The Daily: Then and Now

Media plays an important role in social movements, transforming demonstrations into something that matters and into historical events. A demonstration without media coverage is a “nonevent”[i] with a lack of influence. According to Gamson and Wolfsfeld “[m]ovements need the news media for three major purposes: mobilization, validation, and scope enlargement”[ii]. Boyle et al. describe journalists as “agents of social control”[iii] giving protest groups a voice and thus creating a field for public sympathy. The media has played an important role in Canadian student protests – either through direct involvement, through reporting about recent developments or through calling for collective action.

This essay compares the role of the student newspaper “The McGill Daily” in the student protests of the 60s to its role in the protests in 2012, looking at the representation of students as well as of the administration. First the essay gives a short overview of the 1968 context and the direct involvement of the Daily in the protest, followed by a comparison of the newspapers structure then and now. In a last step, the focus lies on the representation of the protestors as well as the administration based on the examination of articles, headings and pictures.  At that point it has to be said that the variety and big number of issues in the examination is limited to volume 57 for the 1960-protests (September 18, 1967 until March, 27 1968) and volume 101 in the 2012-protests (September 2011 until March 2012).

An article sparks a debate: The direct “Daily”-involvement in the 1968-student protests

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Headings of “The McGill Daily” published in the year before the protest.

Social movements do not happen in a domestic vacuum; rather they are “products of the political context in which they grow”[iv]. In the 1960s, students called for provincial grants to support universities in Quebec[v]; they were concerned about failing discussions between principal Rocke Robertson and the government[vi]; they debated about participation in student unions such as the Union “General des Etudiants du Quebec” (UGEQ)[vii]; they questioned their own role as students in society and they looked at the world, concerned about the Vietnam War and the global protests[viii]. These important topics highlight the newspaper’s role as a strong agenda-setter, feeding the student-community with information, also beyond the borders of the university.

In contrast to the student protests in 2012, the Daily itself became directly involved, provoking a debate that was sparked by a single article, entitled “The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book”[ix].  In his column, McGill student and Daily editor John Fekete published parts of Paul Krassner’s controversial satire “The Realist”. This action provoked serious backlash: Fekete was charged by Principal Robertson to appear in front of the Senate Committee on Students. The Daily itself printed a statement calling the article a “political, social and literary satire” and an “error in judgment”[x]. Furthermore, the police appeared on campus to confiscate copies and Robertson asked the Student Council to – in the words of the newspaper – “find some method of establishing tighter control of the Daily”[xi]. In the following days, students occupied the Senate Discipline Committee and the Administration Building as well as the principal’s office. And it was Robertson’s behavior and decisions that made the “The McGill Daily” to use him as an enemy image for the whole administration.

The Daily then and now: The changing structure of the student newspaper

Before drawing attention to the representations of the student and administrative side in more detail, it is necessary to take a look at the structure of the student newspaper through time. “The McGill Daily” can be categorized as a local newspaper and significant information source for the McGill student community. According to Paetzold and Roeper, local newspapers limit their scope on regional (and thus university-internal) happenings[xii].

The most obvious change is the frequency of issues: In the 1960s the Daily was published five days a week, today it is publishes only one issue per week.

Since its creation, the Daily has been a platform for discussion and interaction between students, professors and administrators, but this forum-function is in decline. The Daily in 1968 featured full pages of letters with positive or negative responses to articles. The student community did, for example, actively comment on the controversial Fekete article with letters entitled “Krasner’s Fault”, “Poor Defense” or “Call for Resignations”[xiii]. The administration and professors also used the newspaper to address issues and state their opinions. Professor Archie Malloch discussed the Krassner article with regard to the use of satire[xiv] and Political Science Professor Stanley Gray published a few articles calling for student action[xv]. In one piece, Gray pointed to administrative failures of having accused a librarian of having participated in demonstration and the professor wrote “to Dr. Robertson [that] I would suggest that a university is not a private corporation”[xvi]. Because of his radical polemics, Gray was fired in 1969[xvii]. The Daily provided also a platform for Principal Robertson himself, publishing letters and statements to back up his decisions. According to Robertson, “[t]he controversy over the case of students now appearing before the Senate Committee on Student Discipline has given rise to a number of questions in the minds of students. I would like to try to clarify the position for the benefit of those students who may not have been able to follow story […]”[xviii].

