Happy birthday! This month we celebrate eight years of the Leveller.
In February 2009, the Leveller published its first issue, commencing a new era of consistent, critical independent newspaper publishing for Ottawa-area students and residents.
At that time and to this day, we continue to defy technological logic and media critique alike that relentlessly relegate print media — especially in the newspaper format — to the dustbins of history.
Flying in the face of these trends, we have even decided to increase our print numbers and our reach. Is there not a better way to celebrate such an anniversary? (Even if isn’t quite as delicious as the batch of Leveller-brand wine fermented for our fifth anniversary.)
That’s right, with the help of a local distribution business, we are now expanding into various Ottawa neighbourhoods via free home delivery service. This issue, four thousand Ottawa residents will receive this newspaper in their mailboxes, in a variety of low-to-middle income and student neighbourhoods straddling the Rideau and Ottawa rivers.
If you are one of these lucky residents and actually made it past the front cover, we commend you and prod you to read further. Whether you love or hate what you read, please send us a letter (or email) regardless. We would love to hear from you, even if it’s to say you never want to see our paper again.
Here’s a bit more about us for you first-time readers.
The Leveller was born as the brainchild of a handful of disgruntled leftist graduate students at Carleton University in late 2008. The students were fed-up with negative media coverage berating workers and unions — at that time, OC Transpo workers during the Ottawa bus strike and CUPE 4600 members at Carleton. Pooling their hard-earned teaching assistantship and scholarship money together, these determined students put out the first issue of the Leveller in February 2009.
The Leveller seeks to balance such negative coverage of worker struggles and other important social justice issues and promote the progressive values that so many of you hold dear. That is, we attempt to augment the voices of people over profit and power. Whereas the corporate press and mainstream media mislead their readers by speaking of balance and non-bias, we recognize that newspapers and media have never been so. Pure objectivity was not the historical purpose of newspapers, which have always either been tied to business and political interests or the critical voice of the people.
We are tied to nobody. We receive a small amount of funding from Carleton graduate students, so we try to take our membership into consideration in our coverage.
We want to see the creation of a more equitable, just society and we hope that is reflected in our content. We strive to be open, democratic and non-hierarchical. We also pride ourselves on developing grassroots journalistic skills amongst our contributors, seasoned or green.
We are attempting to expand our readership in a time of national and international turmoil as we feel that our newspaper may be more relevant than ever.
The left — already fragmented — is under consistent attack. The social welfare state is being eroded beyond recognition. Environmental regulations are being slashed. Indigenous rights continue to be denied. Those without citizenship status are rendered increasingly vulnerable. Those not “belonging” to the dominant culture are increasingly marginalized.
Sexism, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, bigotry and homophobia are on the rise.
We are now in a peculiar period of time where corporate media — often criticized by the left for their unabashed pro-war, anti-democratic coverage (demonization of protesters, for example) — is equally under vicious attack. The U.S. President publicly refers to established corporate media outlets as “fake news.” Heck, on Feb. 17 he even referred to mainstream media outlets as “the enemy of the American people!”
Alongside the discrediting of mainstream media is the rise of the so-called alt-right and its various media outlets. The self-ascribed label of “alt right” is sugarcoating the reality of what it is: xenophobic, white-nationalist media.
In a twisted perversion of logic, this media of the extreme right invents stories out of thin air, creating an alternative truth, alternative facts, which feeds the extreme rightist base to levy further attacks on marginalized communities and people of colour. The media on that end of the spectrum are successfully discrediting the centrist corporate media with charges of “fake news” while they relentlessly invent stories and spread lies and hate propaganda.
We are reminded of the soundbyte that went out after the tragic Québec mosque shooting: that it was carried out by two Syrian refugees when, in reality, it was carried out by a white supremacist fueled by the hate rhetoric of political leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump.
On this end of the spectrum — the holier-than-thou left — where do these circumstances leave us? We must continue to carve out our niche, fight back and try to unite progressive forces.
Leveller contributors come from all segments of the leftist political spectrum — from centre-left to anarchist — and perhaps our attempts at inclusion and unity is what we need in this moment of turmoil.
This article first appeared in Vol. 9, No. 5 (February/March 2017).