU is not incorporated under the Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) and is therefore not at risk of violating the Act.”

Editor’s Note (January 14, 2019, 5:32 pm): This article has been updated with the full comment from the UTGSU that The Varsity received on December 6, 2018. 

The New York Times hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T

What makes a good book review and what goes into the process of book criticism?

<i>The New York Times</i> hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T

In collaboration with U of T, The New York Times (NYT) hosted a panel about the art of the book review, focusing on the overall ethics and guidelines of book reviewing, as well as what makes a ‘good review.’

The event took place on November 30 at Isabel Bader Theatre and featured Jennifer Szalai, the NYT’s nonfiction book critic, and Randy Boyagoda, a U of T English professor and principal at St. Michael’s College.

Describing her experience as a book reviewer and the differences to those of news reporters, Szalai said, “There’s news value in these books and so when I review books, news value’s part of it, but it’s about reviewing the book, it’s about criticism. It’s about thinking what it is that the writer is trying to do.”

Szalai also spoke of the inner workings of being a reviewer, touching on subjects such as an embargo book, which “is a book that the publisher has decided not to release any advance copies of to reviewers.”

She also described how major book publicists and publishers try to get critics and editors to sign non-disclosure agreements, which is against NYT staff guidelines. Critics at the NYT are also not allowed to review books from current and former work colleagues.

The panelists also discussed how readership affects the process of book reviewing and how book culture remains an integral part of the industry. Boyagoda drew on his experience as an English professor, emphasizing the importance of book reviewing in contemporary literary studies.

“It is important for contemporary students of literature, of ideas more generally, to have a sense of what they’re studying in class is meaningfully connected to what’s going on in the world at large,” he said. “There’s a continuity between what’s going on in terms of a syllabus and then the kind of culture at large. And if we don’t see that… then all that matters are those [authors] that are dead already and I think a lively book culture kind of fails, and the people who are studying it today aren’t committed to thinking about what’s going on in terms of contemporary fiction and nonfiction.”

Szalai said that bias, particularly from readers, makes it difficult when giving a fair opinion. Social media makes it especially hard, as reviewers can face direct criticism for an honest review.

“I think that the main thing about the reviews, especially the reviews that run in the Times, is that you want the review to be fair,” she explained.

She acknowledged that people define ‘fair’ in different ways, “but ultimately, you don’t want the reader to think that there’s some sort of ulterior motive on the part of the reviewer, whether it’s to promote a friend on the one hand, or if it’s an enemy, to really take their book down,” she said.

During the Q&A session, one audience member asked a question about the genre bias of book reviews, mainly those of history and politics, and what would constitute any non-political book to be reviewed.

“I think it would depend on the book,” said Szalai.

“Sometimes I will notice that I’ve just done week after week after week of books having to do with history, politics, social issues, and for myself as well as for the readers, I think it’s nice. It’s helpful also for them to understand my sensibility better if I speak to a book that’s not about that.”

Boyagoda related the question to his experience reviewing a book outside his expertise of literary fiction.

“It was a great intellectual palate cleanser from, in my case, literary fiction… and I had readers… who came up to me and said, ‘It was really interesting to see you writing about this instead.’”

“That makes it a break for the reader, but it’s also a break for the critic; it’s kind of like a reset, in a way… whether it’s politics or literary fiction,” said Boyagoda.

Sam Tanenhaus, a former editor at the NYT and a visiting professor at U of T, moderated the panel. The NYT’s Canada bureau chief Catherine Porter and University College Principal Donald Ainslie delivered opening and closing remarks.

It’s funny because it’s true

Assessing the value of satirical journalism, including U of T’s The Boundary and The Highland Holler

It’s funny because it’s true

Whether it’s The Onion in the US or The Beaverton in Canada, it seems that there is nowhere you can turn in the online world without encountering satirical news.

But this uptick is certainly no accident, and likely reflects a worrisome political reality. According to Pennsylvania State University professor Sophia McClennen, “We see satire emerge when political discourse is in crisis and when it becomes important to use satirical comedy to put political pressure on misinformation.”

While journalistic impartiality is critical for conventional news outlets, satirical journalism directly challenges questionable beliefs and actions. It manages to breach subjects seen as too taboo for traditional reporting with an exceptionally low tolerance for nonsense.

