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.

A body in my backyard

It’s my first breaking news shift as an intern for the Winnipeg Free Press.

I wake up at 5:30 am, put on the coffee and have a long shower. Up next is writing a few stories for the web and then keeping my eyes and ears ready for news. My phone rings.

“Where do you live?” asks my editor.
“South side of Winnipeg, on Wilkes Avenue.”
“Are you kidding me? – there are reports of a body floating in a retention pond off Wilkes.”

The same retention pond I could see as I looked out the window.

I get in my car and drive east a few buildings down. Only one police cruiser and an ambulance are at the scene. I arrived to see the non-descript body being placed on the stretcher with a white blanket over top. More police arrive and they pay no attention to the girl who looks like an uninformed neighbourhood resident.

No one’s saying anything so I head into the building that borders on the scene where the body was found, live tweeting as the event unfolds. I poke my head around a few more corners then “how did you slip by here?”  The area was secured inside and out, so I waited in my car for someone – anyone – to leave the locked building. Finally someone does: a veteran reporter from Nova Scotia on holiday to visit her aunt. She had poked around herself and filled me in: police are canvassing the building, asking if anyone’s seen anything. And it was the care taker who called in the floating body.

For all the intensity of a body in my backyard, the last word I received was the possibility of suicide – a story to go unreported in the media.

***

I’ve always said nothing beats being there and, as I’ve discovered recently, nothing beats the rush of getting to news first.

When I started my internship at the Free Press last week, the building itself was a little daunting; cubicles galore occupied by writers whose work I’ve followed for a long time.

But things get better and first day jitters calm down quickly. I’ve done three internships before and the great thing about them is you’re going to have some “tough love” lessons on the job – if you’re lucky. Some just don’t work out, while others have surprise endings:

Technical difficulty

It was the very first day in the newsroom and it’s painfully slow – Easter Monday and city hall, the legislature and the law courts are all closed. No streeters there, Duncan McMonagle. So instead I start perusing my social media networks while keeping in touch with other sources and writing web stories.

I land on an event happening at UW: a talk-back discussion with members from Invisible Children, the organization behind KONY 2012. The editors liked the idea and after filing some short pieces I head home to prep for the night. I go to the lecture, interview many intriguing people and get to writing. My deadline is 9:00 pm, I’m done at 8:30. Only problem: I have no internet.

I make the quick drive to the college. Start the computer and transfer my file over with a stick. It’s corrupt and won’t open. I have five minutes to deadline. I try different ways of pulling my file off the computer to no avail. With ten minutes past the deadline, I submit my file without being able to open it on the computer I’m sending from. Editor couldn’t open it and things were way behind- another one for the tough luck books.

Verbal interaction

Personality is what I want editors to get from me. At the end of the internship, I’m another student floating in and out; knowing who I am, how I interact with people in the newsroom is key to figuring out if this is the place for me – and vice versa.

One day the writers were preparing pieces for a feature on the Provincial Nominee Program reorganization (so to speak). I overheard my editor and a writer talking about finding people – so I mentioned my family used the program. Before the day was out, I wrote a personal piece about my family’s use of the PNP, and why it’s an asset for immigrants in all standings: Community kept us here.

It turned out to be a great way to share a story I’m proud to tell and try a different voice. Editors saw a different side to me and many people I knew responded positively to the story. The piece ran again in print this past Monday in the Brandon Sun.

 “I wish I could say have a good day, but I cannot find the words”

You’re not a journalist until you receive a letter of discontent.

Thankfully my first letter was, in my humble opinion, not too grave. A dignitary who attended the Transcona 100 sent me words of venom (ALL IN CAPS) for not specifically mentioning his name in the article. He was one of more than 10 dignitaries at the event, and while he is no less important than other dignitaries, I only mentioned the few key people who spoke early on in the presentation.

I responded to him respectively and hope that when I encounter him in person, there will be a mutual agreement to move forward professionally. It’s an important lesson to learn, that of pride. Dealing with your own and others can be a delicate balance.

No story is ever too small

And now I leave you on a positive note.

On my second day I was sent to cover a story about grade four to six students at a Winnipeg school who created original art work to auction off for sick kids.

While the adults and kids I met were terrific, I was worried there wasn’t much of a story. So I opened myself to taking a softer writing approach to a story I personally found touching. The piece didn’t run the next day, as it wasn’t time sensitive and there was enough content.

