Meet The Strand’s EICs, Alexandra Scandolo and Erik Preston

I had the chance to sit down and talk about student journalism, university and mansplaining with Alexandra Sandolo and Erik Preston, the editors-in-chief of The Strand, Victoria College's newspaper. Alexandra, also known as Ally, is a fourth-year student studying Art History, English, and French. Erik is a fifth-year student studying Political Science and Sociology. The dynamic duo reflected on their undergraduate careers and shared stories about personal struggles, self-growth, and learning to become independent. 

In what ways do you think The Varsity differs from The Strand?

Erik:  The Varsity’s content is a lot of b-reporting news. They have a functioning newsroom. There’s staff day in and day out. They can hop on leads a lot more on the day to day. So, a lot of their coverage is day-to-day reporting versus our content which is more in tune with Vic but also a little bit more creative and socially-oriented.

Ally: I can agree with that as well. Since Vic is a humanities-based college, a lot of the students are in the arts, so we have a focus more on looking at things in pop culture that are focused on arts: more of our content strives towards that. This year, we have a science section and we are branching out in that way. The Varsity publish weekly and we publish bi-weekly. We focus on stuff that is less timely. They are able to cover things as they happen and we focus on things every two weeks.

What is The Strand’s mission statement?

A: Our blurb on the masthead used to say, “Progressive journalism with humour.” The Strand’s focus has always been looking at what is going in with the world and having a humour spin to it which is why we have had such a success with the humour section. I would say our mission statement is focusing on the progressive, especially this year.

Since both of you are upper years, how has being a part of student journalism groups helped your experience as a student?

A: I started university going into student government. I was on VUSAC for two years. Then I switched gears and started contributing, writing and doing photography for publications. I found that that was more of what I was interested in. It does overlap with my subject posts but also, I’ve developed skills to be a better writer and editor by writing journalistically. I have also honed into a different kind of critical thinking than you learn in a classroom—that’s been really important, especially this year.

E: For my first two years of university, I was not involved on campus. I've found that becoming more and more involved in student journalism, you get engaged with the community and that in itself provides motivation. It has motivated me to do better and be more engaged with my peers around the community, and that helped me in school too.

What would you like to see change in student journalism at UofT?

A: There are a lot of papers at UofT and I don’t know if there is a lot of communication between them. There’s definitely room for people to start connecting even though we have such a big campus and we cover a lot of different stories. There’s a lot of room to collaborate. Also, we’re a part of the Canadian University Press and the only other paper on campus that is a part of it is The Toike Oike, the engineering paper. I think now that there’s been some reform with CUP in terms of fees, it’d be nice to see papers on campus rejoin because being a part of it is a great way to meet other papers and work collaboratively in that way.

E: Students in journalism in Canada was, historically, a tight-knit group. In many ways, it still is. There’s room to go back to that because student journalism has always provided a progressive way of looking at things. It can definitely do a lot better with more information sharing and staying relevant with everything that is going on in news media across the globe. Connection across the country within the campus is important to stay relevant moving forward.

In your professional journalistic opinions, what is a strong journalist?

A: That’s something we’re both learning. I think that’s something holding a position in student journalism teaches you. Since September, we had a crash course of what it means to be a journalist, and learning more about ethics and how to write and what to write.

E: That’s what’s unique about schools that don’t have journalism programs. You see a lot of bad journalism and some good journalism. It’s a lot of learning on the fly. Strong ethics, that’s a big thing. Understanding your audience and what piece you’re writing and piecing that together. Confidence is huge. If you’re chasing a story, you have to have the confidence to go chase that story and do it well and report well. Listen to your editors.

A: You need to let your work be collaborative. I think that a lot of people expect writing to be you working on something by yourself. But it actually is something that you have to be willing to roundtable and you have to be willing to listen to people and see where you have gone wrong or what you can improve.

E: You’ve got to be able to take criticism. That’s a huge thing.

A: That’s something that I’ve learned: that criticism is definitely a good thing and you can learn from your mistakes.

E: The biggest thing I see with student journalists though is the confidence. A lot of students like the idea of writing a story but when it actually comes to researching—actually getting on the phone or visiting someone at the office or trying to talk to the right person, reaching out in one way or another—they won’t want to do that and will sooner go and quote someone who has already done that research or find a roundabout way of getting that information versus going to the source and getting thrown original information.

A: On the flip side of that, you have to be willing to remove yourself from your writing. Erik’s speaking from a news perspective. But from the arts perspective, when you’re writing articles on plays, you have to be willing to remove yourself and think about the audience at large and not just how you perceived it. 

Before working together, my understanding is that you were not close friends. How has your relationship changed during your time serving as EIC?  

A: Due to the major turnover last year, we were both interested but we didn’t know who to collaborate with. We were friends but not that close, so we had the understanding that we worked organizationally similarly and had interests that balanced each other.

E: I remember going into it thinking, “I don’t even know Ally at all. We’re going to have to work a lot together. This could go really well or really badly." There was a lot of room to fail miserably and somehow, we’ve become close friends over the course of the year.

