A day of inaction for Nova Scotia media outlets
No matter what you think about the Day of Action for Nova Scotia’s post-secondary education—that the people rallying were driven by self-interest, that students are just whiny—here’s some facts, plain and objective.
After at least two months of hemming and hawing about “process”, the provincial government came to the students and announced—“coincidentally” the day before the Day of Action—that the longstanding tuition freeze was over, that fees could be up to three per cent higher next year, and funding will be reduced by four per cent. They seem like small percentages, but for universities, especially the many small ones that make up Nova Scotia, that’s tens of thousands of dollars that they won’t be seeing.
A new memorandum of understanding between the province and the universities structures the funding they give under the auspices of a tuition freeze on the universities’ part. The last time they negotiated one in 2007, talks started in November with student groups at the table. This time, negotiations won’t begin until April.
Without discussion, and with just a heads-up notice, the tuition freeze was no longer up for debate, when all lobby groups like the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations (ANSSA) had been asking for since October was to be at the table. Ends up the answer was no: they didn’t realize it wasn’t so much a table as it was a lectern.
And the Day of Action’s rally was factually and objectively bursting with an incredible, ecstatic, purposeful energy, the kind that made the words “student movement” resonate.(Disclaimer: Editor-in-Chief Adrian Lee was a councilor for the King’s Students’ Union for three years and executive for two).
And here’s the fact: the regional media outlets totally dropped the ball on its coverage.
I know firsthand that while the CFS put months of planning into this rally, various media outlets barely considered it until the day before. When the snowstorm struck, and people were inconvenienced and traffic snarled, that became the number one story of the day. For many, including the Chronicle-Herald, the so-called “newspaper of record”, it didn’t even make the top five. The Herald actually devoted fewer than 500 words to it—fewer than it gave to yet another marginally newsworthy story on the proposed convention centre. The article read like it was written by someone who wasn’t there for the whole thing—unsurprising, because many left early on and arrived late, too. And almost all the major media undersold the event, reporting that “over 500” attended.
Yeah. Sure. Only 500 people peacefully negotiated with police to let them take the city’s main arteries and show that what people say about students—they’re apathetic—is clearly and simply ignorant. Five hundred people were what the photos and student reporting is showing, of people who got off buses to join in the rally, who hugged each other and gave each other their coats and gloves when the cold got too overwhelming, who, in a stunning aerial shot, sees a thick, unstoppable mass taking Barrington Street and barreling to Province House.
After a comment that suggested they had it wrong, the CBC has since changed their number to 2,000—the number that student journalism sources like we at the Watch but also unews.ca cited from the beginning. It’s a number we got from organizers and police, who also told us they often give conservative estimates of protest attendees. Asking the police about an event’s turnout: they taught us that in first year journalism school.
Where were the stories about people holding each other for warmth, steadfast only in their belief that they needed to be here, that they were there for all the right reasons? Where were the stories about the deliberate efforts of a very small contingent of anarchists who tried to turn the protest into a riot—and the plucky third-year King’s student and admirable organizers who prevented them from their efforts to lead the group? Where, most importantly, was the aerial shot that has taken over the student news Twitter-verse, of a thick crush of students completely and surreally swarming Barrington Street?
Are those exemplars of the selfish student apathy that others have branded inescapably on us?
And while it’s clear that this is what student reporting should be here for—covering the news that affects students the most—it’s exactly the opposite that we’re seeing in mainstream media, the idea that students matter the least to the rest of the province.
Many of the reporters we spoke to on the Day of Action said they were shocked by the turnout. If they had listened, then frankly, they shouldn’t have been. And if they had stayed or covered it like the significant downtown-ensnaring event it was, they would make that shock look somewhat more genuine. Somewhere along the line, expectations for student rallies have dropped lower than the day’s temperatures, and now, the media appears dead-set on perpetuating that perception. And it’s exactly that attitude that makes it easier for the provincial government to sell its ideology to taxpayers who are, for whatever reason, considered separate from university students.
Through a blistering blizzard, at least 2,000 so-called apathetic students came out and stood for something they believed in. Is that not a good enough image for you?
Was that still not good enough? Why do you still not think this is a big enough deal?
Because then it begs the question: what is?