Late CBC journalist Michael Finlay fought for an independent Ubyssey

Michael Finlay, veteran CBC journalist and Ubyssey alum, died last week at 73.

CBC reported that he died on January 31 due to medical complications following a random street assault in Toronto. The Toronto Police Service has since issued a warrant for the man identified as Finlay’s attacker.

Most of Finlay’s professional career was spent at CBC, where he worked for 31 years until his retirement in 2010. He spent his career primarily as a radio producer.

Ten years before his time at CBC, Finlay was a reporter and editor at The Ubyssey.

Lesley Krueger, the 1974/75 editor of The Ubyssey met Finlay when he was a creative writing graduate student. She described his unique talent to pull together a story.

“What Michael could do was observe and analyze and put it together, and make you smarter after you’d read one of his stories … he saw what other people didn’t see,” she said.

Krueger remained friends and colleagues with Finlay after their time at UBC, and wrote a tribute to him to remember him for his “full and valuable life.”

“I think the main thing that should be remembered about Michael was his brilliance, but also his sense of humour and humanity. Those things went together,” she said.

While at The Ubyssey, Finlay reported on all things university politics, with a focus on improving governance practices at UBC to best serve students.

For a January 1968 story, Finlay interviewed student senators who threatened to resign if UBC’s Senate did not improve its transparency. At the time, the body did not allow a public gallery.

The Ubyssey archives

In another story that year, he spoke to UBC political science professors about AMS Council’s voting structure. One professor characterized it as undemocratic because the number of seats on council was not proportional to faculty size.

Following that piece and a quote from an AMS vice-president who said council was “ahead of student opinion,” Finlay wrote a column taking sharp aim at what he saw as a derogation of duty in the student society.

“The question is no longer simply whether student council at UBC is democratic and represents according to population. The question is: are students represented at all?,” he wrote.

Finlay was also a fierce defender of The Ubyssey’s journalistic integrity.

Until 1995, The Ubyssey was published by the AMS, but the paper generally maintained editorial control. AMS Council annually appointed The Ubyssey’s editor, normally based on a recommendation from The Ubyssey editorial board.

However when Finlay was recommended for the role in 1969, then-AMS President Fraser Hodge tried to get Finlay to agree to print whatever Council wanted in the paper, or he would refuse his appointment.

Finlay never agreed.

So, Hodge brought forward a motion at that year’s AMS general meeting to force more AMS control over The Ubyssey. Students in attendance were asked to vote on whether The Ubyssey should be autonomous or “something different.” Finlay staunchly opposed the change.

“It’s a black or white issue. There is no grey. Either a paper has freedom or it is under autocratic control,” he said. “It has always been my stand that the paper and the AMS can cooperate but it must be the editor’s final choice what is printed.”

Despite the AMS executives’ efforts, a majority of the 3,000 students present that night voted to keep The Ubyssey autonomous. They also voiced strong support for Finlay’s appointment, pushing Hodge to back down. Finlay became the 1969/70 Ubyssey editor.

The Ubyssey archives

Finlay took his role at the paper seriously, but Krueger said he wasn’t afraid to laugh too.

“What he was really interested in doing was taking the piss out of people. He didn’t like pretension. He didn’t like people who, unlike him, took themselves too seriously.”

Finlay demonstrated that sense of levity in a letter to the editor in a March 1970 issue — his final one leading the paper. Written by Finlay and City Editor Nate Smith, it looked back at the year and ahead to the next with a sarcastic sweetness.

“The past year has been by far the finest in The Ubyssey’s long and glorious history …Try as we might, we cannot think of a single point on which to criticise your paper,” they wrote.

“Despite your success this year, we have every confidence that next year’s Ubyssey will be even better."