Confessions of an ex-editor: newspapers do make a difference
By Alexandra Posadzki
It wasn't until the latest sexual assault at York University last month, after I had handed my office keys over to the new editor-in-chief, that I realized what a huge impact Excalibur, our little university newspaper, could have on the community.
Some people say that being a good journalist is about anticipating the news, and that's exactly what we managed to do with our final issue's front page story.
The story was about the start of the sentencing hearing for Daniel Katsnelson, the man who raped two female York students in their dorm three years ago. While we were planning the front page our production manager mentioned the safety audit that York had been promised following the assaults, and how, after a lot of publicity and chatter, the much-anticipated audit had disappeared off the radar.
"What happened to the METRAC safety audit?" she wondered aloud. (METRAC is an independent organization called the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children.)
Taking the cue, I asked the writer, Yuni Kim, to broaden her story to: "Three years after the violent sexual assaults at the Vanier dorms, what has York done to increase security on campus?" with a focus on the METRAC audit.
From left to right: Don Wilkinson (comics and graphics editor), Renata Valz (production manager), Alexandra Posadzki (outgoing editor-in-chief), Nicholas Maronese (incoming editor-in-chief) and Brent Rose (incoming managing editor) working on our final issue.
Just a few weeks later York was hit with another violent sexual assault, this time just off campus (in my building, nonetheless!), and representatives from the our student union, the York Federation of Students (YFS), as well as every major news outlet in the GTA, were talking about METRAC.
Coincidence? I don't think so, and neither did Renata Valz, our production manager, when I phoned her up to thank her for her idea.
Turns out the YFS put out a press statement following the assault that talked about the overdue safety audit, and chances are it was our front-page story that reminded them about it.
Now METRAC is back on the radar and it looks like York will finally get its safety audit soon, or else administration will face more heat from the media.
Not only that, but CP24's Cam Woolley held up a copy of Excalibur on air following the assault.
It certainly hasn't been an easy year for me. I worked, full time, around 50+ hours a week, as the editor-in-chief of Excalibur, part-time in the Toronto Star's radio room, took classes and wrote an undergraduate thesis in psychology on women in upper management positions (inspired, no doubt, by some of the challenges I faced over the last year).
I slept no more than three or four hours most nights. I faced a lot of criticism from colleagues about my poor management of stress (managing stress is no easy feat when you're chronically sleep deprived and overworked). I spent a lot of money on eating out as I -- often literally! -- ran from one job to the next, and our paper was sent to the presses past our 12-o'clock deadline almost every week (although that's not unusual for Excal).
But, I also managed to motivate and help lead our team to snatching fifth place (out of 50 college and university newspapers) for the best of show award at the Associated Collegiate Press newspaper convention in Phoenix, Arizona. I managed to score some really good clippings. I learned a lot about crime reporting, news judgment and managing people. And, as I recently learned, I made an impact on a diverse community of 50,000 students and faculty.
I think the past eight months have been well worth the sleep deprivation.
Alexandra Posadzki is just finishing up a hectic year as a radio room intern at the Toronto Star and the editor-in-chief of Excalibur Publications, York University’s community newspaper. Alex will be starting as the Ontario Bureau Chief for the Canadian University press in the fall.