As you, my blog readers know, I worked at the Edmonton Sun over the summer as a freelance reporter. I was lucky enough to basically work five days a week (so I like to think I was actually a staff reporter ;)) and over the months got a number of opportunities to report on breaking news, homicides, community events, softer pieces, and highlighting ordinary people who did extraordinary things. I had a great time, I received a ton of great industry experience, and I met some great people — both newsroom co-workers as well as other reporters, camera people, and people I interviewed!
Here are a few things that sum up what I learned working at the Sun:
- The industry is changing. Multi-platform skills are a must.
I won’t be the first to have written that the industry is changing and that one reporter having to do multiple tasks in order to deliver the story through multiple platforms is the new reality. As a print reporter this summer, I still had to file online versions of the story for the website, I had to e-mail or call in quotes, I had to shoot my own pictures on some occasions and on top of that I had to shoot video for video packages for the Sun’s website. This included doing my own stand-ups (and mastering the good ol’ tripod). Heading into working for the paper I didn’t really know just how many videos or how many stand-ups I’d be doing. The answer: a lot. As I’m in school for TV Broadcasting, I was fine with shooting video and doing stand-ups. In fact I enjoyed doing it (although I’ll admit at times multitasking was stressful). But I very quickly became comfortable with the process and I adapted very quickly. This is something reporters need to understand. You have to adapt. You have to be okay with dipping your feet into multimedia tasks that you might not think is part of the job description but the reality is that it is part of the job description now. I know that QMI Agency (which the Sun is under) is really pushing for their print reporters to produce video content for the website (new job postings now include “shooting video” and “multimedia” in their qualifications/requirements descriptions). I also read that the big boss man who took over the Journal envisions multimedia and video as part of the former-Canwest paper’s future. Beyond that, many reporters are now being encouraged to tweet. Live-tweet news conferences, tweet to engage readers, tweet to generate story ideas or find sources. I mean, more so than just tweet even — just really embracing new media and the Internet to add to the success of your story at the end of the day. And that goes for not just print but the radio and television industry too. I saw more and more local reporters getting on Twitter this summer and not just signing up and leaving their accounts sitting — but really using it in relation to that day’s stories. Videos, the Internet, tweeting, that’s just how things are now and those going into the industry need to really embrace it if they’re going to be successful. So I must thank my time at the Sun for really opening my eyes to this new reality (although I knew that was the case before, even our J-School teachers at MacEwan warned us of the upcoming new media/multi-journalist trends). I think I go back to NAIT now with a better grasp of doing stand-ups and the understanding that you really need to be v-e-r-s-a-t-i-l-e! Sell yourself as the person who can do it all because that will get you the job.
- It doesn’t matter what medium it is, it’s still all about telling a story.
I know some people who look at working in print as having no relation to the work that is done in the television news industry. That is wrong. Whether you are working at a newspaper or a television station, you’re all going to the same press conferences, you’re all trying to get in touch with the same family of the same person who might have just been murdered or died in an accident (sorry if that sounds insensitive), you’re all doing coverage on the same festivals — you’re all working to tell a story, and to tell it by a deadline. Wherever I went to cover news throughout the summer, there were reporters from CTV, there were reporters from Global, there were reporters from radio stations. While it’s delivered in different mediums, (so yes there are different aspects that reporters in print and reporters in TV or radio have to cover) — the process is still the same — getting out to those places, interviewing those people, and getting what you need to to write that story.
- You have to be able to write.
