Letter from the Editor

Introducing The Varsity’s Business section

Letter from the Editor

It isn’t every day that a 138-year-old newspaper launches a new section.

This week, you will find one.

The Varsity is the University of Toronto’s student newspaper of record and leading source of trusted, independent journalism, serving the university community since 1880. We commit ourselves to innovation, openness, and accessibility; to the development of our contributors; and to the provision of meaningful, just coverage for our readership.

That is our mission statement.

The launch of a section focusing on business, innovation, finance, and entrepreneurship is part of an ongoing commitment to serving our readers and developing our contributors. As an institution, The Varsity is both outward- and inward-facing, and this editorial expansion is a nod to both of these commitments.

As it currently stands, there is a drought in the coverage of business at the university and in the surrounding community. We are surrounded by fascinating, untold stories of student startups and competitive case competitions.

In addition, there remains a stark need for watchdog reporting on university finances and deep-dive investigations into how U of T operates as a multibillion-dollar corporation. We’re going to tell these stories in a new Business section — celebrating student innovation and holding the university to account.

Moreover, and just as important, this section will provide a new platform for training Varsity contributors. In an industry climate of uncertainty and turbulence, business journalism stands out as a bastion of stability and a force for innovation. Creating a new section that acts as a playing field for the next generation of Canadian business journalists to practice their craft and make worthwhile mistakes is no small part of this editorial expansion.

And we want you to join us in the fun.

Michael Teoh, the inaugural editor of this section, is a Varsity veteran with an impressive grasp of the depth of stories surrounding us on this campus. I’m confident in his ability to grow the section from the ground up; if you’d like to be part of this process, please get in touch with him at biz@thevarsity.ca. No writing experience or prior knowledge of business is required.

I hope you enjoy our new Business section. If you do, or if you don’t, I’d like to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to reach me at editor@thevarsity.ca with feedback.

It isn’t every day that a 138-year-old newspaper launches a new section — but this is one of those rare days.

 Jack O. Denton, Editor-in-Chief

Undergrad is the time to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do

Take advantage of all U of T’s resources and try something new

Undergrad is the time to do everything you’ve ever wanted to do

While at U of T, I always felt like I was running out of time.

This first week of school turned into fourth year, and then in between, there were months of pure agony when my mental health went down the drain. But before I knew it, I made it to the other side, and it was all just over.

In hindsight, you too will likely feel as if you have missed so many opportunities and lost so much time. Don’t stress. Instead, get to know all the incredibly talented students here: both your peers and yourself. Embrace all that this school has to offer.

If you’re not sure where to begin, ask someone. It’s unlikely that you will have a chance like undergrad at U of T ever again, where you can walk in with zero experience, gain access to hundreds of resources and opportunities, and then take risks with minimal consequences.

Write that play, and submit it to the U of T Drama Festival. Form a makeshift band, perform at empty open mics, and audition for the Winterfest Battle of the Bands. Write some dramatic poetry, and submit it to a college review. Heck, pitch a podcast to The Varsity and see what happens. Even if you’re rejected, you’ll have written a play, you’ll have experience performing live, and you’ll have a creative portfolio to edit and pull from for next time.

If you’re a commuter, don’t just go home after class. If you live on res, don’t spend your whole life at Robarts Library. Talk to the people in your tutorial and form a study group together. They might just become your good friends. Look for hidden study spots throughout the rest of campus, and then get off campus and explore the actual city.

I spent much of this last summer saying goodbye to people and deliberating whether or not I should move to Vancouver for grad school. “I feel like I wasted so much time not knowing you guys,” one of my best friends said before moving to England.

“But I feel like we’ve known you forever,” I responded.  

Sure, we weren’t able to do everything we had hoped to during undergrad. Realistically, there just wasn’t enough time between all the extracurriculars, academics, and friends. Yet, as it all came to a close, I’m grateful we all did so much while we could, or saying goodbye wouldn’t have been nearly so difficult.

Why the Varsity Blues matter

An introduction to The Varsity 's Sports section

Why the Varsity Blues matter

There’s a simple story regarding how I first started writing for The Varsity’s Sports section.

The July before my first semester, I sat across from then-Sports Editor Emma Kikulis in the lounge at The Varsity’s office and shared my ideas with her, in an enthusiastic and nervous fashion, characteristic of an incoming university student.

