By: Madison Parker
University of Guelph-Humber assistant program head of Media Studies Kathy Ullyott was a part of the initial launch of the Emerge program as we know it today. She collaborated with other professors to develop a fourth-year Media Studies course that has resulted in the annual Emerge conference, Emerge Media Awards, print and web magazine, and Instazine. I sat down with Kathy to ask her what her experience has been with Emerge since its beginning to what it is now.
How was Emerge started?
KU: In 2011, students created a magazine called Emerge that was about young professional life, emerging from school into work life. I came to the school in 2013, and Jerry Chomyn [Program Head of Media Studies] engaged me, Nick Farnell and two other people who aren’t here any more, and said: “I’d like you to come up with a super course. This course would be a fourth-year course that would replace all of these advanced courses, that would bring all of the fourth-year Media Studies students together on something. See what you can come up with.”
What was your role in creating Emerge as we know it today?
KU: It was my idea to do the conference because magazines like Spacing, Cottage Life, and Outdoor Canada also do trade shows or conferences. Emerge was already a brand, it had been a magazine for years, and I thought “Why don’t we do what some of these magazine brands are doing and bring the magazine to life?”
If we did a conference, the journalism students would mostly do the magazine, the public relations students would do the conference, the digital communications students would do the website and videography, and the image arts students would shoot images.
What was the first Emerge conference like?
KU: It was terrifying for those first PR students. They had no idea what they were doing but it was a really crackerjack team, and they had an amazing line of speakers including Adrian Grenier from Entourage. The place was packed. There were people hanging off of the balconies, and Jerry of course was thrilled because it was immense and huge and got a lot of press. So that became the template.
How did the Emerge Media Awards get started?
KU: The following year, we started working on the Emerge Media Awards because that had always been a dream of Jerry’s. He had this idea that we were entering these award competitions, and it’s nice to win awards but there were no award competitions for student media in Canada, and wouldn’t it be great to have one and for us to host it. So it was his idea to launch the EMAs as part of the Emerge project, and the first one was in 2015.
How has Emerge changed over the years?
KU: The first big change is that the magazine has shifted emphasis to the digital. The print magazine is now a smaller version and it’s also a vehicle for the conference and the EMAs. It’s a custom publication and in itself an evolution of media, because more and more media is branded content or published in conjunction with something else.
Last year we had the first combined magazine and program, so with that, the Instazine, and the explosion of the web magazine, I think those are both reflected trends in media as well as the combination of what’s happening in the conference. The honouring of student media at the EMAs, which is still fairly new but gaining traction, in some ways is almost bigger than the conference.
How did the Emerge Media Awards grow from previous years?
KU: We have eight categories in the EMAs, and this year we had 320 submissions from 32 different schools, more than double from last year. What was really exciting this year was that most of [the finalists] came. There were students from Calgary, Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax and all around Ontario – literally from coast to coast. We want other schools to come and we want other schools to see us as a leader in the industry. We don’t just want to recruit more students to Guelph-Humber, we want to advance the media industry in general, and that’s what both of these events are about.
What are you most proud of this year?
KU: We’ve sort of edged towards themes in the past, but I wouldn’t say that the programs were really on that theme, it was very loose. This year for the first time, we had an umbrella executive which wasn’t just the professors representing it, it was students representing their various areas of emphasis. They were working together to come up with the theme and to interpret the theme across all platforms, and I think that was very successful this year.
I think it was an ideal year to do ‘Media Rehab’ because there was the Trump election in the States, there was the whole fake news thing, the whole alternative facts thing, and the issue of 18 per cent of Americans and an incomparable number of Canadians who trust the media.
The other thing that we have tried to do since we started, and this is the fifth year, for the first time I think we were successful in was interpreting the theme across the conference and the magazine, and that idea of bringing the magazine to life. That was the original idea in 2013, and this is the first year I think that really happened.
What would you like to see Emerge do in the future?
KU: The nature of media can change so much in a year, I almost don’t want to say, because there’ll probably be something else I want to do in a year. I couldn’t have predicted the Instazine – which I love, that was Kimberley’s idea and I think it’s great.
Every year I encourage students to think about what they’d like to do differently, and I think we’ve finally hit the formula for bringing the magazine to life and making a multilevel platform brand with all of the students. I’d like to see that continue.