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November 7, 2002 CUP journalism conference unites students and professionals



by Tom Peacock

Student journalists from Concordia’s The Link and the McGill Daily hosted the 65th edition of the annual Canadian University Press (CUP) conference this past weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The conference was a chance for student editors from CUP member papers from across Canada to meet, discuss journalism issues, attend any of 25 seminars and workshops on all aspects of journalism, and listen to speeches by some of the biggest names in Canadian media.

Among the most popular sessions was a series of design workshops with Ron Johnson from Kansas State University. Conference coordinator J. Kelly Nestrup from the McGill Daily said Johnson’s technical tips for newspaper layout and design were greatly appreciated by “Cuppies,” who frequently toy with their papers’ layout. “People are very interested in that stuff,” Nestrup said.

Jason Gonziola, a delegate from The Link, said Johnson’s advice was very helpful. Gonziola approached the expert with a rough draft for a new Montreal magazine called Sushi in the City, expected to hit newsstands in a few months. “He spent about 15 minutes with me after the seminar going over the layout,” Gonziola said.

Other sessions offered to delegates included seminars on investigative journalism, travel writing, business reporting, copy editing, and a session with Benjamin Errett, arts editor from the National Post, cheerfully titled “Cultural Journalism and the Decline of Western Civilization.”

The four-day conference also included several keynote speeches by some of the biggest names in Canadian journalism, including CBC president Robert Rabinovitch, Maclean’s editor-in-chief Anthony Wilson-Smith, former Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills and Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

During her speech, Copps outlined plans to improve access to post-secondary education, but the student journalists at the conference seemed less concerned with their current predicament as students than they were with their professional futures as journalists.

The speakers variously described how they fell into the business. During question periods, many of them admitted that it is a far more competitive job market nowadays.

“I applied to three newspapers, and I got offered a fulltime job,” said Copps. “That wouldn’t happen now. Now you have to apply at 400 different newspapers for a potential part-time position on a contract basis.”

Most of the speakers said that they recognized the fact that real opportunities in Canadian journalism are few and far between, but there is hope. Wilson-Smith pointed to electronic media as a potential growth area for media jobs. “I wish I could say we were lining up to hire five of you as soon as you’re done school, but that’s probably not going to happen,” Wilson-Smith said. “But there are some jobs out there, and overall, the outlook is good.”

CUP delegates also questioned many of the speakers about media convergence.

“I think many people were hoping Russell Mills’ speech would turn into a CanWest bitch-fest,” Nestrup said, “but he talked more generally about why convergence is a bad idea.”

Mills was fired by his bosses at CanWest Global last year when he printed an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen calling for the prime minister’s resignation. CanWest owns most of Canada’s large daily newspapers as well as the Global televison network.

Wilson-Smith took a different tack than Mills, describing the awesome power of media corporations nowadays as contributing to their credibility.

He argued they have the power to print what they want without having to pander to revenue sources.

“Yes, they can impose their point of view, and we should be wary of that,” he said. “But we should also be wary of those people who say it was better back then. Things weren’t much better then, when journalists were not very well paid and many of them were taking kickbacks.”

Former MuchMusic VJ Sook-Yin Lee, gave what many agreed to be the most entertaining talk of the weekend, describing how she stumbled into the media world, and how she eventually ended up where she works now, hosting CBC radio’s show Definitely Not the Opera on Saturday afternoons.

“People just loved it,” Nestrup said of Lee’s talk. The conference was definitely the most successful in many years,” he went on. “It was the hottest lineup of keynotes we’ve ever had. We were very lucky to get all of our first choices.”

Nestrup and fellow McGill student Ira Dubinsky co-ordinated the conference with the help of Link journalists David Weatherall and Anna Sarkissian.

The Canadian University Press was created in 1938 as a way for student papers across the country to share news. It is the oldest national student organization in North America, and the oldest student news service in the world.

It counts over 60 student newspapers in its membership, many of which were the training grounds for some of Canada’s most famous journalists, writers and politicians.

Author and broadcaster Pierre Berton, columnist Allan Fotheringham, poet Earle Birney and former prime minister John Turner all wrote for The Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper.
Broadcaster and magazine editor Peter Gzowski got his start at The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper, and Concordia rector Frederick Lowy, Gazette columnist Mike Boone, author and Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong and songwriter Leonard Cohen all wrote for the McGill Daily.