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Clearing the air: BDS, Chemi Lhamo, and the News-Comment-Editorial divide

Letter from the Comment Editor

Clearing the air: BDS, Chemi Lhamo, and the News-Comment-Editorial divide

The intersection of global conflict politics and the U of T community often occurs in highly contentious contexts. Subsequently, The Varsity’s editorial decisions are often subject to accusations of inaccuracy or bias that we feel are unwarranted and ultimately misserve the general readership.   

Earlier this semester, we published an opinion piece entitled “Who speaks for Palestine?”  that revolved around a contributor’s alarm over the content of a guest speaker’s lecture on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The contributor advocated for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli occupation.

Following publication, Hillel U of T, a Jewish organization on campus, publicly accused the article of containing “misnomers and falsehoods about BDS and the reality on campus.”

We welcome reasonable disagreement and debate on highly divisive issues in the Comment section. In fact, we published two anti-BDS letters in response to the pro-BDS article. But making an unsupported comment about the factual basis of our articles serves to misinform readers about already sensitive issues. It overlooks how different sides can use different evidence to reach different conclusions.

Our coverage of the online harassment campaign against Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President-elect Chemi Lhamo was met with similar accusations of misinformation. When our opinion coverage condemned the campaign, defended Lhamo’s Tibetan activism, and supported her presidency, we were accused of being “one-sided” and “biased” because the pieces were not “objective” and did not reflect the views of international Chinese students.

Accusations were made that the publication constituted a “character assassination” of China and that we supposedly have personal connections to Lhamo for “pushing her agenda.”

It is important to understand that opinion pieces in the Comment section are not news coverage. The News and Comment sections operate independently. Expectations of impartial reporting should only exist for the News section. Comment is a space for contributors to comment on issues from any perspective or side that they choose, so long as their arguments are presented reasonably. Expecting balanced arguments or neutrality from Comment articles is, by definition, contradictory.

That being said, context matters with regard to impartiality in News and diversity of opinion in Comment. The story of Lhamo is about the harassment campaign against her despite the legitimacy of her election, which our news coverage correspondingly focused on, and Comment contributors initially problematized.

The story is not about the general history of the conflict in Tibet. But the choice of some readers to interpret our coverage through this lens meant that they associated the ‘lack’ of a ‘China perspective’ as a deliberate stance on the conflict and thus reinforcing the Western tendency to negatively portray China.

Comment is not obligated to false balance for the sake of appearing neutral. A column on the online harassment against Lhamo does not automatically warrant soliciting comments from international Chinese students or groups on campus — they do not carry the same weight for the story in question. In fact, such a strategy would instead imply that being an international Chinese student means being on the ‘opposite’ side and could wrongly associate them with the harassment campaign.

Nonetheless, we reminded readers that if they disagree with our initial opinion coverage from their perspective as international Chinese students, they are always free to reach out and write an article accordingly. What we publish is ultimately a reflection of the interests of our contributors. Indeed, our UTSC Affairs Columnist wanted to provide an alternative perspective on the Lhamo story, and so that is the focus of his column this week.

Making charges against our editorial process on social media without fully understanding it, however, is not conducive to healthy discussion and debate. Discussion on sensitive issues should not devolve into flame wars. Many unreasonable and misinformed comments on social media from all sides compelled us to intervene and moderate for hateful content.

Publishing opinion pieces defending Lhamo is not an automatic endorsement of any position, and this is where the Comment-Editorial divide comes in. Whereas the Comment section is reserved for U of T community members, only editorials represent the opinion of The Varsity’s leadership. This year, the Editorial Board has not taken a position on the Lhamo story. We are obligated to make that known to readers who conflate individual contributors’ opinions with the paper’s as a whole and subsequently make accusations of bias.

Some readers’ concerns were fair. They observed that our news coverage on the Lhamo story was obscured because it was only a subheading in a news article’s recap of the SCSU elections, rather than a full article on its own. This may have contributed to the perception that opinion preceded news coverage, which is typically avoided so the former is not mistaken for the latter. We welcome readers to write letters to the editor or reach out to our Public Editor to discuss possible shortcomings in our editorial process.

