Student journalism matters

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A photo of a table in a coffee shop, with some issues of the Carillon laid out.
We don’t know who laid them out this way, but we like to think they found their voice raised loud and clear in our pages. Allister White

Students need a voice that is their own, raised on terms they set themselves 

Canadian universities welcome approximately 1.44 million full- and part-time students annually. This is a number that is greater than the entire population of Saskatchewan. Altogether, students represent a critical demographic in Canada and constitute a new generation of thinkers and leaders. Students are often at the forefront of changing social attitudes, norms, and perspectives.  

A commonly reiterated sentiment is that every generation has its problems. Today, young people face increasingly frightening disruptions from climate change, a depressing housing market that feels unattainable, and growing concerns around cost of living. As such, much of our social fabric is changing and this includes the way we consume news, and from whose perspective.  

Ben Schwartz, a journalist for The Atlantic, describes the industry as “in transition.” This is mirrored by the socio-economic climate we currently find ourselves in. Likewise, Beau Bilinovich from The Observer says that, “Student journalism can act as a model for the real world, where people can freely and openly discuss ideas, debate and point to the problems that need to be addressed. As opposed to state or even federal politics, schools offer a smaller, more confined community.” According to Bilinovich, “that skill – figuring out how to resolve conflicts – is needed now more than ever.”  

Students and young people have a major stake in finding solutions to current day problems as they inherit the responsibility as stewards of earlier generations, before they inevitably pass it to the next generations. Moreover, students are often at risk of increased vulnerabilities to economic changes and political and policy decisions impacting living conditions.  

According to the Government of Canada, in “urban centres, poverty is often concentrated in specific neighbourhoods, where more vulnerable populations such as racialized groups, recent immigrants, students, young adults and persons living alone or with roommates” (emphasis added). As such, students might have intimate relationships with social and political changes and therefore their voices and perspectives are of critical importance.  

Much of the political power and positions of representation are held by older-middle aged Canadians. The average age of a Canadian Member of Parliament is currently 52. Likewise, since 1867 the average age of a senior figure in the first ministers has been around 55 years old. Notably, Justin Trudeau has been an exception to this rule as he is one of the younger most senior members in Canadian political history. In 2015 Trudeau was sworn in as Canadas second-youngest Prime Minister at 43 years old. Further, the largest demographic of voter turn-out in Canada tends to lean towards older Canadians. In 2021, the most significant demographic of Canadian voters was those aged between 65-74 years old.  

The over-representation of certain demographics in positions of political authority can feel daunting to younger Canadians with concerns around shared interests, understanding, and values. Bilinovich claims that because of this “the connection that student journalists have with their community can help to mitigate these feelings and give young voices a sense of validity, especially when our concerns are often silence.” 

Although student newspapers are incomparable to larger news networks, the work of students offers critical insights into the perspectives and desires of younger generations. Student newspapers tend to cover personal issues, or issues of relevance to younger student bodies. “We shine a light on the issues that large media outlets might not pick up on, the issues that we have to face every day on campus. That’s what truly matters,” says Bilinovich.  

Canada has a long history with post-secondary newspapers. The Canadian University Press (CUP) is a non-profit cooperative owned and operated by student newspapers at post-secondary student across Canada. In fact, CUP is the oldest national student organization in North America and was founded in 1938. CUP was originally created to foster a network of Canadian student newspapers to share ideas and strategies. According to CUP, “These newspapers [were] largely beholden to union interests; CUP was created primarily as a way for the unions to publicize student issues to schools across the country and build solidarity amongst Canadian students”.  

During the 1960s, the student movement in Canada began to gain traction and CUP is credited with the phrase “agent of social change” when it was introduced the organization’s statement of principles. According to CUP’s website, during the “60s and 70s, CUP members questioned the viability of traditional journalistic ‘objectivity.’”  

CUP members positioned themselves against the idea of false balance they observed in mainstream media in favour of integrating principles of social justice and advocacy into their journalistic practices. Student journalists and CUP members described their position as “reporting on the parade from inside the parade.” CUP is now in its 86th year of operation and continues to focus on fostering connections between student publications across the country.  

Notably, the University of Regina is one of upwards of 100 Canadian universities that have one or more student-operated newspapers. The Carillon was established in 1962 and gained its name from a proposed building – a bell tower, or carillon – from the decade prior. A 160-foot bell tower was in construction plans and would have been tall enough to be seen from anywhere on the campus.  

The bell tower was never built; standing in its place is the Carillon. The proposed bell tower inspired students, and today the newspaper continues to serve as a symbolic structure on campus.  

The student newspaper is the stomping grounds of several notable Canadian journalists that include Norm Bolen and Ken Mitchell. Bolen is now credited with launching and editing the then-underground paper called Prairie Fire, and had a 21-year long career with CBC.  

Reflecting on his career, Bolen discussed the connection between student journalism and strong student led movements by saying “I had been a journalist in university and was editor of the student paper in Saskatchewan. I was very much involved in student journalism…I was also very active in the Canadian Student Union as an organizer. […] and those were the days of the beginning of democratization of university, getting students on the university senate. That was a very active time on university campuses, and breaking down the system that had been run by an elite.”  

Today, student newspapers continue to act as a beacon for strong student-led movements and voices. A metaphorical torch passed from hand to hand.  

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