Back then, I wasn’t aware that eventually succeeding her was even a possibility. I was just eager to write about sports.

A few days before I attended my first class, I sat in the press box at Varsity Stadium and watched the Blues lose a high-scoring 55–33 game to the McMaster Marauders. Blues running back Divante Smith rushed for 112 yards and scored three touchdowns, while Marauders quarterback Asher Hastings threw for a ridiculous 384 yards and five touchdowns. I couldn’t think of a more entertaining introduction to Varsity Blues athletics.

Blues quarterback Simon Nassar, who towered above my audio recorder during the postgame interview, earnestly answered my questions about Smith’s performance and how the team could rebound from the loss. He even mentioned how cool he thought it was that I was covering the football team for The Varsity and thanked me for it.

Three weeks later, I was back at Varsity Stadium to cover the Blues women’s soccer team. The Trent Excaliburs didn’t provide much of an opposing force on that Friday evening, as striker Natasha Klasios scored a hat-trick to lead the Blues to a 6–1 victory.

However, it wasn’t until I became The Varsity’s Sports Editor as a third-year student that I fully embraced Varsity Blues athletics and understood what the program stands for. That happened after I finished an internship for Vice Sports in April 2017.

At Vice, I was educated on Canada’s sports media landscape while working on a story informed by former Ontario University Athletics (OUA) president Peter Baxter on the importance of varsity-level athletics for student athletes and the need for more coverage.

After being elected Sports Editor, it wasn’t hard to guess how I wanted to spend the next year of my life. I just couldn’t have predicted how incredible the experience would be.

When you reflect on an entire year, you tend to recall the big moments first.

It was an easy decision to skip the first day of class and interview Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse. Sitting across from Kylie, who admits, “The most important thing for me is enjoying to swim,” she appears likely to be the happiest person in any room with her positive attitude and constant smile.

I also won’t forget the day that Kylie broke her own 50-metre backstroke Canadian and U SPORTS record in the preliminaries and then again that same night in the finals at the U SPORTS Swimming Championships. Nor will I forget the roar of the crowd that followed her in each race that she competed in over the three-day event.

There was something unique about the brisk fall weekends I spent at Back Campus covering the Varsity Blues field hockey team.

Writing about field hockey was a chance to take a break from covering football and soccer and attempt to write about a sport that I initially knew next to nothing about.

I stood next to parents who were cheering on their daughters, jotted quick notes to describe the fast-paced action, and overheard returning alumni converse about how their weekend was going. It was liberating to step outside of the somewhat isolating nature of a press box and into a setting where one didn’t exist.

During the first game I covered, a parent approached me as I sat in the bleachers and typed notes. He was curious about what I was doing. Like Simon, he thought it was great that I was writing about the game. For the length of our conversation on Blues athletics, I didn’t mind being distracted from the action in front of me.

The interviews I conducted are impossible to forget.

Julia Costanzo looks down the field against the Queen’s Gaels. PHOTO BY MARTIN BAZYL COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

It was incredible to listen to Blues women’s hockey head coach Vicky Sunohara reflect on her illustrious career and memories of winning two gold Olympic medals and hear Emily Ziraldo’s teammates, Julia Costanzo, Rachel Spogue, and Emily’s twin sister Hilary, describe the incredible person she is on and off the field.

After interviewing Blues second-year swimmers Rachel Rodé, Sarah Polley, Hannah Genich, and Sophie du Plessis, all of whom happened to be roommates and won a combined 19 medals at the 2018 OUA Championships, it was inconceivable not to dub them as the ‘Fantastic Four.’ And before speaking to Hannah, I would’ve never considered the idea of hanging medals on a bedroom curtain rod.

Then, there are the moments I experienced vicariously through the words of my section’s writers, like Kate Reeve’s engrossing narrative capturing the shared experience of novice and veterans rowers — not to mention coxswains — competing at the annual Brock Invitational Regatta from the start of their journey as they departed Toronto before sunrise.

The Sports section came full circle with Julia Costanzo’s reflection on her rookie season as a member of the Blues field hockey team. The year ended with Emily and Blues punter TJ Morton being awarded the inaugural The Varsity Athletes of the Year, as voted upon by the section’s contributors.

