Nonprofits in the News: 3 tips for building relationships with reporters

When it comes to building relationships with journalists and newsrooms, there are no hard and fast rules. I don’t have a step-by-step process for you to follow: this is really about making the time to build a rapport and relationship. As such, this isn’t unlike any other strategic relationship you’ve built as a nonprofit leader, so apply the same principles you have in the past.

However, for those of you who might be new to this, here are 3 tips for building relationships with reporters in and out of season:

1.  Start with your contact list. Who have you already worked with in the past?

2. Look for journalists telling stories about organizations like yours.

3. Reach out to news directors, assignment editors where they need to be telling these kinds of stories. I’d also encourage you to avoid taking a judgemental tone here. I remember receiving emails from folks who had a decent pitch, but it was buried beneath a lot of criticism of our coverage (“you guys never report on…” for example). When building a relationship with someone, criticism isn’t the way to go (this is true in our personal lives, so I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t think the same principle applies here!). Stick to your pitch and focus on the story you’d like to present. Stay positive: that always shines through. 

One last piece of advice: don’t ignore smaller outlets (such as ethnic media stations or digital startups) who target a niche audience. While they might never admit it, sometimes the larger outlets will check out the stories being reported in the smaller ones and pick them up.

Navigating the Newsroom: On building confidence

I still remember my first shoot with Rogers TV. It was about a runner who was blind but had participated in a record number of races. Truly an inspiring story.

And I was super nervous about telling it. 

When it came time to shoot the on camera bridge, the cameraman and I were standing between the doors of the local YMCA. He waited (somewhat) patiently for me while I mustered up the courage to speak on camera. When I finally opened my mouth, what came out was somewhere between inside voice and barely above a whisper. 

“That’s not how you sound when you talk normally,” said the cameraman, gently scolding me. It took several a few tries before I finally spit out something coherent. The same scene would play itself out again when I shot my first on camera while working for the CBC in St. John’s. However, by then I had learned how to ignore the voices of doubt screaming so loudly from within. From there, it only got easier. 

Since I started mentoring young journalists, I hear so much about their desire to be more confident in everything they do: in their storytelling, writing, on camera presentation. The truth is there’s no miracle for confidence. It’s just one of those muscles we build over time–but we have to work that muscle in order to truly see results. Here are some reflections on how you can build confidence as you tell stories:

  1. Just do it. Nike’s slogan should be your mantra in their early stages. The more you step out and do the things you want to build more confidence in, the better you’ll become at doing it. Practice really does make perfect…but you have to overcome that self-doubt and actually practice. The more you do it, the more confident you’ll feel as you do it. 
  2. Don’t just rely on courses to build your confidence. Listen, I love a good course. These days, I prefer to take bootcamp-style programs as they offer more targeted training. But gaining knowledge doesn’t always translate into gaining confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from a course: it comes from experience. By all means take the course but know that you’ll still have to take the next step and actually apply what you’ve just learned
  3. Silence the voice of doubt. Part of the reason I’m not big on taking courses to build confidence is because, in my experience, I was the only thing hold me back. It wasn’t a lack of knowledge or skill. Analysis paralysis and fear will stunt anyone’s efforts–trust me, I’m a witness! What I’ve learned to do is to ignore or silence the voice of self-doubt and just do it. Breaking things down into actionable, manageable steps is hugely helpful. And when you get to that step you’ve been too scared to take, always remember there’s so much more to gain on the other side. Even if you fail, you’ve gained experience which will never fail you in the long run; in fact, it is all the lived experience you need to excel the next time you try. 

Listen, my first standup was rough. But many years later, I found myself doing standups under pressure in interesting situations–on the side of a mountain after an avalanche, in a helicopter flying over an icy highway. The more I did them, the more my confidence in my ability to do them became unshakeable. 

Why I left the daily grind of news

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

It has been seven months since I signed off from Global News. More specifically, that’s how long it’s been since I filed my last report, stepping away from the work I’ve known and loved for the last 17 years. While my departure took many I know by surprise, the truth is it’s been in the works since about 2017. I’ve known since then that it was time for a change.

