Western’s campus media under threat

January 16, 2013


An open letter to all interested parties:

It has come to my attention that the University Students’ Council is planning to move the Gazette and its 24 editors from its 40-year location to a much smaller office currently occupied by four people. As I understand, this plan was made surreptitiously without due consultation with the Gazette, its staff, or even multi-faith stakeholders at the centre of the issue. As former editor-in-chief of the Gazette, I have many grave concerns about this plan, not least of which is the Gazette’s ability to function as a key part of campus democracy, should this plan proceed.

The publisher-newspaper relationship is a tenuous one, to be sure. As such, it’s always prudent on the publisher to be as open, transparent and accountable as possible so political influences and personal vendettas are not allowed to interfere with the newspaper’s autonomy and freedom. The decision to move from one office to another is not a direct threat on press freedoms. But when the decision is made without due consultation and fair review of the consequences, the motivations become suspect. Is the publisher acting in the best interest of the newspaper? Is the student council acting in the best interest of its constituents? A review of the available information leads to me to conclude it is not.

The decision to move offices to a significantly smaller space has several consequences likely not considered in the publisher’s calculations. As a journalist now employed at The Globe and Mail, I can only credit The Gazette, its training, its welcoming environment and its community for my success. Many young volunteers use the Gazette as a launching pad for their careers, based in large part on the community fostered inside its space. The walls emanate tradition from dozens of previous editors who are now employed in the industry around the world. A newspaper is a collaborative effort made possible by an open space that fosters creativity, sparks imagination and enables collaboration. This is necessary for several aspects of its operations, from group story meetings, to cross-section collaboration, to daily editorial board meetings, which can involve 20 or 30 editors and volunteers gathered to discuss important issues of the day.

All of this and more has been threatened by the publisher’s decision. And I suspect none of it has been duly considered. The proposed space – which contains one receiving area, three small offices and one storage space – would quell collaboration. Editorial board meetings could not function. Volunteers would not have space to work, forcing them home or elsewhere, disrupting the editor-volunteer dynamic that was so crucial to my success.

The publisher must be exceedingly careful here; decisions against the wishes of the newspaper can be easily (mis)understood as sidelong political punishments. The recent turbulence between the student government and the campus newspaper is well documented. These same politicians are now in a position to affect The Gazette. And they appear to be doing so.

This controversy requires open, productive conversations between all interested groups. The furtive decision-making process by the publisher cannot continue.

I implore Western to review these decisions now affecting its campus newspaper, which would have grave consequences on its role in campus democracy. I ask the University Students’ Council to suspend its plan until a more thorough review of consequences and alternatives can be evaluated. I ask the Gazette’s editor to work in consult with the publisher to ensure transparency and accountability on all sides.

Please proceed with much caution. The decisions you make now will affect students, journalism and press freedoms for decades to come.

Sincerely,

Stuart Thompson

Gazette Editor-in-Chief – 2010-11

Tell the USC and Western they need to conduct a full review of all alternatives and consequences before pushing through this plan. Ask them to involve all parties in a collaborative discussion.  Contact usc.gm@uwo.ca, achakma@uwo.ca and USC.president@uwo.ca

Update (Jan. 17, 2013): USC President Adam Fearnall’s responds to my letter

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One Response

  1. Richard Gilmore says:

    As a former photo editor and photographer at The Gazette for three years (93-95) (and still a documentary photographer) I’m very sorry to see how the USC and the University Admin are perhaps using office space as a way to squeeze the paper and do through the back door what it can’t do through the front? Even in my time there was friction between the USC, the paper, and the UWO Admin. I can’t imagine going from that office (which is the one I worked in) to one even smaller. Four people is that really true?

    The political cartoon debacle of a few years ago, well after my time, was an unfortunate catalyst and gave forces against The Gazette an excuse to give it a “haircut” that aside I’m sorry to see The Gazette be faced with treatment such as this.

    The Gazette was best thing I ever did at Western. It was an education that no amount of money could ever have bought. Any J-School is not a substitute for actually producing a daily paper. I know this having gone to King’s many years later. So many Canadian journalists have come from The Gazette and gone on to careers around the world. Western should be thanked for providing an environment where democracy, vigorous and often messy free speech are encouraged, developed and celebrated. We do not need more PR specialists and message track writers serving those in power and making the world safe for them. I would hope the USC sees the value of The Gazette and provides office space to allow them to be one of those vigorous training grounds for future Canadian journalists.

    I hope no matter what happens that The Gazette will continue be a serious voice for fairness, questioning and democracy withing the Western community. Fight on! Your integrity will speak for itself.

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