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Jeffrey Simpson visits U of R

Who is this hot shot? /image: queens.ca
Who is this hot shot? /image: queens.ca

Globe and Mail columnist talked about fate of universities and newspapers

Article: Aidan Macnab – Contributor

Last Wednesday, Jeffrey Simpson, the National Affairs Columnist for the Globe and Mail, gave a talk here at the U of R, in the Luther Auditorium. He spoke about some of the challenges facing Canada currently and in the future, and provided his thoughts on what we all should consider in order to meet these challenges head on.

In Simpson’s opinion, higher education and journalism in Canada are changing rapidly, and schools and newspapers need to adapt if they’re going to survive.

Simpson has won the Governor-General’s Award for non-fiction writing, the National Magazine Award for political writing, the National Newspaper Award for column writing (twice), as well as the Hyman Solomon Award for Excellence in Public Policy Journalism. More than that, he has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of British Columbia, Western Ontario, Manitoba, L’Universitie de Moncton, and Queens.

So when it comes to what newspapers and universities should do, he may know what he’s talking about.

During his talk, Simpson spoke of his concern for the “undergrad experience.” Teachers are apparently spending less time teaching, and more time researching, something that is incentivized within the universities.

“Research has driven promotion and tenure of professors,” he said.

Also a concern is the increasing class sizes. Simpson said he’s “tired of universities cramming four and five hundred students in a classroom.”

He feels that these trends aren’t allowing for enough interaction between undergrads and their professors.

However, Simpson believes there are ways of dealing with these challenges. As for students, he thinks that the government should impose “funding incentives” for smaller class sizes, similar to the funding incentives seen south of the border that pertain to academic achievement.

While visiting Regina, Simpson also visited a 400-level Political Science class. While he was there, he conducted a poll regarding how many students got their news from a newspaper and how many got their news online. The result, not surprisingly, demonstrated the dramatic shift away from print media. Simpson thinks that newspapers need to adapt or they’re toast.

Times have changed from when Simpson got his start in journalism. Although he admits he doesn’t know that much about social media, he did have something to say about the effects of it.

“You can sound wise much more easily than you could 40 years ago.”

The Carillon asked the established journalist if he had any advice for young people looking to follow in his footsteps.

“I happen to think it’s better, if you’re going to be a journalist, to do a foundation degree in some discipline–could be science, it could be history, it could be whatever. Get a grounding in that stuff, then top it up with a journalism degree.”

And once you’ve graduated, “My advice in trying to get a job is to… write, write and write again… try to get a summer internship or a summer program somewhere, work for a small paper or something to get your foot in the door.”

Simpson is optimistic, despite the changing landscape in the journalism profession.

“There are now lots of new opportunities that didn’t exist when I was there it’s true that the mainline media is shrinking. It’s also true that there’s lots of stuff going on online now that didn’t exist before and some of its quite interesting.”

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