Reading Time: 10 minutes
We spoke to five former editors about their time here at The Eyeopener
Words by Stephanie Davoli
Visuals by Vanessa Kauk
Founded in 1967, The Eyeopener has officially reached its 55th anniversary! As Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) independent student newspaper, we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years—from the introduction of countless new campus buildings to the university’s recent name change and everything in-between. In honour of the milestone, we spoke to five former editors about their time at The Eye, their advice for future students, what they believe the newspaper’s legacy is and much more.
Here are their best excerpts from our interviews with each of them!
Before graduating from TMU’s School of Journalism in 2010, Erin was The Eye’s sports editor in the fall of 2008, winter of 2009 and winter of 2010. Erin is currently working as the vice-president of digital strategy at Postmedia, a national media company that owns over 100 news outlets across the country. One of Erin’s most memorable moments at The Eye involved her coverage of the winter 2009 referendum to increase student’s sports fees—which eventually led to the university’s investment in Maple Leaf Gardens. “It was one of those stories where you didn’t know what it was going to become and then what it became was so monumental for the university.”
Rob started at The Eye as a news writer in 1995. He then became a news editor in 1996 and after graduating from TMU’s journalism program in 1997, became editor-in-chief from 1997 to 1998. Since his time at TMU, Rob has worked at the Toronto Sun and as the director of corporate communications for Metrolinx. Rob remembers a particularly memorable day involved Jared Leto visiting The Eye’s office, which was then located in the basement of Jorgenson Hall, in preparation for a role in which he was portraying a student journalist. “We walked him through the life. I’m pretty sure the movie, show or whatever he was in, bombed, but it was kind of nice.”
Currently working as a content writer, editor and the writer of the Globe Climate Newsletter for The Globe and Mail, Sierra was at The Eye from 2013 to 2018, serving as the editor-in-chief in her final year. The TMU journalism grad remembers her Eye days fondly, but one story that sticks out in particular was the infamous breaking news piece on bed bugs in the Victoria Building. As the editor-in-chief at the time, Sierra remembers that the story was so big that its reach extended far beyond the TMU community. “The next day we were on all sorts of radio channels, our office was full of outside reporters who were trying to see what happened,” says Sierra. “The school was very upset with me and they called me in for a meeting with PR people. I felt like I was in trouble but I wasn’t scared.”
This 2016 j-school graduate worked as a communities editor, news editor and online editor at The Eye before she became the paper’s editor-in-chief from 2016 to 2017. Nicole is currently living in Germany where she works as a fact-checker, freelance writer and associate editor for The Walrus. Throughout her many years at The Eye, Nicole recalls several memorable moments, such as participating in a ‘Coffee Olympics’ with her team. She also recalls the one night during her final Eye year where TMU security found her sleeping on the office floor. “I guess [TMU security] were doing their night checks and they first saw just my feet laid on the floor from the doorway,” remembers Nicole. “So they woke me up. It was very startling but it was all okay!”
In addition to being The Eye’s editor-in-chief from 2018 to 2019, this TMU journalism alumnus also worked as editor of the business and technology, features and news sections during his time at the publication. Currently working as the producer on the national strategies and operations team at Postmedia, Jacob is also a former president of the Canadian University Press. With his immense dedication to and extensive experience in student journalism, it’s no surprise that he has countless memories from his Eye days. However, Jacob’s most memorable moment involved accompanying Sierra and other news editors into the Victoria Building for the bed bugs story of 2018. “I think it was the most exciting news experience of my life,” says Jacob. “It was such a cool chance to be like, ‘Why don’t we just check for ourselves?’”
How has your time at The Eye influenced your career?
Erin: “Working at The Eye provided me with such great real-life experience for working in journalism. You learn a lot in your classes and the professors are experts in teaching the tactics but The Eye gives you the hands-on opportunity to report on a community in a way that you probably would if you worked for a major newspaper or digital enterprise. There’s no safety net at The Eye—you had to conduct yourself in the same way as if you worked at the Toronto Star—and I think that was a really valuable experience.
Rob: “The Eye had a huge influence on everything I did. It allowed me to be a reporter on big stories and an editor while I was still figuring my way out in the real world. Later in my career, I became an editor at the Toronto Sun and I felt like I had some grounding in it because I had already done it somewhere else. Being at The Eye also allowed me to make a whole bunch of mistakes at the student level, before I got into a major media publication, so I made a lot fewer mistakes in the real world. It really did just help me learn and build my confidence that I could do the job.”
Sierra: “It’s so funny because a big part of what I do every week now with my job at The Globe is basically what we did at The Eye once a week but I do it all in just one day. I basically see where the ads are and place stories for the Saturday paper. So I think having that bit of print experience from The Eye is something that I didn’t think would come back but I definitely use now quite frequently. Even for editing, I didn’t have classes per se on how to edit but it was using what I had learned from other people at The Eye and what little I learned from class. So there’s definitely a lot that has translated directly into every role I’ve had ever since.”
Nicole: “I learned more about journalism in The Eye newsroom than I did in the classroom. Part of that was because I tried so many different roles during my time at The Eye that I just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do elsewhere. It also helped me learn to be deadline-oriented because we had an issue that went to the printer every Tuesday at 5 p.m. To learn how to get things done properly and on-time was so important.”