We can always do better. But it is also important that readers abide by a certain level of media literacy. This means making informed and fair criticisms so that difficult discussions remain constructive.

Love beyond romance

Make Valentine’s Day about family, friends, U of T, The Varsity, and yourself

Love beyond romance

Every February 14, the capitalist cisheteropatriarchy (we’re not social justice warriors; we’re being satirical, somewhat — we promise!) calls on us to perform, or yearn for, ‘romance.’ That is, lavish expenditures and material offerings for ‘the one.’ But love is much more than romantic gestures directed toward a single target.

Spreading affection to the broader community and to oneself ought to be the goal of Valentine’s Day. So we challenge you, U of T’s student body, to give your love to something different this year.

Love your family

The rigour of studying at U of T often results in a disconnect from what really matters: family. If you live on or near campus, you likely don’t see your family for weeks at a time. For international students, this might even be months or, god forbid, years. If you’re a commuter who still lives with family, it’s likely you’re too busy at school, doing extracurriculars, or on transit to spend as much time with your folks as you should.

In some ways, this is what we all dreamt of. University was sold to us not just as a pathway to better employment, but as an escape from home, to experience independence and responsibility. And this is an important step for young adults. But homesickness is a real phenomenon for many — it doesn’t take long to miss home-cooked meals, for example.

Remember, the number one supporters of what we’re trying to achieve at U of T are those whom you consider family, whomever comes to mind with that word. On Valentine’s Day, give them a call and tell them you love them.

Love your friends

Yes, friends do exist at U of T — and no, the library doesn’t count. During your time here, you are bound to have made some acquaintances, whether through your college, classes, events, extracurriculars, or the gym.

In any case, you probably have multiple social networks that fuel your enjoyment at this university. Whether helping you with homework, listening to you vent, or discussing how problematic that one professor’s views are, you were never in it alone. Take a moment to appreciate the community around you by letting your friends know how central they are to your university experience.

Love U of T

Okay, this one is controversial. How can you possibly love U of T, or even like it? After all, this is the school whose grandeur radiates alienation until you feel like a nobody, and makes you tired from walking so much. This is the school that refuses to close its downtown campus as early as its satellite campuses, leaving commuters to suffer. And, above all, this is the school that engages in contentious policies, be it the university-mandated leave of absence policy or investments in fossil fuels.

But, by the time you leave U of T, you’ll probably feel kind of cool for having gone here. I mean, what’s not to love about those emails you get about the school being ranked number one in Canada, yet again?

In all seriousness though, going to U of T, despite all its challenges, puts you right at the heart of a buzzing metropolitan city. There’s always so much to do and somewhere to be, and you can easily hop on transit to get there. Be an explorer, and learn to love the adventures and little pockets that you didn’t know existed. And there’s a world unto itself on campus, with plenty of activities and events to experience. So take the day to love what U of T has to offer.

Love The Varsity

Obviously, at some point, we’re going to ask you to love us, your student newspaper. To be honest, we get more hate than we deserve, especially when we’re accused of being biased and having a political agenda. We’d like to tell you that what we do is actually invaluable on campus.

First of all, we keep the student body informed about what’s happening on campus. When the university or a student union does something questionable, we communicate that information to you. On the bright side, when a theatre show, sports game, or scientific discovery is really worth tuning into, we let you know. And we provide you, the students, a platform to express yourselves.

We’re always looking for writers, designers, photographers, illustrators, copy editors, and more, so join us if you’d like to make a difference in how this paper is run. And if you’re a reader who wants to know what U of T is up to, pick up a print issue on a stand near you, or hit up our website.

Our doors are always open, so drop by on February 14 to say hi.

Love yourself

No matter how much you might be struggling with school right now, or stressing over getting into graduate, medical, or law school in the future, remember that everything working out depends on you taking care of yourself.

So get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and do things that make you healthy and happy. Life is short, but university life is even shorter. So take it day by day, and make sure that moving forward doesn’t mean leaving you and your needs behind.

On Valentine’s Day, remember that love starts with loving yourself.

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.

