When a person turns seventy years old, cake is had, presents are given, and loved ones surround the lucky human being to remember the past seven decades that they have spent living.

But September 4th, 2014 was not the birthday of one being, rather it was the anniversary for a local creative outlet and that day celebrated much more than its mere existence.  Yesterday, Carleton University’s independent newspaper, The Charlatan commemorated its 70th anniversary; that day paid tribute to the thousands of journalists who have contributed to the publication and sought to encourage the dreams of future writers, photographers and media personalities.

When I first pitched this story to our website editors I thought I knew what I would be talking about, after all I’m a Carleton student myself and I’m also a reporter for The Charlatan. 

*Please, take note that this piece is not being written in order to demonstrate favouritism or bias, it is being written because Carleton’s newspaper has a story that deserves to be told.

The prospect of interviewing the editors who critique my articles every week was intimidating to say the least, but not as daunting as the chance to interview the Editor-in-Chief, Rachel Collier.

With a welcoming smile and sharp, intelligent eyes Rachel warmly welcomed me into her office after I had spent five minutes around the corner working up the courage to enter the Newsroom.  Located on the fifth floor of the University Centre, the main hub on campus, I had rarely been up there until these past few weeks.

Where my nerves come from I have no idea, all I know is that they always hit me right before an interview.  I wondered idly as I sat down in Rachel’s office how many of the past reporters for The Charlatan had suffered from what I deem, the journalistic equivalent of stage fright?

Once settled I ran through my traditional interview opening, clicked on my voice recorder and asked Rachel how she got involved with The Charlatan. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting personal questions,” she exclaimed, though she hardly seemed thrown by the question, “I was on the wait list to get into second year journalism. I cried my eyes out [when she found out] and I thought something has to change.”  During that same week Rachel wrote her first story and then, “I just never stopped…I just fell in love with the paper,” she responded in a fond tone.

Heart, that’s what The Charlatan is built upon; heart, dedication, and good, old-fashioned hard work are its foundation.  From its humble beginnings as The Carleton, back in 1945, the University’s official, independent paper has undergone some major changes; however, it has operated under the same mandate for years according to Rachel, “We are both a training ground for new journalists and a professional news source.”

However, it has not always been such a professional operation, though it always managed to meet its deadlines somehow, even back during its formative years when typewriters had to be borrowed and even tables had to be stolen.  According to a history of the newspaper entitled, You Charlatans which was researched and penned by Evan Annett, a former Bachelor of Humanities student who graduated in 2004, there was an incident in 1947 when, “One night, two staffers were tiptoeing down a hall with a stolen table they planned to use for layout. Tory caught them in the act.”

Dr. Henry Marshall Tory, the man referred to in this anecdote, was the founder of Carleton. Oh, and have no fear, he kindly let them continue with their task once they explained what they were doing and why.

Now that little newspaper operation has expanded by leaps and bounds; it has survived the aftermath of World War II, challenged the perceptions of Canadians during the Cold War, made a statement during the FLQ crisis and took upon the mantle of its current name with pride in 1971.  Rachel, who knows of the paper’s history maintains with honour The Charlatan’s legacy of integrity, “I don’t think that we’ve always been in everybody’s good graces, but we do what we can to be fair and I think that the different bodies on campus hopefully appreciate that, or realize that, I should say,” she confessed candidly.

“Whenever they have an issue with our content [people] always say well, the Oxford Dictionary defines a Charlatan as this…and we’re like, we know, we work for a newspaper,” declared Rachel with a lighthearted laugh when I asked about the paper’s name and her opinion of it, “We’re still a reputable news source but we’re not gonna, throw away our history and The Charlatan is a part of our history. It’s part of who we are and it defines us.”

For those of you who are not familiar with the term charlatan it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as follows, “An assuming empty pretender to knowledge or skill; a pretentious impostor.”

Though it may not sound promising, the name was changed, and You Charlatans states, “It showed that the paper didn’t take anything too seriously – even itself – which, in Kinsman’s [Phil Kinsman was the Editor-in-Chief at the time] opinion, was the perfect way to represent the paper’s new anti-authoritarian streak.”  The name has since stuck and helped the paper blossom into a prominent brand of its own.

Keeping up with the times has unsurprisingly, been a constant focus for the newspaper; however, each year small upgrades are made to enhance and protect The Charlatan name.  “I think that our goal is to always be pushing boundaries. I mean a couple years ago we didn’t even have a multimedia editor, now we have [one], we just changed our layout this year.  We’re all about trying to improve on our foundations,” said Rachel.

Although The Charlatan is first and foremost a student newspaper, many alumni still maintain a strong attachment to their years spent at the paper and some made it a priority to come out to the 70th anniversary barbecue held at Raven’s Road Field yesterday.  “I’ve been planning it all summer,” Rachel told me excitedly and after its success, she is hopefully feeling proud of her team’s accomplishments, “Everybody wants to be a part of The Charlatan team.”

In spite of the fact that many alumni could not make it out to celebrate, Rachel ran through a list off the top of her head of people one might recognize that got their start at The Charlatan.  Among the names were, Mark Masters – a TSN reporter, Mark MacKinnon – a correspondent for the Globe and Mail, and Bob Cox – a publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press.  Even Ottawa’s mayor,  Jim Watson was a reporter for The Charlatan; in fact, he actually came out to the barbecue to present a plaque to the paper, which was accepted by Rachel on behalf of all The Charlatan staff.

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Rachel Collier and Mayor Jim Watson. Provided by Rachel Collier.

Seventy years ago, on September 4th an advocate was created, a pupil began his journey to pursue the truth and a guide picked her way through the woods of student, municipal, provincial and federal politics.  I am talking about The Charlatan, it is both a scholar and teacher, an activist and a traditionalist – it is a compendium of life at Carleton University and the world beyond the campus.

In the opening tale of You Charlatans Annett writes about a couch, but it’s not just any couch, it belongs to The Charlatan,

“Thousands of student journalists have sat on it, slept on it and studied on it. Some of the people who sat on that couch are now sitting in the newsroom of the Ottawa Citizen, or the Toronto Star, or in government offices and law firms. Generations of students have sat on that couch and dreamed about a future in journalism. They practiced their craft by building a newspaper of their own, written by Carleton students, for Carleton students. Every year, they took young volunteers and taught them to become journalists. And they’re still doing that today.”

Coincidentally, Rachel’s final statement in her interview was about couches too,

“I’ve learned more at this paper than I have in any class…I would just encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of this opportunity, because it’s a really great place to be; we’re a really great community…I think, I’m a little biased. And you know, even if people aren’t interested in writing just come on up to the newsroom, get involved in some way, we have couches to sit on at the very least.”

In conclusion, I believe the message is that The Charlatan will wait for those that feel passion, it will give you a chance to explore new avenues and in the end, whether it works out or not, it will catch you.  It will always be there, just like that leather couch nestled in the Newsroom; it’s there waiting, for the past reporters to revisit, for the current editorial team to crash onto its cushions after a particularly stressful week, and most importantly, for the future generation of writers that has yet to come.