Julia’s personal essay, “Notes from the dark room,” in The Physical Issue of The Varsity Magazine was impossible to read without confronting how little is actually known about concussions. It’s also the type of sports writing I would have introduced to Emma as an example of why I want to write for The Varsity.

Julia’s writing speaks volumes about her own resilient spirit; her essay detailed the difficult experience she went through after suffering a concussion, but was later able to overcome — an attribute fitting for the outstanding athlete she is, but also reflective of the character displayed by her and fellow student athletes.

That’s the reason why I believe every U of T student should attend Blues games. Any writer who is passionate about sports, wants to learn more, or is maybe just interested in writing about people should take the opportunity to contribute to the The Varsity’s Sports section for the same reason.

I know it’s the most rewarding decision I’ve made so far at U of T.

Roadmapping our new year’s resolutions

An overview of The Varsity’s main projects and priorities for 2018

Roadmapping our new year’s resolutions

Another year, another paper. The Varsity is back with more nail-biting, page-turning, sometimes eyeroll-inducing stories. As student journalists, we find ourselves in a unique position: week to week, we are provided the opportunity to experiment with new ideas and to propose sometimes unconventional initiatives. Some might prove successful, others might not — as students, we know it’s all part of the learning process.

With this in mind, we’ve developed a number of initiatives for the new year. Here’s what you can expect from us in the months ahead.

Content

The Varsity’s News section is excited to publish the results of at least two ongoing long-term investigations during the first semester of 2018. Readers can also expect a regular stream of data and statistical analysis within the News pages, especially given the recent hiring of a data-dedicated Associate News Editor. The team is exploring more engaging ways to cover the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections, scheduled to take place in March 2018, while continuing successful methods from 2017. These include publishing detailed profiles of election candidates and their platforms and promises, and hosting a public, live-streamed UTSU presidential candidates’ debate in our newsroom.

The Features section will be starting a new subsection geared toward exploring diaspora and cultural identities in Canada. The goal of this new addition is to shed more light on the diversity of peoples making up the university and the city of Toronto, as well as to give members of these communities the opportunity to voice how their cultures influence their experiences.

The Comment section plans to launch two audio series at the beginning of 2018, and contributors will be invited to participate in both throughout the year. The first is a podcast entitled Comment Up Close, which will feature more in-depth discussion and analysis of cover stories in the section each week. The second is a series of audio articles, featuring narration of Comment articles, created in an effort to make this content more accessible to all readers.

Reader and contributor engagement

Seeking to maximize engagement between The Varsity and its contributors, our management team is piloting larger staff meetings during the winter semester. Currently, the majority of ideas for The Varsity’s content is developed by members of the masthead; our aim with staff meetings is to improve and diversify the stories put out by the paper by incorporating more people in the decision-making process. The first of these staff meetings will take place on January 24. A joint visuals workshop for design, photo, illustration, and video contributors is also in the works.

This week, we also intend to launch an in-depth reader survey online, which will function as a good opportunity for readers to give us feedback on our work. We want to know what you think of us — what you like about us and where you think we need to improve.

Building off our first Reddit-related initiative in the summer, we’ll be actively participating in constructive conversations surrounding what we produce as well.

As we know all too well, the current media climate is fraught — but it doesn’t have to be. To retain mutual trust and to stifle misconceptions of how media functions, publications should actively respond to their readers’ questions and concerns. Accordingly, we hope to use forums like Reddit and Facebook more frequently to clarify confusions or address issues surrounding our content.

Finally, part of promoting reader engagement means continually experimenting with creative ways to bring our stories to you. Recently, our online team uploaded all Varsity issues published since the 2011–2012 school year to Issuu, a digital publishing site. Our Issuu page is currently available to readers, and we plan to integrate this platform with our main website soon.

Long-term projects

The start of 2018 also marks a turning point for one of our most prominent reader engagement projects this school year. In early September, we piloted a Chinese edition of the newspaper, creating a website dedicated to content translated from English into simplified Chinese in order to better engage the more than 10,000 Chinese students who attend U of T, both as readers and as contributors. The results from the site in the first semester have proven promising, so we’ve hired a managing editor for the project; she hopes to expand our presence on social hubs like WeChat and curate the content that appeals most to the Chinese site’s readership.