Check out The Varsity’s hottest new projects

Following last year’s levy increase, Volume 139 is excited to deliver

Check out <i>The Varsity</i>’s hottest new projects

Last year, in the face of financial pressure stemming from a decade-long decline in advertising revenue across the media industry, The Varsity sought the direct support of students. We needed you to help sustain and grow our operations as a newspaper committed to building a strong and informed student voice at U of T.

Specifically, we asked you to vote ‘yes’ on two levy referenda: one to increase our full-time undergraduate membership levy by $0.80; and another to establish a new levy of $0.80 for full-time graduate students. We were thrilled when you approved us on both accounts.

The levy increase has enabled us to compensate our employees fairly, according to the new provincial minimum wage, without cutting costs. Furthermore, the new graduate levy means that full-time graduate students can fully participate in our operations, and our coverage of graduate politics and affairs has correspondingly grown significantly.

And that’s not all. With the addition of five new masthead positions and the commission of seven new projects overall, our coverage and scope have grown and improved on an unprecedented scale this year.

At the halfway mark of the year, we update you below on these expansions in detail, and we hope you find them to be worthy. We owe you for the support you’ve shown to your student press, and Volume 139 is excited to deliver.

A truly tri-campus newspaper: the UTM and UTSC Bureau Chiefs

The addition of the UTM and UTSC Bureau Chiefs has helped immensely in improving the quantity, quality, and diversity of coverage of the two campuses. With additional resources, we have been able to offer UTM and UTSC students the reporting they deserve and expect of us as a tri-campus newspaper. The bureau chiefs understand these campuses in a way that the UTSG-centred News team, alone, never could.

The bureau chiefs have two major roles: to pitch stories about their campuses and to be there on the ground to report. If you glance through the News section, the vast majority of the articles about UTM and UTSC have come from pitches from the bureau chiefs.

For example, one article announced the now open Chatime at UTSC. This seemingly small piece of news turned out to be one of our most popular articles of the year. The chiefs help the News section tap into our readership on a much deeper level. They also inform the other six section editors about stories that are relevant to their content.

In the past, the News section would only have the resources to superficially report on UTM and UTSC student politics, especially due to the difficulty of getting students to go out to other campuses. Now, we cover a wide range of board and Campus Council meetings.

Having our reporters in rooms where decisions get made means that we have caught major policies that we otherwise would have missed in the past — for example, the article on the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s disregard for its Annual General Meeting consensus.

Most importantly, the bureau chiefs are themselves students on the ground who are well-informed about the issues that matter at UTM and UTSC. This means that we are no longer limited to just covering routine governance meetings.

In September, when there was a lot of buzz around UTM accepting more students than it could accommodate, our UTM Bureau Chief pitched articles documenting the space constraints of the campus, which have been an ongoing and pressing issue. When there was another discovery of a bug in food at UTSC, we were able to delve deeper into the issue when our UTSC Bureau Chief wrote about the wider healthy food concerns that students had.

This is the type of coverage that the News section hopes to expand on this semester. With the support of the bureau chiefs, News intends to continue its watchdog-type reporting of governance at the satellite campuses, but also focus more attention on everyday issues that UTM and UTSC students care about.

To get involved with News coverage at all three U of T campuses, contact News Editor Josie Kao at news@thevarsity.ca.

Our seventh section: Business

The new Business section was launched in October, with 30 articles published so far. This allows us to dedicate more attention and detail to the financial side of the university. Specifically, Business has focused on university investments and partnerships, student and alumni startups and entrepreneurship, donations and gifts, and events. The section is open to both reporting and opinion writing, so News and Comment contributors are equally welcome.

Business is especially committed to keeping student readers informed about where university funding comes from and how it is being used, so as to hold the university more accountable for its dealings. For instance, our coverage of Huawei discussed the details of its partnership with U of T and how funding is used to support student research, while also questioning concerns over security and intellectual copyright.

For the upcoming semester, Business strives to do more service journalism, cover the financial side of labour agreements and disputes, and begin to produce longer, more in-depth investigations and analyses of university finances and investments.

To get involved with the section, contact Business Editor Michael Teoh at biz@thevarsity.ca.