The Daily in 1968 can be described as an active opinion platform. Today’s Daily occasionally prints letters[xix], comments and editorials written by professors but they are rare. During the 2012-protests only some McGill history professors published a letter to the principal asking “for greater restraint in the administration’s conduct of the dispute and fuller respect towards the rights of our striking co-workers”[xx]. Former Principle Heather Munroe-Blum did not use of “The McGill Daily” to communicate with the student community; rather her word is only present in short interviews[xxi]. This declining role as a discussion platform is likely due to the lack of space in a newspaper as it is no longer published daily.

In terms of criticism, it has always relied on satire and irony. The 1968 Daily published a weekly supplement “Flux” using irony to comment on current events. Today’s Daily contains an irony section called “Compendium” at the end of every edition. A big difference between the Daily now and then is also obvious when looking visuals and pictures. Today’s Daily uses more and bigger images, whereas the Daily in the 60s started with articles on the first page and used fewer pictures.

After having taken a short look at the structure and the declining role of the newspaper as discussion-forums, the focus is now shifted to the actual content of the articles: How did “The McGill Daily” represent students and the administration and what are the differences?

Collective action or a fragmented crowd: The representation of the student protestors

With regards to the presentation of the protestors, the role of the “The McGill Daily” can be categorized into three functions: Providing information; giving space for debate and calling for action. Student journalists informed the McGill community about actual happenings and developments. They simply summarized the interaction between Fekete and the Student Discipline Committee in a neutral manner and wrote about sit-in protests and the latest developments to keep the students updated[xxii]. With regard to the second function, being a discussion forum, it is relevant that the newspaper took a clear pro-Fekete-stance. This is obvious when looking at the language used as well as at the placement of articles in the issue. The Daily published an editorial criticizing the Committee and calling it “aggressively arrogant and viciously hostile”[xxiii]. After Fekete’s reprimand in March 1968, the Daily published the statements of Fekete and his lawyer on the front-page[xxiv], and a report of the committee was printed on page number four[xxv]. “The McGill Daily” gave Fekete a clear voice and took a clear stance in the protest, calling for direct action. In smaller articles, Daily editors gave information about demonstrations that take place, informing about locations and times[xxvi]. Furthermore, professor Gray demanded the student society to transform itself in an “effective students’ union”, starting to use the “organized power of 12, 000 students in open negotiations and confrontations with the Administration”[xxvii].

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“The McGill Daily”-headings, representing the student side in the 1968-protest.

These three functions were also important for “The McGill Daily” in 2012. In the News section, the students were neutrally informed about the actual happenings with headlines such as “McGill wins injunction against MUNACA”[xxviii] or “PGSS votes for three-day strike”[xxix]. Moreover, Daily journalists provided an overview of the tuitions issue for their readers[xxx]. In the articles, the student and protestor voices clearly overshadow the voice of the administration[xxxi].

With regard to the function of being an opinion forum and in contrast to the Daily of 1968, it is clear that the student side in the 2012 was much more fragmented and uncertain in its reaction to the protests. Whereas the reader of the 1960s Daily recognizes a clear division between a collective acting crowd of students with homogenous aims on the one hand and an opposing administration on the other hand, the division lines in 2012 are more blurred. The Daily itself strongly supported the protest, shown in different commentaries and weekly editorials. The fragmented student reaction is shown through is the fact that the Daily had actively to call for action with articles that tried to convince the students, such as “Collective Means, Collective Future”[xxxii]. Next to announcements of strikes, the student-newspaper published commentaries stating a “responsibility to mobilize”[xxxiii] and a need to act, describing strikes as the only way to stop tuition hikes[xxxiv]. But opinions varied: Theater-groups wrote a letter stating their neutral opinion[xxxv], non-supporter Murtaza Shamboora wrote an article with the title “We are (not) all McGill”[xxxvi]. The Daily also reported about engineering students withdrawing their motion to strike[xxxvii] and one student described tuition hikes as normal[xxxviii]. As Anastasia Stamou shows with her study on newspaper coverage of student protests in Greece, non-protestors “have a considerable impact on people who read about the protest” and “contribute to the depiction” of protestors[xxxix].  The two sides are often dichotomized in pressed into categories of “us” and “them”[xl]. If non-protestors for example are presented as victims, the reader gets negatively disposed. But this is not the case in “The McGill Daily” of 2012. Rather, the non-protestors clearly get fewer voices and when reading through the articles from a today’s perspective, one gets a sense of non-protestors,disturbing common action and failing to work for the goal of the community. The decision of the student community against the participation in the strike in March 2012 is then presented only in a short article on page five under the heading “AUS Strike Vote Fails”[xli]. The same issue features a reflection piece called “Down but Not Out” in which Davide Mastracci states that “[s]trikes are still possible” and “[t]he fight for accessible information does not end here”[xlii].