Ideally, this will pave the way for future initiatives related to The Varsity’s Chinese site. The expansion of this project makes room for more budding student journalists to participate in the site’s efforts, and down the road, we hope to expand this opportunity to writers and editors interested in contributing original works.

We recognize, too, that there’s more to improving our quality of work than simply expanding our pool of contributors. It’s also important that we work to improve our accessibility for contributors. Beginning this semester, The Varsity will be registered with the Co-Curricular Record (CCR), providing contributors with the opportunity to have their work recognized by the university. It’s our long-term hope — not for this semester, but for the successors of the current masthead — to be able to compensate those who currently work for us free of charge. Our writers, photographers, and illustrators are, in many ways, the very foundation of the paper; it is only fair that we strive to compensate them for their efforts.

On behalf of all of our masthead and staff, The Varsity Editorial Board wishes you a happy new year. We hope you enjoy what’s in store this semester — we’ll enjoy bringing it to you.

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.

Checking for bias

Why newspapers try to evade placement on the political spectrum

Checking for bias

Earlier this summer, The Varsity hosted an “Ask me Anything” (AMA) on Reddit. A reader asked our editors where they thought the newspaper “leaned on the political spectrum.”

It’s a hard question for newspapers. The Varsity — in line with most traditional mainstream media outlets — aims to be objective. But like other newspapers, it often gets accused of bias, most often with reference to the articles in its opinion pages.

A newspaper’s comment section exists to provide opinions on the news, so in one sense it should be biased. Still, newspapers try to embrace a range of opinions in these pages, and for good reason. When all opinion pieces share the same point of view, readers are right to wonder if “toeing the party line,” not thoughtful analysis, determines what gets published.

Responding to the reader’s AMA question, Editor-in-Chief Jacob Lorinc reflected on the commentary written by the paper itself — its unsigned editorials. He conceded that the newspaper’s editorials have lately had a left bent. Admitting he couldn’t point to a recent conservative-leaning board, Lorinc was quick to remind readers that members rotate two to three times per year, so things can quickly change.

But here’s the thing. Just as The National Post leans right and the Toronto Star leans left, The Varsity is always going to be a somewhat left-of-centre publication. It reflects — with some distortion — the campus and city that sustain it. And neither is particularly conservative. Both Torontonians and more educated Canadians — the kind you might find on campus — tend to vote Liberal or NDP. When these are the groups you both draw your writers from and write your stories for, it is hard to see how The Varsity could be anything but.

That said, The Varsity leadership works hard to shed this reputation — as it should. When newspapers too eagerly endorse a set of views, readers are right to doubt whether they are reading facts or partisan talking-points.

In her last column as The New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd warned against partisan journalism, writing that “whether journalists realize it or not, with impartiality comes authority.” She pointed to the damage the Venezuelan media did to its reputation with Venezuelans during Hugo Chavez’s presidency when, in the absence of any real partisan opposition, it assigned itself the job. The public stopped believing the media was a fair observer of Chavez’s regime.

The Varsity faced a big challenge last year in figuring out how to fairly cover the Jordan Peterson controversy. I was impressed by the self-awareness of its politics that The Varsity brought to its reporting on the issue, and the range of opinions it published. Though I know some readers disagree with me, articles like this or this suggest The Varsity gave real space to more conservative voices writing in opposition to limits to free speech.

Still, I can see why conservative readers often feel shorted. Take, for example, the three most prominently placed articles in The Varsity’s online comment section at the start of the school year. The first article, on diversity in film, argues “more work still needs to be done to ensure women of colour are granted the visibility they deserve.” The second piece, by the editorial board, argues that nationalist rallies have no right to organize on campus. Only the third piece could be said to have more conservative elements, though even here the author advocates wholeheartedly in favour of Canada’s principle of universal healthcare coverage.

The Varsity will naturally gravitate left. It needs to — and for the most part does — carefully monitor this habit. What it shouldn’t do is abandon impartiality altogether. Newspapers that become too ideological or partisan are no longer pursuing the truth or holding power to account. And if they aren’t, who is? In the age of overtly partisan outlets like The Rebel and fake news article generators, I don’t want to find out.