A purpose-driven life

2017 was a pivotal year for me. Amidst some major shifts in my family, I spent the entire year soul-searching: what was my purpose? I knew there was so much more to me than the 6 o’clock news. Almost daily, I seemed to be wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo: the routine of just going to work and filing stories. 2017 was also the year I stepped into a leadership role with the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), the nonprofit organization I helped re-launch and still lead today. Between the deeply meaningful work of the CABJ, a growing hunger for a different kind of storytelling, family upheaval and a desire to know God more, 2017 became a year of purpose and self-discovery.

I read a host of books that year, though none more impactful than The Purpose Driven Life, which really helped set me on the course I’m still on today. There’s something deeply profound about slowing down, resisting the urge to just fulfill the destiny others have charted for you and pursue purpose. For me, it marked a big shift: away from the life I was told I was meant to live to the one I’m actively pursuing today.

Passion meets purpose

The year 2020 started with me stepping well outside of my comfort zone and really embracing the work of advocacy. Alongside CJOC, the CABJ released our ‘Calls to Action‘. We spent months working on this document, tweaking and re-writing it, going back and forth between the two teams. I remember when we finally settled on the current version and, in early January, set a date for it’s release.

I was terrified.

I remember praying (HARD) in those days, waiting for some grand sign from God that we should or should not move ahead. I felt like my career was on the line and that sharing this document could bring it to an end. I specifically remember praying one morning and feeling, very deeply, like God was saying to me, “what are you waiting for? I brought you to this point. The time is now.” When we released the document, the response on social media was swift and very supportive. However, it wasn’t the same from my employer at the time: I didn’t receive any response. In fact, none of the major media outlets we sent the document to responded. Immediately, and despite the assurances I knew I was sensing from God, I thought my career was over.

But the murder of a Black man outside a Cup Foods convenience store in Minneapolis, Minnesota, changed everything.

Suddenly, every media organization wanted to talk about race and racism. Black journalists began sharing their stories of race and racism in the newsroom – in Canadian newsrooms – on social media and in interviews. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my career. For the CABJ, it meant our workload increased overnight: we were being called on by news leaders across the country who wanted to talk about the very same document they’d ignored at the beginning of the year…the same document I was almost too scared to release. Even now, things haven’t slowed down for the organization. We relaunched our membership, built four national programs, co-hosted our first conference – the list goes on. As we prepare to head into 2022, we’re focused now on internal structure, ensuring the necessary framework is in place for a new generation of CABJ leaders to step in. It’s deeply rewarding work, the kind some might call purpose-driven.

Time for a change

I’ve always loved the work of nonprofits. I’ve volunteered in various roles across Canada because I love that kind of community engagement. Deep down inside, I always wondered whether it was possible to do that kind of purpose-driven work for a living. At the time, I was still very much into news, moving to different cities and provinces before settling in BC in 2014. However, by 2021, I just knew it was time for a change: there was just this…internal inkling that something had shifted.

I remember sitting up one night in March of last year in our home office, writing in my journal. My entries are deep reflections that often become prayers and that night was no exception. I remember writing, and saying to God, that I felt like it was time for a change. The next morning, I woke up to a note in my LinkedIn inbox. A former colleague of mine was leaving his communications job at a local charity. He reached out to me, wondering whether or not I was interested in applying for it. Fastest answer to prayer ever.

Seven months into my new role at that charity here in Vancouver and I couldn’t be happier. I get to mix media and advocacy for a living, all while still pursuing my passions on the side, which include continuing to lead the CABJ. The change of pace has been welcome for a number of reasons. And working in a new industry continues to deepen my understanding of race and racism in Canada, how it manifests and how to address it (but we’ll save that for another blog post!).

For that entire time, this blog sat dormant. But I think this year marks a shift for the blog, too. One of the things I love to do is to share my knowledge and experience to help others. After all, it was a desire to help other female Black journalists that led me to the CABJ in the first place. I’m hoping to now use Black Girl Reporting to help young journalists just starting out in need of some advice on how to navigate the newsroom

This is important to me: I’m sure I

have the experience and perspective (and the heart!) to help make the journeys a little bit easier for someone else. You can catch the ‘Navigating the Newsroom’ posts the first Monday of every month.

My prayer for you in 2022 is that whatever might be holding you back from stepping into your purpose finally gives way. The world needs your voice/ideas/advocacy more than you know. Don’t let anything hold you back.

Stay tuned.

