Around a year ago, I was scrolling through a certain Western University-related anonymous Facebook page, and something caught my attention.
A poster had taken a picture of the athletics museum in Alumni Hall.
“Why do we have this stupid museum anyway? No one visits it. It would be so much better if we just turned it into a Tim Hortons,” the caption read.
In the comments, a student senator appeared to question why we even have varsity athletics at Western in the first place. If you’re not an athlete, why should you subsidize those students who are?
I’ve been involved with campus media for seven years, so I’m familiar with this line of questioning. Often, we are the subject of it.
My time at Western is coming to an end after almost a decade. The best part about being on campus was telling the stories of the many involved and engaged students, determined athletes and faculty members who were so eager to share their ideas and research. Thankfully, I’ve also met many University Students’ Council politicians who understand why students in campus media find it important to tell these stories to the Western community.
But I’ve spoken to some who don’t or who at least claim they don’t. For that reason, I’d like to argue why I think Western needs a strong, independent campus media that can feel confident telling Western stories. Further, I’d argue that an informed community, even if it’s small, benefits all students.
The role and size of student-funded media and institutions on campus is a debate I want to encourage. On that note, I can’t understand the argument, often spouted at council meetings, that these services should operate as if they are for-profit. Chase clicks, views and ratings — because the foundation of this proposal is that what’s popular is the same as what’s important. Sometimes, but the relationship isn’t anything close to a direct correlation.
Just over a quarter of students voted in the last USC election. Does that make it trivial? Does that make it unworthy of media coverage? Of course not — those elected assumed leadership over a student government with a multi-million dollar budget. Well under half of the student body read stories about the USC, but it’s important for transparency, accountability and democracy across campus that at least some students do.
If maximum ratings, views and clicks were the goal for publicly-funded student media, such reporting would seldom happen. It would be replaced by an endless number of inflammatory pieces addressing “political correctness”, solicited op-eds on the Israel-Palestine conflict and clickbait. Everyone hates clickbait, and that’s great — what scares me as a media professional is that more often than not it achieves its goal. It’s worth asking whether campus media, or any public media, should even have that goal in the first place.
But campus media is more than just a source of crucial information — it’s a training ground for the journalists of the future. Journalism school doesn’t offer this dual benefit, since many assignments aren’t published or broadcasted anywhere.
We don’t have an undergraduate journalism program. In spite of that, Western counts among its alumni Canada’s top reporters, broadcasters and commentators. These are journalists who expose political corruption, who report from dangerous war zones and who interview the world’s most powerful people. What prepared them for that? They’ve made it known that Western’s tradition of having well-supported campus media was the biggest factor because that’s where they got their start.
Now, as I depart from my alma mater, I fear that tradition is under threat. I fear a campus in which the only place to get answers about USC affairs is the USC itself, and the only entity reporting on the administration is its own public relations team.
You won’t always like it, but please, Western, support campus media. It’s too important to lose.
— Richard Raycraft
Raycraft was the managing editor at the Gazette for Volume 108. He currently works at CHRW/Radio Western.