A: I remember telling my friends, “I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with Erik, like a lot of time." Now we’ve gotten into the groove. It’s definitely made us better friends which doesn’t happen very often when people work together.

E: Our personalities compliment each other well. It works well in that way; that’s a luck in the draw.

A: We’ve sent each other passive aggressive two letter OKs to each other but other than that, we’re always on the same page.

Erik, is there a different student dynamic at Vic and St. Mikes?

E: Absolutely. I was never engaged with the St. Mikes community. It’s a lot more disjointed at St. Mikes. There hasn’t been that great of student culture there versus Vic, where there’s a great student community here. That’s what attracted me to getting involved. I feel like student journalism in general and these sorts of pursuits are taken more seriously here [at Vic] than at St. Mikes. I like it here better, I find that I fit in here better and it suits my personality a lot more and that’s what drew me here in the first place.

Ally, you are the fashion editor for UofT’s College Fashionista Chapter. Recently, a video about fashion magazines has been circulating the internet, stating that a very small portion of all fashion magazines are dedicated to written articles, and the rest are product advertisements--targeting women to appeal to their insecurities and purchase theses products for better self-esteem and body image. Some women have gone as far as boycotting fashion magazines. Would you agree that fashion magazines are sexist and intrinsically misogynistic?

A: Fashion journalism generally is something difficult for people to take seriously because it is often considered frivolous. Shopping is often associated with this idea that it’s not worth writing about. I think there’s a lot of good journalism going on in fashion magazine. If you take Teen Vogue, they’ve been doing a lot of great investigative research regarding the election and taking other political stances. I think there is a lot of merit in fashion journalism and magazines.

Advertising is something that has to be discussed, and I think a dialogue has to be opened up. I think that if a boycott is going to open up that dialogue, then people should stand up for what they believe in. The publication that I work for is independent and it gives students a voice to talk about fashion on campus but also, their perspectives on fashion. While I’m often writing about clothing and how to style things, I’m often given opportunities to write personal essays on different things. I’ve talked about fast fashion and sustainability which is an issue in the fashion community. There’s a lot to talk about in terms of fashion and I think we shouldn’t pigeon-hole it to fashion journalism being frivolous.

What was the most painful experience you have had to endure thus far?

E: I had a really rough second year of university. Something I should’ve sought extra help for that I didn’t and that's what motivated me in third and fourth year to get involved because I had such a bad year that year. A mix of things: going out too much, not going to class, not taking care of myself. I definitely learned from that year quite a bit. That was probably one of the rougher years of my life in university.

A: If I had to think about my grand university narrative, I think a lot of it was punctuated by the fact that I had a really hard time being alone. I think over the course of the last two years, I also had a very tough second year, just between dealing with the fallout of things from first year and the pressure of taking on another year of university. I was leaning on people too much and not seeking my own independence. I’ve learned how to be alone but also, that that doesn’t equate to loneliness.

What are your favourite cafe hotspots in the GTA?

E: Jimmy’s Coffee in Kensington. It’s a nice place to work, the back patio is nice during the summer time. My favourite thing to do on the weekends is to go down to Kensington and go grocery shopping, cook a crazy dinner.

A: Moonbean Cafe in Kensington. It’s also a nice place to do your work at as well. There’s another place in Leslieville called Tango Palace. It’s really pretty and comfy seating for studying. It is a trek but it’s worth it.

If you had to choose one literary work that best defines you, what would you choose?

A: Franny and Zooey by Salinger. It’s super pretentious but it’s a book I really love. Every time I read it, I become the moody person I think I am.

E: Being completely honest, I don’t read much fiction. I read non-fiction exclusively. I’ve read strictly political and economic books since grade 10. My favourite is Two Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. He did a really great recount of the 2008 financial crisis—well researched and investigated. An incredible book.

What is one thing that most people do not know about you?

E: The peace sign tattoo I have on my back that I really regret. I got it when I was 18. Real big mistake. I have a White House tattoo on the back of my leg that’s coloured.

A: I like football a lot. Go Giants! I’ve been considering a One Direction tattoo. I wouldn’t actually get it but the song, “Girl Almighty” is such a cute title. Most people wouldn’t know about but if I did want to admit to it, it would be funny.

You're at a party both taking on the role of wing-man and wing-woman for each other. What would you say about the other person to the potential romantic prospect?

A: I would definitely go over and be like, “See that six foot three, handsome guy over there? Not only does he surf but he knows how to write, and he’s very well educated.” Then, I would list his credentials. I think I get along with women quite well, so I would really hit it out of the park for him.

E: I’m a guy’s guy, so I think I would sell it well: "She’s kind of shy, super cool."  Then, list her credentials. "She knows art pretty well."

A: I think I’m going to have to wing-woman myself at this point.

Where do you see yourselves after graduation?

A: I’m taking a year off before applying to school’s again. I’d like to see myself trying out different jobs and experimenting in that regard. I’m excited to not be a student for the first time in my life. I’ve been torn between working in curating and working in media. Maybe my year of self-discovery will lead me down a path of decisions.

E: I’m taking a year off to work before I go to school again. Hopefully, I find a job in PR but probably in sales because that’s where my experience is. Hopefully somewhere sweet.