September 30, 2020

PHOTO BY ELISSA DEN HOED Past issues of Spoke found in the LRC. Where the paper got its name is unknown. Two possibilities are that it could refer to a spoke on a Conestoga wagon, or to the paper being the “voice of Conestoga students,” according to an old slogan. Likely, it’s both.

By ELISSA DEN HOED

Scanning Spoke’s back catalogue in the Library Resource Centre, one feels a sense of the history not only of the journalism-print program, but of Conestoga College itself. Every newsworthy item and incident at the college worth reporting has been captured somewhere in an issue of Spoke.
In the ’70s and early ’80s, this included (now humorously dated) stories about hippies vs. the mayor and an unreliable and unpopular public transit service implemented long before Grand River Transit known as “Dial-a-bus.”
The stories and the photos tell a lot, but what about the story of the paper itself: how it started, how it’s changed over 44 years, and what journalism success stories started out writing for this modest newspaper?
Retired journalist and magazine editor Andrew Jankowski, a professor at the college for over 30 years and co-ordinator of the journalism program for 14 years, knows a thing or two about the history of Spoke.
He knows it was born roughly a year after Conestoga College opened in 1967 and was originally published by the Doon Student Association, the equivalent of today’s Conestoga Students Inc.
Back then, he said in a phone interview, Spoke was “what is known in the industry as a ‘sporadical,’” a paper that was “here today and gone tomorrow.” Writers were paid but were not necessarily journalism students. “It wasn’t a very good paper in the early years. There was very little in terms of news.” But, he added, the writers weren’t trained in journalism style.
When the journalism program took Spoke over, the writers were no longer paid because it was now a “vehicle for teaching.” As a result, quality of writing and reporting went up and use of the “f-word” went down.
In his early days of teaching, Jankowski remembers his students writing their stories on typewriters, sending them off for typesetting, and pasting up page layouts manually – a process he described as “messy.”
But when the program began computerizing Spoke production in the ’80s, it was “ahead of the curve,” beating the Record for timely modernization. But the change “happened incrementally.” When Jankowski left 12 years ago, his students were still taking photos on film cameras, scanning the negatives by digital readers that saved them to a computer file.
One thing that has stayed constant is the stream of talented individuals who made their first mark on the industry through Spoke. The Spoke computer lab could easily have a “wall of fame” for its writers who have gone on to make a name for themselves in the newspaper world.
A recent graduate and Spoke writer, Charlotte Prong Parkhill, is now the editor of the Kitchener Post (as the editor of Spoke, she came into the Post with plenty of experience). Conestoga Student Life programmer Ryan Connell is also a Spoke alumnus. Waterloo Region Record city editor Harvey Taylor, page designer Brenda Hoerle and reporter Kevin Swayze (“the busiest guy at the Record,” according to Jankowski) are all former Spoke writers. Others have gone to the Hamilton Spectator and the Globe and Mail, and “probably the best student we ever had, Ken MacQueen, is now the Maclean’s magazine’s Vancouver bureau chief,” Jankowski said in an email. MacQueen has also written for the Ottawa Citizen and has reported from every province in Canada.
At least one Spoke story has even made national headlines. A Spoke reporter whom Jankowski describes as “adroit” (but whose name he could not recall) once wrote a piece on a local political scandal that was picked up by the Record, then by the Canadian Press, then by the Toronto Star, which ran the story on the front page.
Through the decades, Spoke has proven to be no sporadical. In 44 years it has become a vital part of the Conestoga College experience. What’s written in Spoke today is tomorrow’s archives, and the writers who bring the stories may be going on to something much, much bigger after graduation. Read Maclean’s lately?