Independent’s Day

Thursday, 18 March 2004 — 10:43pm | Journalism

Add Hidalgo to the movie review backlog, since I got around to seeing it last Friday. Then take it off, because it is an underwhelming accomplishment so ho-hum in its mediocrity that there is very little to say either for or against it. Let’s just say that Omar Sharif in the Arabian desert has been done, and Viggo Mortensen riding a horse has definitely been done.

Today marked the launch of The Independent, the new University of Alberta student newspaper run by Students for a Stronger Alberta. One must commend the success of the first issue’s deployment, in terms of getting distribution boxes set up next to The Gateway‘s in prime locations like SUB entrance and CAB. As far as content goes, it is clear that Editor-in-Chief Weston Rudd and Editorial Coordinator Rob Anderson are aiming not to supplant the established campus publication, but to supplement it by focusing exclusively on political commentary at levels federal, provincial and collegiate. It looks like these guys are bent on creating a student paper imbued with “professionalism” – that is to say, devoid of streaking photos and genitalia-laden comic strips.

The first issue, however, is indicative of some very fundamental growing pains that may sink the publication if they are not fixed before the next one goes to press in the new academic year.

The most immediately obvious problem is a failure to appreciate the fact that professional content requires professional design. Simply put, even before one delves into the wealth of verbiage on each individual page, one cannot help but notice that the publication looks like crap. Indentation is disproportionate, headlines are oblivious to basic typography, articles are unclearly delineated, and the bottom of the front page sports a horizontally compressed photograph of Belinda Stronach. People don’t read content, no matter how comprehensive, if it isn’t formatted to be readable.

What is encouraging is that the paper’s editors seem to realize this. In their call for volunteers and staff, special notice is made of the fact that design and layout will be paid. They had better reward a considerable sum to whomever is tasked with fixing this mess.

On the content side of things, The Independent fares better. The depth of thought and analysis is impressive when not constrained by limitations on space imposed by advertising, though it is uncertain how long the sparsity of intrusive advertisements will remain sustainable. This issue comes out guns blazing and hits the big issues – Liberal Party scandals, marijuana, the Tory leadership race – and the writers clearly have a lot to say. Although these debates have been done to death, it is a positive indication of what this publication aspires to be: a forum for big-issue political discourse specifically for student writers. The university-level coverage is not quite so well informed; in writing about the recent Universal Bus Pass referendum, Jane Freeman falls victim to the incorrect and misleading notion that the 63% Yes victory is a greenlight to negotiations with Edmonton Transit – possibly the same misdirection that led to the margin of approval in the first place. When it comes to issues that are relevant to students and students alone, The Independent doesn’t hold a candle to its older cousin.

It may be asking a bit much considering the volume of text in this issue – sixteen solid pages with little to no advertising – but it is in need of more rigorous stylistic editing. While Rob Anderson is visibly analytical and full of ideas about how he thinks the system should work, it is worrying that someone so high up on the editorial chain expresses these ideas with a somewhat amateur grasp of rhetoric. “Doesn’t it just drive you nuts?” he asks about hypocrisy. “Well, it drives me nuts. And it drives me nuts even more when its someone I care about; which is why I am pretty nuts right now with the hypocrisy of Albertans.”

I’ll defer to Strong Bad on this one: “If you want it to be a possessive, it’s just I-T-S; if it’s supposed to be a contraction, it’s I-T-apostrophe-S… scalawag.”

First impressions are key, and the first impression here is that this issue was rushed to press to fit a target date and ride a wave of coverage from the Dave Rutherford Show to The Gateway itself. While this may serve as an effective volunteer call for people who genuinely want to see a content-rich student periodical focused on political issues become a legitimate reality, a lot of this should have been thought through a lot more carefully prior to delivery.

Regardless, I wish The Independent the best of luck, and hope its entirely reparable problems are addressed by the time we next see their distribution boxes stocked.

Now, I’m off to Montreal to run for CUSID Executive Director.

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