An illustration of a laptop with a newspaper beside it and magazines and a notepad and pen in front of it

Turning the Page / Illustration by Celia Brand

You’ve seen them. The posters, the wire racks, the newspaper boxes. You’ve seen their name in the VIU newsletters and on social media.

The Navigator.

Also called The Nav, VIU’s student press published its first issue in 1969. Starting as a biweekly newspaper, it transformed into a monthly full-colour magazine in 2017. 

Then, The Nav went through another, more drastic change during the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 8, 2020, it reinvented itself as a fully online news magazine. 

The shift might not seem like a big deal for students who haven’t attended VIU pre-COVID. But for former Nav editors like Elijah Robinson and Kristen Bounds and graduating editors like Sean Desrochers, the move from print to digital publication was significant.

Robinson wrote for The Nav when it was still in print. His first story, “The end of another season for VIU Rugby,” was published in 2017 as a contributor’s piece. At the time, Robinson played on the now-defunct VIU Men’s Rugby team. He became the Sports Editor in 2019 after a long-term injury forced him to quit playing the sport he loved. 

Fortunately, Robinson could still write about it. 

The Nav was a way of reconnecting with [sports] without feeling hurt that I was missing out,” he explained. “I was representing the leaders and promoting the amazing things that they’re doing.”

At the time, each Nav editor had their own section with a certain quota they needed to fill (about four to five articles per month). One hard news piece was uploaded to the website per issue.

Everything changed when the pandemic attacked. The last issue had already been sent to the printers before the lockdown, which meant there were six boxes of magazines The Nav couldn’t distribute. Almost all of them went in the recycling bin.

“It was so disappointing. There was so much hard work that we put into it [and] we couldn’t put that hard copy in people’s hands,” Robinson said.

Another reason to move online was print costs. 

Robinson saw The Nav’s expenses first-hand when he was promoted to Managing Editor in 2020.

“When I got to look at The Navigator’s budget, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re spending a lot on these print magazines.’”

Over the summer, Robinson worked with Art Director Joe Thoong to fix the website, which was a relic of the ’90s.

“If people’s attention [span] drifts after the first three seconds, and we can’t even get those three seconds, it’s a bit of an issue,” Robinson said, referring to the old site’s relative invisibility.

Working with a third-party organization, they made the website easier to navigate for a 21st-century audience. But the work wasn’t done. 

“As soon as we launched the website, it was like, ‘Okay, cool, now publication is starting. I have to start doing the work.’”

Even without those extra challenges, being Managing Editor is a lot of responsibility.

“It’s not just making sure that the words look right and the grammar is correct,” Robinson said. “A lot of it was just managing everyone else and making sure everyone was safe and felt well.”

He was less focused on the product and more on the people.

“I wanted to make sure that there was a future going forward, and a big part of that was creating an environment where people felt comfortable that they were learning and had something to gain from The Nav,” he explained.

Kristen Bounds joined The Nav in August 2020 as Features Editor. She’d contributed a piece, “More Bang for your VIU Buck,” in March after being approached by then-Associate Editor Lys Morton. In January 2021, she moved into the Associate Editor position.

Bounds loved having her work edited by a fresh set of eyes. She also liked working with the illustrators and just seeing her story onscreen. “Seeing [my] words online and [my] byline under it—that maybe sounds vain, but that is really exciting to see.”

Before moving to Vancouver Island, Bounds had a job with South Hams Newspapers in Kingsbridge, England. She had difficulty finding contacts for her stories when transitioning to The Nav, especially during the height of the pandemic. She also found doing Zoom interviews challenging.

“I always like to meet the person face to face. It gives a more rounded story—you’re able to read their mannerisms, and you’re actually able to describe the person,” she explained. “I [had] to figure out a way to capture the person’s personality and demeanour through the [Zoom] camera, because you don’t want to just focus on physical features.” 

As someone new to Vancouver Island, she loved the camaraderie at The Nav. It was special getting to work and hang out with peers outside of class.

While most of her work at The Nav was virtual, Bounds’ last editing day was in person. She was able to meet and edit with her coworkers in the same room, despite everyone wearing masks.

“We ended up chatting and shooting the shit a bit more, but we were actually able to have these [editing] conversations. So that was a really nice way to end my experience there,” she said.

Sean Desrochers was recruited by Zach Cooper, (Robinson’s predecessor as Managing Editor). Desrochers joined The Nav as Sports Editor the same summer as Bounds.

After the campus reopened in 2021, he became the next Managing Editor and returned The Nav to in-person operations. In addition to the Videographer position Robinson had added in 2020, he created the Audio Editor position in 2022.

Desrochers wants to stress the challenges of transitioning online and reconnecting with readers.

“After that first year [online], a lot of our readership was older students. After the first two years online, [they] graduated,” he explained. “So it felt like trying to build The Nav up with this whole new group of students.” 

The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, since the team needed to update the website and revamp their audiovisual content, which is now half of The Nav’s output. 

“A lot of news publications are going [digital], but a lot [more] have so much history and funds tied up in the old ways of doing things. So it’s slower to come around, and I think we’ve been on top of it,” Desrochers said.

In the past, The Nav maintained an old-timey newspaper style to avoid feeling ‘too bloggy.’ While still not ‘bloggy,’ the shift online has allowed for greater flexibility in content style. 

