Giving conservative students a voice

  They say journalism is the first draft of history. And we know the average newsroom, let alone the editorial section, is far more liberal than the electorate. How did our first-drafters come to be so ideologically skewed? Hardly any went to a formal journalism school. But a lot of them did apprentice at an informal school of a sort: the campus newspaper.

Most students aren't interested in reading or writing for the opinion section of campus newspapers, but those who are, are ambitious: They often go on to positions of influence in politics and the mainstream media. Since the Sixties, big-campus newspapers have been hotbeds of left-wing ideology and even of useful idiocy for the West's sworn enemies. And many of them not only have no competition, they are generously funded by their institutions (via mandatory student fees) to encourage radicalism.

I well remember my recoil from the shrill rantings of The McGill Daily when I arrived at McGill for graduate studies in the politically tumultuous Sixties. To say that the Daily had a left-wing agenda is an understatement. It wasn't just the editorials and opinion columnists: The entire paper was essentially one long diatribe against capitalism and the United States, every news item a springboard to further Marxist agitprop. Except that it is published semi-weekly rather than daily, and Israel is now vilified as well as America, the Daily's self-righteous agenda hasn't much changed since then, by my young McGill friends' account.

But why, in our infinitely expandable digital world, when print journalism is in decline, and access to the Daily is available online, is any student newspaper being allotted $150,000 in grants and tuition levies, as the Daily is, to put out 3,000 print copies of a newspaper written by ideologues and read by mere hundreds?

That's a question five conservative-minded students, whose talents were unwelcome at the Daily, asked themselves last year, and promptly answered by starting their own online, opinion-heavy student newspaper promoting a staunchly conservative perspective.

The bilingual Prince Arthur Herald (PAH), named for the McGill ghetto's principal artery, was launched unofficially last winter at a start-up cost of $150. Fundraising brought in $11,000, enough to pay a web designer and to formally incorporate at the federal level. And that's the PAH's total expenditure so far. Distribution is executed entirely through social media: about 15% of readers come directly through Google and over 75% via Facebook. As of August 29, the PAHpage on Facebook had 515 "likes," high for a student newspaper (The McGill Daily has 700). In its peak months of March and April, the site recorded about 1,500 unique IP addresses (all of McGill is one IP address, so the number of readers could even be higher). PAH columns have been cited twice in Parliament, and one of the French columns was cited in the Journal de Montréal. A promising beginning.

Last week I interviewed one of PAH's founders and its CFO, thirdyear McGill political science student, Alexandre Meterissian. Alex is pumped, radiating confidence and passion for the venture. He tells me the board of directors, eight editors, two publishers and about 50 writers - from McGill, Queen's and the University of Ottawa - are committed to putting out a responsible, quality product targeting a cross-country student constituency. The PAH aims to be "the Canadian conservative student's Huffington Post," whose credibility will be unassailable.

Now 90% opinion-oriented, an investigative news section is under construction, but will grow only as revenues do. They have what sounds like a feasible plan of bull's-eye marketing, based on cutting-edge software. Let's hope it works, because its financial independence or bust for PAH. "We started out with the premise that we would never ever take any public money," Alex proudly asserts. "That's what unites us." There's no affirmative action at PAH - so far all the players are male, but only because that's who expressed interest - and contributions are merit-based.

I've read several of the opinion pieces on PAH. The writing is cautious, rational and self-consciously measured in tone. That's understandable. They're newbies building a brand. But they are tackling the right subjects. A January editorial critiqued The McGill Daily's call for a ban on campus military recruitment; a March editorial took a mature, thoughtful stand against the excesses of Israel Apartheid Week; an August opinion piece in French scolded the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux for its collusion with Hugo Chavez.

All National Post readers should wish PAH well. Unofficially, it's the Post's journalistic farm team. See for yourself at