Tuition hikes in Quebec: student media mobilizes

Written by Colette Brin, communications professor at Laval University and a member of the Canadian Journalism Project's editorial committee, this story was originally posted on Contact, the school's blog. Translated by Rhiannon Russell.

Written by Colette Brin, communications professor at Laval University and a member of the Canadian Journalism Project's editorial committee, this story was originally posted on Contact, the school's blog. Translated by Rhiannon Russell.

The turmoil of the student movement, which started this spring, upsets the relative tranquility of our campus. It seems, in any case, to have boosted student media that, with front row seats to the events, have covered them intensively and often ingeniously using the means at hand – today, the Internet and social media.

For craftsmen of newspapers, radio, and other campus media, the labyrinth of student association acronyms and procedural jargon isn’t a secret. Specialists in student life, they’re also members of this community, so it’s not always easy for them to handle heated situations at a healthy distance. (photo, Boite Rouge)

Baptiste Barbe, production director at the weekly school newspaper L’Exemplaire (in my department), says that the professional rule concerning conflicts of interests applies: journalists assigned to cover strike votes and protests aren’t allowed to be directly associated with the groups involved.

It’s the same at biweekly paper Montréal Campus de l’UQAM, which has nonetheless taken a pro-strike editorial position. As editor-in-chief Émilie Clavel-Forget explains, “We try to reflect our position as little as possible in journalistic work. We’re an independent newspaper, not a mouthpiece for student associations.”

Impact Campus, a student weekly published by Laval University, has taken a neutral stance. Even volunteering journalists like those at Montréal Campus (the paper has just a small core of paid reporters), aren’t allowed to publicly display their convictions; wearing a red square and disseminating opinions on one’s Facebook page are especially prohibited.

According to David Rémillard, student news editor, you want to counteract the perception that “the student media would be extremely left-wing” and show both sides of the coin, “even though it’s mostly opponents of the hike that are protesting.”

An opportunity to innovate

Budding journalists exploit digital tools modestly, yet efficiently: live Twitter coverage of the general assemblies and protests and dissemination of text and pictures on Facebook are particularly popular.

“We decided very quickly to use the web for its speed and flexibility,” emphasizes Émilie Clavel-Forget of Montréal Campus. The strike is clearly a priority for this student paper: “two or three journalists are there more regularly, but the whole team may be asked to bring in photos and stories from the field.”

As for student newspapers at Laval, the Internet and social media allow for continuous coverage, so that commentary, summaries, and analysis can run in the print edition, which has longer production times. David Rémillard of the Impact Campus notes that the space devoted to the strike is actually quite limited, and that there are few journalists available to cover it.

Otherwise, the decentralized structure of student associations at Laval makes it almost impossible to attend all the general meetings, so it’s necessary to rely on contacts within the associations to find out the voting results.

Also, at L’Exemplaire, contacting sources by phone and email allows for a tracking of events, even though the paper prefers to send a reporter to the scene whenever possible.

The movement against increasing tuition fees has also given way to many spontaneous activist initiatives on the web – for example, Grève2012, Équipe de surveillances des interventions policières, and Boîte rouge – all driven by students at UQAM. CADEUL has made a series of videos that provide financial alternatives to raising tuition. Émilie Clavel-Forget considers these sites potential sources of information, but discourages her journalists from getting involved, given the sites’ “biased and politicized” tone. There’s no question that, if content from the sites is to be used, it must be independently verified.

Student media to professional media

Budding journalists complain that professional media – including those for which they one day hope to work – are interested in the student movement almost exclusively during the protests, and that they focus heavily on violent incidents. These young journalists are proud to see, however, that their work is a valuable source of information for the mainstream media.

A season of strikes and student protests is, therefore, a sort of professional laboratory, a chance to experiment with new forms of coverage and refine skills. “The newspaper, it’s a school. We receive a lot of feedback, we give ourselves the right to make mistakes, but we correct quickly,” says Émilie Clavel-Forget of UQAM. For David Rémillard of Laval, it’s a demanding but exciting experience, “a bit like an election campaign for a political journalist.”


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story was incorrectly titled "Rights to education: student media mobilizes." We apologize for the error, which occurred during the translation process.