What is now the Ryerson School of Journalism had its origins more than 60 years ago when Printing Management students received a few lectures in “practical journalism” from instructor Ed Parker. Those lectures evolved into a full-fledged journalism program in 1950.
Parker brought in magazine writer and journalism teacher Earle Beattie, and the following year they hired journalist Ted Schrader, who had worked for the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver News Herald and the Toronto Telegram. He would run Ryerson’s journalism program for the next two decades.
Until 1959, journalism students shared a common first year with printing management students, and in addition to courses like English, economics, practical journalism and publicity, they learned to set type by hand, make lithographic plates and run a small press.
These skills certainly weren’t being taught at Canada’s other two journalism schools, Carleton University, founded in 1945, and the University of Western Ontario, founded in 1946.
Each spring, when Schrader was forced to justify continued provincial funding for Ryerson’s journalism program, he would explain to Queen’s Park that Ryerson was the only school training students to run small-town newspapers, where editors and reporters often had to become plate-makers and printers at press time.
Schrader’s letters to the provincial officials kept the program alive, and today, Ryerson is widely recognized as one of the best places in the world to study journalism, with nearly 700 students enrolled in its Master of Journalism, Bachelor of Journalism, and undergraduate minor in News Studies programs. A continuing-education certificate in News Studies was added in 2012-13.
With its combination of liberal arts and practical experience, modern facilities and instructors who are working journalists and editors, the school has graduated such successful journalists as former Globe and Mail justice reporter Kirk Makin, CityTV reporter JoJo Chintoh, CBC TV’s Wendy Mesley, Outpost magazine founder and editor Kisha Ferguson, Global News reporter Sean Mallen, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno and CBC Radio’s Basic Black host Arthur Black.
Grads have also gone onto successful careers in public relations, politics, law enforcement, and, recently, Web design. And then there are the famous drop-outs, like Tyler Brule, who founded the hot fantasy-design magazine Wallpaper (and who says he found working as a waiter at Movenpick more exciting than attending Ryerson), CBC talk show host Ralph Benmergui and Shift magazine writer and editor Clive Thompson.
There’s always been a strong tradition of journalism at Ryerson. Second World War vets launched the school’s first newspaper, Trit Trot, in 1946, even before the institute itself was official. Two years later, Frank Siganski, a machine tool design student, founded the Ryerson Daily News. Despite its name, the paper was never published regularly, and it and other Ryerson publications like the Little Daily, Little Weekly and Blue Review all gave way in 1951 to the Ryersonian.
The newspaper was originally called RIOT, for Ryerson Institute of Technology, but after one issue the school’s administration deemed the name “inflammatory” and changed it to the Ryersonian.
Until the mid-1960s, the paper was responsible for covering many stories within Ryerson, including the fight throughout the 1950s for new school buildings to replace ones that were quite literally falling apart, and the paper’s own battle against censorship.
In 1966, the Ryersonian became the lab project for graduating-year journalism students, and thus started receiving funds from the provincial government.
Ryerson’s board of governors used the change as an excuse for heavy-handed censorship, saying the student editors had a responsibility to not only the student body, but the public in general.
There was a tacit agreement between the administration and Schrader that the Ryersonian would avoid commenting on such “tawdry” issues as religion and provincial politics.
In November 1966, the entire student masthead quit because the board of governors voted to give the paper’s professional managing editor the power to change anything he deemed “unacceptable.”
It was because of this censorship that in 1967, Radio and Television Arts student Tom Thorne set up the Eyeopener,a weekly paper run completely by students and independent of the School of Journalism.
The first issue of the paper hit the stands Sept. 26. “Editor and Chief Propagandist” Thorne wrote in his editorial: “The Newspaper Laboratory has transformed the Ryersonian’s effectiveness as an organ of student opinion into a faceless publication devoted to the dubious pursuit of what Communications Chief E.U. Schrader calls ‘professionalism.’ ”
There’s been a fierce rivalry between the often-controversial Eyeopener and the more staid Ryersonian ever since.
The first home of the School of Journalism was a Quonset hut at the present site of Egerton Ryerson’s statue on Gould Street. The school had seven other locations, including the Eaton’s warehouse where the Eaton Centre now stands, and the former chancery office for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto at 55 Gould St.
In 1992, the program found a permanent home in the $25-million Rogers Communications Centre.
This modern facility houses working newsrooms with modern newspaper, magazine and broadcast labs. By contrast, when the first video display terminal at a journalism school in Canada was installed at Ryerson in 1973, the school’s 300 journalism students had to take turns on the single machine.
In 1971, Ryerson was granted the power to confer degrees in applied arts, and John Rowsome received the first degree of applied arts in journalism on Feb. 10, 1973.
The undergraduate program has grown from three years to four, and in 1973, a one-year graduate program was created for students who already held university degrees; it was expanded to two years in 1980.
Streaming was introduced in 1983, and students starting at the School of Journalism that fall were the first to specialize in print, broadcast, or magazine skills. In 1993, Ryerson became Canada’s first polytechnic university.
The School has grown steadily in size, scope and reputation since the class of two graduated in 1952, and so has the demand for places. We expect more than 10 applicants for each of the 150 undergraduate and 25 graduate spots in our entering classes, and our students expect and receive a leading-edge grounding in journalistic research and production, in digital and legacy media, for every platform.
Today, the School is home to 550 undergraduate students and 54 graduate students. Demand for places remains extremely high.