It was a fitting finale yesterday when the Gazette released its annual University Students’ Council report cards. These leaders represent the collective efforts of a mutli-million dollar organization. And while they do important work, only some students will see the results.
Big ticket events like the Purple Finale succeed by following a winning formula: free lunch and free punch. Meanwhile, much of their work goes unnoticed, like lobbying the province for more access to education.
While these leaders get the glory and the scorn, a hefty amount of work is done by other people: councillors, commissioners, volunteers and staff. So as much as we love these evaluations, they can only represent simple summation of a complex year. They evaluate the leaders, while the rank-and-file go largely unnoticed.
It’s something true of the Gazette as well. In fact, we mirror each other more closely than either camps notice. We’re both student-run, student-lead organizations. Our teams have similar trial-by-fire mentalities, succeeding and failing in the public eye. Our achievements go widely unnoticed while our shortcomings become the cause de jour for armchair critics everywhere.
There was a feeling in September that both groups would achieve something different this year.
At the Gazette, we overhauled everything we could, including the most significant layout change in years. Much of our work has been behind the scenes, like a digital workflow that makes us online-ready, or a creative section boasting video and graphics. It was part of a mission to modernize the Gazette after years of meekly playing catch-up to a changing medium.
Meanwhile, the USC dove head-first into a new governance structure empowering councillors to do work previously helmed by full-time executives. There was a renewed spirit to involve students, emphasized by events they’d simply appreciate, like the widely successful Purple Fest. They had the most prudent and reasonable approach to business and finance in years.
But after months of optimism, reality settled in. The USC floundered in handling the UWO Faculty Association strike, provoking a salvo of criticism from average students and the Gazette. Meanwhile, our incessant interest in USC politics and Western news kept news coverage local while offering a handful of forgettable stories.
Both groups are grappling with a changing and growing student body, one far less engaged than years past. So while the USC preaches about getting students involved, the Gazette pleads with readers to volunteer. But most students want nothing to do with either of us.
This should all be considered when summarizing a year of work. That student organizations are always at the mercy of the people willing to do the work. That leaders get the brunt of criticism and praise, but their achievements are owed to their employees, who in student circles are the most devoted types you’ll find.
Because it’s the volunteers who do obscene amounts of work for no discernable reason. It’s devotion to an organization, a name, an idea. For the newspaper folks, it’s the Gazette and what it represents. For the politically inclined, it’s the student government and its aspirations.
But after years at the Gazette and a term as editor-in-chief, I’m starting to realize we’re not so different after all.