Lessons Learned

By Jason Menard

You know what’s the best thing about university? It’s the opportunity to learn and explore exciting new worlds and experiences. And what’s the worst? The fact that everyone around you thinks they’re right and has all the answers.

Despite the cacophony of people all-too-ready to pounce on them, Ian Van Den Hurk, the editor-in-chief of The Gazette, and his staff have learned the greatest lesson of all from their spoof edition – the lesson that people make mistakes and it’s OK.

Now, if only others would be as tolerant and forgiving as they expect The Gazette staff to be. But when it comes to savaging the wounded, it seems that whatever slings and arrows that are nearby are fair game – even if they’re not based in truth.

I know, I’ve been there. Ten years ago, I sat in Van Den Hurk’s chair as editor in chief of the daily student newspaper of the University of Western Ontario . I had the honour of working with a dedicated, passionate group of people who were committed to excellence. Most importantly, they were committed to sacrificing their lives for the cause of serving the student body at large. We were a diverse group of men and women, working together knowing that we were fighting against various interest groups that only had one agenda to push – their own.

In a university environment, you’re immersed in a world of passionate people, who are learning new things and gaining new experiences every day. They are exposed to new causes and embrace them with the passion and vigour of youth – unfortunately, that’s not always tempered with experience and knowledge, and that enthusiasm without wisdom can be the fuel that fans the flames of anger. Passion often overwhelms perspective when dealing with various interest groups.

One of the arrows recently lobbed at Van Den Hurk and his staff is that The Gazette has long been a bastion for sexist comment, which is ludicrous. Over my four-year time at The Gazette I had the distinct pleasure of working for and with an unparalleled group of women, many of whom have gone on to positions of influence in the media and business world. They brought a passion and dedication to the publication of the news, but also were able to shape and refine our perspective. These were some of the strongest women I’ve met and they are the type of people of whom I would proud to have as role models for my daughter and my son!

In my exit column, I wrote how much I valued the contribution that everyone made at the paper and stated that the ignorant critics would always remain so. That opinion still holds because it’s not that people don’t want to understand – it’s that they choose not to.

Looking back on my days as EIC, I was vilified for choosing to run a Cultural Diversity issue in February. The decision was motivated by our desire to be more inclusive with the various groups around the campus, but due to financial and advertising restrictions, the only month we could afford to do this edition was February – the time of our Black History Month issue. We were vilified as racists, despite running a month’s worth of articles focusing on black history, because we chose to forgo a dedicated issue in lieu of embracing all cultures. Despite the positive feedback we got from the campus at large, a select few groups chose to focus solely on their own interests – to the point where we were told the African-Canadian co-ordinator of the month’s worth of coverage wasn’t “black enough.”

From that experience and others during that year, I learned a valuable lesson about respect and tolerance. I learned that in a position of influence you have to be even more sensitive to cultures than you think you are – but, in the end, you have to do what you feel is right.

But the key point is that I learned – and isn’t that what higher education’s about? Don’t forget that Van Den Hurk and the rest of his staff are students, juggling a passion for journalism with educational, familial, and social commitments. Many have to hold down second jobs because the pay they receive is a pittance – but they do it for the love of the craft. They’re passionate, dedicated people who only want to do the best, but sometimes make a mistake. And now, in rectifying that mistake, they have the opportunity to grow as writers, as editors, and — most importantly — as people.

In retrospect, the article lampooning Take Back the Night and women’s issues should have been vetted a little more closely. It should have been handled with the utmost in delicacy understanding the passions that the issue can inflame. But the topic is not taboo – no cow is too sacred for satire. How one puts that satire into effect is the key, and it’s a lesson that the staff of The Gazette are certain to have learned.

In this rush for everyone to mount their moral high horses, common sense is getting trampled underfoot. If there was truly no malice – and I can’t fathom, knowing the caliber of women that join the ranks of The Gazette, that there would be – and the staff is genuinely remorseful for the impact of their work, then we should afford them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. For those who are preaching tolerance from their respective pulpits, perhaps it’s time for them to lead by example.

In the end, the writers at The Gazette will be better, more well-rounded people for going through this experience – and isn’t that what higher education is about?

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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