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Letter From the Editor: 2020 was quite the ride – here’s how we managed

Well, it sure has been a heck of a year. With the wrap-up of our Annual General Meeting, and with 2020 behind us and my term as Editor-in-Chief coming to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell our membership — and our readers — what the Gauntlet has been up to.

It’s customary for the Editor-in-Chief to pen a “Parting Shots” column, an ode to what we’ve learned, and I’ll do that in good time. For now though, this is a business update — I’ll (mostly!) save the waxing poetic for later.

The Gauntlet team had plenty of plans, many of which were disrupted by the global pandemic — there’s one going on in case you hadn’t heard. Despite the hardships posed by this public health crisis, we’ve achieved a great deal.

Firstly, I’d like to publicly thank our volunteers and staff from the bottom of my heart. I don’t think we talk enough about the toll that this pandemic has taken on not only students, but everyone. Waking up every day to bad news and uncertainty can’t be healthy, and there are days it’s hard to pull it together and get out of bed. I applaud my team for doing exactly that — getting out of bed and doing their best.

In the summer of 2019, we went back to our roots and started printing newspapers again, on a bi-weekly basis, rather than a monthly magazine. Unfortunately, in March 2020, we ceased printing altogether and moved our operations entirely online. 

It wasn’t an easy decision to cease publication — our team had worked incredibly hard to go back to a more extensive print schedule. But, the safety and well-being of our staff and volunteers comes first, and with only a few folks on campus at a time, it didn’t make sense from a fiscal — or safety — standpoint.

We certainly didn’t expect that to be something we’d need to do, but our staff and volunteers rose to the challenge in an incredible way. There will always be hiccups, but at the end of the day, my team are students first — they’re juggling full course loads, practicums in the middle of a public health crisis, family obligations and the stress of all this craziness, while putting in hours of work to bring you the news — and their hot takes on everything from the American election to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

We have more active volunteers now than we’ve ever had (for years in which we have data anyway). This is due in part to the fact that the way we approach the volunteer coordinator role has changed. We were the only member of the tri-media alliance on campus not to have a full-time volunteer coordinator. We’ve changed that and it’s made a measurable impact. We’ve got a snazzy Slack workspace for volunteers that we’ll likely keep even when this pandemic is over. Having an office is amazing, but we also need to grow and adapt to the new work-at-home lifestyle young people want — and expect. We’ve hosted virtual escape rooms as volunteer appreciation activities, moved our volunteer orientations and forms online and held webinars and workshops over Zoom. Our annual Festivus event turned into an online murder mystery game and a great time was had by all.

Yes, there’s been emails left unanswered, stories gone unpublished and some things have slipped through the cracks, but all in all, I couldn’t be more proud of our team.

It was my belief coming into this role that it’s inappropriate for people to be reporting on labour issues and governance problems without living up to the values we write about. Labour and equity issues are often at the forefront of our articles and it seems disingenuous to publish these things without making sure our own house is in order. We undertook a full review of our employment contracts, volunteer contracts and staff policies, making full use of the Canada Summer Jobs program to hire two policy analysts to assist us in these reviews. 

Staff are paid a living wage and we’re in talks to provide benefits to our staff — something I’m hopeful I can sign off on before I leave this role. 

We’ve signed a five-year deal with the Students’ Union for the use of our space in MacHall — with the option to extend for three more years. 

Our Board of Directors presents a unique opportunity for students to be involved in board governance, but there’s been no formal training in place for the role, so students may leave with a line on their resume, but not an actual skill. So, we’re working to set up formalized training for our incoming board members. That way, they’ll leave our organization with a marketable skill they can carry with them. I’m also hoping to sign off on that item before I leave this role as well.

It’s no secret that I like fiscal responsibility. Accordingly, I want to be transparent with student money. After all, we get our funding through a student levy. Every student at this university should be able to ask our Business Manager “Where does our money go?” and get an answer that is transparent and satisfactory. 

We have submitted an application  with the Alumni Network to start an Alumni Affinity Community and I’m hopeful that we can bring together a wide range of people who called the Gauntlet their home on campus, hopefully for annual events.

We’ve rolled out a fantastic new website — one that is far more secure. It’s searchable on Google now and has contributed to increasing our readership — all thanks to the work of an incredible online editor who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring it to life. A new brand package with consistent logos, letterhead, colour palette and fonts went along with the website. 

We’ve implemented some new sections including a Science section that has brought some new volunteers to the table and allowed more undergraduates to bring their particular skill-set to our paper. 

We also hired a Voices editor. “Voices” is dedicated to amplifying the words of those who don’t always have the opportunity to speak. Our opinions section is still lively and vibrant, but “Opinions” just doesn’t seem like the right section for the lived experiences of many students. “Voices” aims to provide a platform for diverse communities to tell their stories, in their own words. Several new columns are housed under our “Voices” section, including a regular column about international student issues, a column about the first-year student experience and a column about the South Asian experience on campus.

The final touches are being put on the history book we’ve created about the Gauntlet’s 60 years spent covering this campus community. It should have been ready to go a few months ago, but we didn’t really anticipate needing to create a new chapter on student journalists surviving a pandemic. 

We had also planned to publish a semesterly magazine, something that reached a little deeper into the student voice. Submissions were received and we were ready to publish, but again, that ol’ pandemic struck and we decided to change course. We’re still going to publish that magazine, it will just have a different theme than the one we’d planned, about the challenges students faced in the midst of this pandemic. 

There’s a 24/7 COVID horror show being pumped into your lives through every media outlet and every device you carry. While coverage is certainly necessary, we as a student outlet can’t add much to the conversation outside of simply noise. We are, however, uniquely positioned to tell other stories that relate to the pandemic, but aren’t wrapped up in statistics and case reports. We have an opportunity to tell the stories of international students, struggling to attend classes, of first-years, missing out on that all-important frosh experience and student parents, trying their best to both teach and be taught.

The Gauntlet should be a place for student voices to be heard on issues that matter to them, a training ground for journalists and a balanced news source for the surrounding community. It’s also no secret that I like to push the envelope — so if you read an opinion you didn’t like, well, I’m glad. This is a university. It’s a place to encounter ideas you don’t like. You can have your echo chamber on your Twitter feed where the same six people re-tweet your every thought and feeling, but you won’t find that here — at least not while I’m around.

The Gauntlet is 60 years old this year and there’s definitely 60 more years in our future. It won’t look the same as it does now — just as it doesn’t look the same now as it did 20 years ago, but that’s the beauty of a student newspaper. We’re always open to new volunteers, new ideas, new contributors and new ways of doing things. We’re a place to learn, to try, to fail and to find your voice, one article at a time.

Our hiring notices are now posted and we hope you’ll apply to join our team and keep the Gauntlet moving forward. My hope is that I’ll see the Gauntlet in print and on stands very soon, when this public health crisis is all over. And when I do, I’ll certainly smile and be happy that the new editorial board is making their own mark on a paper I’ve had the immense privilege of championing — and changing — this past year.

Here’s to a 2021 that puts some of the challenges from the past year behind us. Hoping to see — in person — many more new faces grace the Gauntlet’s offices and pages this year!

—Kristy, Gauntlet Editor-in-Chief

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