Going live and the living dead

When I was a student, I used to think the work load made me akin to a mindless zombie – get through this and then you can get some BRAAAAAIIIINNNNNNSSSS.

That was until I joined the real world and found out the demands of producing a product you are both happy with and within your capacity to create. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, working in a community station in a quote “smaller market” opens up many roles – and just as many opportunities to do something new and scary.

In October alone, I was fortunate enough to join the on-air team to cover the Saskatoon civic election. This would be my fourth election that I’ve covered in some regard (October 2010 – Winnipeg Civic election, May 2011 – Federal Election, October 2011 – Manitoba provincial election).

Getting ready in the truck – I guess an election is like a sport

Having done live hits for radio and web work in the past, this time it was the whole nine yards – going live on television.  I was set up in the council chamber with a computer, smart phone and a desk doing intermittent live hits as needed by the host providing feedback from twitter. I would also be tracking live results and the progress of other Saskatchewan cities.

Smiles before going live

In the midst of making sure I was prepared with my ward maps and my phonetics cards (which I threw out the window at one point, sorry Pat Lorje) I didn’t have time to get nearly as freaked out as during the infamous CreComm “Live Hit Derby’s.”

Despite almost losing power to my laptop (my whole raison d’etre as social media reporter) due to a damaged power cord, and almost having no contact with my director – ears are too small for even the smallest ear packs (custom buds for the win!) we did it: 2.5 hours of live television, with many live hits and tweets in between.

I can’t say it was flawless, but that is the beauty of live television – it’s moving forward, being confident and having some back-ups. After reviewing, I’ve decided my phrase of the night was “of course” (better than “um,” I suppose *shudder*) but most importantly, I learned a few key lessons I want to share with others (feel free to add more in the comment section!):

1)      Breathe and slow down: It’s so easy to start speaking fast to hurry everything up, but when you have to fill 2-3 minutes at a time, just you at a desk with nothing but some notes and tweets, slowing down is key.

2)      Have a number of extra points to discuss: and then double that number. Especially in a situation where you can’t banter with other on-air people and you have to fill time, talking about something like the new ways to vote in Saskatchewan offers some additional information to the cast.

3)      Know what you are going to cover: sounds simple enough, but I knew going in that as social media reporter, I wanted to supplement my cast and not just parrot it. I tweeted out results for the mayor, and discussed some tight races in the wards – but it was about starting a conversation I could bring to viewers at home.

Trying to compete with other media to “get results out first” seemed futile, as I was monitoring many different hashtags, responding to tweets and preparing graphics for my next live hit. Plus, my audience online was already following the results from the city website or on Shaw TV – so they didn’t need another reminder. Creating the conversation, asking what people thought of the turn-out, etc. proved to be a far more engaging tactic and made for good discussion on television.

We were also the only television crew doing live election results – so we were working together to present that the best way possible.

4)      Use your surroundings: Being the only one in the council chamber for the first while was eerily quiet, but then came candidates waiting for results, fellow reporters, members of the public, etc. Always a good way to start and continue the on-air conversation is bringing up what you see – “wow, candidate John Doe in ward 5 just shook hands with fellow candidate Jimmy Dean to concede his seat.” Sharing anecdotes about being there offers moments perfectly suited for live television.

5)      Do the best you can: it sounds trite, but as the second time I have ever done live tv and it being a mini-marathon of sorts – doing all you can and executing it the best way possible is all you can ask. Reviewing work and thinking about all the things to improve is the path to bettering “your best.” Oh and remembering all the things from Live TV Production with Joanne Kelly is also important.

As for the living dead part – Halloween came and went, but not without some fun! Having to produce a full Halloween-only show was a great challenge of being creative, and not so frugal with the overtime hours. We will be posting some of our spooky content soon, but I have to say the highlight was getting the opportunity to do some good!

Some of the media people in Saskatoon made it out to carve pumpkins for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. And while my kitty-kat didn’t win any prizes, she was the first scooped up by a happy donor to take the spot on their front porch.

The highly technical carving

Happy Halloween!

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Green pastures: my take on the journey to an elusive J job.

On Thursday, I had the honour of speaking to this year’s fresh intake of Creative Communications students at Red River College. Not only was it a pleasure to be back in Winnipeg and back at the campus where my career first developed, it was also great to be in the company of other esteemed CreComm grads from 2012: Albertine Watson, Hayley Brigg and Sean Campbell.

