Tag Archives: The-Concordian

Young writers on old writers

Alan Hustak

Alan Hustak. He doesn't always wear a top hat.

Two articles were posted on a bulletin board at work recently, one from each of Concordia’s two student newspapers, and both profiling old people veteran Gazette journalists.

The Link talks to Alan Hustak, who until March was a reporter for the city section whose specialty was obituaries. The article says he “retired”, though the true nature of Hustak’s sudden departure from the newspaper remains a mystery even to his colleagues.

The article discusses the state of newspaper obituaries today, which are sadly lacking, at least in quantity. Most newspapers block off whole pages for paid obituaries, and the space that’s left unfilled by paid notices is given to editorial to fill with narrative obituaries. But because there is more space available than fascinating obituaries to fill it – even in this world of super-tight editorial space – newspapers tend to scrape the bottom of the barrel, taking obits from the New York Times, Washington Post or Los Angeles Times about obscure scientists and artists whose claims to fame are arguable at best.

Since leaving The Gazette, Hustak has been writing for The Métropolitain (you can read his obituary for Len Dobbin) as well as putting together obits for the Globe and Mail (like this one for former VIA Rail chairman Lawrence Hannigan).

Generations apart

Next to the Link article on Hustak was this one from The Concordian, about Red Fisher. Little you don’t already know about Fisher from other writings on the topic, though he talks a bit about how players don’t make good quotes anymore (those that do are quickly punished for it) and how the media is too concerned with sports stars’ personal lives (one can imagine Fisher’s thoughts on the whole Tiger Woods saga).

He also says younger journalists should get off his lawn be careful about too much reliance on the Internet, and all the false information spread that way (by the way, did you hear about the latest rumour with Carey Price, Maxim Lapierre and Vincent Lecavalier?).

The most interesting part of the article, to me, is a mistake in it, that unintentionally explains so well the generational gap in play here:

The first woman he ever saw in a team’s dressing room was The New York Times’ first female sports reporter, Robin Herman, in the 1970’s. After an All-Star game at the Pepsi Forum that night, Fisher recalled, Herman and another female journalist from a French radio station boldly decided they were going down to the team’s dressing room.

I’m pretty sure Red Fisher has never seen an All-Star game from the Pepsi Forum.

Universities: Like real life, only without consequences

It’s so adorable when kids look up to real journalists. The Concordian this week has an interview with Gazette universities columnist Peggy Curran.

Speaking of which, these Concordia kids want me to talk to them about something later this month. Any suggestions what topic of infinite wisdom I can impart on young journalist-wannabes (other than “you’ve picked the wrong profession”)?

Concordian interviews Boisclair

The Concordian interviews André Boisclair, who recently started giving lectures on crisis management at Concordia as a teaching assistant under former Liberal Party activist John Parisella. It starts off with marketingese about how happy he is to teach there (in response to questions about the controversies surrounding his appointment) and then descends into a confrontational debate over whether sovereignists should teach at anglo universities:

Is coming to Concordia a sign that you’re no longer a sovereignist?
What are you getting at?

Well, I don’t know, a lot of people say that a sovereigntist might have rather chosen to go to Universite de Montréal or UQÀM to teach.
Why is that?

Well. Because they’re French universities.
Are you defending the principle of segregation sir?

Boisclair also says pretty definitively that he’s done with politics.

No word on whether he spent any time doing lines with CSU executives or checking out the stalls in the Hall Building’s 8th floor men’s bathroom (ok ok, that one was unfair).

Concordia Student Union needs a clarity act

The Concordia Student Union is in the midst of their by-elections this week. The small sibling to its March general election, this poll fills council seats left vacant, and asks referendum questions that people couldn’t get their act together in time to get on the March ballot.

The CSU is still trying to figure out if two of its current councillors were properly elected in March. The council nullified a decision of its own judicial branch under suspicious circumstances and has now used stalling techniques to avoid the issue of whether two independent students (those that don’t belong to one of the school’s four faculties) were in fact independent at the time of their election.

Nevertheless, it’s trying to conduct a clean election.

I can’t speak for the candidates (six candidates for three seats, with clear party affiliations), but the referendum questions leave much to be desired.

Three of the four involve fee increases (student-imposed student fees have skyrocketed this decade), and they’re all written by the people who want the fees approved instead of an impartial third party. As such, they include irrelevant statements about what the fees will pay for.

