Whether justified or not, Canada and Canadians have a reputation for their pleasant, kind demeanour. Syrup Trap, a recently launched website that aims to cover “news, gossip, sex, and scandal” at some of Canada’s top universities, will test whether the gossip blog format popular on some American campuses can thrive in this climate of congeniality.
The blog, which posted its first article on February 19, was started by Jamie, a University of British Columbia student who wishes to remain anonymous. While making his decision about which university he would attend, Jamie came across the gossip blog IvyGate, which provided the inspiration and model for Syrup Trap.
“I thought the same sort of concept of the website could work for Canadian universities,” he said. “I thought we needed a small dose of snark to lighten things up a bit.”
IvyGate was started in 2006 by Chris Beam and Nick Summers, both students at Columbia University at the time. (Beam is now a staff writer for Slate, while Summers is a senior writer for Newsweek and the Daily Beast.) Covering gossip and scandals at the eight Ivy League universities, the blog exploded in popularity when it broke the story of Yale student Aleksey Vayner’s ridiculous video resume.
“There was enough tabloid-y stuff happening at the Ivy League schools that we thought we could start a blog and have fun with it,” Summers said. “It’s a crazy place that functions well as tabloid fodder.”
Since Canada has no group of branded universities comparable to Ivies, Jamie chose to focus on the six Canadian universities he felt would be the most likely to generate interesting and entertaining news: McGill, Queen’s, the University of Toronto, UBC, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Ontario.
Both Summers and Peter Finocchiaro, one of IvyGate’s two current editors-in-chief, credited the site’s success in part to the emotions the mere mention of an Ivy League school invoke in many people, ranging from reverence to self-loathing. Jamie, for his part, said similar feelings of superiority can be found among students at the Canadian universities featured on Syrup Trap. And while there may be no official community of institutions similar to the Ivies, he hopes Syrup Trap will be able to at least foster a sense of one.
“I saw that we have this sort of small community of well-known institutions where students think rather highly of themselves,” he said. “A large part of what we were thinking as we were starting the blog, apart from the lack of engagement and school spirit deficit on Canadian universities, was this idea that there wasn’t anything that united us. We’re trying to build up a community, not exploit [an existing one].”
Some of IvyGate’s most popular and entertaining stories have evolved out of tips the editors received through their website, which their writers then research and develop into full stories. In the past these have included a story on a Yale student who dropped out of school to become part of Kanye West’s entourage, and one about a Princeton class president who was accused of setting fire to a squirrel. While Syrup Trap’s posts have so far focused primarily on aggregating stories already published in various campus newspapers, Jamie plans for the site to venture into investigative reporting as visitors to the site and tips from students increase.
According to Finocchiaro, it’s the quality of reporting and writing that provides the best formula for popularity.
“If you do it right you can capture the same sort of success in any collection of schools,” he said. “It just depends on having good content and good writing, and getting students at these schools to check in and see what’s going on, and really engaging them that way.”
Summers explained, however, that good writing has to be combined with the right kind of story.
“A lot of what makes IvyGate tick is just that awfulness, and the completely atrocious behaviour of the people who go to these schools,” he said. “My American’s understanding of Canada is that it’s a nicer place. I’m not sure that nice works on a blog.”
Jamie is optimistic, however, that Canadian students have the same propensity for scandal and that Syrup Trap will eventually reach a similar level of popularity as Ivy Gate.
“Our ultimate goal would be to be a semi-popular blog that people go to for a laugh,” he said. “This isn’t going to be a for-profit venture; We just want to become a small part of the university landscape.”