In terms of mobilization, the Daily in 2012 also announced demonstrations and gave information on routes[xliii]. It would link the topic of strikes against increased tuition fees to broader topics such as free expression as a fundamental feature of a university or to gender issues[xliv]. Daily editor Ruth Ainsworth wrote an open letter to the McGill society stating that “McGill is not a business … It is a community with a social function and with fundamental principles that it has an ethical obligation to uphold”[xlv]. This is also a method used by the Daily in 1968.

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“The McGill Daily” in 2012: Colorful front-covers are used to raise the reader’s attention and to express a clear stance during the strike.

A last aspect to compare is the covering of student protests all over the world that is a central characteristic of the issues of 1968. The Daily reported about protests at the Universite de Montreal[xlvi] or the Simon Fraser Campus in British Columbia, but it also looked beyond Canada to countries such as Spain or the United States. One half-page article with the title “Student Power Enters the Classroom” took a look at Baltimore[xlvii]. With these reports, the Daily editors establish a network and community-feeling among the students in protesting for a united and global purpose.  In 2012 on the other hand, the student strike was limited to Quebec. The Daily only reported about protests at other Montreal universities[xlviii], but it also included larger global movements into its scope of coverage with an emphasis on the “Occupy Wall Street”-movement[xlix].

To summarize, it has to be said that “The McGill Daily” has a role in providing information, mobilization for protests and offers a room for debate. In both cases, the newspaper took a clear pro-strike-opinion in calling for action. When taking a deeper look at headlines and language, a reader of the Daily in 1968 got much more sense of a united student side that did not debate about the participation of strikes, but about tactics[l].

When the temperature rises: The representation of the administration

When taking a deeper look at the representation of the administration in the student-newspapers, a common transformation is observable in both cases:  from a neutral representation towards a more critical attitude against the behavior of principals Robertson and Munroe-Blum.

As already outlined above and in contrast to 2012, Robertson actively used the newspaper to publish justification of his behavior[li]. At the beginning of the protests surrounding the Fekete-article, the Daily reported the significant issues in a neutral manner with headings such as “Principle Revises Obscenity Charges”[lii], followed by more direct attacks on the administration. One example is a picture page, showing the inability of administrative employees to enter their offices, blocked by demonstrating students and blocked doors[liii]. Furthermore, editors and the student community expressed their concerns through comments, editorials and articles. In the commentary “In Domino Confido”, an unknown student called for the opening up of the procedure used by the Committee on Student Discipline[liv] and an editorial accuses the whole committee of having “violated the most basic civil rights” and being “more of a threat to good order in this university”[lv]. Another article that defended Fekete calls the latest happenings an “administration comedy of errors”[lvi]. Also Professor Gray spoke out against the administration again with an comment entitled “Administration: An Unconstructive Minority”, calling Robertson and his colleagues a “fairly complex and puzzling phenomenon”[lvii] and accusing them of avoiding critical and moral issues, not being willing to engage in constructive dialogue and denying academic freedom.

A last form for the expression of discontent is the use of satire and irony. In its review-issue at the end of the year on December 15, 1967 the Daily published a list of headlines forecasting the next year that include “Robertson registers in BA1”,  “Robertson fails BA1” and “Robertson resigns to fill vacancy on SDU executive”[lviii]. SDU stands for Students for a Democratic University, a committee headed by Gray that strongly supports the strikes.   The Daily printed a caricature to make fun about Robertson[lix].

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The representation of the administration, shown with “The McGill Daily” headings.

