Olenka Melnyk: My formative year at the Martlet

Alumni Testimonials

As part of the Martlet 70 Fundraiser, we’ve asked former Martlet staff to answer an important question: why do we need the Martlet?

When I walked into The Martlet office for the first time in the fall of 1970, I was bursting with idealism and fanciful notions about the glamour of journalism. I had no idea how to write a news story or a headline. My first articles, pounded out on a battered Underwood typewriter, were full of good intentions and were predictably awful. I had a great deal to learn over the heady and turbulent formative year that followed.

Several weeks after I joined the paper, martial law was imposed by Pierre Trudeau in response to the FLQ kidnapping of a Quebec cabinet minister and a British diplomat. Soldiers and tanks patrolled the streets in Montreal and Ottawa and civil rights were suspended across the country. Hunkered down in The Martlet office, we debated the risks of challenging the War Measures Act by publishing the FLQ manifesto while police paid regular visits to the editor and demanded to see proofs of the paper before it went to press. The campus was full of unrest that year with a level of student engagement unheard of today. I remember covering one protest where 1,500 students, angry over the contract non-renewals of 12 junior faculty members, surrounded the administration building and pounded on the locked doors demanding to be let in.

As Martlet reporters, we not only covered the news, but sometimes helped to create it. During the activist 60s and early 70s, student newspapers saw their role as “agents of social change” — as described by the Canadian University Press in its statement of principles. Frustrated by the lack of response to the Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women (released in September 1970), a Martlet colleague and I, along with other women students, decided to take action, launching the Victoria Women’s Caucus, one of the earliest feminist groups in Victoria. The first caucus meeting was held in The Martlet office on a Friday night in early 1971 while raucous students revelled in the SUB pub downstairs. The arrival of “women’s lib on campus” was duly reported in the next issue of the paper.

The Martlet taught me all the requisites I needed to become a reporter and editor in a rich, hands-on working experience. It launched my journalistic career—and the careers of hundreds of other young people. For this I will always be grateful. Most importantly, The Martlet has provided an important source of news and information and a strong voice for students. Maintaining a vibrant, independent student press is even more critical during this period of unprecedented social and technological change and ferocious attacks on freedom of the press.

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