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Photo edited by Kristy Koehler; photo courtesy of Creative Commons

“Parting Shots” from outgoing Editor-in-Chief Kristy Koehler

Ah yes, the time-honoured tradition here at the Gauntlet, whereby the outgoing Editor-in-Chief leaves the world with a reflection. I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing my opinion and I certainly don’t intend to leave you without one more piece of my mind. To be honest, I’ve known what I was going to write almost since the day I took this job because I knew what changes I’d be making.

I am proudly “one of those free speech people.” Unabashedly. Unashamedly. Unreservedly. Concern for the future of free speech and the future of journalism is just one of the reasons I dedicated the last year to serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Gauntlet.

I genuinely believe that campus press exists as a service to the student body. It exists to hold institutions and elected officials to account, to inform and to provide an outlet for student writing and to train the next generation of journalists.

Campus press does not exist to serve the ego of the staff residing within it. Campus press is not, and should not aspire to be, TMZ. Our purpose is not to hide behind a rock and catch someone doing something naughty. It does not exist for us to have a “gotcha” moment. Campus press exists to inform our readers, who pay a levy for this service.

Students give their hard-earned (or hard-loaned) money to the university — a portion of their money funds this newspaper. In fact, about 90 per cent of our operating revenue comes from this levy. To not represent the diversity of opinion on this campus is a grotesque misuse of the funds students give us. 

So no, every reader hasn’t loved every article. From day one, I told you all “You will read things you don’t like.” You have — and you’re better for it. 

It’s been an honour and privilege to help document the student experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is perhaps the largest crisis any of us will ever experience in our lifetimes. It’s not just a coincidence that the Gauntlet has more volunteers now than in any year I can find data for. Students want to contribute their voices. They want to put their thoughts and feelings into words. They want to uncover truths and explore ideas.

There are few things more important than our voices. My style of editing has always been to safeguard the original style and meaning of the person who spent time crafting an argument and to preserve the voice of the author. Shepherding people’s words out into the world is an immense responsibility and one that I don’t take for granted. I’ve appreciated every moment.

To the staff who have busted their asses, copy editing long into the night, thank you. Especially to those who edited articles they didn’t agree with but were happy to publish anyway — an even bigger thank you.

In an era where media bias is being questioned, where people no longer trust what they’re reading, our jobs are more important than ever. But, campus press has a unique responsibility also — to represent a diverse and varied campus. We are not unlike a public broadcaster. It’s important that the Gauntlet continue to be well-known on campus. It’s important that all students of all backgrounds feel welcome in our offices and welcome to contribute their voices. Diversity of thought is what makes the world interesting and worth living in.

Yet the tolerance people preach seems to only extend to those who agree with them. We are losing the ability to have civil discourse. I see it every day and it keeps me awake at night. 

My concern is that campus press, and the press in general, is becoming increasingly activist, both from the right and from the left. 

Minds aren’t changed by tricking people into thinking your way. Readers are smart enough to make up their own minds, to draw their own conclusions — that’s what people want. Authoritarians on both the left and the right want the media to tell readership how to think. That’s garbage.

The illiberal, intensely polarized direction that the world is headed in terrifies me. Political discourse has been shortened to 240 characters. Nuance has been thrown out the window. People disavow family members and lifelong friends over Tweets sent a decade ago. Critical thinking is escaping us as we plant our feet firmly on one side or another. My hope is that free speech and fair, unbiased writing can help change that. I’ve always been a firm believer that the written word can change the world.

If I’ve offended you at any point in what we’ve published — well, that’s life. I don’t regret a single word I’ve written — not one. This is a university. It is not a safe space. It’s a space of learning. The pages of a newspaper aren’t made for you to feel good — they’re supposed to make you think. I will always apologize for factual inaccuracies, but I will never apologize for words you didn’t like, or ones that made you think.

To those who disagreed with something we wrote and signed up as volunteers so they could write an opposing opinion — we need more people like you in the world.

To those who sent hate mail, “Thank you for sharing your feelings…” 

I leave this role even more committed to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press than when I entered it. 

It has been an incredible year and I will value my time here perhaps more than any other experience I’ve had on campus, or in life.

Kristy Koehler, Gauntlet Editor-in-Chief

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