Todays Daily proceeds in a similar fashion. The journalists print articles, comments and letters by students expressing frustration, stating for example that “I am embarrassed for McGill right now – for its administrators, professors and students […] We’re tired of the administration banking on apathy, striving to keep us uninformed, divided and content with the little we are given”[lx]. The Daily published an issue with the title “Dear Heather”, containing a bunch of letters in which one student for instance accuses the Principle for having “turned our university in a place of fear, hostility, and disrespect”[lxi]. As shown, the letters and comments defend the protestors, accuse the Principle directly and demand honesty, respect and justice.

To put it in a nutshell, the “The McGill Daily” then and now has served as a platform for the student community to express frustration over happenings and behavior as well as to directly demand changes. In both cases, the administration was represented as an uncooperative opposition. Furthermore, with the endurance of the protests and the absence of any solution, the temperature rose in terms of extreme wording as well as aggressive and accusing headings and satire.

In the end it remains the question, whether the Daily editors of 2012 actively looked at the protests in 1968. In a commentary, an unknown editor who was just occupying the James Administration Building refers to the 60s in stating that “10 November marked the first presence of riot police on McGill grounds since 1969”[lxii]. Furthermore student Erik Andrew-Gee had “dug through the Daily archives” in search for Quebec student movements that failed or succeeded. He came to the conclusion that most protests have been successful in the past and this informed his decision to protest. On his way through the archives, Andrew-Gee also came across with the student protests of 1968. From a today’s perspective they serve as s strong example and argument for a student-movement in which united students “are usually not defeated”[lxiii]


[i]  William A. Gamson and Gadi Wolfsfeld, “Movements and Media as Interacting Systems,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 528 (1993): 116.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Michael Boyle et al., “Newspapers and Protest: An examination of protest coverage from 1960 to 1990,”Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 3 (2005): 639.  

[iv] Judith Hellmann, “The Riddle of New Social Movements:  Who They Are and What They Do,” in Capital, Inequality and Power in Latin America, ed. Richard Harris and Jorge Nef.  (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 146.

[v] “Universities need provincial grants,” The McGill Daily, February 1, 1966, 3.

[vi] “Lesage, Robertson fail to arrive at solution,” The McGill Daily, February 22, 1966, 1.

[vii] Barbara Harris and Danny Levinson, “Campus votes to join UGEQ”, The McGill Daily, February 9, 1966, 1.

[viii] Brenda, Zannis. “Viet Nam – a history,” The McGill Daily, February 11, 1966, 14.

[ix] John Fekete, “The Parts that were left out of the Kennedy Book,” The McGill Daily, November 3, 1967, 4.

[x] Peter Allnutt, “Editor’s Statement”, The McGill Daily, November 4, 1967, 4.

[xi] Marcus Willa, “Principal asks SC to adopt tougher attitude with daily”, The McGill Daily, November 7, 1967, 1.

[xii] Ulrich Paetzold and Horst Roeper, Medienanbieter und Medienangebote (Opladen: Leske und Budrich, 1992), 59.

[xiii] “Letters”, The McGill Daily, November 4, 1967, 5.

[xiv]Archie Malloch, “The Krassner Article as ‘Put On,‘” The McGill Daily, December 8, 1967, 2.

[xv] Stanley Gray, “Students need collective action’” The McGill Daily, November 22, 1967, 2.

[xvi] Stanley Gray, “The other half,” The McGill Daily, February 23, 1968, 8.

[xvii] McGill. “McGill News. Alumni Quarterly. Summer 1999.” Accessed March 28, 2014. http://newsarchive.mcgill.ca/s99/demoen.htm

[xviii] Rocke Robertson, “Principal’s Statement,” The McGill Daily, November 21, 1967, 4.

[xix] “Letters”, The McGill Daily, November 7, 2011, 7

[xx] Allan Greer at al., “Letter to the Principal,” The McGill Daily,November 7, 2011, 11.

[xxi] Jessica Lukawiecki , “McGill Principale Heather Munroe-Blum sits down with the student press,” The McGill Daily, April 2, 2012, 8.

[xxii] “November 3 and all that”, The McGill Daily, December 15, 1967, 8-9.

[xxiii] “Editorial,” The McGill Daily, February 8, 1968, 1.

[xxiv] “Fekete Statement” and “Sheppard Statement”, The McGill Daily, March 27, 1968, 1.

[xxv] Senate Committee on Student Discipline, “Report on John Fekete”, The McGill Daily, March 27, 1968, 4.

