Tag Archives: The-Link

Concordia’s Link newspaper: A hypocritical lack of transparency?

The following is a letter to the editor I submitted to The Link, one of Concordia University’s student newspapers, where I worked for four years in an editorial capacity and sat for two years on its board of directors. It’s having its annual general assembly on Friday, which is the one time every year where all fee-paying members (that is, all Concordia students) have the right to vote.

It’s a scary time, because student politicians have been known to try to take advantage of that right to try to exact revenge on editors who have criticized them, or try to take control over the paper to change how it covers the news.

But I think the paper has gone too far in trying to shield itself from this perceived menace.

Dear editor,

As a former Concordia student and Link editor, I always make sure to pick up a copy of my old newspaper every time I’m near the campus. I’ve been reading with interest the paper’s coverage of the Concordia Student Union election and the dismissal of President Judith Woodsworth by the university’s Board of Governors. In coverage of both those issues, you called for increased transparency and accountability on the part of both student and university governments, and rightfully so.

But something I noticed has made me wonder if the next target of your demand for increased transparency shouldn’t be The Link itself.

As I write this, you and other members of the Link Publication Society (essentially, all Concordia students who bother showing up) are hours away from taking part in its annual general assembly, in which you appoint members to the paper’s board of directors, approve constitutional amendments and do other boring stuff that has nothing to do with the paper’s editorial content.

At the bottom of your notice for this meeting is written the following: “Constitutional amendments are available at the Link office.”

What’s notable about this is that it means this list is not available anywhere else. The proposed constitutional amendments were not printed in the paper. They are not available on the website (for that matter, neither is the constitution itself). The Link’s board is proposing changes to the rules that govern the way the organization runs and seems to be doing everything in its power to make it difficult for students to find out what those changes are. (I can only imagine what you make students go through if they want to see the amendments. Do they have to show ID? Are they allowed to take a copy out of the office or make notes? Are they monitored while they read them?)

I believe this is being done intentionally to prevent as many students as possible from seeing the proposed amendments before the meeting, in case any may disagree with them and want to round up support to vote them down.

It’s a perfectly understandable and justifiable fear. But it’s still wrong.

I don’t say this lightly. I know more than most the dangers of student politicians coming to this one meeting a year when they have the power to vote and using that power to take control of the paper for the sole purpose of affecting its editorial content. I know because I lived it in 2001.

Back then, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had taken over all other political discussion at the university, and editorial decisions of The Link caused a rift between the paper and members of a Palestinian activist group and the CSU. Enemies of the paper protested and passed around a petition calling for The Link to be shut down. They later used sheer numbers to take over the general assembly, appoint sympathetic students to the board and demand changes to the bylaws.

The result was a nasty political tug of war between Link editorial staff and student activists that caused the paper to be shut down over the summer.

In the years that followed, I proposed changes to The Link’s bylaws that strengthened its protections from those who would seek to control it for political reasons. (Those protections may still be in place. I don’t know for sure, because I don’t have access to The Link’s constitution.) I learned that increased transparency helps the free press more than it hinders, even if it may sometimes seem in the paper’s best interest to try to manipulate its own democratic processes.

It’s a delicate balancing act between having a newspaper that is free of political control and having one that is accountable to its members and properly protected from itself. But secrecy doesn’t protect The Link from politicians. It only serves to make it unaccountable and untransparent. And that makes it wrong.

I read with interest your recent decision to increase the use of your website by moving breaking news there. You can make a big leap in transparency by also posting your bylaws, constitutional amendments and board meeting minutes.

Transparency is scary in a world where knowledge is power. But The Link is strong. And if any politicians try to take it over again, I’ll be the first to run down there with a picket sign and make sure they don’t succeed.

Please reconsider your policy.

Steve Faguy, B.CompSc 2004, GrDip Journ. 2005

Editor-in-Chief 2003-04

It may seem petty to care about how a university newspaper announces constitutional amendments half a decade after graduating from that university (sadly, I know people who have been gone longer and still care more). But I don’t think anyone else knows this issue as well as I do, and something compels me to write to them about it.

UPDATE: A shortened version of this letter (to meet their 400-word limit) appeared in Tuesday’s Link. Its editor says the paper is open to adding these documents online.

The Link turns 30 with journalism conference

The Link, a Concordia student-run newspaper that I edited more than half a decade ago, celebrates 30 this year. The paper has a habit of celebrating every five years. I was there for the 20th anniversary, and again for the 25th. Turnover at universities means it’s usually a completely different group of people organizing each one.

As part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, The Link is playing host to a regional conference of Canadian University Press, hosting student newspapers from Quebec and Ontario (emphasis on the Ontario, since CUP is still a mostly English-dominated organization, even in its tiny Quebec chapter).