The next day it ran I had a few emails waiting for me. A local gallery owner sent me a message saying a board member of his cooperative suggested donating an artistry book to the classes as a thank you for their community involvement. It was such a sweet gesture, it made me realize (once more) no story is ever too small.

And reminded me it’s for the community, and its betterment, that we write.

If you’d like to contact me with letters of discontent or happiness, please make my day by emailing them to daniella.ponticelli@freepress.mb.ca.

Journo on screen

This weekend I spent most of Friday and all day Saturday working on three separate film/ broadcast projects. All three had challenges and of course, some fun thrown into the mix. What I enjoyed the most about the past two days is seeing how my journalism and media production skills came in handy – and how the little things make a big difference. 

For the first project, a short film, I acted as one of the two main characters. Now I am no screen actress by any regard, unless you consider last year’s Montage assignment to be Oscar-worthy. We mainly shot inside, house shots really, but we also had the prestige of being the first to shoot in the new Winnipeg airport.

Just being Meryl Streep

At one point the boom guy, a jovial bearded man, said “every set needs someone like you.” I unknowingly had become the continuity person, taking note of details and questioning if things seemed different (very journo if I say so myself). Continuity is making sure that if one is wearing a hat in one take of the film, one continues to wear said hat in the next take. The best way to avoid a tough edit is to take care of continuity while filming. 

The second project I worked on was a corporate promotional video for the launch of Loft 73. I wasn’t in any shots but I acted as the reporter, asking questions, holding the mic and making sure interview subjects were looking at me (and not the camera.)  

Here I played a more broadcast journalist role, but what I found most useful being a journalism student (and not just another girl with a microphone) was how I asked my questions. My shooter, who was the real push behind this project, had given me some questions that she really wanted me to cover. I did those, but I also made sure to ask questions that suited the person and his/her environment.

For example, when one customer was trying on shoes, I didn’t start with “what comes to mind when you think of the brand?” (what we needed to hear).  Instead, I started much the same way I would if I was interviewing someone for print; asking a question they could feel confident answering: “tell me how the shoe feels on your foot?”  It a small change, but it made a profouund difference in how people answered i.e. with more expression and for longer.

Lastly, I worked on my actual broadcast journalism assignment with my partner Jennifer David. We had to film our last scenes at Fame Nightclub for our story on the drag queen Jynx. We’re both broadcast journalism students and have a good understanding of the basics.

But for me, it wasn’t about white balancing, audio checking and standups – it was about teamwork. Having someone’s back – whether it’s an editor, a fellow reporter, or your shooter.

Jen and I had waited a long time to get the shot of Jynx’s performance – it boiled down to scheduling our time, Jynx’s time, and booking-out-a-camera time. So we had a lot riding on this night. As Jynx is announced to hit the stage for her one-song performance, I see Jen run to the side of the stage I’m nearest to and say “I NEED A BATTERY!” I’ve never run that fast in heels before, swerving between bodies to grab a battery in the nightclub office and run it out. But we got the shots, screaming fans and all – wow.

This weekend taught me that being a journalist means paying attention to details, asking the questions that will get the most real answers, and always always working as a team. Thank you to everyone I worked with this weekend for the great opportunity to learn (and have fun while doing it).

No Deadline without a Lifeline

For reporters and the editors that love (or hate) them.

Just as Cinderella has her fairy Godmother, Rocky has his Mickey Goldmill, and Snooki has her JWOW – a reporter has her editor.

I thought this week about what makes second year journalism feel different from first, and for me – it’s the number of editors I work with. Be it industry professionals or fellow students, the editors I’ve encountered have all taught me valuable lessons – but some are more effective at helping me understand my errors than others.

So I’ve compiled a list – a reporter-editor guide if you will – on what helps relations between the two most important people in the universe. Well, the journalism universe anyway.

Get o’er yourself

You’re not an invincible writer and you’re not a fool-proof editor.

Reporters, you will receive negative comments and come face to face with criticism. You will meet people who think they can do your job (some can) and you will sometimes see your published work that doesn’t really resemble the original article. Don’t pout, see what changes are made, ask questions, and move forward a better writer.

Editors – you are not given a full opportunity to rewrite. You are also not exempt from error. Don’t think that a piece is only ready once you’ve put your mark all over it. Share your insights, make necessary changes, and understand that pieces will never be exactly the way you imagined.

If either of you can’t get over these hurdles, you probably won’t ever get a job.  And your self-esteem, mental capacity, and work will suffer.

Respect each other’s time

You’re both important and you’re both busy. There, it’s settled.

