THE STATE OF PRINT MEDIA
The constant drive of Hamilton print media is largely owed to the Hamilton Spectator, the city’s near-daily newspaper published since 1846. Sold to a parent company, TorStar, in 1999, the Spec may be owned across the lake, but it has been run, staffed, and read by Hamiltonians since it first began publication.
In August 2019, the Spec’s printing press stopped rolling. TorStar had decided to send the paper to a contracted plant. With the Spec’s final issue rolling out of the historic printing press this August, 73 full-time and 105 part-time staff will be out of work. The building itself might be sold off in an effort to cut costs. The Spec will still be in print, but printing will be outsourced to a plant outside of Hamilton.
Despite the changes, John Boynton, TorStar’s chief executive, emphasized the company’s commitment to fully supporting the Hamilton community. If the Spec building is sold, Boynton anticipates keeping the head office of the Spec in Hamilton, but they are not required to do so. The headquarter’s future location will likely be based on TorStar’s financial interests, despite the importance of the Spec in the Hamilton community. With no promises from Boynton, the future of the Spec in Hamilton is not guaranteed.
The Spec has been experiencing the same issues as other organizations in the news industry, with potential readers opting for digital media or bypassing reading altogether, where readers are being lost to the recent media ‘pivot to video’ and podcast boom. Sasha Dhesi, a Silhouette alumna and the Ontario representative for the Canadian University Press, said that the printing press’s closure is unfortunate as the city is losing an important part of the community. While she is not surprised by the move of media to a digital space, she acknowledges the downsides.
“It's really sad to know that it's not in Hamilton anymore. I used to drive by the Hamilton Spectator printing building . . . every time I came into Hamilton when I was visiting my parents … knowing that the building isn’t going to be [printing] anymore is sad,” said Dhesi.
Another blow to Hamilton print media came with the closure of Hamilton Magazine. Founded 40 years ago, the publication has focused on local news, community and arts. Hamilton Magazine ran independently for a number of years before being bought out by the Toronto-based media company PostMedia. With this summer’s issue being its last, two of Hamilton Magazine’s three employees will lose their jobs, while one will assume another PostMedia position. Marc Skulnick, Hamilton Magazine’s former editor, was unable to comment.
Despite the precarity of print media, the federal government has committed to spending almost $600 million over a five year period, along with providing other incentives, for big media companies to stay afloat. It is unlikely that benefits from government media bailout would trickle down to Hamilton news publications such as the Spec.
An independent panel made up of media unions and associations across the country will dole out the government incentives. Panel members include the Canadian Association of Journalists, News Media Canada and the Association de la presse francophone, among others. Independent news organizations, small media outlets and individual journalists don’t have a seat on the panel. The panel gets to decide which companies received government bailouts while also representing the interests of their organizations. The very groups with a stake in the decision are the ones making it.
"I just don't think it's the right solution. I think it carries the potential to do more harm to news agencies' credibility than it does to actually do anything more than protect existing systems in the short term," said Russell Wangersky, a columnist at the St. John's Telegram, in an interview with CBC.
While legislation at the federal level will affect large news corporations, the provincial Student Choice Initiative is likely to impact student publications across Ontario.
Proposed last year, The SCI will come into effect this school year. The guidelines mandate that universities offer students the option to opt-out of ancillary fees for any services the Conservative government deemed non-essential. Essential services include athletics and recreation, student buildings, health services and academic support. Student news organizations are classified as non-essential under the SCI.
A survey by OneClass, a Toronto-based education-technology company, said that 57.4 per cent of students would opt-out of fees to support student newspapers. Jerry Zheng, a growth marketer at OneClass, administered the OneClass survey.
“I think it will definitely mean the end of print distribution for the student newspapers,” said Zheng in an interview with the Waterloo Chronicle.
The fate of student news might not be as dire as Zheng suggests. However, the option to opt-out, if taken by a significant number of students, could effectively defund campus media. Student newspapers are responsible for holding institutions accountable, providing the student body with important information and act as training grounds for journalists. Defunding student media across the province effectively silences student voices.
“If 80 per cent opt-in we’re a bit tight on cash but we’re not ruined. If only 20% opt-in then we’re destroyed. No one else is covering university content to the same degree,” said Dhesi, “Most newspapers, especially now … don’t have the resources in the same way that student news does. Student newsrooms are probably the only place where people can find stable work in news media.”
Dhesi also reflected on her own experience in a student newsroom and the diversity of voices she found there.
“If you look at student newsrooms versus actual newsrooms, you’d be shocked at which ones are more diverse — but not really. I definitely think that losing student newsrooms and losing local media that have that effect reduce[s] the amount of people that [go on in the field] and diminish[es] the quality of journalism overall," said Dhesi.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
While the move to the digital sphere may be the product of old industry adapting to the times, it could mean negative impacts for journalists and the free press as a whole.
