Medium: much ado about nothing

There’s always something to learn, but there should always be more of it


There’s a graduating student exhibit on now in the Blackwood, and a piece by Colin Yau consists of old issues of the Medium with the phrase “Much Ado About Nothing” printed across them. It’s definitely worth a laugh.

And hey, I get it. A lot of what we print, and have printed in the past, can only ever be so interesting to the average student. Last week, our cover story, about the Chartwells contract’s expiry in April (but now being extended—see this week’s news section), got a comment on Facebook describing it as one of the most “relevant” articles we’ve ever done.

That’s really interesting to me, the question of how we should take that. I assume relevance is here determined by the perceptible effect on our daily lives. We all eat on campus sooner or later, and the suggestion that the supplier of the underwhelming, if not abysmal, food could change seems to have concrete implications. And not only concrete but imminent.

Not every news story has that quality, that’s for sure. If employees of the student union resign and cite a hostile work environment, it doesn’t change too much for the rest of us. Those are just the guys who put the posters up and stop us in the hallways, right? If someone in the administration gets a new position, we rarely see any difference on the ground. All those well-paid people are fungible—swap one out and another with interchangeable ideas will take her place, right?

Or, in the most extreme case, take the downtown student union. Every week, the temptation is to make my editorial a tirade on the latest shenanigans by one of the biggest farces ever given millions of our dollars to spend. Their rhetoric is so bad that tearing it down can be exhilarating.

So why resist writing about them? Don’t get me wrong—I really do think many of their doings are ludicrous and harmful, a sad use of the name “students’ union” . But I’ve been having a crisis of certainty about the good of opinion pieces on the subject.

For most of my quickly expiring tenure as editor here, my understanding of journalism has been to achieve professionalism. Policy, finances, and incompetence are the biggest targets, because they characterize whether we can trust that the whole thing is being run responsibly. And it isn’t always. A lot of stories that I consider important have run this year. The co-curricular record will be redesigned; the province earmarked money for mental health help; students voted against expanding the Student Centre.

But sometimes there’s something of a disconnect between what’s going on there behind the scenes and average student life. I like to imagine there’s traditionally a little less of a disconnect in the features section, for example, where we write about food, housing, research, and social trends.

Even so, there are things that don’t appear in any part of the Medium. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the various committees whose decisions usually trickle  down to our lives: Quality Services to Students, Campus Council, and the Food Services Advisory are a few.

One difficulty in covering them is that their profile tends to be low. Consider that nowhere on those nauseous cat posters is it suggested that we even have committees. Rather, on the #WTFUTMFOOD Facebook event page, when someone posted that the campaign just amounted to the usual complaining, UTMSU VP external Melissa Theodore replied, “By you voicing your concerns on social media and shaming the university on a larger platform, increases our chances of implementing change.” Might not a faster way be proposing ideas at the committee you sit on? That’s how you introduced the value meals a couple of months ago.

The Medium’s treatment of news is often, unfortunately, similar: in a week, not much will have happened or we won’t have picked up on it, and in its absence, we make news out of what there is. In the worst cases, the effect is much ado about nothing. But the ado isn’t what needs fixing; it’s the nothing. There shouldn’t be fewer of the stories we do run—there should be more stories. Every story reaches a few people, and the more variety we can run, the more people are likely to find something of interest.

But in doing that, we face a chronic problem. More staff are needed. More writers are needed. Many hands make light the work of documenting a campus. We also have a tip line and an open door for people to talk to us or email us. If something catches your eye on Spotted at UTM, don’t let it end there; write to us, or write for us, and have it go from rumour to investigation to article. That’s what we’re here for—to chart not “nothing” but everything that’s happening here.