The Dalhousie Gazette is the oldest, longest-running university publication in North America. It’s seen 150 years of news at Dalhousie University. The watchdog of the Dalhousie Student Union and school administration. A voice for the students.
150 years of coverage means there are two histories: the history that the Gazette chronicled and the history of the publication itself.
It’s gone through dozens of Editor-in-chiefs. It’s fluctuated from publishing weekly, to bi-weekly, and sometimes only monthly during the tougher times; each week, on top of their classes, labs and lives, the editors would push through and produce thousands of words of content.
The paper has seen hundreds different cover formats; it’s reported on Dal administration blunders, the Halifax Explosion, strippers in the Student Union Building and all types of politics – from campus to international.
In 1969, the editors’ envisioned the paper to be “a purely literary journal whose only aim is to foster and encourage a taste for literature among the students.”
Kat Pyne walks into the Gazette office and is immediately sucked back into her days of the Gazette. Visible through the all-glass wall on the third floor of the Dal Student Union Building is our own wall of nostalgia. Dozens of old photos are taped up alongside a lone, hand-written hate-mail letter. Further down the wall a batch of Polaroid’s taken of last year’s Gazette staff is scotch-taped to it.
There are photos of Pyne and her old staff hanging up. “I loved just being a part of the Gazette and the tradition of the Gazette,” she says. “It was such a weird, quirky little family.”
That’s what the Gazette office exudes. All of the old weird stuff that has passed through the office; and the interesting and determined Gazette alum who’ve moved up the ranks of the editorial board and moved on to other things.
Our office has apparently down-sized, to the malaise of each editor that had the joy of working in the old office.
“I feel like I lived here. There’s a picture of Ian sleeping on the couch,” says Pyne, pointing to one of the printed 8×10 photos taped to our office wall, “Like that was all of us. That was like, the EIC couch.”
Dylan Matthias, Editor-in-Chief from 2011 to 2012 says, “Students have their own view on society. They also have that time, that ambition and willpower to go and dig into things.”
“Having realized the importance of having a good website it was like every editor was out there to prove that they could come up with the better version of what it should look like. But it’s hard, we’re all so nostalgic about the paper version too. Even though you can say like ‘yes our focus is on digital’ we were always still very nostalgic about the print.” Says Pyne.
These days, we publish bi-weekly and try to focus our efforts on in-depth reporting and our online content. This shift to online was years in the making; a new dilemma was sprung on each EIC as they managed a publication on the frontier of the ‘digital shift.’ And the political climate has changed too.
“Dal’s like woke now, huh?” muses Dal Gazette alumna Julie Sobowale, she’s one of those dozens of Editor-in-Chiefs whose shoes I am supposed to grow into.
The city of Halifax is changing, and Dal is a huge part of the city; she says “I don’t know how you can go to Dal and not be involved.”
Sobowale was on campus when the Loaded Ladle started and when Dalhousie Women’s Centre transitioned to South House, things were starting to happen on campus.
“At the time when I was editor, I knew this kind of political stuff was happening; but I wasn’t really sure how to capture it in the paper as much,” says Sobowale, “there wasn’t too many out-there things happening the way they’re happening right now.”
But Sobowale also says every EIC will tell you what they would do differently; and she isn’t sure anything can prepare a person for going into the role of Editor-in-Chief at a university publication.
Matthias says, “it was a crazy eight to 10 months. At the time it all seemed so – kind of in the moment and important. And it is. It’s important work that we did. And in hindsight I’m glad we did that work.”
Pyne remembers how much work it is being a full-time student and working for a weekly campus publication, “but it’s so rewarding,” she says. “We just cared so much about it, which might be silly like, it’s just a student newspaper, but we did. We cared so much about it. We wanted it to be as good as it could be. We wanted it to be the best paper.”
To the same tune, Sobowale says, “Campus newspapers are so much fun. They’re a little bit more chaotic.” For her, “It wasn’t the same climate that you guys have right now. I think we’re just going through something right now as a society because of what’s happening in the US – like if you’re not woken up you’re woken up now.”