“And I think when we think about what makes up the Canadian media landscape, more and more publications are dying off everyday, and we really need those … we rely on three major corporations to give us all our news, and that's just not a good thing,” said Dhesi.
Perhaps the Spec, the Silhouette and Hamilton Magazine represent different stages of the same trends. All have encountered the monopolization of the media industry, reliance on casual labour and decreasing funding or revenue. Stifling student news could snuff out future journalists before they even learn the trade. Overall, this constrains the field that holds the powerful accountable and keeps the public informed.
As for the future of student news, the Silhouette isn’t going anywhere yet. Hamilton print media has persisted despite challenges that come with over 100 years of publication. As print media in Hamilton moves toward a new era, journalists, publications and readerships must adapt with the changes. Still, news publications have always been more than just print. While the printing press may slow its roll, the voices of journalists will persist.
Prior to the announcement on March 26 of a $100,000, two-year project in collaboration with researchers at McMaster, the HSR posted a photo on their Twitter featuring their management team. This photo had the group of seven people, not including the photographer, at the back of a bus stating they were headed to the university.
The question remains how they managed to find a significant amount of space at the back of a bus heading to McMaster in the middle of the day. It appears to be a brand new bus that is not in service yet, and was specifically used for the team to stage a photo op.
During a live stream with CBC Hamilton about eight hours later, the leaders of the HSR were asked, “When’s the last time you took the HSR?” Dan McKinnon, the general manager of public works, replied, “As a matter of fact, we took the bus to the announcement today.”
It is unsurprising and disappointing that management is unwilling to take the service they provide, but the disingenuous and tone-deaf PR is a new and unfortunate development.
CBC Hamilton’s article on the announcement contained, “The HSR management team travelled to and from the university campus by bus.” While this is all technically true, it does not reveal everything the public should know or question.
On March 21, Graeme MacKay, an editorial cartoonist for the Hamilton Spectator, posted a comic that would appear in the March 22 issue. The topic was about Service Canada and their policy for employees to use gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language. Critics on social media immediately began to criticize the comic for being tone-deaf, shameful and transphobic.
MacKay then doubled down with comments such as advising people to write a letter to the editor demanding it while adding, “Don’t forget to call it hate, as you’ve already declared it is and in the process belittling real hate where it actually exists,” and “I guess I hit a nerve under a very very thin layer of skin.”
The Hamilton Spectator has made no major comment at the time of writing. However, they have published opinion pieces in response to the comic such as, “Tone-deaf cartoon made a mockery of LGBTQI2S+ community struggles,” and multiple letters to the editor under, “Editorial cartoon draws fire, counter hate with reason and other letters to the editor.”
We had our own ethics consideration for this Silhouette issue, and a good portion of this was to help answer any questions about how McMaster students may perceive it.
We raised a fairly significant red flag after receiving the image that now appears on the back cover. After a bit of coordination and back-and-forth about the source, the clarification came about that this is from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
This is a legitimate avenue as part of their guidelines for the MPP to communicate with the constituents in the riding to inform them of government news, policies, programs and any initiatives that impact the immediate community. It is not paid for with funds from a political organization. It is not classified as political advertisement.
We also reached out and double-checked ethics standards with the National NewsMedia Council. This is a self-regulatory ethics body for English-language news in Canada that we joined earlier this academic year, which includes other organizations such as the National Post, the Globe and Mail and the Canadian Press.
In addition, we also discussed guidelines and recommendations for standard political advertisements to better prepare us for the provincial and municipal elections that take place within the next few months.
With all of these examples, there should be expectations of how organizations conduct themselves. These are instances of where the foundation of your values and ethics are tested and may be put on display for the public to judge and criticize.
These cases and examples throughout the year do occur from time to time whether it entails biases and spin, a lack of clarity in reporting, an alternative way to deal with controversy, varying levels of transparency or a multitude of other factors that could influence the situation.
While I cannot speak in depth about the mindset or processes of other organizations, I can safely say that we have covered our bases. You should expect your sources of information to do their homework when it comes to things like this, to hold themselves accountable and to keep the interests and potential questions their readership has in mind.
Efforts and explanations like this, previous editorials about the Silhouette and the reopening of reader feedback have all in an effort for transparency and eliminating any confusion possible between you and us. For now, I can safely say that any considerations or questions about media ethics on our end have already happened, either in bursts like this or periodically throughout the year at regular meetings with other stakeholders on campus, and will continue to happen as we transition into the staff for the next academic year.
A small but varied group turned up at the McMaster Association of Part-time Students annual general meeting on Feb. 5.
Attendees were anxious for answers about a months-long investigation by McMaster into allegations of misspending by the Association, which resulted in the departure of Sam Minniti, MAPS’ executive director, as well as a promise from the board of directors that they wouldn’t run for re-election.
