Navigating the Newsroom: When to say yes and when to say no to casual work

I have a love/hate relationship with casual work. 

On the one hand, it’s how I began my career and how so many other journalists got their start. I remember one of my bosses telling me the CBC needed casuals in order to survive. Whether that was true or not, I know casual work gave me that foot in the door and eventually led to some great opportunities. Had I not packed my bags and moved halfway across the country only on the promise of casual work, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

That said, precarious employment is nothing to write home about. When considering how much of an impact casual and temporary employment has on BIPOC workers, I think media companies need to think long and hard about why they continue the practice. Even contract work carries with it the same feeling for workers. Personally, it felt like being in a relationship where my partner just didn’t want to commit. At some point I just need to know…like…are we doing this or not???

So, for all you young journalists out there considering casual work, some advice:

  1. Only do casual work for as long as it serves YOU. I did eventually come to a point in my life where casual work no longer served me. I wanted more stability in my pay and in my schedule, neither of which I found while working as a casual. Don’t wait for your employer to decide when it no longer serves them…because that might be the day they decide they don’t need you altogether. Make sure the work you’re doing serves you in the sense that it’s helping you get to where you want to go. 
  2. Casual work is a good option for the undecided. Not sure whether you enjoy a certain platform? Work as a casual so you can float around, picking up different skills without being locked into a job you might hate. But don’t be afraid to cut the cord when the time comes.
  3. Make sure casual work isn’t all you’re doing. Even in the early stages of your career, it’s important you’re creating your own content. You should be freelance writing if you love to write. You should be producing a podcast if you love radio. You should be creating YouTube or TikTok videos if you love broadcasting. Don’t just rely on casual work to help you build your portfolio: be a content creator first and foremost. Not only will this make you even more attractive to employers, it’ll also give you something to pour into (and even monetize) when casual work dries up.

Navigating the Newsroom: Be a content creator

Some solid advice I learned from a journalist I still admire even now: whatever you love doing, you should be doing it. I think this is great advice for young journalists because it means, first and foremost, you’re a content creator. 

The ability to create original content is a huge asset in journalism because content is so often regurgitated information. This isn’t because of laziness: the demand for fresh content in a 24/7 news cycle can be tough to keep up with. The better you are at creating content, the better you’ll be at feeding the machine. 

However, creating your own content–something you own and enjoy doing–outside of work is crucial because it’ll give you something to pour into (and even monetize) when work dries up (and with the instability forecasted for this industry, I’d just say it’s wise for you to have something on the side now). 

So, just two tips for you this month:

  1. Be upfront about the content you create outside of work. I’m not a big believer in keeping this a secret. Personally, I’d use it as a selling point during an interview. Particularly if you’re only working as a casual, I wouldn’t give up your passion project nor would I encourage you to accept a job where you’ll have to stop doing it as a condition of employment. 
  2. Make sure this is something you’re passionate about. Look, juggling work and a side hustle is not easy. For those who do it, they do it for the love of it. So whatever you’re creating on the side, make sure you love it. It should never feel like a chore because, somedays, your 9-5 will and you’re going to need something live giving to help you remember why you got into storytelling and journalism in the first place. 

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.