Why your hate is hard to stomach

The Daily is an idealistic project. I’ve met with editors of other student papers from across the country, and they spoke about firing co-workers and banning sloppy writers from their offices. One spoke about putting writers on “probation,” and then wondered out loud why more students weren’t interested in contributing to the paper. The Daily doesn’t fire writers. We don’t hire them either. Our application process consists of interested students sending us emails or walking into our office after classes. I know of no paper as democratic as The Daily.

Behind most idealists, there’s a pragmatist – for us, that’s Boris Shedov. He’s been selling The Daily’s ads for over 20 years and he’s loved the paper for even longer. And I’m glad, because it’s Boris’s work that keeps our paper alive and kicking. Along with his co-workers Geneviève Robert and Letty Matteo, Boris sells the advertisements that have sustained a paper that’s offered generations of students an education in journalism.

He slogs away at the business end of things so that students can slog away producing copy and photography and illustrations. He’s proud to support a paper that’s truly a critical alternative to other news media. He respects our boycott of advertisements from big oil and the military and the pharmaceutical industry. Boris shares a lot of our ideals, and his willingness to incorporate them into his work is the reason that the paper you’re holding doesn’t look like The Mirror or The Hour. And his work ethic is a big part of the reason that the paper exists at all, with advertising revenues the way they are.

This kind of relationship between editors and advertising folks is uncommon. But I’m confident that whoever thought up The Daily’s structure was equal parts brilliant and near-insane. Because half of our funding comes from student fees, the paper is driven by students’ interests. McGill students elect editors, make up the editorial board, and staff the Board of Directors of our non-profit parent corporation, the Daily Publications Society. Major changes to our organization have been run by the student body via referendum for the past few decades. And every five years, we go to referendum where students can affirm or deny their support for the continued existence of The Daily and Le Délit.

But sometimes that can be scary. This year, we felt the tension between The Daily and its student stakeholders more than ever. When Drew Nelles, the coordinating editor in 2007-2008, began his final comment piece with “Some of you hate The Daily,” I thought he was being melodramatic. I was wrong – some of you really, really hate us. What makes this hate hard to stomach is that most of the shortcomings people point out are things we struggle with on a regular basis: we argue over whether our reporting is as accurate and clear as it could be, if we’re covering everything we should, and if we’re reaching a diverse enough base of readers. We care as much as our critics do, and we work constantly to change things for the better.

Some of the criticisms levied at The Daily this year are valid. Some are not. Queer rights are not “obscure human rights issues.” Neither are the rights of McGill’s workers or people fighting for equal access to abortion. These are issues that students care about. We know this because it’s students who write the stories. Past editors have pointed out that there is a distinction between being mainstream and being accessible. And while accessibility remains our goal, we choose not to restrict ourselves to writing only about the things almost every other newspaper devotes its pulp and ink to.

But people are right when they say our writing doesn’t always engage students. We need to do a better job of covering stories in faculties underrepresented on The Daily’s staff, and of making the relevancy of each issue to the McGill community immediately clear. You can help us by getting in touch and telling us what you want to see. What newsworthy things are going on in your faculty? What’s affecting your campus group? What kind of issues are we missing?
But, at the end of the day, there’s something that won’t change. We’re always going to maintain our grounding in a conception of social justice – the idea that in the society we occupy, some people are up, others are down, and that’s not right. The Daily is yours, and it’s your tool for challenging what you see as unfair or wrong or unjust.

We want you to get involved, because it’s your paper, and people are still fighting to keep it alive.

Stephen Davis is The Daily’s coordinating editor and soon to be dropout from the Faculty of Religious Studies. The words here are his own. Write him at sspencerdavis@gmail.com.