The Concordian student newspaper, which is desperately trying to increase its fee to bring it on par with its competitor The Link (some background on their bickering here), has this question on the ballot:

Do you agree to raise the fee level of The Concordian, a free weekly, independent newspaper covering news, sports, arts, music, features and opinions for Concordia by $0.09 per credit, from $0.10 to $0.19 per credit, to cover the rising costs of printing the newspaper, repairing old and failing equipment and increasing the creative quality and scope of the paper? This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

The problem is that the question implies that the fee increase will only cover rising costs of printing and equipment replacement. Though that’s part of it, the editors are also interested in offering contributors a small honorarium and saving some money for a rainy day.

If a competent election officer was running the show, the question would look like this:

Do you agree to raise the fee level of The Concordian by $0.09 per credit, from $0.10 to $0.19 per credit? This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

The other two fee questions have the same problem. Unnecessary campaigning is emphasized below:

Do you agree to raise the Concordia Student Union Fee Levy by $0.25 per credit, from $1.50 to $1.75 per credit in order to fund important services and initiatives such as the creation of an emergency food bank for students in need, a free daily lunch offered to Loyola students and Concordia Student Union 101’s. This fee will be charged to all Undergraduate students beginning with the 2008 Winter term (2008/4 courses) and will be subject to the university’s tuition and refund policy.

Do you agree to adjust the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) membership fee levy (which includes the membership fees of the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Federation of Students- Services and the Canadian Federation of Students-Québec) to $0.41 per credit per student, thereby continuing to support the increased demand for campaigns and services of CFS, some of which include lobbying for student debt reduction, better student financial aid, more funding for post-secondary education, cell phone discounts through StudentPhones, student discounts at hundreds of retailers in and around Montreal and free ISIC cards? The fee adjustment would represent a $0.01 decrease for Arts & Science, Fine Arts, and Independent students, and a $0.41 increase for Engineering and Computer Science and John Molson School of Business students, thereby equalizing the fee levy paid by ALL undergraduate students. The fee adjustment would be implemented in the Winter (2008/4) term and collected in accordance with the University’s tuition billing and refund policy.

The last question is even worse. In order to correct a decades-old discrepancy between fees paid by various faculties, it proposes to “equalize” the fees by slightly decreasing the fee for the largest group (Arts and Science, Fine Arts and independent students represent more than 65% of the population) and creating the fee out of nothing for the rest. The large group will vote to decrease their fees, and even if engineering and commerce students vote against their huge fee increase en masse, it won’t matter because other students make that decision for them.

It’s a horribly unfair system.

So why are these dirty referendum tricks tolerated? Because they have been used for years.

Just about every fee-related referendum question for the past five years has included unnecessary and leading information. The Art Matters festival, People’s Potato free lunch service, CJLO Radio, Frigo Vert, Sustainable Concordia and the Concordia chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group have all used this technique to get fee questions passed.

The divide-and-conquer equalization technique, meanwhile, was first used by the Concordia Student Union itself back in 2001, and has been adapted for use at The Link (full disclosure: while I was an editor there, though I still feel bad about it). Other groups like QPIRG have used a similar technique but with a slight increase instead of a decrease for the majority.

I suppose I could just let it go and dismiss it as the work of uneducated students, but some of these people are going to be involved in real politics someday (Mario Dumont was a Concordia graduate). They’re going to have to learn at some point that this kind of manipulation of the electoral process isn’t kosher. It might as well be now.

UPDATE (Dec. 1): This post is referenced in Macleans.ca’s Nov. 30 daily campus update. Though it’s “Concordia Student Union”, not “Concordia Student’s Union”.

Also The Concordian’s Tobi Elliott informs me that The Concordian’s referendum question passed. So did all the other ones. What a surprise.

Concordian sorry for offending Muslims

The Concordian has issued an apology to Muslim students after a recent cover of the paper had the word “Allah” apparently used in such a way that was considered offensive to some. They realized this after copies of their paper went missing, apparently taken and destroyed by offended students.

Ironically, the editor says he she checked with two Muslims to see if they were offended before the paper went to print. Clearly he didn’t check with fanatic enough people.

When should business trump journalism?

Perhaps it’s unfair to prey on the defenceless student media, but there’s an issue brewing behind the scenes that’s just so interesting on a larger scale.