The Sports documentary: Beyond the Blue Line

Since last semester, the Sports section has been filming and editing a documentary series on the journey of the members of the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team in the 2018–2019 season. It promises to provide students, alumni, and the general public with an in-depth look into the course of an Ontario University Athletics season, and the joys, frustrations, and challenges of such an experience.

Founded in 1891, the men’s hockey team is one of the oldest in U of T’s history, making it an easy pick for a documentary series. The series is still being filmed and edited, and approximately four episodes will be released over the course of this semester, including a final feature-length cut.

The project has been an incredible and invaluable experience for the 14-member documentary team and is a feat that has never before been attempted at The Varsity. Stay tuned for its upcoming release.

For more information on Behind the Blue Line, contact Sports Editor Daniel Samuel at sports@thevarsity.ca.

The student life blog: The Squirrel

The new blog, launched last week, is a lighthearted opportunity for students to express themselves and their interests in a concise, short, and humorous way. It focuses on activities to do and places to see on campus and in the wider city of Toronto. Furthermore, the blog showcases the unique experiences of some students who wish to either describe their interesting travel stories or share stories about how they overcame a challenge.

The blog has been developing steadily throughout the past semester, with articles already available for readers. Ultimately, given the plethora of blogs these days, the project hopes to find and create a unique voice specifically for U of T, which we hope many students will wish to contribute to and read.

Visit the blog at thesquirrel.thevarsity.ca. To get involved with the section, contact Blog Editor Joseph Naim at blog@thevarsity.ca.

Hearing people out: Podcast

This year, we’ve built a podcast studio and started a Podcast section because we believe that podcasts offer more creative possibilities for our contributors. We currently have two shows: Bazaar and (Un)Spoken. The first is a variety show with multiple individually produced segments under one cool theme. Episode one was “FEAR OF,” and both “INFAMY” and “HEAD” episodes are on the way.

The second is a talk show focusing on the experiences of marginalized groups at U of T. We’ve done episodes on exclusionary tendencies in academia and Chinese diaspora on campus so far, and we’re planning episodes on Black students’ experiences as well as women in STEM.

Podcasts bring a unique focus to the importance of hearing people out — hearing a discussion as it was spoken or hearing the exact tone of someone’s voice. We hope to harness this to make the podcasts a more accessible way for people to look below the surface of U of T. As we continue with this very new project, we hope the podcasts can come to be seen as uniquely relatable and insightful output from The Varsity.

To get involved with the section, contact Podcast Editor Blythe Hunter at podcast@thevarsity.ca.

Website redesign

The Varsity’s website has not had a major redesign since 2011. This semester, our online and creative teams will be working diligently to redesign the website, making it more user-friendly, intuitive, and accessible. A primary focus in the redesign will be showcasing the variety of content we produce — from Arts & Culture articles to videos to live-tweeting governance meetings. We also want to creatively present featured stories in a visually appealing way and provide readers with contextual stories alongside the latest news.

The Varsity is committed to reaching as many people in its community as possible and providing them with the information they need to know. The majority of our readership is online and we’d like to engage readers in a dialogue, ensuring that our communication is a two-way conversation.

Over the course of the year, The Varsity has implemented a few new projects designed to increase our online presence and gradually merge into a digitally-focused newspaper. Our new blog, podcast section, and this upcoming website redesign have been a three-pronged online strategy to this end.

For more information about our online strategy, contact Managing Online Editor Kaitlyn Simpson at online@thevarsity.ca.

Professional development: we went to NASH

The levy increase helped The Varsity to supplement its budget for professional development. This meant that a contingent of Varsity staff were able to travel to Calgary from January 3–6 for the Canadian University Press’ annual NASH conference. This opportunity allowed us to attend presentations, panels, and workshops from industry leaders in media on topics ranging from social media strategies to innovations in visual journalism to using open-source intelligence tools in campus reporting.

Though only a delegation of staff were able to attend, the entire masthead and staff base will benefit from the takeaways from this conference. The conference also connected Varsity staff to student journalists from across the country, allowing us to share experiences and knowledge with a view to improving the strength and outlook of the student press across the country. Ultimately, we hope to apply what we’ve gained from NASH to improve the quality of our journalism for readers.

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.

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.