While we all found jobs that were a) in our professional field and 2) fulfilling and terrific, I was the only representative who left the Winnipeg nest.  I am not, however, the only journalism major from the 2012 class to pack up and head to greener (pun intended) pastures. We saw classmates off to Fort McMurry, AB; Brandon, MB; Thompson, MB; Swan River, MB; Dryden, ONT; and of course – Saskatoon, SK.

I wasn’t surprised many of us headed off, since I remember quite vividly hearing this sentiment throughout first year: Journalism is dying. There are no J jobs. But there are, and in the ways I will soon discuss – there will also be some for next year’s grads too.

There were many factors leading me to my new home in Saskatoon – the perfect job, great timing, and my ability to do so without breaking the bank.  I had never been to Saskatoon before, but I remembered a former grad talking about her experience working there, and  then this tweet popped up a few weeks later:

The article, published by J Source, is titled “Why Saskatchewan is a good place to be a journalist” and all bolded quotes are taken from there. The first half epitomizes all that J students know and love about “smaller markets”: you get well-rounded professional experience quickly…

“I think it’s a great place for new grads looking to get started,” says To. “You can become a reporter here quicker simply because it’s a smaller centre and you can get valuable experience.” 

And, as in my own case, a lot of responsibility to tackle many jobs; you’re no longer the one-trick pony. You’re the pony who can gallop, trot, shoot stories, switch, create graphics, and work the magic on-air. While the obvious benefit to working in a smaller market is a gold mine for giddy J grads, Saskatchewan has become a perfect storm for those pursuing a career in an industry some think is dying…

 “The job possibilities for journalists aren’t as bad as they have been made out to be —  at least not in Saskatchewan. The economy is booming, advertising dollars are flowing and new outlets are popping up like spring flowers.” 

This is really why Saskatchewan is the place to be, journalist or not. The boom directly contributes to overall growth and betterment of the province. Not to mention the creation of new journalism jobs, so one doesn’t have to wait for other employees to retire or depart…

“There are a number of reasons why journalism jobs are more abundant in Saskatchewan, one being that half of Saskatchewan’s population lives in small communities, many with local newspapers that need journalists.” 

“The resource boom is another reason, and as Eric Howe, an economics professor at the University of Saskatchewan explains, the province has a resource boom about every 25 years.”

This resource boom is a huge part of why I love Saskatoon – there are young people, new infrastructure projects and an excitement about what’s next. Of course with all that, comes a scrambling for housing. I shopped on Kijiji for roommates and places to live, lucking out with a brand new home shared among four people. Rent is affordable for the most part, and so is gas – since a ride on Circle Drive (which requires almost no stopping) gets you to work quickly and efficiently.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed: Saskatoon has its act together because it accepts that while it’s not the biggest market – it’s also not the smallest. Coming from Brandon, this place is the perfect size and temperament for a budding (or even fully blossomed) journalist. All the media folk are friendly, with a healthy dose of competitive bite, and compelling stories.

Oh and did I mention there’s some damn good journalism happening here?

“There’s more competition in the media right now than I’ve seen in quite a while and hopefully that’s going to be generating more jobs,” says Elliot. “So, I think Saskatchewan is a great place for any young journalist to start their career.”

The article then moves on to explore the University of Regina journalism program, in particular how grads are getting jobs. The metaphorical hairs on my back usually stand up when J schools are mentioned, because I’m a Creative Communications grad – a J grad – even though it’s not solely a  J program. Call me a dreamer, but I like rooting for the underdog, and it’s so rewarding to see my classmates grabbing up industry jobs (our stats on grad hire rates are higher than those in the article, but I digress).

One thing that helps our program – and all J programs for that matter – are work placements or internships. Ours are quite different, however, from the U of R. Where we are guaranteed 3 weeks, unpaid (unless otherwise negotiated) – theirs are 13 weeks, paid…

“It is a 100 per cent requirement of the employer that we get paid because you get what you pay for,” says Heroux [ U of R student]. “To be frank, something like six weeks is not enough to establish yourself and an unpaid internship is not enough to establish yourself.” 

It’s interesting because I both agree and disagree with this U of R student. Firstly, I agree that payment ought to be given for the work, on the argument the student makes in the first half of the quote. It’s the argument you will get from any Regina J student. Also, I’d be damn well pissed if I had to work 13 weeks full-time without making something for it. Or I’d just starve, silently.