[xxvi] Peter Harwood, “It’s off to Quebec”, The McGill Daily, January 18, 1968, 1.

[xxvii] Stanley Gray, “Students need collective action’”, 2.

[xxviii] Queen Arsem-O’ Malley, “McGill wins injunction against MUNACA”, The McGill Daily, September 29, 3.

[xxix] Henry Gass, “PGSS votes for three-day strike,” The McGill Daily, March 12, 2012, 3.

[xxx] Carter Smith, “Quebec tuition and inflation,” The McGill Daily, January 12, 2012, 9.

[xxxi] Henry Gass, “Tuition demonstration enters McGill Campus”, The McGill Daily, December 6, 2011, 3.

[xxxii] Daniel Wolfe, “Collective means, collective future,” The McGill Daily, January 30, 2012, 7.

[xxxiii] AaronVansintjan,“Crisis and Action”, The McGill Daily, October 17, 2011, 7.

[xxxiv] Nadav Slovin, “Stop Tuition hikes”, The McGill Daily, March 12, 7.

[xxxv] “The strike is impacting all of us’” The McGill Daily, October 24, 2011, 7.

[xxxvi] Murtaza Shamboora, “We are (not) all McGill”, The McGill Daily, October 31, 2011, 9.

[xxxvii] Henry Gass, “Engineering Students withdraw motion in supporting striking workers’” The McGill Daily , October 6, 2011, 4.

[xxxviii] Henry Gass, “Tuition demonstration enters McGill Campus.”3.

[xxxix] Anastasia Stamou, “The Representation of Non-Protesters in a Student and Teacher Protest: A Critical Discourse Analysis of News Reporting in a Greek Newspaper,” Discourse & Society 5 (2001): 653.

[xl] Stamou. “The Representation of Non-Protestors,”  676.

[xli] Devin Kesner and Jordan Venton-Rublee. “AUS strike vote fails,” The McGill Daily, March 15, 2012, 5.

[xlii] Davide Mastracci, “Down but not out”, The McGill Daily, March 15, 2012, 7.

[xliii] Annie Shiel and JuanCamilo Velasquez, “Almost 30,000 rally against tuition hikes,” The McGill Daily, November 14, 2011, 4-5.

[xliv] “Editorial: Tuition hikes are sexist,” The McGill Daily, March 19, 2012, 15.

[xlv] Ruth Ainsworth, “What is a University”, The McGill Daily, October 6, 2011, 9.

[xlvi] Lazar Sarna, “U de M strike continues, full boycott threatened,” The McGill Daily, February 20, 1967, 1.

[xlvii] Chodos Robert, “Student power enters the classroom”, The McGill Daily, December 5, 1067,5.

[xlviii] Queen Arsem-O’ Malley, “Concordia students vote in favour of November 10 student strike”, The McGill Daily, November 7, 5.

[xlix] Molly Swain, “Three days occupying Wall Street”, The McGill Daily, October 27, 2011, 10-12.

[l] Stanley Gray and SDU, “SDU statement,” The McGill Daily, November 9, 1967, 4.

[li] Rocke Robertson, “Principal’s Statement,” 4.

[lii] Philip Aspler, “Principle revises obscenity charges,” The McGill Daily, November 8, 1967, 1.

[liii] David Miller, The McGill Daily, November 9, 1967, 8.

[liv] “In Domino Confido”, The McGill Daily, December 20, 1967, 2.

[lv] “Editorial”, The McGill Daily, February 8, 1968, 1.

[lvi] “Fekete reprimanded”, The McGill Daily, March 27, 1968, 1.

[lvii] Stanley Gray, “Administration: An unconstructive minority”, The McGill Daily, March 15, 1968, 5-6.

[lviii] “Headlines ‘68”, The McGill Daily, December 15, 1967, 7.

[lix] Caricature Satire about Virgin Mary, The McGill Daily, December 20, 1967, 3.

[lx] Amy Monroe, “Listen Up!”, The McGill Daily, September 29, 2011, 9.

[lxi] Sheehan Moore, “Dear Munroe-Blum”, The McGill Dail, November 7, 2011, 9.

[lxii] “Letter from the fifth floor occupiers”, The McGill Daily, November 14, 2011, 9.

[lxiii] Eric Andrew-Gee, “Students United usually aren’t defeated”, The McGill Daily, March 12, 2012, 9.

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