Campus newspapers in Ontario lose money due to government changes to tuition fees

Nearly 56 per cent of full-time students at Ryerson University decided to opt-out of fees for The Eyeopener. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – Recent government-mandated changes to tuition fees in Ontario have resulted in some campus newspapers losing a significant portion of their funding.

The “Student Choice Initiative” – announced by the Progressive Conservative government in January – allows post-secondary students to opt out of services deemed “non-essential,” including campus newspapers and unions.

Many student papers found out earlier this week just how much money the government move will cost them in the short term. The results showed that the sampling of opt-out rates ranged between 17 per cent and 55 per cent.

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At Ryerson University in Toronto, nearly 56 per cent of full-time students chose not to pay for The Eyeopener – the campus newspaper.

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“The thing is, it all revolves around uncertainty,” said Eyeopener editor-in-chief Sarah Krichel. “We can’t predict the future. We can’t predict how much we’ll resonate with students all the time.”

Krichel said she’s looking at how her paper can adapt to keep students paying the once-mandatory annual fee of roughly $5.65.

“What could we do better? What could we do to engage more students? We have to meet students where they’re at. Sometimes we have to accept that students may not be as engaged with extracurriculars, students may not care about the news all the time on their campuses, students may have a short attention span,” she said.

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For instance, she said, if students don’t seem to be interested in lengthy deep dives into a certain topic, they can pivot to producing more daily news.

But she said she’s shifted her focus away from short-term survival.

“The immediate reaction and the short-term questions were, ‘how screwed are you?’ Although that’s a fair question to ask, we are going to do our best, we still have money, we’re still able to exist as of right now,” she said. “That being said, what are the long-term effects?”

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Krichel said she thinks of new long-term ramifications every day – notably, that campus newsrooms will stop being able to compensate student journalists for their time, leading to a more homogenous slate of future reporters.

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“It’s about who we’re representing on our newspaper, from journalists of colour to genderqueer journalists to non-binary journalists,” she said. “That’s an ode to what newsrooms like the Eyeopener and newsrooms across the province are capable of feeding to the journalism industry at large.”

Meanwhile, at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., roughly 30 per cent of grad students opted out of the fee, as did about 25 per cent of undergraduate students, while the numbers at the University of Toronto were a little less grim. Seventeen per cent of graduate students and 27 per cent of undergrads opted out of paying for The Varsity campus publication.

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The numbers were better than editor-in-chief Josie Kao planned for, but she said the paper has still had to make cuts.

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They got rid of new bureau chief positions at the school’s Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, and had to turf plans for a Chinese website, she said.

“The philosophy behind it was that we wanted to preserve as many student jobs as possible and our core operations,” she said.