Tacking onto the above, I have to say that no matter which medium, in order to tell that story — you have to be able to write. I have been a strong advocate and a firm believer of that since before I entered into the Journalism program at MacEwan years ago and my summer writing for the Sun only reaffirmed that belief. You can’t tell a good television story if you’re a poor writer. I guess “you have to be able to write” can even boil down to “you have to be able to tell a story.” I believe I went into working at the Sun with a strong grasp of how to write a news story and I believe I leave with an even better understanding thanks to the number of stories I had to write and the number of opportunities I had to try out different kinds of writing. I thank my editors for allowing me to be a little more creative for certain stories as opposed to just the super hard news-to-the-point kind of leads to stories. I also thank my editors for giving me tips on how to improve my writing (and my photography) but I’m also very proud to say that nearly every article I wrote for the Sun this summer remained unchanged as it made its way through the slot and onto the actual paper. Yes there were Canadian Press style things that were tweaked here and there (words that should not have been capitalized, the spelling out or shortening of things like ‘kilometre’, etc.), but the stories ultimately remained as my story, written my way. *pats self on back*
- A positive attitude goes a long way!
I really can’t stress this enough. Working with a positive attitude — smiling — being agreeable and optimistic, those traits really make or break your working environment. I found that my summer working really flew by and I credit that to the fact that I had fun every day! Even if some days the stories weren’t front page news, or even near-front-page-news, approaching the stories and the people you interview with just as much respect or as much importance as with front-page-news-stories, goes a long way. If you think that the story you’re assigned that day is crap, then it’s going to be crap, and your day is going to be crap — so why do that? Also — little conversations with your co-workers and the people who sit by you, really add to the day. Saying good morning, good bye, and asking how people’s weekends were — also go a long way :) It is safe to say that I didn’t just make co-workers during my time in the newsroom, I made friends! And along with just the personal happiness you’ll get by going to work being positive — the future benefits are there too. I’m not scared or worried to ask my editor for a reference letter, or to be listed as a reference, for any job I may apply for in the future — and all because I had fun at work. P.S. Have a Fun Shirt Day in the newsroom! It’s tons of fun!
- Good working relationships are key.
In this industry journalists and media relations people have to work together — a lot. Maintaining a positive, working relationship with each other is so, so, so important. I felt that had I not approached the media relations people I worked with with a positive — and understanding — attitude, then they would not have been as receptive (or just friendly) in helping me with stories I was working on. If a media relations person doesn’t get back to you as quickly as you want them to — that sucks yes, but don’t take it out on them. Sometimes their “as soon as possible” calling you back — could very well be the entire day. Who knows what is going on on their end. Be understanding! Also realize sometimes throwing a story and interview requests onto them may be completely out of left field and they aren’t prepared for it so they will need time to gather information or gather the people who can talk to you. Maybe some media relations people also suck at giving you good quotes — if they are the person who are speaking on behalf of a story. I say take what you can get and be happy you’re getting it. Of course that’s not always the case. I am lucky that I never encountered any person who was an absolute horror to me. In fact I am lucky that I never encountered anyone who was even remotely horrible. So in that sense it was pretty easy for me to be positive and understanding and maintain those good relationships that are key — maybe I’ll be singing a different tune when I do encounter the media spokesperson from hell but to date that hasn’t happened so I’m grateful for that! ;)
I’m sure there are more enlightening things that I picked up over the course of the summer but at the moment of writing this post nothing else is really coming to mind. Should have made notes throughout the summer ;)
But as a side note, as those are the more serious/journalisty things I learned – here are some lesser serious and non-journalisty things I learned: Having a Quiznos and a pho place SUPER close to the newsroom means you will eat there a LOT. Edmonton offers many a Monster Burger and Monster Burgers are best eaten shared! No matter how well you think you know the city, YOU WILL GET LOST! Working at a newspaper will make you read the news and watch the news a whole lot more than not working at one. It can be tempting to the take elevator up and down 3 floors but hurrah! Taking the stairs each day can keep you semi-fit! Press conferences with food are always a better press conference than one without… ;) And more ! But I don’t want to dig into my memory to figure out more points, lol.
All in all I am super stoked that I got the opportunity to work so many shifts at the Sun this summer and I am so grateful for all of the experience that I’ve received and I’m looking forward to heading back to NAIT for my last leg of Television Broadcasting and I’m looking forward to what opportunities will come in the future! Do I see myself back at the Sun sometime in my future? If they’ll have me back, I definitely wouldn’t rule it out, but for now I’d like to focus on the television/broadcasty side of journalism! :)