EDITORIAL | The role of the Martlet in fostering social change

Editorials Opinions

The Martlet evaluates our role as journalists

Photo by Anna Dodd, Editor-in-Chief.

Andray Domise of Maclean’s Magazine recently penned an opinion article on the role that media plays in addressing social issues. Specifically, Domise pointed out how the media has failed to challenge problematic public figures, which has led to societal apathy when it comes to explicit and implicit racism and white supremacy.

His argument partially blames journalists, himself included, for the rise of white supremacists in Canada and North America more broadly.

As sweeping as this accusation may be, is Domise wrong? His premise got us thinking about our own role over here at the Martlet. Though we are ‘just’ a student paper, we have a wide-ranging audience and an almost entirely untapped market. It’s not like outside media is rushing to report on university issues — that’s what we’re here for.

There are many ways in which we could improve our paper, and we are always open to students’ suggestions about how we can do better. 

So what is our role as the Martlet? Though journalists are meant to be objective, as an independent newspaper set on a university campus, we also have a duty to “act as an agent of constructive social change” — as it states in our very own constitution.

How can we strike a balance between objectivity and justice? As we strive for objectivity, do we fail at challenging racism, white supremacy, colonialism, and unjust power structures? But if we over-address those issues, do we fail in our duty to give all voices a microphone?

UVic is known as a fairly progressive campus. Though the administration generally seems to stick to the status-quo, if we were to compare our campus to other universities across Canada, UVic would probably receive a modest B.

As the newspaper for this allegedly progressive campus, how would our student body grade us? After all, as we strive to be objective, we might fall into the exact traps that Domise examines. In our plight to give students news, have we failed to counter the status quo? For us, a B on representing students’ interests isn’t good enough.

Although it may seem like our paper is seamlessly produced every two weeks, behind every issue is hours of discussion about how we can bring news to students in a way that is unique, relevant, inclusive, and constructive for social change.

This year, we unanimously agreed that the Native Students Union should get their own column, “News Unsettled,” in our paper. We also added a column called “Sex and the (Univer)City” that challenges normative ideas about sex and gender. In our news, we’ve covered countless hours of protests on climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and of course, pipelines.

That said, there are many ways in which we could improve our paper, and we are always open to students’ suggestions about how we can do better.

In our efforts to remain objective, we have sometimes shied away from expressing support for students in a way that counters the status quo.

Going forward, we must push ourselves to reach beyond the popular narratives to include more voices of those who are directly impacted by instances of injustice or oppression in our pages. Our staff is not the most diverse bunch — we’ll be the first to admit — but in the interim of bringing on staff with less homogenous experiences, we have to keep challenging each others’ ingrained systems of beliefs to ensure we continue to be aware of a wide variety of perspectives.

In our efforts to remain objective, we have sometimes shied away from expressing support for students in a way that counters the status quo. We are a source of news, and there are inherent limits in our abilities to be political. As Domise states in his article, this means we may accidentally uphold ideas that fundamentally maintain systemic problems in our society.

We have had a year of what one UVic official called “interesting” coverage. But have we challenged the cultural narrative enough — and going forward, how best can we present our readers with a more complete and complex depiction? The Martlet will continue to work towards evaluating and evolving our role in this conversation, and we hope our readers will speak up to better hold us accountable to our promise of being a positive agent of social change as established in our mandate.