The Link and The Concordian, the two student-run newspapers at Concordia University, are mortal enemies and they are fiercely competitive (after a few years of one paper being clearly superior to the other). They compete over design, contributors, editors, money and anything else they can think of.

I bring it up because it makes me wonder what rules should exist in general for journalists when it comes to their competition. Some media flat-out refuse to refer to direct competitors by name, unless it’s to report bad news about them. Many have rules restricting staff (and in some cases even freelancers) from contributing to competing media. And, of course, there’s the whole problem of when media outlets report on themselves.

Blogs, for the most part, take a completely different position. They welcome competition, link to their posts, hang out together and exchange tips. The idea there is that becoming part of a community helps everyone in it.

Who’s right? Is the cooperation among blogs simply because they’re such small enterprises and they’re trying to get noticed? When big blogs become large, mainstream, corporate-owned companies instead of some guys in a basement, will they too try to actively shut out their competition?

At what point do we have to stop being journalists and start being businesspeople?

(Note: This post was edited at the request of The Link, who wish to keep their dirty laundry in their own hamper. The main point still stands.) 

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Concordia’s student media bickering again

At Concordia University, there’s been a rivalry between its student newspapers for more than 20 years now, since The Concordian was launched in 1984 as competition for The Link (both now have RSS feeds, by the way, for those who want alternative local news sources).

This week, The Concordian rekindled some of that rivalry by questioning The Link’s referendum question asking to have their fees applied to graduate students. Currently both papers are funded by fees from undergraduate students only.

The piece goes on in detail about how The Link (a paper I ran three years ago) receives twice as much money from students than The Concordian, for about as much output (one issue a week during the school year). Because of the extra money, The Link can afford new computers, salaries for its editors, better quality printing and a substantial budget surplus.

Let’s go into a bit of background to understand this situation a bit better.

The Link was created in 1980 as the result of a merger of two newspapers: The Georgian, which served Sir George Williams University, and the Loyola News, which served Loyola College. When those two institutions merged in 1974, it was decided that merging the two student newspapers was a logical step.

Efforts to create a second student newspaper at SGWU and Concordia emerged during the 60s and 70s, but none lasted more than a few years. In 1984 a group of renegade Link staffers broke off and formed The Concordian, which was supposed to have a more moderate mainstream editorial stance to balance The Link’s crazy leftism. (An ideological split that amazingly lasts to this day)

Both newspapers were funded in full by the student association, until in 1986 students decided that in order to ensure editorial independence they should get their funding directly from students through a tax on their tuition fees. Since then, both are independent organizations with their own boards of directors.

At the time, The Link was publishing twice a week and The Concordian once, so the fee was established at $0.13 per credit for The Link and $0.07 per credit to The Concordian. In the early 1990s, The Link successfully passed a referendum to increase it to $0.20, and in the late 1990s dropped from 40 issues a year to 30, or once a week. The Concordian got their fee levy increased from $0.07 to $0.10 a few years ago.

So all this to say that The Link publishes 30 issues a year and The Concordian 25, and The Link gets almost twice as much money ($0.19 per credit from all undergrads after yet another referendum to get engineering and business students to join in). The fee difference has always been a pain in the Concordian’s neck.

The criticisms brought up in the piece are for the most part justified. The Link enjoys an accumulated $250,000 surplus while The Concordian barely scrapes by. The old excuse that The Link was simply better has largely fallen by the wayside as the quality of both papers’ editorial content has become more equal.

But there is nothing sinister about The Link’s fee. They have it because they asked students for more money and students said yes. When The Concordian goes to students this fall to ask that their fee be brought in line (something The Link apparently doesn’t support), it’ll be up to those students to decide if their paper is worthy of the extra money.

The Link, which asked graduate students to join them a couple of years ago and lost a referendum on the subject, is certainly motivated more by money than membership in its desire to get fees from graduate students. I wanted membership extended to graduate students because there were some (notably in the journalism department’s graduate diploma program) who wanted to become members of the society. But they said no. To me, that was the end of it. Graduate students are disconnected from student life and don’t spend as much time on campus, so they decided the student paper thing wasn’t for them.

Now they’re trying again, and The Concordian isn’t happy about the idea of the divide between rich and poor getting larger. I can’t say I blame them for their emotional reaction, though they shouldn’t be blaming The Link for their troubles.

We’ll see what happens to both papers’ requests for more student fee money. Will students want to dig into their own pockets to settle the score?