2020 ‘buy-nothing’ year update

In the hours before sitting down to write this blog post in November, I bought sweaters and dresses from Asos, an outfit from Aritzia and two dresses from Grass-fields. Did I mention this was supposed to be my ‘buy-nothing’ year?

I don’t need to tell you how challenging 2020 was: like me, you lived it. Every month presented new twists and turns, ups and downs, mask mandates and widespread closures. Not all of it has been bad (more about that later), but it hasn’t been easy. A few months ago, I shared an update on my buy-nothing journey with Brette Ehalt of The Women We Know, an Instagram page chronicling the everyday lives of everyday women. I began this journey inspired by another journalist who’d declared 2020 a ‘buy-nothing’ year. The rules were that you identified specific days—I chose my birthday in May and Black Friday—where I’d splurge on anything wardrobe-related. I unsubscribed from mailing lists, got rid of sales notifications and tried to shift my attention away from retail. Seemed easy enough, right?

When the pandemic hit, I was still ok. I didn’t fall off the wagon in March or April. As my birthday drew near, I began to plan for the things I wanted to buy. Then, the week of my birthday, George Floyd was killed and my life was turned upside down. His death is still having a profound impact on the work I do for the Canadian Association of Black Journalists: it was the catalyst for long overdue conservations about race and racism in journalism. Those conversations are still ongoing. I’m proud of the work the CABJ is doing and humbled by the folks I get to work alongside (like, CJOC) as we lead these important conversations.

For me, so-called retail therapy has always been my version of self-care and stress management. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that, when things got crazy, I returned to what I’d always known. Much of what I purchased still has the tags on it now (because where am I actually going? Where are we going?? smh). I fell off the wagon in July and August. As for September and October…I mean…what wagon? Who said anything about a wagon?

The past ten months made me realize this attachment is about more than sales and the solace I find in them. This is as much a spiritual transformation as it is a physical one, so I’ve been praying into this fervently over the last several weeks. There is, after all, grace for those who try and refuse to give up.

So, that brings me to where I’m at now. Before declaring 2021 ‘buy-nothing’ year 2.0, I wanted to reflect on what this is actually about: buying less or becoming more? What I’ve learned is that if I just focus on buying less, then I won’t actually overcome this. After all, the buying is a symptom of something deeper; not a deeper problem but a deeper, unmet need. So, this year, instead of relying on willpower, I’m praying for the grace to simply overcome.

A change of heart

I used to think vision boards were a waste of time. How could a glorified arts and crafts project really help you stay focused on your future (cynical, I know)?

Despite my best efforts, the first thing that came under siege for me this year was my focus. The challenges came out of nowhere. Some storms in life brew on the horizon and, even though we try to ignore them, they come to pass (been there, done that, writing the book—literally). There are other storms in life you simply don’t foresee. The ones that hit when everything is going well and you’re doing everything right.

I can honestly say that, in February, I was doing everything right…but so much went wrong. There were many days I found myself speechless. One morning I woke up to pray, but there were no words. Some days it was just about getting through.

A young girl I used to mentor asked me if I’d come with her to an all-girls Valentine’s Day party. I thought the plan was just to eat chocolate-dipped fruit and paint our nails. I didn’t realize making vision boards was also on the agenda. I went because I care a lot about this young girl and I wanted to be there for her: to spend time with her, see how she was doing and just to support her. So, when it came time to make these vision boards, I put aside my cynicism and jumped in.

As I made the board, my mind wasn’t consumed with thoughts of the various situations percolating around me, for a change. The only thing on my mind was my vision. In that moment, everything else seemed like a distraction. For a few hours that night, everything came back into focus. Cutting and pasting images representing my short and long term dreams lifted my spirits. It was a different kind of self-love.

My vision board is now posted on the cork board in the room I pray in every morning. It’s the first thing I see: a visual reminder of where I’m going. I’m going to get there regardless of what I see happening around me. I whisper a prayer over every part of the vision board daily.

The storms haven’t yet passed, but I can see to the other side of them. I’m working on looking at things more through eyes of faith. It’s the kind of vision you need to stay focused. And if it takes glue sticks and some old magazines to help me do that, then so be it.

When retail therapy just doesn’t cut it anymore

I’m not buying anything in 2020. This isn’t a new year’s resolution (resolutions are just a waste of time, imho). This is about a lifestyle change and something I’ve been reflecting on over the last several months.

