The Nugget, NAIT’s student newspaper, turns 60

“I'm an unabashed defender of student journalism"

Other than being made of words and pictures, the first issue of NAIT’s student newspaper bore little resemblance to the publication of today.

Produced in early January 1964, it was nothing more than a typed newsletter with a few simple sketches. It wasn’t even called anything. Instead, the last of its seven pages featured a handwritten request:

“We need a name for our Newspaper. Leave your suggestion at Room E129.”

Regardless, its creators knew the publication’s purpose, which was to give students a voice. In it, coordinators of clubs and leaders of classes shared news about activities and events. They complimented NAIT and instructors. The plumber apprentices even wrote a poem – Ode to a Pipewrench – that, really, isn’t half bad.

Perhaps someone showed up at E129 with an idea. On April 2, with no fanfare, “The Nugget” appeared across the top of what was still just a newsletter. But it’s the name that would stick for decades to come, while the content changed with the students.

That evolution continues, says Amy St. Amand, editor-in-chief since December 2021.

“I oversee it but it’s not my paper,” she says. “The students are the ones guiding where The Nugget is going.”

Now, as the paper celebrates its 60th anniversary in a media environment being reshaped by the realities of the internet, corporate consolidation and influence, and splintered attention spans, the question is: Where exactly is NAIT’s student newspaper headed?

The value of student journalism

amy st. amand, editor in chief of the nugget, NAIT's student newspaperSt. Amand is unusual in Alberta’s student newspaper community in that she’s not a student. She was hired as the full-time lead by the NAIT Students’ Association (NAITSA), which funds the publication.

NAITSA executive director Chris Chelmick (Marketing ’96) sees the continuity of her role as essential to preserving and advancing the paper.

“I'm an unabashed defender of student journalism and I always will be,” says Chelmick, who served as The Nugget’s editor-in-chief in 1994-95.

After more than 25 years with NAITSA, mostly in his current role, Chelmick sees the paper as one of the polytechnic’s primary historical records – at least as told by students.

“You can flip back to different eras [in the archives] and get a real sense of what was happening on campus at the time,” he says.

The Nugget is one consistent thread that we've had since 1964.”

Among those archives are instances in which the paper worked to hold decision makers to account, including NAIT and NAITSA itself. Chelmick did so during his own tenure, when The Nugget challenged the association for offering prizes to improve voter turnout at student council elections. Today he sees the need for the paper to persist in addressing issues as they arise.

St. Amand does too. She knows that the paper serves a readership with a vested interest in all aspects of their experience at the polytechnic.

“The population of NAIT is larger than some small towns that have their own paper,” she points out. “We're essentially community journalism. I would just encourage people to not discount what student journalism is doing.”

What’s more, adds St. Amand, The Nugget’s impact is felt at the level of every student who seeks the chance to include “student newspaper contributor” on their resumé, be it a poetic plumber or a budding sportswriter from the Radio and Television programs. It’s an extension, she feels, of NAIT’s hands-on education.

“I'm really proud of The Nugget,” says St. Amand, “[and] of what we've accomplished.”

Keep on printin’

copy of nait nugget 60th anniversary issue in a newsstand at NAIT Main Campus

Obviously, The Nugget is a different paper today than it was in its infancy or even during Chelmick’s era.

Its coverage of campus news, for example, digs deeper and has become more frequent. There’s a stronger focus on student success stories, as well as on the achievements of NAIT alumni. And writers of opinion pieces are less likely than some predecessors to the see bravado and bombast as tools of persuasion.

And, of course, the paper is now also on the internet. “The privilege of [being] online gives us the ability to cover a lot more content,” says St. Amand. That content includes a growing focus on web exclusives and posts to Instagram and TikTok.

Nevertheless, she adds, “as long as they let me, I will keep printing The Nugget.”

In fact, she’d print more if she could. While in years past the paper has hit the stands as often as weekly, physical copies now drop three times per term. Given more resources, St. Amand would deliver five.

One reason for a boost would be to improve access to the information, with some web-based content now at risk of being blocked on Facebook and Instagram in response to the federal government’s Online News Act. In this case, print is mightier than the search engine.

But another reason for print shows that, fundamentally, The Nugget is not far removed from that first newsletter.

At heart, that note on page 7 in 1964 was a request to participate. That a student in 2024 might ake a break to grab a copy, flip through the news, maybe pause at the campus events calendar, gives St. Amand the feeling that the paper has done its job. Ultimately, she knows, it’s an invitation to those for whom the polytechnic was created to be a part of its community.

“At the end of the day, NAIT is about its students, right?” she says.

The Nugget and NASH 86

Started by the student newspaper-owned cooperative Canadian University Press, NASH 86 is the country’s largest student journalism conference. This year, it’s hosted by The Nugget, at NAIT’s Main Campus.

“I wanted to put The Nugget on the map and show off the good work that we were doing and connect with other student journalists,” says editor-in-chief Amy St. Amand, lead organizer of the event.

Sold out keynotes and sessions run from Feb. 16-18. Among the speaker are several NAIT grads:

  • Sean Amato (Radio and Television – TV '06)
  • Taylor Braat (Radio and Television – Radio '15)
  • Morgan Black (– TV '14)
  • Terry Eggleston (– Radio '17)
  • Tom Gazzola (– TV '08)
  • Nahreman Issa (– TV '09)
  • Stephanie Swensrude (– TV '21)

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