Here’s my slight disagreement: both of my two “not enough to establish yourself” internships led to jobs. I interned at the Brandon Sun (of my own accord, not related to school) and the Winnipeg Free Press, which aided me in landing the full-time military beat reporter position at the Sun.

I also spent three weeks at Shaw TV Winnipeg, where I established myself enough to be strongly supported by those working there for the position I currently have at Shaw TV Saskatoon.

And I worked my ass off for it. Those six weeks – which turned into roughly 13 when adding on additional freelance work I did following the placements – were exhausting. But that’s the card we’re dealt in the Creative Communications Program and I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

Just like any deadline – 13 weeks or three – you get it done, and you get it done well with what you’re given. Arrange meetings with the directors before starting, come prepared with story ideas – ones that will actually make it to air or print – and better yet, be a decent individual.

That’s a damn good way to establish yourself.

So why did I leave for Saskatchewan? Timing, the company, and most importantly – it’s the job I wanted.  It’s not an easy decision to make, it just worked out that most of my family was no longer in Winnipeg and that the most difficult piece of any puzzle – the heart – was already decided since my boyfriend and I split months before I landed the Saskatoon job.

Having my current experience, and reading the article – there are even more merits to starting a J career in Saskatchewan. If all you take out from it is that small markets are great places to work, you’re ahead; because frankly, if you love what you do, it won’t matter where you do it.

You may even find yourself in very green (…white and black…) pastures.

Arctic beginnings: false ice and false perceptions

If you hear a crack, go faster.

Push on the gas hard or else you’ll end up down below, more cold than your fingers and toes at the moment. It’s called false ice – the kind that looks thick and sturdy, but creaks eerily as your snowmobile glides over it. The kind of ice I went over more times than I’d like to think about.

Sleep whenever, and wherever

On the weekend of January 13-15, 2012, I went along with the Arctic Response Company Group to Gimli, Manitoba to start a weekend in training for the Arctic. My main job was to film the exercise for both the army and as a story for Shaw TV Winnipeg. Oh, and of course to learn how to live in the cold.

I can’t say it was an easy crash course, it wasn’t. I learned about working in cold conditions and how to function with less than adequate sleep. Basically, I thought I’d be more prepared for it than I really was.

So because I now have a vast wealth of knowledge, I’ve decided to highlight my top five moments/ lessons on how to be a journalist in the cold weather.

1. Do your research, and then do it again.

This was my first misstep. I went on this excursion having done some research on cold weather comfort, but mainly relied on my kit to keep me warm. And while my parka and deliciously attractive suspender strapped ski pants kept my body warm, the boots and gloves didn’t quite fit the bill – and how could I forget snacks! I will be doing a Costco shop before heading north.

2. Make friends.

The men and women I spent my weekend with are all travelling with me in the Arctic – so I made sure I got to know them. By the end of the weekend I was friends with the medic (good call because they can keep you warm); many of the headquarters guys (good call because they carry all the supplies) and of course, the soldiers who are driving the snowmobiles (good call because I’ll be chauffeured across the tundra).

3. Keep your camera close – and cozy.

I knew I would be carrying my small (but not that small) camera to shoot my story, and I also knew the temperatures with winds would be teetering around the -27 to -30 range. So I decided to bring my cozy lime green fleece blanket (that thing goes everywhere with me) and wrap up the Sony 150. It lasted the weekend and while the camera was still cool to the touch, it operated perfectly.

4. Carry everything yourself.

I showed up at the base and someone asked me if I was carrying a sniper rifle bag – it was just my tripod case. Making sure my equipment was close and always with me was a challenge because the army prefers it if you pack light. I had three separate bags for my camera, audio gear and tripod (not to mention my pack of clothes). In cold weather especially, people don’t like to do extra tasks – like carry the embedded journalist’s gear, and they’ll probably hate you.  Also, by carrying it myself, I kept things organized; a big plus in the cold.

5. Don’t complain.

Or at least save your complaining for a blog post. I woke up after my first night of sleeping in the winter tent and the captain asked how it was. I said “great,” he replied “really?” so I added “in these conditions.” The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter all that much if the ground hurts – that’s what we have to sleep on. And I know what I signed up for — and it’s less than a month until the big event.

*

I will be posting imagery my Shaw TV story once they’ve been uploaded from respective websites.

 

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