This is especially pertinent as it can be difficult for traditional news media to keep up with the outlandish controversies in current politics. Regarding coverage of Donald Trump, McClennen said, “the news media sort of seems like it has to take [Trump’s statements] seriously in order to be taken seriously.”

Satire can tackle these issues head-on. For example, when Doug Ford announced his hastily revised sex-ed curriculum, traditional networks covered the controversy with a neutral gaze. The Beaverton, by contrast, published an article entitled, “Doug Ford replaces sex-ed curriculum with old copy of Playboy found in woods” — lampooning the outdated and careless nature of the decision.

Less restricted by journalistic guidelines, satire generates interest, debate, and conversation in a way that encourages a more critical view. It stops the normalization of politics which are abnormal, and, when done well, can be as informative as traditional news.

There is, however, an ugly underbelly to satire. With politics entering what many are calling a ‘post-truth’ era, it is vital to recognize fake news. Toeing the line between satire and fake news can be difficult, and is rooted in intent. Fake news presents false stories to intentionally deceive its audience, while satirical news publishes them with the intent of poking fun at current events.

To avoid falling into the category of fake news, some satirical outlets are making the nature of their content obvious. This proves to be a serious hurdle for many publications, for which an authentic appearance as a news outlet is part of the satire. Having a giant, flashing “satire” sign behind articles, on the other hand, can detract from the humour.

Satire at U of T has a long history. Engineering’s Toike Oike bills itself as “The University of Toronto’s Humour Newspaper since 1911,” while University College’s The Gargoyle has been in print since 1954.

Recently, two online-only publications, The Boundary of Victoria College and the The Highland Holler at UTSC have established footholds in the U of T publications community. The Boundary‘s Editor-in-Chief Ted Fraser attributes this growing interest in satire to the fact that “Facebook has come back from the dead… [it] is conducive to the type of Headline Humour we churn out.”

The Highland Holler suggested that there is an untapped, somewhat frustrated market for satire at U of T, seeing their fair share of complaints about the university and organizations within it. Delayed Arts & Science exam schedules, insects found in food at UTSC, unexpected enrollment increases at UTM, and $30 writing surfaces offered at the Daniels lecture hall reflect problematic oversights by various administrations at U of T. It is therefore no wonder that students are seeking direct, humorous criticism.

Both publications consider satirical news to be highly relevant. The Boundary sees campus satire as a counterweight to traditional news: “The Varsity is like your T.A. — reliable, astute, serious — and The Boundary is like your tutorial buddy,” said Fraser. While The Boundary recognizes satire to generally be “incredibly important as a political tool,” said Head Content Editor Kyle Brickman, the publication tries to steer clear of anything too political as it relates to campus.

The Highland Holler, meanwhile, holds no such reservations. While satire, especially in student journalism, is a tool that is meant for entertainment, the Holler explains that it is also intended to “encourage people to engage in civil discourse. The aim is to have people learning more about the topic at hand, as well as themselves, and their role as a student.”

The Highland Holler has run into some trouble with fake news, though. “One of the biggest issues that we’ve had to deal with is people taking our articles seriously and reacting to them candidly as though it were real news,” they said.

On the other hand, The Boundary sees satire as a reliable source of news. “We’re consistently fake. Because we’re in the Post-Truth Era, actual news is cloaked in ambiguity — you have to be skeptical of headlines, fact-check stories, maybe vet authors for hidden agendas. Our fake news is… a respite from second-guessing,” said Fraser.

It can be a struggle for students to keep up with the news. Outrage fatigue is real, and many people cope by simply disconnecting from the news. Satire offers an enticing alternative. By juggling between light-hearted humor and probing criticism, students can choose where and how to engage with journalism.

Often, students don’t have the time to read through a lengthy Varsity feature. They might just prefer to get a chuckle out of a Boundary headline reading, “Caffiends to Just Start Pouring Coffee Down Customers’ Throats.”

If done well, satire can entertain, inform, and enrage all at once. If publications manage to toe the line between fake news and satire, it can be an incredibly successful form of news. Failing that, it’s still funny, and mockery never gets old.

Ori Gilboa is a first-year Humanities student at Victoria College.