We had pretty low self-esteem when we boarded the plane to Saskatoon. “We” are one of the many many campus newspapers from U of T, and we knew the facts when we made our way towards the annual nation wide Canadian University Press Conference (CUP). Our readership is low, no one knows what our paper is called…we were pretty sure that as far as the standards of student journalism went, we sucked.
The plane left at 7:00 a.m.
When we got in to Saskatoon where the conference was being held this year (where the day’s high was reaching a typical –28C) we were starting to become more and more convinced that we didn’t really belong with all these other student papers. The organizers forgot to call our paper’s name out at roll call, the attendees that did recall us only remembered us because last year our editor got into a fight with Jack Layton during question period. By the time we got to pub night, we were the cynical multi-ethnic band from Toronto surrounded by the chipper (mostly white) young journalists of tomorrow, and we weren’t sure how to react when we were constantly addressed as “fellow Cuppies!”
When one of the happy-dappy organizers sat at our table and asked what our paper was all about, our production manager looked him squarely in the eye and said, “we write a lot about sex….and racism.” He soon moved along to another table.
But that was ok…we were there to learn.
Our production manager was pretty insecure and sure he wasn’t up to the task of creating a good paper…he was looking forward to a one-on-one crit that would lend him all the wisdom he needed to make our paper visually appealing and great.
Our editor-in-chief knew our stories were probably lacking…she was excited to go to an editor-in-chief round table with all the other student papers in Canada who belonged to CUP (which, I should have mentioned, is a nationwide student news organization that different papers belong to if they pay a certain membership fee…with the fee papers have access to a newswire, a lawyer and other services).
And as for myself, as a section editor I was well aware that my section could be better. I was here for the speakers, who were here from the CBC and This American Life, who were humorists, writers, bloggers, academics, researchers and investigative journalists.
The thing is though, that as the conference went on, our self-esteem went up despite the fact that our paper was the same printed pieces of newsprint that it was when we came in. It stayed the same, while our opinion of it improved.
Our editor-in-chief came back from her roundtable discussion with her eyes glowing:
“The speaker was talking about how disgusting it is that news hardly ever does justice to Aboriginal issues, or equity issues, and all the other papers were all ‘yeah, we don’t have any of that’…and I was all ‘that’s what we DO!’ I was so excited! I showed him our paper!”
Our production manager finally felt the boost of positive self-esteem:
“Yeah, I sat in on some other paper’s critiques, and some of them were pretty horrible with all these random fonts, and really random color choices …they just looked kinda…bad…and then when I went in, he said he basically liked what I’d done. He came me some good ideas and tips, and told me what to work on, but essentially, he liked it!”
It was a good time. We ended up going drinking with a writer from the CBC, who gave our editor his business card. Another night, Jonathan Goldstein from CBC Radio 1’s WireTap remembered my face and even initiated a brief conversation with me at one point!
Life was amazing.
True, we aren’t the infamous Varsity, the beloved Toike Oike, the cinematic Innis Herald or the eclectic Gargoyle…but we were feeling good…that is until our business manager came back from his round table.
“S—t guys, we suck. There are papers here with a half a million budget! HALF A MILLION! This one guy? He get’s paid $70 000 a year to do what I do. I get $74 a month! Our circulation sucks. No one reads us. How are we supposed to get advertising? S—t guy…I need a drink…”
We sat around in a Greek restaurant in the middle of Saskatoon. We’d all caught bits and pieces of the same cold, and we were all tired from sleeping on average 4 hours a night for a week, and drinking a little too much booze in the off hours. We were sick of being called “cuppies!”, and ready to bite the head off of the next white male student journalist from New Brunswick/Manitoba/Halifax ready to talk about how sexism and racism are non-issues in journalism. It was at that moment, in the depths of our crankiness and pessimism that our courageous editor in chief felt like picking up the tone.
“You know guys, at least we like each other more now. I mean, before, we never really talked or hung out or anything. I think now that we’ve been stuck together in a crowded hotel for a week…we really have a better feel for each other. I think our stories are going to be better when we get back…just because it’s going to be more fun to be together, and we’re just going to have more energy!”
We got off the plane Tuesday at 4:30 pm, and I slept for 12 hours after that. Our content for the next issue is due on the 21st of Jan…we’ll see how it goes.