By Susan Hickman
A publication that began as a tiny four-page newsletter tapped out with borrowed typewriters on stolen tables, has blossomed nearly 70 years on into a weekly multimedia publication with its own website that includes podcasts and blogs.
The Charlatan celebrated its 70th anniversary on Thursday, Sept. 4 at the Ravens Road Field on campus, with new and old staff and members of the community.
“The anniversary is about community,” says current editor-in-chief Rachel Collier, “because we wouldn’t be here without the community.”
When the first Canadian journalism students enrolled at the new Carleton College in 1945 – the first program of its kind in the country – it didn’t take them long to get their newspaper, the Carleton (its original name), off the ground.
It grew quickly and, since those early days, the student newspaper has gone through a plethora of formats – from slick news magazine to splashy tabloid. Editorially, it has reflected various permutations of liberalism, conservatism, campus parochialism and worldly savoir-faire.
“The Charlatan,” writes Evan Annett, digital editor at the Globe and Mail, who summarized the paper’s history in You Charlatans in 2005 to celebrate its 60th anniversary, “has endured the radicalized New Student Journalism of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the business-like pragmatism of the ‘80s and the balkanized and hypersensitive campus politics of the ‘90s. It has survived newsroom rebellions, revolutions against student governments and knockdown, drag-out wars between Canada’s daily newspapers.”
News coverage in the beginning focused on veterans’ affairs and experiences during the Second World War, not surprisingly as the college was predominantly a veterans’ university. Much coverage was given to the public image of the institution and the standards of the student newspaper during the 1940s and 1950s. Stories about local beauty contests, football game pranks and school spirit were superseded by articles on bilingualism and women’s liberation as experimental journalism and off-campus news became the order of the day through the 1960s. Today, the newspaper covers campus news as well as national events affecting students.
It was during the radical anti-establishment 1960s that the newspaper overhauled its mandate and, at the beginning of the 1970s, changed its name to the Charlatan. The publication became a cheeky, alternative newspaper. In 1973, editorial staff invented a joke candidate for a student government byelection. In 1974, the Charlatan’s photo editor Paul Couvrette secretly inserted a fake obituary of himself into the paper on production night.
Sure, over seven decades, the little paper that could has had its ups and downs, explains Collier, who took over the reins in May. There has been plenty of “horsing around” through its history, controversy over its relationship with the student council, arguments about censorship, and newspaper wars with local publications.
But staff members have gone on to become editors-in-chief at major Canadian dailies, renowned authors and media relations officers. Warren Kinsella became a special assistant to Jean Chrétien. James Orr became a Hollywood director. Many joined Carleton’s School of Journalism faculty.
“We try to be a training ground for journalists as well as a public resource,” says Collier, a fourth-year journalism student who hopes to establish a career in the print media or radio. “I feel we are a reputable news source. Our focus is always pushing boundaries and we want to continue to be dynamic.”
The Charlatan has a distribution of 8,500, but most of the readership is on the website (www.charlatan.ca). Last year, 350 students contributed to the publication. Architecture students design graphics. History students write blogs. The current photo editor is a philosophy major.
“We have volunteers from every department,” Collier notes. “It’s an inclusive space.”
Journalism Prof. Klaus Pohle, who was on the Charlatan board until 2006, suggests the newspaper has a tradition that gives students “a taste of journalism up to a point. Several have used it as a springboard. Those who are serious about a journalistic career will make the most of it.”
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