Jacob: “It almost felt like a second degree. You started at TMU and you’re learning a bunch in your classes but then once you started going to The Eye, it was almost as though every day was a new class…learning something new and working with your peers. After having all of that [experience], when I finally broke into the industry after a couple internships I felt so prepared. They’d be like, ‘Get these interviews, do this really tight deadline’ and I just felt like ‘Oh I know how to do this, I learned this all at The Eye.’”
Any lessons that stick with you to this day?
Erin: “The biggest lesson I learned was probably that, in hindsight, I don’t think in the mid-2000s we were as cognizant about what it meant to report on students and the power of Google. I don’t think we understood the thought that needs to go into what counts as a story and the impact of it being readily available online 10 or 15 years later. So I think with the benefit of hindsight that I would have been a lot more thoughtful [of is] realizing how people would come across permanently.”
Rob: “I think a lot of it was the ability to try things and make mistakes. A huge piece of being at The Eye involved having the chance to try all sorts of things, from sports writing and news to editing and taking pictures. We did some of that in class but this was really—you’re out there, you’re on your own and there’s no professor holding your hand.”
Sierra: “I definitely learned more at The Eye than any class at j-school could’ve taught me. Aside from the hard skills of writing and working on a team, it taught me how much people skills and being an enjoyable person plays into every assignment and task. There’s very little that can be done at a newspaper and any organization alone so if you’re smart and a good person to work with, then you’re a great teammate. I feel like my ability to talk and connect with people has helped me as much as my hard skills in editing.”
Nicole: “To just stay curious and always ask questions I think. Oh, and to get more sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever been more sleep-deprived in my life than I was during my time at The Eye. But at the same time, I don’t know how but we didn’t really feel it? Maybe it was because of the gallons of coffee we were chugging but yeah, I think if I could go back I’d maybe prioritize sleep more.”
Jacob: “I think the main one is that you should really invest your time in getting to know, help and work with everyone around you, no matter what their skill levels are. I know that when you first start at TMU and you’re thinking about networking you might think, ‘Oh I’m going to go and meet the editor-in-chief of CBC News and I’m going to be their best friend.’ But what networking actually is, is finding a bunch of people on your level and maybe some that are just starting out and you can teach them some stuff and you all elevate each other together.”
Any advice for current and future students?
Erin: “It’s really important for people who are working at The Eye who want to get into media to recognize that what they’ve done at the student newspaper is really important work for community strategy. You really develop important skills that are useful in newsrooms because you are doing the same work as major outlets, just on a different scale. I would also tell people to think about what their niche is and what they can offer an organization.”
Rob: “My biggest piece of advice is to get out of your comfort zone. Try stories that you’re not sure that you’d be interested in, go write a feature, do some video, do some photography, do all these things. It’s such a great place to try and you might be surprised at what you like. I always thought that I’d be a sports reporter, turns out after trying it for a while, I actually liked being a fan more. But I found out I really liked news. So just try stuff, I think that’s the biggest thing and don’t be afraid to fail.
Sierra: “Your colleagues in school are not your competition. Every single person can find their way and do something awesome. I think that there’s healthy competition but I think that, very often, when you’re all trying to get jobs and internships, it can become kind of unhealthy competition. This industry is very small but I think that’s more reason to foster connections with others and get to know your colleagues as teammates because you will certainly run into a lot of them later down the road.”
Nicole: “One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was, if you want to be a better writer, editor, reporter, whatever, the best thing you can do is read. Take in all the material you can because it will help improve your work as well. You’re really like a sponge when you’re in school so just try to soak it all in as best as you can.”
Jacob: “My main piece of advice, especially for Eye editors is please, please don’t sleep in the office. When I was there it seemed like such a rite of passage to sleep there, eat there, skip meals, but making sure that your mental health is at a good level and that you don’t get burnt out is so important. Go home at a reasonable hour, I promise you the work will be done. Another thing is that you’ll never know where a cool opportunity will take you. Really don’t let yourself be siloed, let the opportunities come and whatever happens, happens.”
What does The Eye’s legacy and importance at TMU represent to you?
Erin: “I think that The Eye has a really important role at the university to hold the administration accountable and to be the voice for students. From a journalism perspective, it’s always been such a great opportunity for development and people who aren’t in journalism can always take part and end up with a career in media without going to journalism school. In the past few years, it’s been really impressive to see how thoughtful and inclusive The Eye’s newsroom has become too. It’s really nice to see so many different communities at the university being reflected in the publication and I think that the past few years of leadership at The Eye has really thrown it into a new era.”
Rob: “What makes it stand the test of time is that it’s the student paper, it’s got a bit of an edge to it, it tells stories that other places may not tell usually and it’s also a place that’s so fun. For me, it’s a place that is so welcoming to people in journalism but also outside of journalism. That’s just such a huge part of what The Eye brings to the journalism department and the school.”
Sierra: “Definitely being the independent voice on campus is super valuable—even if not all students completely understand it—I think that holds a great deal of importance. It covers so many communities, from the university to the downtown core and it’s such a weird microcosm of the world. I think that it’s so important to have something so hyper-local that connects with communities…and having someone there listening, watching and sharing plays such a huge role in the growth of the university.”
Nicole: “I think the community that it built, for me and from my time there, just holds so many memories. It was almost like a little clubhouse on campus and I’ve met some of my closest friends at The Eye. There were so many late nights and I just remember it being one of the most fun times of my life and that’s ‘cause I was surrounded by people who shared my passion for journalism.”