Free daily papers arrive at Ryerson

By Anya SpethmannAfter a year-and-a-half of wrangling with student groups, administration at Ryerson University has signed a three-year contract with The Toronto Star, allowing the daily to distribute free on campus.
The Eyeopener, a 34-year-old independent student paper, joined the Ryerson Students’ Administrative Council (RyeSAC) and The Ryersonian, a newspaper produced by students in the school’s journalism program, to fight against allowing the Star on campus.
On Mar. 8, administrators showed Eyeopener staff a letter of agreement they intended to sign. Lori Fazari, Eyeopener editor-in-chief, said that she heard no more about it until last Friday, when she saw delivery trucks dropping off newspaper racks and the day’s Star.
“The worst thing was, it was our election day,” she said. “And we thought, well, there’s what we’ll be doing all next year.”
She said the Star’s presence on campus will divert resources from producing the Eyeopener to struggling to maintain advertising revenue and readership. Ryerson is the latest in a number of Toronto-area schools to experience dissent between administrations eager to offer free papers and student publications worried about the effects.
In September of 2000, two colleges at the University of Toronto started distributing the Star, despite opposition that led to the newspaper’s failure to strike a campus-wide deal. Jin David Kim, editor-in-chief of the Varsity, is now leading a coalition of U of T’s student newspapers hoping to prevent further proliferation of free dailies on campus. The papers are concerned about the impact free dailies will have on advertisers that currently purchase space in both campus and national papers. However, Kim says the papers are concerned about more than money.
“The greater concern is that corporations are now invading these very special public spheres that should be protected,” he said. “It [commercial media on campus] influences the way you look at your school. Not only are you less informed about your community and campus, but you’re more susceptible to advertisers’ messages.”
The administrators who put the deal together feel the benefits outweigh these concerns. John Corallo, of Ryerson’s Ancillary Services, said the Star approached his office in the fall of 1999, but the university put the plan on hold for a year because of opposition from The Eyeopener and RyeSAC.
He said that after a year of watching the program at other schools, Ryerson administration decided to move ahead. The university conducted a survey that indicated most students were in favour of the deal. Corallo pointed out that some students are required to read the Star for class.
“Consensus was that students would benefit from the program,” he said.
Jeremy Nelson, president of Canadian University Press (CUP), an umbrella group representing over 70 student newspapers across Canada, says that student papers should receive the benefit of the doubt where the Star’s free distribution is concerned.
“As long-standing institutions on campus, we’re the ones that should be protected,” he said. “The Star has in no way been able to prove that this won’t hurt student newspapers, despite their repeated assertion that in no way or shape will this affect [student publications].”
The Toronto Star, says Nelson, is “basically going in on blind faith.”
The number of Stars distributed at Ryerson will depend on demand, and could be as many as 5,000 newspapers each day. The Eyeopener distributes 8,000 papers on a campus of 14,000, and Fazali said tentative plans to increase circulation to 10,000 have been shelved.
“We’re worried that the pick-up’s going to drop,” she said.
Provisions requested by The Eyeopener, including a stipulation that the Star limit the number of copies distributed to less than the student paper’s circulation and that The Eyeopener keep its rack space, were not included in the deal.
Corallo says that the university will address The Eyeopener’s concerns by reviewing the deal in one year. While he admits that student leaders are against the deal, he insists the plan is in the students’ best interests.
“I have a survey that says that the students actually would benefit from the program,” he said.
Last year, Ryerson newspapers were confident they could keep free dailies out of the university because of a policy that prevented commercial enterprises from distributing on campus.
“This is not happening — that’s all there is to it,” said Liane McLarty, Eyeopener manager, in the fall of 1999.
However, administration has told Fazali that the policy is under review. In the meanwhile, Grayson has overridden it to allow the Star on campus.
York University’s student newspapers fought a much-publicized battle with the Star and the university’s administration last year when the school agreed to allow 26,000 free copies of the Star on York’s campus each week. Excalibur, the largest of York’s 12 student papers, has since cut its circulation from 17,000 to 15,000.
CUP is considering launching a legal challenge to free daily papers under the Competition Act, though Nelson says it’s tentative at this point and he is not sure whether it would take the form of a civil lawsuit or a complaint to Industry Canada’s Competition Bureau.
“Selling merchandise in one area at a price lower than in others — that’s pretty clearly predatory pricing,” he said. “Obviously there would have to be some damage [to file a complaint], but with things like York, it’s pretty clear there is an impact.”

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