If shopping was a sport, then I’d be a professional athlete. I’m actually really good at finding deals online (too good, as far as my husband is concerned) and I’m even better at adding them to cart. It all started back in 2005 with eBay. I fell in love with the ease of shopping on that platform: it’s a global shopping mall, where I racked up 775 stars on their user rating system. From there I branched out to individual retailers, buying online all of the things I didn’t want to line up in-store for. Again, it was easy.

But it was also a big stress reliever. There are no shortage of rough days in my line of work. Browsing online quickly became a way to shift my thoughts away from the mess of the day to something providing instant gratification and comfort. I’ve often told myself that, after the day I’ve had, I deserve this–heck, I’ve earned this (you’d tell yourself the same thing too if you were me sis, trust!). Eventually, easing my stress and rewarding myself became the top defenses if anyone questioned my penchant for retail therapy.

However, as trivial as ‘retail therapy’ seems on the surface, it is medicating something: meeting some deep, unmet need within. According to a Harvard professor, 95 per cent of our purchasing decisions occur in the subconscious mind. Essentially, our purchases are driven by our emotions.

This is important. For me, this is not about a lack of self-control: I’m not a shopaholic who’s drowning in debt and can’t seem to reign in her spending habit (also, if you are that person and you’re reading this, no judgment sis–we all struggle with something). Reflecting on my ‘why’ prompts me to examine where the disconnect is occurring. As I shared with some of my colleagues a few days ago, I speak so much about what my faith in God through Christ means to me…and yet I still *need* more stuff. Why do I still need more stuff? If God is good then this sale can’t be better.

So, this is how 2020 came to be my buy-nothing year. There are some rules:

  • I can’t buy anything new for myself
  • I can only replace items that run out (i.e. coconut oil a.k.a. my makeup remover, mousse)
  • I can still buy gifts for friends/family
  • I can still purchase new (or used) textbooks for school

Some folks who’ve done this before do make exceptions for their birthday, Black Friday and Boxing Day. At this point, I’m leaving those three days open to see how I feel by the time they roll around. My appetite for shopping might be completely gone by then.

For me, this journey is about a deeper exploration of myself and my faith…but if you just want to shop less feel free to join me, sis! We can do this together. I’ll be journaling throughout this journey and I encourage you to do the same. I’ll probably blog about this again closer to my birthday.

Stay tuned…

The last ten years

The end of 2019 marks the end of a year and a decade…which is kind of a big deal when you stop to think about it. I began reminiscing over the last decade: where I was when it started and where I am now. So much has changed…

I started working for the CBC in 2010, marking my first on-air gig for one of the major Canadian broadcasters. I was both timid and terrified, having just relocated from Toronto to St. John’s for the job. Fast forward ten years and I’m amazed at how much my confidence has grown. I’m not an extrovert (I just play one on TV), so believe me when I say my confidence has never been this high…though, if history is any indication, it can only increase.

Of course, this kind of reflection leads to a narrowing down of the key lessons that have carried me through these past ten years. I’m sharing them now because I’ll need them for the journey ahead.

Don’t give up. It’s impossible to navigate the ups and downs of life a quitter. Race and gender aside, this industry isn’t an easy one to survive. I’ve been laid off, had to move across the country for work and had to volunteer or work freelance for five years before I could land my first casual gig. I don’t know where I’d be now had I given up (or had people given up on me…but that’s for another post).

Sacrifice is part of the journey. I’ve had to move away from my Toronto family and I’ve worked nearly every weekend for the past ten years. For anything we want to achieve that’s worth pursuing it always means we have to give something up in the short-term. It’s always worth it in the end, I’ve learned.

Have work, will travel. I still meet a lot of interns who say they don’t want to leave their home city to pursue opportunities. Leaving Toronto was tough, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’d probably have done it sooner if I knew how much good leaving the city would have done for my career. I still encourage young journalists to explore opportunities outside of their home cities. Be warned: it will be tough. Leaving Toronto meant my first real encounter with racism. However, the trade-off was personal and professional growth. The transformation came when I stepped outside of my comfort zone.

Be consistent. Over the course of this decade, I was consistently inconsistent. I started blogging but didn’t always do it monthly, I took up running but still don’t do it regularly. Consistency is key to success. Think of any great person and there’s something in their life they do consistently: be it training, sticking to their values, delivering on time, praying–regardless of what it is, they do it well because they’re consistent. I think consistency is about a personal commitment we make to ourselves without compromise, with an eye to the kind of personal betterment that impacts the lives of others.

