By: Tom Rose, Staff Writer and Gregory McGrath-Goudie, Orillia Bureau Chief
Not so long ago, The Argus’s Orillia Bureau Chief Gregory McGrath-Goudie was feeling “disenchanted and frustrated” with his position at the paper. Admittedly, it’s a feeling we have both shared a time or two through our tenure as Orillia staff members. It’s no one’s fault, really (the Thunder Bay staff are super awesome and talented folks), but the feeling creeps up on you. Hearing that the feeling was shared with some fellow Lakehead Orillia students as well as previous Orillia staff members, we did what anyone else would do – submitted a petition to gauge interest in an Orillia-based news publication. When the petition garnered signatures from approximately 30% of Orillia’s student population, we sent out a survey to some of the signatories, consisting of six questions about current readership and reach of The Argus on Orillia’s campus and what types of things they’d like to see in an imagined Orillia-based publication. The response was overwhelming.
Of the survey’s respondents, 42% indicated they “Sometimes” read The Argus in its current, bi-campus incarnation, with a meagre 11% reading “Every Week”. 88% of respondents said they’d be more inclined to read a student paper specific to Orillia, and a further 11% were unsure. When asked why they don’t currently read The Argus, the top answers were that the paper is too Thunder Bay-oriented, as well as a lack of print issues available on campus. 25% of respondents indicated they had not previously been aware that Lakehead even had a student newspaper, something that sadly, is unsurprising. While the current incarnation of The Argus publishes thousands of copies per print issue, the Orillia campus receives only 200 of those copies, which is inadequate in its aims of serving the student body in Orillia. While we have yet to find reliable numbers on exactly how much the Orillia campus specifically pays into The Argus, the fact is that while we are the smaller of the two campuses, 200 copies is not an effective number for saturation of the student body.
Not only is the distribution of paper copies inequitable, the distribution of positions is similarly skewed towards Thunder Bay. It’s understandable, to a point – as Lakehead’s main campus, Thunder Bay started the paper in the first place, and some functions can only be pulled off from Thunder Bay in terms of making sure everything comes together into a finished publication. The end result, however, is that Orillia is left with only 2 staff positions covering a 3000 word section in what is otherwise plainly a Thunder Bay paper. The argument could (and perhaps has) been made that the distribution of job opportunities at The Argus comes down to a lack of interest from Orillia students; however, that argument is patently false. 35% of respondents to our survey suggested they would be interested in obtaining a position with the paper if it were available to them, which is more than enough to fill the projected 6 positions we imagine an Orillia-based paper could provide.
I can already hear the wheels turning as you read this – we’ve given you percentages, and percentages are all well and good, but what do Orillia students want? We threw in two questions asking students to elaborate on their feelings, and left it up to respondents whether or not they filled them out. Although the questions did not need to be filled out to complete the survey, the majority of respondents had a lot to say on the matter. One respondent philosophized that while “the idea of two campuses united is nice, it’s not exactly realistic when it comes to student news”. A similar sentiment was expressed by other respondents, who stressed that “[Orillia is] a completely different campus and most Thunder Bay issues don’t apply to me” or that we “have a unique campus and student population” whose needs are not being addressed. One respondent even went so far as to say that “if you want students to take the Orillia campus seriously as an institution, we need [to] have Orillia-based services and opportunities”, while another suggested that the Orillia representation “is beyond devaluing and marginalizing to both the student body and Orillia community”.
As to what they’d like to see in a their paper, respondents repeatedly stressed an interest in, as one student put it, a “focus on Orillia events/issues that are of interest to…the Orillia campus and written by our…peers”. This desire is unfortunately incongruous with feedback we in Orillia have received about our articles from Thunder Bay in the past. While the paper needs advertisements to survive, and reviews of businesses and events around campus and the larger Orillia community can effectively give out free advertising, it would seem that rather than less reviews and pieces on events, Orillia students want to see more. “It would…be great if there was more info about how the Orillia campus connects with the broader Orillia community”, said one student, with another adding they’d like to see “opportunities for students to review local businesses”, as well as more space for student editorials.
So what exactly are we proposing? Well, we can tell you we are not proposing a divorce from The Argus altogether – clearly, there would be necessary overlap between the two publications on issues that both bolster student pride and need student attention from the greater Lakehead population as a whole. Rather, we are proposing that, as Orillia students pay into The Argus with very little dividend, we present them with a way to reap the benefits of this investment. Think “The Argus Orillia” – a bi-weekly publication of either print and online issues or just online issues, with a spot for content that affects both campuses. By increasing opportunities on the Orillia campus, and increasing Orillia-specific news, we increase readership across our campus. This, we believe, will increase interest for advertisers in Orillia, which will in turn encourage readership for students who are used to seeing ads for Thunder Bay businesses. Not only will these ads increase readership, but they will bridge the gap between the Lakehead community and the Orillia community, providing incentive for students to get out of their neighbourhoods and explore Orillia’s unique businesses more often than they currently do. A newspaper at Lakehead Orillia has the potential to make the broader Orillia community better as a whole. This, we wholeheartedly believe, is the best way to move forward equitably as a student newspaper.
Attempts for improving the paper have been made in the past. In the 2015/2016 academic year, the Orillia Bureau Chief proposed that a second Orillia staff position be created, with the goals of providing an additional opportunity for aspiring writers, as well as increasing the student voice in Orillia. After much deliberation throughout the summer of 2016, Tom Rose was hired as Orillia’s first staff writer, and both of us have worked diligently in our attempts to generate content that is worth reading. The fact remains, however, that it is incredibly difficult to cover an entire campus and inspire a readership with a meagre two positions, in a paper that—by the nature of its composition—can never adequately serve the needs of the folks in Orillia. Even if we were to generate, let’s say, five full pages of Orillia content in each print issue—the remaining 15 or so would still only be pertinent to Thunder Bay students. It is impossible to develop a literary culture on a campus that does not have an adequate medium for expressing its voice, as the current incarnation of The Argus largely excludes the Orillia campus due to how it is structured.
As opposed to having an Orillia section within a larger Thunder Bay paper, we would like to have a Thunder Bay section within a larger Orillia publication. Lakehead University is composed of two campuses, after all, and there would be necessary overlap, as we have said. This format would simply allow for more equitable cross-campus communication. It would allow Orillia students the opportunity to be a part of an entire team of journalists, which would not only be invaluable for us as a whole, but would be particularly useful for the Media Studies, English, and Business students looking to get experience in their respective fields before graduating. A newspaper on the Orillia campus can only enrich the student experience here. The students here deserve to have these opportunities on a grander scale than the current format offers, and we also deserve a better avenue of expressing our voices, needs, and problems as a student body. The students have spoken, and this is what we want to happen.