As much as the political climate has changed, a lot of the reporting is the same. Student issues are as timeless as Shakespeare’s love stories. Our protests are repeated, our voices talked over, and the university experience is eternal: late nights, partying (or annoyed with partying) and genuinely trying to figure out what the fuck you are doing as a human being.
In her 4 years with the Gazette, Pyne says “It’s a lot of the same stuff you guys are reporting on now – it was 90 or 80 per cent campus focused and then sometimes we’d go out into the larger community and how it affected campus life, or vice versa if the campus life was affecting the larger community.” Everything from university administration and finances to life as a student was covered back then too.
Matthias says it’s important for the Gazette to take the DSU to task to remind them and their successors that “they don’t have free range to do whatever the hell they want.”
Lorax B Horne started out hanging around the Gazette meetings and writing for the paper because that was where they could get the most experience – and it’s cool to see your name published.
From 2008 to 2009 they were the Opinions Editor, then became News Editor for 2009 to 2010; their job was to make the student paper more open to the city, to include the Gazette as part of the bigger conversation going on. Everyone on their team knew that the Gazette had the potential to be a part of the better media.
If Horne could change one thing about being a Gazette editor? “Piss people off more.” And care less about what others have to say about their writing.
Every editor is thankful for their time with the Gazette. “Sometimes low-tech is great. We had no budget but we’d put together these awesome photo shoots,” Pyne reminisces, “You get so creative out of necessity.”
Sobowale says “You have an opportunity to really form your voice as a writer – to experiment.”
And Horne echoes the same sentiment: “It’s how I learned. I was always chasing stories, and testing out new content on readers and seeing what questions they were asking,” they said. “I learned to much more by interacting with readers than teachers.”
Horne learned so much they won an Atlantic Regional Cup Award in 2010 for their reporting on a Dawg Father story.
They said that at the time, the Chronicle Herald wasn’t embedding content into their stories, and they took photos of tickets the Dawg Father was receiving, uploaded them onto Flickr and included them in their reporting.
Student journalism is different from reporting as a mainstream journalist.
“But what’s the difference?” Pyne repeats my question as she thinks, “I mean, we don’t have a budget. We don’t have very many fancy tools but just like wicked amount of passion and drive and at that stage in your journalism career ignorance is bliss.”
“It’s just like the wild west of journalism,” she laughs.
Dylan Matthias started his time at the Gazette as a sports reporter. He says the first meeting of the year when he first showed up was so packed he couldn’t actually get to the news desk. He was stuck by the door by the sports desk, so he started talking to the sports editor. Matthias reported sports coverage for two years until being recruited to the role of EIC by his predecessor, Joel Tichinoff.
When Matthias was EIC, Wall Street was occupied in September 2011. The Gazette was able to send some of their reporters to New York City, with Dal students who were going down to join the protest, and report on their trip. They had daily coverage for about 3 to 4 days from Zuccotti Park.
“That was a real fun moment; I’m really proud of that piece and the way it was produced.”
A week after that was Occupy Halifax in Victoria Park where four of the Gazette reporters were down at the scene before any other large media.
“We just had an incredible team and I was so lucky to work with them.” He says they had killer instincts. Pyne was one of the reporters sent to cover Wall Street – she was News editor at the time and Matthias was her editor, when he asked her to go she knew she was saying yes to a big opportunity.
“I’m so thankful for all the weird and wonderful experiences I had at the Gazette. And the people! My god the people that I worked with. Those were my best friends through school. My fellow staffers, that was my little Gazette family,” says Pyne.
“Working with people who want to learn about the news and people who wanted to be writers to write. It’s a really great dynamic,” says Sobowale. “And you have a captive audience. Students do wanna know. They want to know about policies.”
“It’s very stressful but it’s wonderful in its own way. I think student media can do a lot more good than most people think,” says Matthias. “It’s good that people have the opportunity to learn and experience that. Mistakes get made, it’s part of all media – not just student media.”
Pyne says “Writing is solitary, but so much better when it’s collaborative process.” And every editor echoes the nostalgia for their old paper. “I’ll always love the Gazette,” says Pyne.