A reporter has a job to do full of collecting information, fact checking, writing, self-editing and meeting deadline. An editor is on the go reading and checking copy, contacting people, metting their deadlines, and dealing with a hundred other newspaper related issues. So make sure you respect each other’s time.

Reporters, don’t waste your editor’s time by throwing a fit because you couldn’t get over yourself. If a story isn’t panning out, call your editor. Because at the end of the day,  you have a story to file.

Editors, don’t waste your reporters time by failing to respond to important questions regarding the story. If things change – details, people, events – communicate with your reporter. Make sure you let you let him or her know that stories have been collected, articles reviewed, and if time permits; what can be improved next time.

Note: suggest improvements in a manner that the writer can actually do them. Saying “your article stunk” may be valid, but certainly not helpful.

No deadline without a lifeline

Editors and reporters can be each other’s lifelines. If an editor needs something covered fast – a reporter is out there getting the news. If a reporter has failed to adhere to an embargo or written something factually incorrect (or worse, libel) an editor can actually save their life.

Or at least prevent their pretty writing hands from clutching jail bars.

And while this sounds noble, and some editors may think this is just something nice to do, there are harsh consequences for not working as a team. Editors are just as responsible for publishing information that comes under legal fire as the reporter is for writing it. You are the reporter’s line of defence – and if you want to throw them under the bus, prepare to get some nasty skid burns.

But take heed – just because you reply on each other for certain things, at no point must the relationship become an excuse to shift responsibility.

As a reporter, you should always do the job with integrity and to the best of your ability. Use your resources – pull that coffee stained Caps and Spelling out of your bag, dust off that recorder and fix your press pass. If there are errors in a published article, don’t just blame the editor – look at your work and see where the errors are in the original.

Editors, make sure to keep a reporter up to speed when dealing with sensitive topics. Don’t depend on a reporter to be perfect – because chances are, that’s when bad errors become worse. Ahem, Jayson Blair anyone?

Friendship can be tricky

Don’t expect an editor to be your friend.

It’s a relationship that involves mutual respect and an understanding that each role is important, but you don’t need to know each other’s weekend habits. One editor, whom I’ve worked with for over a year on many assignments, is someone I only really know by e-mail (we have met once). I really enjoy working with her as we communicate well, she’s easy to talk to, and we respect each other. She gives me the right amount of info and background with the appropriate amount of space to do the work. In turn, I work hard and have all my articles and pictures in on time.

The point: a good editor is more important to you as a reporter, than a friendly one.  Hopefully, if you follow the “mutual respect” model, the relationship will be the perfect mixture of professional and pleasant. And certainly friendship is never frowned upon, just use it wisely.

To see how I edited this post for Cre.ature Feed, see my latest on the editing blog Editdip.

Journalism say what?

This is my catch 22.

I’m studying journalism, I feel this tingling-in-my-toes excitement about it, but how do I even explain what it is? When I tell people that I’m studying journalism, their definitions vary in a polarizing fashion.

“Oh yeah, print or television?”

Not one person I mention this to (outside of the media circle) has commented on the expansion of journalism. The glaring fact that there is no new journalist versed in only one medium. It’s career suicide.

Journalism has grown by whittling down word count – our hunger for quick stories at the tips of our fingers has placed a demand on newsrooms. Short and sweet and ’aplenty.  Web video and Twitter feeds have opened up new avenues for the basic building block of journalism – story telling.

Story telling with pressure: journalists are responsible for the news. Pardon me for being grandiose – but history itself is modeled by the stories of the time. A person is behind each story – from the community knitting club to the Egyptian revolution – in every format. And what about that story attributed to someone from The Associated Press? One can become jaded into thinking that these stories just write themselves without considering that every word was placed there. Every vowel bought. And while the world of journalism expands with multimedia, it does not mean “anyone with a cellphone” can do the job.

We tell stories; while the kid with the iPhone-at-the-right-time moment helps to supplement the telling. I don’t mean to lessen the importance of being an active participant in the world around you; rather, point out that there is a learned form to journalism. But not necessarily a formula.

Journalism differs among individuals due to their writing style. And let’s not forget, every journalist is a writer whether the news is published in written or broadcast format. Aside from universals such as covering the facts, remaining balanced, and (hopefully) ethical; a journalist puts his or her stamp on every sentence, radio broadcast, b-roll and blog.

Journalism is at the heart of our world perspective. The adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” will always remain. Whether it remains a literal hand-held pen is another story.

*

Daniella will be blogging about journalism related topics for class, and editing topics on her new blog Edit Dip.

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