It took two web developers and $200 to set up a Chinese edition of The Varsity, the University of Toronto’s undergraduate student newspaper. But, as editor-in-chief Jacob Lorinc explained, the lifeblood of the project are the student translators who volunteer at The Varsity’s offices every Sunday, a new managing editor and a student organization that approached the newspaper with the idea.
The Varsity launched its Chinese-language website last September as a pilot project, after being approached by Celine Liu, the founder of Listeners, a peer support group for Chinese international students. In 2016-17, there were 10,244 students from China attending U of T, according to the school’s website, which makes them by far the university’s largest international student community by country of origin. Ms. Liu proposed that The Varsity be more accessible to these students by translating its content into simplified Chinese.
“We figured we may as well give it a shot and see what happens,” Mr. Lorinc said, citing examples of Chinese editions at newspapers like the New York Times and Vancouver Sun. “It’s a huge demographic of people [on campus] and that, to us, means something.” The project started up with a few volunteers who received honoraria for their work. By the end of the fall semester, The Varsity staff decided it would formalize efforts on the Chinese edition in the new year.
In January, Charlotte Shen, a third-year student in the faculty of kinesiology and physical education, was hired part-time as the project’s managing editor. She has since recruited 30 volunteer translators with the aim of posting eight to 10 articles a week. “We just hit 7,200 views – that’s more than half of the Chinese international population at U of T,” she said, in an interview in March.
Ms. Shen also posts content directly to WeChat, a widely-used social media app in China. Many international students from China aren’t used to checking Facebook and Instagram for information from the university, she said, so The Varsity can help bridge the information gap. “There are a lot of other WeChat channels out there spreading things that might not be true. But what we’re doing here is we’re starting something as the official student newspaper at U of T.”
Since the project’s launch, The Varsity has received positive attention and feedback, as well as questions around why the paper chose to publish content in Chinese, Mr. Lorinc said. He maintains that the project supports the paper’s mandate to reach as many students as possible. “Every student, whether they’re international or domestic, as long as they’re a full-time undergraduate student they pay a levy to us,” he said. What made the Chinese edition of the paper possible, he added, was a campus group that came forward. “Not only did they have an idea for us to translate content, but they also told us they had resources to do it.”