Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Ubyssey Reportcard

The following was submitted Feb 15, 2007 to the Ubyssey Editorial board and was rejected based on "libellous grounds".

"The Ubyssey Reportcard"

In 2005 the Canadian Medical Association Journal's editorial board was
threatened by its publisher, the Canadian Medical Association. The
editor-in-chief John Hoey was dismissed after he published two
controversial studies which put its publisher in a politically awkward
situation: a study on the way pharmacists dispensed Plan B
contraceptives and a story questioning the appointment as Minister of
Health in the Conservative Canadian Government, given his support for
privatisation of health services. As a consequence the entire
editorial board quit in protest, as their right to full editorial
autonomy in the future had been threatened.

Another incident occurred in 1993 when The Ubyssey newspaper published
an issue with unquestionably sexually violent content, whereby
sponsors and the University's women's office not only complained to
the paper but its publisher, the Almar Mater Society (AMS) itself.
What followed was a series of poorly thought out events: the AMS shut
the paper down in 1994. It then tried to set up a publishing board
which still allowed the AMS some political influence over the
editorial direction of the paper. Finally, a passed in January of
1995 whereby "members of the AMS recognize the Ubyssey as the official
student campus publication, [and] that 5$ per active member per year
(pro rated for part time students) be collected [...] for the
publication of an autonomous student newspaper at The UBC." (AMS
Archives) And this is where we are now.

Though I can't speak for the years when I wasn't around, our official
student newspaper has since held a fluctuating amount of suspicion
towards the AMS. Perhaps rightfully so, given the collective impact
it has had on the paper historically, though it should be noted that
there are now no procedural avenues for the AMS to influence its
annual political will onto the paper.

I wanted to note that this letter has been submitted on February 15,
2007 before the AMS Executive Reportcard has been published. This is
important as I am not publishing this as a backlash of The Ubyssey
editorial board's assessment of the exec whose performance I've
overseen this year as a member of AMS council.

Rather, I would like to write on the overall holistic performance of
the newspaper this past year, consolidating the general displeasure
expressed throughout the year by, but perhaps not limited to, the
people I interact with on a regular basis, including many students who
are not employees of the AMS.

I had about thirty or so people talk or write me on their thoughts of
The Ubyssey newspaper. I also met with an editor and the business
manager of the paper for just under two hours, read all the archives
of the UBC library and the AMS on the paper, and obtained a copy of
The Ubyssey's constitution in order for me to grasp at of how the
paper is run and governs itself. The question I received when I
entered the editorial office ("are you going to overthrow us?") is
hopefully addressed in this letter.

Unlike commercial media which relies on its sales for funding, the
quality of The Ubyssey and other student newspapers relies vulnerably
on the time and talents (or the glaring lack thereof) of the editorial
board. The business office faithfully receives the funding each year
from its 40 000 students except for the few who opt out. It is not
accountable to the owners at a very steep price.

There are positives to this. Its "relative freedom", to quote the
latest Constitution of the paper, allows it to "examine issues and
events neglected by other media". It goes on to state: "Its mandate
is to cover issues and events which affect students. However, no
subject need fall outside the grasp of the student press, and student
publications best serve their purposes when they help to widen the
boundaries of debate on education and social issues. Thus, we intend
to defend freedom of expression, and make possible an atmosphere of
critical inquiry and imaginative thought. In pursuit of these
ideals, the student press shall employ educative, investigative and
active methods." (emphasis added)

On June 1, 1993 Alayne Armstrong, President of Canadian University
Press writes to the members of AMS Council, "...journalists bear a heavy
responsibility to the community they serve and the people they report

It is mostly this "heavy responsibility" which I feel like the paper
has completely neglected this year. The paper shouldn't be a mere
stepping stone for individuals to receive jobs in commercial
newspapers. That doesn't mean that the paper cannot be funny,
cynical, or irreverent. But it should do so in an informed,
intelligent and insightful manner, especially because in addition to
its basic standards it enjoys the title of being the 'official'
newspaper on campus.

