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.


Ninja Dance Party

It’s montage season for first year CreComms.

I can’t post mine yet as it will be played for an upcoming dance show, so instead I present you my awesome friends – Judy Braun and Michelle Choy – and their montage “Saturday Night.”

At orientation we were told (by all the second years) that this is the assignment of the year. And it didn’t disappoint. I had a fantastic time lugging around three bags that individually were larger than myself. All that aside, the shooting was a blast – I worked with my student and friend Alyx Livingston – and editing in the suites was a welcomed experience in the CreComm culture.

But here it goes – I totally loved being IN a montage more! Working with Judy, Michelle and the other ninja Crystal Laderas was my opportunity to be quirky and let loose (we started filming the day our IPP’s got approved!) So perhaps it’s a good thing I’m not behind the camera all next year…

Tomorrow we get to view our classmate’s videos, I’m super excited. I’ve already seen some great work done and all the more – this makes me sad to see our first year over.  Well, let’s compromise with bittersweet.

Bon Appetit!

Care to Join me for a little, Sonata?

There’s nothing like a woman who is desperate for a child. Make that woman Mennonite, and you have a naughty tale on your hands.

The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz,
 staged at the Rachael Browne Theatre through Theatre Projects Manitoba, is written by former CreComm instructor, Armin Wiebe. The story is set on the outskirts of a Mennonite Village, in the home of Obrum and Susch Kehler, and chronicles the story of Susch having a baby. Low German is used throughout the play – a common element in Wiebe’s work.  During a seminar, Wiebe said he could “make the language sing.” And while the actors and actresses did an incredible job with the accent and language, as I understood the humour without understanding the language, Wiebe made it easy with likable and quirky characters.

A cozy set for The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz

Obrum Kehler (Tom Keenan, of Zooey and Adam fame) is a hard working, loving husband who has, ahem issues in the bedroom. While it may be fun trying, there is still no baby. But he remains a positive character, thinking of a way to solve this little problem. It is Obrum who brings home the piano, and in turn Mr. Beethoven Blatz (Eric Nyland, played the piano beautifully), a refugee of the Russian revolution – who hears the music in his head, sharing space with his thoughts of a lover named Sonya. He is a nuisance in some sense, taking forever to fix a broken piano and teaching Susch to play. And in another, the glue of the story, each character’s desire relates to him in some way (discussed later)

Susch Kehler (Tracy Penner) is wanting. She wants a child, her husband home with her, a new house, Beethoven to stay – Beethoven to go. In many ways I found this was Susch’s story, which was confirmed when Wiebe remarked in a talk back that the play originated for an almost-novel, which had been written from Susch’s perspective. And then there’s Teen (Daria Puttaert, also of Zooey and Adam fame), the village midwife who matched Susch with Obrum, knowing he wasn’t able to give her a child. Through her initial body language  – sitting on the bench with her legs wide apart – Teen had a different presence about her. Not long after, Teen’s budding love for Susch comes to the surface, and culminates in an intimate silent moment helping Susch into a red silk dress.

Blatz is pivotal throughout as Obrum looks to him to solve the issue, Susch takes it upon herself to use Blatz for her own means while he in turn uses her as his muse. And for Teen, Blatz is another male presence in Susch’s life, and she isn’t happy about that. In one scene Teen tells Susch she’d be the one giving her a child if she had the means – er, equipment.

The story dabbles with the biblical not only because it deals with Mennonites, but also in its over arching theme. Obrum (Abraham) and Susch (Sarah) are struggling to have children, much like their biblical name sakes who only became parents when they were close to 100 years old. Also, there is a connection in that Obrum is called to work away from home, just as God called to Abraham to leave his home – that upon returning, he would be rewarded with heirs to a great nation. But despite this subtext, there is nothing preachy or overly religious about the show – in fact there’s partial nudity and awkward sex on stage (pretend here).

Those Mennonites know how to put on a good show.

What I enjoyed the most about the talkback/ seminar with Wiebe is his willingness to discuss his writing process. Since 1996, The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz has been reworked many times,  as a short story, an almost novel, and then a first draft play. Wiebe didn’t shy away from work shopping and rewriting, as discussed here.  Director Kim McCaw saw the first scenes of the play and decided he would direct it once the manuscript was developed. “The play was a trampoline for the actors. We would see which springs held and which didn’t, and fix it from there.”

Wiebe mentioned one of the things he didn’t consider while writing for stage were simple stage directions such as the lamp. “I had it turning off, but not on.” But directions are minimal in the script, and Wiebe himself said with confidence he loved the way the show turned out.

To view Wiebe’s fiction related to the play, see here.

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