The best-laid plans

A few years ago, I remember going to speak at a school and the teacher telling me her students were stressed out. They were in grade 10 and many of them were already dealing with the pressure of what to do and where to go next: what university to apply to (university, not college. Never college), what program to study, their career path. Their teacher told me the pressure they were feeling was driven by both external and internal forces.

I’m grateful for parents who were always supportive of my decision to pursue a job in journalism–which is kind of a big deal when you consider I was raised by two hard-working immigrant parents. They were both willing to look beyond the popular options of accountant, doctor and lawyer to see there was a storyteller in me. However, that didn’t stop me from applying unnecessary pressure on myself to perform. I had my one, three, five and ten year plans all worked out…

…but those plans never seem to take into account one oft-overlooked fact: life happens. My plan didn’t factor in multiple moves across the country or layoffs or delays–the unforeseen things that *seemed* to slow me down. Eventually, I learned I didn’t have to have it all figured out–no one does. Anyone who says they do have it all figured out is lying to you (and themselves, for that matter).

My faith also helps me cope with the ups and downs, valleys and peaks. Knowing God’s plans for me are–and have always been–good means I don’t have to worry (Jer. 29:11). The delays and disappointments become opportunities to grow and gain perspective. It’s what I tell students now when we talk about life after school: it’s about the journey, not the destination. So, I’m rejecting perfectionism for processing, because this process I’m going through is a beautiful thing, and choosing faith over fear so I don’t succumb to the pressure of thinking I need to have every step all figured out.

In the quiet

There is an entire drawer in my bedroom dedicated to my journals. There are about a dozen of them in there, all different shapes and sizes. Each entry a glimpse inside my heart and mind in different seasons of life.

I began journaling when I was a teen because my ideas, no matter how cluttered and jumbled they might be in my mind, always seemed clearer on paper (to date, there’s never been a misunderstanding between my journal and me). Of course, my entries have evolved over time, replacing angst with wisdom.  Every now and then, I read through some of my older entries. The growth is real, sis!

Yet, whenever I read through old journals, I notice something from time to time: gaps. I can often trace those gaps to periods in my life when there was a lot going on inside…perhaps more than I wanted to face.  Somehow, writing it all out meant accountability: I couldn’t deny it anymore, couldn’t lie to myself. I had to reconcile whatever was going on inside. Some of my most sincere and transformative entries happened when I was on vacation. There’s something about slowing down that helps bring things into focus so you can speed up and relaunch…

Of course, this trip was no exception. While there haven’t been lengthy gaps in recent weeks, there was (I discovered) a need to slow down and refocus. So, I did. There’s so much to be found in the quiet when the pace is the complete opposite of my everyday.

Learning to listen

Just because we hear doesn’t mean we listen. You’d think as a journalist, I’d know this, but it’s a lesson I didn’t really learn until I got married.

We are just two months away from our one year anniversary and it’s been quite the adventure so far! Marriage is wonderful, but it isn’t always easy. The most beautiful part has been the personal growth and transformation. Over the last 10 months, hububs has grown…and so have I.

Marriage made me realise how much I need to grow as a leader and communicator: I hear, but I don’t always listen. I’m really taking this one to heart. I do this for a living, after all–I should be better at this! During our pre-marital counselling with our church, we talked about active listening and we practiced it. I’ve also discussed active listening in my leadership courses. But active listening is one of those things you don’t realise you’re not doing until you realise you’re not getting anywhere.

I began to examine my listening skills in other areas of my life, specifically work. The growing demands on reporters means we’re doing more in a day, with the same amount of time we’ve always had (i.e. not enough). When I would shoot my own stories, I heard many interviews, but there was no time to listen to them, digest them, analyze them–there was simply no time, fam. The pace was frenetic. My work situation is much better now, but all signs point towards the pace not letting up: I fight against the current drawing me into a sea of content producers.

Truth is if I’m not a good listener, I’m not a good storyteller. Listening takes time; it requires commitment…and humility. When you’re the loudest person in the room, you can’t hear–and you certainly aren’t listening. We treat eachother better, appreciate one another more, when we listen.