It’s early January and Canadian University Press’s president Sam Brooks and national bureau chief Arshy Mann sit in their new Yonge Street office in downtown Toronto, putting the finishing touches on the organization’s 75th national conference.
Canadian University Press, commonly known as CUP, claims to be “the oldest student news service in the world, and North America’s only student press co-operative.” From its origins as an informal clippings service, CUP has grown into a national bilingual newswire for student newspapers and an incubator for journalistic talent, with an alumni list that includes Christie Blatchford, Doug Saunders, André Picard, John Macfarlane, Pierre Berton, Marshall McLuhan, and former prime minister Joe Clark.
Mann, who is also CUP’s unofficial historian, notes that Canadian university papers used to be considered less reputable. At CUP headquarters, Mann read what he described as “the money quote” from the 1969 Special Senate Committee on Mass Media report, which said, “Canada’s best student newspapers are still un-professional, shrill, scurrilous, radical, tasteless, inaccurate, obscene, and wildly unrepresentative of their campus audience. They always have been.” Mann used the quote to stir up excitement in the crowd at the anniversary gala a few days later.
Since then, CUP has grown from an informal network to a support system for university papers across the country. In the days before the internet, the wire service was crucial for letting campus papers know what was going on at other universities throughout Canada. Its online newswire continues to allow student papers to share their content, and CUP opened it to the public in 2009 to help showcase student talent.
CUP also offers its members valuable legal resources. Emma Godmere, one of CUP’s two national conference co-ordinators, and last year’s national bureau chief, remembers facing legal troubles when the CUP wire reposted
, which included a link to a site that hosted several bits of sensitive information about McGill. The university’s lawyers sent both CUP and the Daily letters asking that they remove the link. As CUP itself has a lawyer at hand for members, it made dealing with the situation a bit easier.
“The biggest support that we got from our lawyer in this respect was that he was able to actually respond directly to the McGill lawyers for us, so that way we weren’t on our own,” Godmere says.
Currently, the organization is in the early stages of a rebrand. This is especially important if CUP hopes to keep up its membership numbers; it currently comprises about 70 campus papers. “We’re in a significant period of change throughout the history of media in Canada, and in a lot of ways we need to rethink it,” Brooks says. “We need to rethink the position that campus press holds.”
Student newspapers were once the only way that information flowed through campuses, Brooks says, but this has all changed with the internet, specifically, student paper websites and Twitter. “We need to adjust what we do because of that,” Brooks says. “The business of newspapers has changed.”
For that reason, CUP is focusing more on its newer services, such as its mentorship program into the spotlight. “This is the thing I think I’m most proud of right now,” Brooks says of the program. With its vast alumni network, CUP believes that it’s one of the best organizations to pair current students with working professionals.
A tent pole in the mentorship program is Communications Workers of America-Canada, a media union that puts CUP members in touch with media outlets like the CBC, Thomson Reuters, and The Canadian Press. That relationship, Brooks says, has enabled the mentorship program to thrive. In fact, some news organizations have begun targeting those who have participated in CUP’s mentorship program for internships.
“Our mentorship program not only serves to aid students while they’re working at their student papers, but also to create a pathway for people to start to relate to major media outlets, and get their foot in the door for major job opportunities,” he explains.
But even before the launch of this mentorship program, CUP alumni have ended up with major opportunities. Some of those alums, including Bert Archer, a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, and The Washington Post, made their way to CUP’s 75th national conference in January. and gave advice to new members trying to enter the industry. “They shouldn’t be discouraged by all the naysayers about journalism,” Archer says. “Print is obviously changing, but it’s as an exciting time for journalism as there ever has been.”
Erin Millar has first-hand experience of this. From 2006 to 2007, she was CUP’s president. Millar has since gone on to a successful career as a freelance journalist, writing for publications such as Reader’s Digest, Maclean’s, and the Globe. “I really owe my career to CUP,” she says. “I feel personally indebted to the organization and the students I worked with there.”
As print journalism is changing, so is CUP. Its 75th anniversary marks a time to reflect on the past and to imagine what the future has to hold.