To give an example of what the paper missed this year in terms of
University relevant news:

The inauguration of Professor Toope as the new UBC President was a one
liner in the August 2, 2006 issue's "News Briefs". In stark
contradistinction, the Harvard Crimson offers several opinion pieces
and dedicated front page covererage to their new President (Drew
Faust). The atmosphere and direction of UBC is going to change quite
considerably under new leadership. In particular, teaching and
learning is going to be much more prioritized as was outlined in his
inauguration speech and mentioned insistently at Senate and Board
meetings. It's unfortunate that the paper didn't think this was
important. It did, however, feature a picture of a vandalized
President in its "joke" issue "The J├╝byssey" on December 8, 2006. Is
this responsible journalism?

In the past years I've seen Ubyssey reporters at senate meetings and
at the duration of AMS council meetings. Here is where a lot of the
discussions related to the University take place. This year, the
only time I've seen a reporter stay for longer than when they finished
the free food offered at Council meetings was on February 7. Things
that were discussed at this one meeting and could have been reported

For the very first time in UBC history, the University is creating an
Ombuds office, that deals with student issues that require resolutions
with instructors, and vice versa. The AMS Foodbank has become an
official AMS service, which guarantees funding for its operation.

The spelling of university officials has been butchered more times
than I can count. Out of all things to be spelled phonetically, names
would be my last choice. Additionally, editors could have simply
copied and pasted those names from the UBC website. While this "may
not be a big deal", I doubt the paper is doing its reputation a favour
when making sloppy mistakes like this not only once or twice, but in a
consistent manner.

Furthermore, the paper reported stories several months behind.
Glaring examples of this include the brief AMS/GSS conflict, Translink
introducing community shuttles 2.5 months after service started. 6
months after the Chem/Bio and CERC building was opened, the Ubyssey
bothered to report on it with glorious praise. The building is ugly,
the space around it is horribly laid-out and landscaped, and one floor
was not built because they blew through the construction contingency
before they even started digging the hole. None of this came up.

At SFU, the executive and most of the board were impeached, after a
long and drawn-out battle that was convoluted. There was only one
news article on this, at the bitter end. Kwantlen's exec were
removed and the results of a general meeting overturned by court
order, and nothing was written. Douglas Student Union is in
receivership, and nothing has been written. VCC's King Edward Campus,
I understand, is having similar problems. In at least one of these
cases, money from a health plan was used to buy a commercial building
in New Westminster , and health plan money was also given to one
employee who needed a new house.

BoG rep and graduate student Lauren Hunter has spent countless hours
pushing for a grad student scholarship, including making presentations
to committees of the legislature. It's widely expected to be in the
budget. No coverage.

To quote a student, "while the paper has devoted itself almost
entirely to arts, culture, and sports, news is shamefully, utterly
neglected. This has been the case for some time, but seems
particularly bad this year. Opinion on AMS elections: nobody cares
or should vote. It's certainly not the Ubyssey's job to inform
anybody, I suppose. "

Speaking of The Ubyssey's coverage of the AMS Elections, the January
16 editorial criticized the boring platform of Jeff Friedrich (now
President elect) and its lack of change. This was an interesting
practice of journalism, as they had not even read or seen his platform
(which was finished and distributed two days after the editorial was
published). "The student press shall employ educative, investigative
and active methods"- right...

While The Ubyssey's apathetic attitude towards the AMS Election has
already drawn editorial responses, it was merely an example of the
overall performance of the paper when it came to news.

July 13, 1995. The Ubyssey's first editorial after it reopened
stated, "So join the staff. Write letters to the editor. Vote. And
if you aren't interested or cant' do any of those things, at the very
least read The Ubyssey. You might not get politically involved, but
everyone should be politically aware."

Are students politically aware? When I asked the Ubyssey Business
office how many times it assesses its readership, the answer was twice
in the last fifteen years. There is no way an internal reflection of
the editorial board could be incited, given that there is no
measurement of readership or student engagement with the paper. The
paper doesn't know how it's doing and it doesn't seem to care. In
fact, talking to one of the editors, he proudly proclaimed that the
paper was doing just as well as it was 3 years ago, a presumption
based on what?

I know many students who simply stopped reading the paper. Talking to
the business manager, he announced that he assumed everyone read the

So the answer to whether I'm going to censor the paper, the answer is
no. In my opinion, the greatest form of censorship is to run itself
the way it has this year.