The Ryersonian executive team reflects on the winter 2021 semester
Courtesy Avel Chuklanov/Unsplash
A year ago, students were asked to switch to online learning. The student community was expected to continue on with the same course requirements, grading structures and deadlines as before. Many of us grieved the loss of loved ones and witnessed damage and suffering, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before in our lifetimes. Added to this, social justice movements, misinformation on social media and countless hate crimes against minority communities left us incandescent as we navigated our identities. Yet, as students, we were expected to continue on.
This year pushed our masthead to reflect on why we chose this profession in the first place. As the world continues to learn to live with the tragedy that just keeps getting worse, our work proved to be a ray of hope for members of the student community who continued to rely on reporting focusing on issues that mattered most to them.
Ryerson School of Journalism
This semester marked one of camaraderie and collective action.
A wave of collective organizing amongst students of the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ) took place to create equitable change within the institution.
Students were in touch with staff and faculty about their grievances — including racism, homophobia, lack of mental health support, students’ concerns being overlooked and more — but after weeks of leadership avoiding discussions with the group, the students led a call to action.
Students made demands and recommendations for equitable change to the system, including improving mental health resources, implementing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training for staff, hiring more racialized and queer-identifying staff and faculty, reforming classes related to marginalized students and making mandatory and creating a task force with paid student members to work with faculty on these recommendations.
At the Ryersonian, the stories pitched were a statement in and of themselves. Coverage became more focused on issues that affect marginalized communities, with contributions including barriers trans students face when trying to change their names, how a lack of cultural competency in mental health is failing these communities, and how anti-Asian sentiments have been surging in North America — to name a few.
In acts of Indigenous solidarity, a working committee was established by the school to look into changing the names of both the Ryersonian and the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Our sister publication took strides in addressing the colonial legacy of the institution upon which it was based and changed its name to  Review of Journalism immediately. Internally, our masthead took the decision to informally call ourselves the Sonian to address these ongoing issues and evoke change.
Our hope is that the future students continue to stand up for what’s right, be kind with themselves and, when confronted with these issues again, look to those who came before them.
Often, a reporter’s first stint at clashing with political powers starts with student government. While covering the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) always comes with its ups and downs, this year, our reporters held power to account while circumventing the obstacles of an online space.
The RSU executive team would only respond to campus media through email — and it was solely president Ali Yousaf who would respond to us. As the semester progressed, responses became scarce and he eventually chose not to respond to any of the Ryersonian’s requests. With rising challenges to the RSU’s transparency and an already-strained relationship with campus media, researching and reporting became increasingly difficult. Each passing day filled inboxes with more unanswered questions. This led our team on a wild goose chase in a search for answers for just about anything.
Our reporters highlighted the student union’s continued refusal to provide transparency and its failure to uphold promises of support and solidarity for marginalized members, raising a number of questions and concerns from the student body about the executive team’s ability to lead.
All the pleas through the brick wall we call the RSU came to a halt when the elections began in March. While online voting has been an option since the 2015-2016 school year, this was the first time the nomination and campaigning periods were forced to move online. The drama started on the last day of voting, when student government reporter Frank Quaranta, broke the story of an alleged unfair disqualification of an RSU presidential candidate hours before polls closed.
The winning party, Team Adapt, was declared on the night of March 19. But, a few days later, a slew of allegations from both parties arose — of candidates breaking bylaws while campaigning and of others using students’ personal information to steal the election. Subsequently, two notices of impeachment were issued for two current executives about the allegations which ultimately failed to pass during a heated board of directors meeting.
The events that unfolded, led to a bit of confusion, prompting our team, led by Quaranta and consisting of Brooke Houghton, Rosie Leonard, Marin Scotten and Ammar Karam, to draw out a timeline of the events that took place. The team did it all: from following leads, to dealing with anonymous sources, to investigating leaked documents and persisting in their pursuit of the truth.
We started off the semester with around 30 students in the masthead. By the end of the semester, our newsroom had a whopping 45 people — large for a student-run publication.
We are the third cohort of students to complete a semester of the Ryersonian remotely. Although a workflow was established by the first semester of online classes, it took time to reorganize in a way that met the needs of our group, including accommodating those in different time zones.
Accessibility was another topic of concern. Some students didn’t have adequate resources or space to complete all of their projects from home. Thankfully, access to equipment was made available — but that was not the only issue. Students were expected to have a quiet space to record interviews with sources for podcast episodes and articles, which is not entirely possible while remote.
Despite the challenges of the year, our newsroom managed to hold its composure. This semester, the 2021 winter masthead published 282 articles, 10 podcast episodes, 17 videos and several hundred photos.
If there is one word to describe the Ryersonian this semester, it would be diverse: in race, in age, in skill and in ideology.
Four out of five members of our executive team are people of colour and four out of five of them are women. When looking at our reporters, editors and multimedia teams, that diversity was even more apparent.
When it came to our stories, there was no shortage of unique perspectives. Our coverage reflected our newsroom, which in turn, accurately reflected the student body at Ryerson. At the end of the day, this was always our goal: to produce accurate and appropriate representation of stories that mattered not only to our newsroom, but also to our readership.
With our small executive team, we were uncertain of how we would run such a large newsroom.
But we adapted.
Our commitment to telling stories, informing the community of available resources and uplifting readers with positive articles gave us purpose in the darkest of days.
Looking to the future, we hope to see more diverse and quality coverage from Ryersonian mastheads. We encourage them to own their stories, use their unique perspectives as a strength and, above all, work together as a team to produce hard-hitting student journalism.
As tough as it may be right now, we call upon our audience, the entire community at the Ryerson School of Journalism, Ryerson University and Toronto Centre to look towards the future with hopeful eyes.