Officials cross-checked student cards with a list of part-time students at the meeting room door. No press, no community members, no MSU employees – no non-members whatsoever – were permitted into the meeting.
But MSU president Siobhan Stewart, who is currently taking a course and is therefore a MAPS member, was allowed in.
“I think, for the most part, what was shared in closed session could have been in open session,” she said.
Matt van Dongen, who had been covering the MAPS saga for the Hamilton Spectator, was also inside the room.
“AGM is for student members only, so far,” said van Dongen from his Twitter account. “But as I have recently become a biz comm CCE student, MAPS officials have allowed me in.”
From inside, van Dongen reported that questions about Minniti drew cautious responses. Minniti was said to have legal representation, which limited what the outgoing board members could say.
Minniti, with whom MAPS had “ended its relationship” in January, was not at the meeting.
About 15 minutes into the event, van Dongen tweeted that part-time students in attendance were “poised to overrule [the] board on keeping [the] meeting private.”
But it wasn’t until almost two hours into the meeting, after outgoing president Jeanette Hunter had given a report and a new board had been elected, that observers were allowed to enter. And for the 20-minute open session portion of the meeting, observers were not allowed to speak.
By the time the AGM became public, there were only 30 people in the room, including representatives of multiple media organizations, observers and outgoing board members.
MAPS bylaws were not made available at the meeting.
The new MAPS board currently has eight members, all of whom were elected by acclamation at the meeting. When and how a new executive director will be hired is up to the new board.
Despite the overhaul, Stewart was encouraged by the new directors.
“I think it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You have a new board that’s really green. There’s no one that’s returning … [but] the two or three that come up to me at the end and wanted my contact information, I have no question about their intentions.”
Westdale's Mexican take-out restaurant closes its doors
It had pulled pork, rice, beans, lettuce, lots of tomato, green peppers, cheese, salsa and guacamole. For Noah Ciglen, it wasn’t just a burrito. It was end of an era.
Ciglen, a fourth-year Arts & Science student, had the “sad honour” of purchasing the last burrito from Jimmy Gringo’s Burrito Factory, a favourite student haunt at King and Marion in Westdale, before it closed for good on Jan. 26.
“I had heard before winter break that Jimmy’s was closing, but I had no idea when,” he said. “Then I read on Twitter that it was closing that day and I thought … that I was going to regret it if I never had another burrito from them.”
Although students and local residents alike frequented the takeout restaurant, co-owner Ewan MacLachlan said that operating the business has not been an easy time.
“We’ve been open five years, and it’s been a fight since day one,” he said.
“I chose a location in Westdale because I wanted to cater to students and I liked the village atmosphere … but some of the locals didn’t like us.”
The restaurant operated as a takeout eatery only, but that wasn’t MacLachlan’s original plan for it. His initial vision was of a restaurant with seating, an outdoor patio in the summer and a liquor license so as to sell a small selection of drinks like sangria.
“They’ve got deep pockets and politicians on their side,” he said of the Westdale residents, who were resistant to the business’s presence in the neighbourhood.
The ill will was not new to Jimmy Gringo’s.
An April 2010 article in the Hamilton Spectator, reporting on the success of Hamilton’s business districts, quoted Joe Catanzano, co-owner of the restaurant. “We almost have to close our doors,” he told the Spectator. “Everybody says the city should be supporting you but, nobody here wants another Hess Village.”
Because of the residents’ issues with the restaurant’s late-night business and often rowdy customers, MacLachlan said he was often faced with a series of city inspectors and fines.
In September 2009, less than a year after its opening, Jimmy Gringo’s was brought to a City of Hamilton licensing tribunal for having a small collection of tables and chairs in its storefront, which violated code.
MacLachlan was consequently forced to pay a $1,500 fine for operating illegally, as the restaurant’s license designated it takeout-only. He alleged that this fine was imposed despite a city official assuring him he would not be violating code because the restaurant had already put in an application for seating.
As a result of the tribunal, the restaurant’s license was suspended for a day, and as well as being told to immediately remove the seating, it was ordered to put up a sign indicating that the establishment was take-out only.
So, after a tough five years, MacLachlan finally took an opportunity to close up shop.
“The timing was right, and the lease was up,” he said. “I’d had enough.”
Although students won’t have a reliable source for burritos in Westdale, some may find consolation in the opening of the American chain restaurant Taco Del Mar at Main and Emerson. But Ciglen, who considers himself among Jimmy Gringo’s cult following, won’t be among them.
“I tried [Taco Del Mar] to see if I could change it up, but it was too clean, too calculated and precise, and just not good,” he said.
There’s still some hope that Jimmy Gringo’s won’t be gone forever. MacLachlan, who said he has loved serving students, noted that he had the intention of moving elsewhere to “do what [he] had originally hoped.”
But with no location yet in mind, those loyal to Jimmy’s will be going hungry for a good burrito.