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October 24, 2002 French-language newspaper fights growing pains, for now




by Colin Bateman

The big news in the Concordia Student Union election in late March was that a moderate slate took home the most votes in a record 47-per-cent turnout at the polls. Slipping under the radar was the fact that the university’s first and only French newspaper, Concordia Français, did not get a fee levy of six cents per credit, and now faces extinction.

“Everyone here was stunned,” said new editor Marc-André Boisvert, a second-year political science student. “We have a positive group of people, though, and I don’t think this is the end of our newspaper. We’ll find a solution.”

Founded in January 2002, the monthly newspaper has prided itself on being different. Made up almost entirely of opinion pieces that can reach as many as 2,000 unedited words, the newspaper seeks to avoid repeating news provided by The Link and The Concordian, the university’s two main student newspapers. They instead aim to provide an open forum for debate, not standard objective journalism, and the vote of 1,911 for the levy and 2,330 against left them searching for answers.

“It definitely was not anti-French sentiment that led to the result,” said Geneviève Shetagne, the newspaper’s director of information. “Our question was the last of four [on the ballot] about money. I guess students didn’t want to pay for a newspaper they wouldn’t end up reading anyway. Unfortunately, that’s not looking at the big picture.”

Indeed, the last three questions had students approving levies for WalkSafe, the Student Centre and Art Matters, not to mention the approval of a levy last October for The Concordian, but reasons may run deeper than the newspaper’s spot on the ballot. Some students may remember the controversy of a year before, when comic strips were published that allegedly condoned date rape. This immediately tarnished the young paper’s reputation.

“Père Fondateur” Garbriel Anctil, a recently graduated communications student, said in a written statement that the levy should have been approved because Concordia is lacking a French voice on a campus with roughly 5,000 francophone students. In support of his argument, Anctil acknowledged that McGill University has a francophone newspaper, Le Délit Français, that has been in publication for over 25 years.

With much of the discussion revolving around Concordia’s need for more French expression, often overlooked is the possibility that the vote was a result of the paper’s unorthodox format.

Isabelle Hartman, a journalism student from France who considered writing for it, said, “It is too political, and it’s difficult to get on the writers’ wavelength most of the time. People like to skim articles and I don’t think they have the patience for long opinion pieces, especially if it’s not in their language.”

Fine arts student Christina Phelps believed the levy should have been passed by virtue of Concordia Français’ status as the university’s only French newspaper. “Regardless of what type of paper it is, there should be a French newspaper on campus, period. Right now we only have one and we should be supporting it any way we can.”

The newspaper’s team, composed mostly of full-time students, are already working without an office, and have only one computer.

They are trying to stay true to their philosophy against advertising, having relied primarily on the Concordia Student Union and the Concordia Council on Student Life for financing until now. Despite their loss at the polls, Concordia Français is likely to be back next year.