Desrochers has heard positive feedback from students who have been interviewed for the Nav on the Street series and podcasts. “People love to be in stories, especially when they can see or hear themselves in video or audio.”

After working with The Nav and comparing it to outside media outlets, how do these editors feel about the state of journalism?

Bounds is a strong advocate of long-form and independent journalism, and her time at The Nav only solidified her passion. 

“Because people’s attention spans are so short these days … the importance of long-form journalism has never been more apparent. It was really nice to be at The Nav to keep that going in our own little way,” she said.

She also loved being able to write about topics she is passionate about, like environmentalism. One of her favorite memories from The Nav was speaking to Garry Merkel for “Is ‘A New Future for Old Growths’ Possible?” Merkel co-wrote the Old Growth Strategic Review report which had inspired the feature.

Bounds’ interviewing skills improved over her time with The Nav. She remembers being very nervous doing those interviews, but encourages students to have fun with them.

“You have to remember that you’re just having a conversation with another person,” she said. “It can be really exciting, because you get to learn so much about different people and topics.” 

Bounds’ editorial experience at The Nav carried over to her internship at FOLKLIFE, a semi-annual print magazine about life on the Gulf Islands. She has a story coming out in this year’s spring issue. Bounds is currently working as the Communications Coordinator for Ancient Forest Alliance, a nonprofit environmental organization.

Now that Robinson’s moved on from The Nav and done outside media work, he says he is both more and less hopeful about the state of journalism. 

“They say ignorance is bliss. As you get more familiar with a discipline, you see how things can get bad, and it’s really just a matter of perspective,” he said.

Robinson considers The Nav a “stepping stone,” as it taught him the skills he needed to advance his career.

The Nav is what you put into it. If you’re really passionate about it and you want to pursue a future in journalism, you can use [it] to continue to develop and move towards that goal.”

He also saw a positive impact on himself and his fellow Navigators.

“I can’t say that I’ve gone out into the community and someone’s walked up and said, ‘Oh wow, you’re the person from The Nav. You changed my life.’ It wasn’t like that, but … I feel like I learned a lot, I grew a lot. And getting to see my colleagues do the same, it was really special.”

Desrochers’ experience leaves him optimistic and excited.

“I had journalism in a box, what I thought a journalist was and what stories they told. But you can tell any story that you want,” he said. “People are gravitating towards these smaller, more personal stories … I’m hoping to see the journalism world keep trending that way.”

Upon graduation, Desrochers plans to pursue freelance opportunities with local publications such as The Discourse, though he is ultimately interested in a teaching career. 

Looking back at their time at The Nav, both Managing Editors have some regrets.

Desrochers wishes he’d tried harder to re-establish The Nav’s physical presence in his first year as Managing Editor. “I was just trying to keep my head above water and help people with their pieces and organize everything,” he explained. “At the same time, I’m not upset with how it went, and I think it just took me a bit of time to figure all that out.”

Robinson wishes he’d had more time at The Nav. “As stressful as [the job] was, I think it would have been amazing if I could have joined sooner. I learned so much, and I feel like more time means I could have learned more.” 

One thing he appreciates about The Nav is how flexible it is with students, especially if they make mistakes or are unable to meet deadlines due to their hectic schedules.

“I wouldn’t say your career’s not on the line, but the pressure is not as heavy with The Nav,” Robinson said. “It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake—it’s a student newspaper. You’re still going to bounce back.”

He’s made a few of them in journalism classes with Alisa Gordaneer—“the Snape to my Neville.” As Managing Editor, Robinson received negative feedback from her and other professors about some of The Nav’s stories.

He appreciated their feedback. “That’s what The Nav’s all about: it’s a stepping stone to progress and advance as a journalist and a writer. In anywhere, you’ll learn by making mistakes.”

There wasn’t anything he would have done differently, because he learned through his experiences.

“I think I would still make the same mistakes and I would still learn the same lessons,” Robinson said. “If I could send a message to a younger me, I would say, ‘Trust yourself … and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s how you learn.’”

So, is a career in journalism worth pursuing?

“It’s worth it,” Desrochers says. “Maybe not from a financial standpoint, but from a meaning standpoint, there’s so much to gain … You get paid, you get to work with other people, and you get to tell the stories that you want to tell the most.”

Robinson agrees.

“Pursue it,” he says. “If you think you have a story, if you think you can get it published somewhere, if you think you can get it published in The Nav, do it.”

If you’re looking to get your piece published, The Nav is always looking for contributions from VIU students, staff, faculty, and alumni! Check out our submissions guidelines for a chance to see your work onscreen in your own student-run online magazine.

The Nav is also hiring new staff for the 2023-2024 publication year. If you want to step into journalism, contact <editor@thenav.ca> about open positions.

Editor

Sophia is a fourth-year Creative Writing and Journalism student. She was the News Editor for The Navigator last year. Outside of The Nav, Sophia volunteers with VIU Cultural Connections as a Peer Helper. Three things she wants to do in the future are: travel to Japan and Korea, attend a Stray Kids concert, and adopt one or two black cats.

Let's Make Things Official

Get a curated list of articles sent directly to your email once a week. It’s not delivery, its Delissio