The conference, which goes Friday night to Sunday morning (but most activities of interest are on Saturday). It is hosted at Concordia’s downtown campus. It’s $7 for the general public to attend (according to the Facebook event page), and free for alumni of the paper.

The schedule is here (PDF). Speakers include:

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.

The Link looks at media democracy

The Link, one of the student-run papers at Concordia University, focuses this week on the challenges facing the news media in its Media Democracy special issue.

The eight-page insert is part of the weekly paper, available for free on campus or for download in this 10MB PDF file. Or you can read the stories online.

Among the articles is this interview with some know-it-all complaining about his doomed career.

Also in this section:

My first real website

The Link's website in summer 2002

The Link's website in summer 2002

For some reason that completely eludes me now, I took a trip through the Wayback Machine this week to visit my first big website. It was for The Link, the better of Concordia University’s two student newspapers (at least while I worked there). And sadly, it’s a website that no longer exists except in the form of a few snapshots in the Internet Archive.

Taking us back to 2001

Having been appointed to the position of webmaster for a newspaper that didn’t have a website, it became pretty clear what my first job would be. During the summer of 2001 I embarked on a project to create a server and install a content management system on it that would be suitable for newspaper articles.

The first part wasn’t too complicated: a generic desktop server with Slackware Linux installed on it, a few tweaks, and the server was up.

The CMS was a different story. This was two years before WordPress. Months before the first MovableType. After minutes of searching, I figured my best option would be to use Slashcode, the Perl-based engine behind the popular Slashdot. (Hey, remember Slashdot? Apparently it’s still there.)

In hindsight, it was a horrible mistake. At the time (and I suspect this is still the case) it was an awful, inelegant piece of hacked-together software, built from scratch to support Slashdot and awkwardly patched with new features. That meant changing things very difficult.

Among the annoyances that only grew over time:

  • Accounts had to be created for each author. Every time a new person contributed or even just wrote a letter to the editor, an account had to be created. A few years in, the “author” drop-down menu had over a hundred names in it.
  • No concept of “issues” to tie together articles of a certain date. Instead of showing all the articles for a particular issue, it would be programmed to show the latest X number of articles.
  • An impossible-to-understand caching system that required all sorts of manual resets in order to do something simple like change the background colour on the main page. This is combined with a background daemon that had the habit of turning itself off.
  • A database that tended to get corrupted causing everything to go bad.
  • Hard-coded or semi-hard-coded constants and variables, such as a “security level” that was in the form of an integer instead of a list of capabilities.
  • No built-in way of handling photos or their captions.

But for its faults, the system also had many useful features, some of which were ahead of their time:

  • Threaded comments, comment rating and group moderation (being Concordia at a time of relative political chaos, these got a lot of use)
  • Integrated RSS, including the ability to pull RSS headlines from other sites
  • Form keys to prevent spamming and double comments
  • “Boxes” (what WordPress calls “widgets) that provide for various functions and bonus content in the sidebar

For about five years, the website ran on Slash, frustrating webmaster after webmaster, until a database crash in the summer of 2006 forced them to switch to a new system. By then, thankfully, technology had progressed to the point where more elegant solutions were available.

Still, it’s a shame the archives have disappeared.

You can see what the website looked like a few months after launch in 2001, a few months later after a redesign, and in 2004 before I ended my tenure as an editor.

Rover reloaded

The Link has a profile of Rover, the independent online arts magazine which includes pieces from some well-known local freelance writers whose launch party was last week but has been around for a bit.

It includes a dig at bloggers as amateur journalists who don’t know what they’re talking about. I get the point about professional vs. amateur journalism, but I think the generalization of bloggers is a bit unfair.

The Link profiles The Gazette

The Link at Concordia has a feature article about CanWest and specifically The Gazette cutting staff in its newsroom. It includes an interview with Gazette editor-in-chief Andrew Phillips, who says the shift from print to online is a “cultural shock.”

Though the article is unsurprisingly negative in tone, it provides quite a bit of insight into the situation at the paper, as well as what the future holds for print media in general.

A couple of things though:

  1. While The Gazette’s lobby is very pretty and there are some shiny yellow surfaces, I doubt it’s actually made of solid gold as the article implies.
  2. Sorry Mike Gasher, but “linkalism” is not a word.

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?

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Maclean’s student activism series focuses on Concordia

Kate Lunau, a former Concordia journalism student (who interned at The Gazette last summer) writes Part 1 of a Maclean’s series on student activism, which focuses on Concordia University and the risk assessment committee which is headed by its VP services and … uhh … “doesn’t exist” according to the university.

It quotes David Bernans, the professional student behind the crusade against this secret committee after it “mistakenly” stopped a reading from his book last year.

It also mentions my alma mater, The Link, and its editorial demanding more transparency in the university’s handling of security issues.