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. 

What sets your soul on fire

Have you ever been on a trip where the focus wasn’t so much on the destination, but on the journey? For me, that trip was Israel in February 2018. It was my first time in the country and it was amazing. There’s something invigorating about seeing all the places you’ve read about all your life: suddenly everything was alive in a way it had never been before.

But the trip wasn’t just about going to Israel. Rather, it was about everything I’d been through that lead to me being there. Up until late 2016, I’d spent nearly seven years searching for answers: what do I believe and why. I won’t get into the answers to those questions in this post. In the end, though, I returned to the faith of my childhood, but in a more meaningful way. This time, it was personal.

One of the key questions I grappled with as I moved into the next phase of my journey was purpose: why am I here? Why do I do what I do? What motivates me to get out of bed every morning? I remember taking part in a panel a few years ago and the question of purpose came up: why are you a journalist? One of the panelists (a journalist in Vancouver) said many people in news often talk about how much they love telling stories, they love meeting people, but, he said, the reason you’re in this business has to be–and likely is–deeper than that. The problem, he said, is we often don’t connect with that deeper meaning.

At the time, I remember feeling so offended by his response. How dare you criticize my shallow way of thinking, I thought. You don’t know me! Now, years later, I have to admit he was right.

I am still defining my why. The more I do the things that set my soul on fire, the clearer it becomes. The closer I get to my why, the less I care about money or status, the more my inner circle shrinks. The closer I get, the more I transform, becoming more of the person I want to be. The whole process is rather uncomfortable, but no less inspiring. The more I do the things that connect with that deeper sense of purpose, the more life comes into focus.

A Brush with Royalty

What a week!

It was an unbelievably busy week covering the Royal Visit in BC this past week. In just 8 days, I traveled from Vancouver to Victoria to Vancouver to Victoria before *finally* returning home late Saturday night. While I’m immensely grateful to Global BC for giving me this opportunity, I’m kinda glad things have settled down and returned to normal (though, in news, normal is relative).

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Each day of the Royal Visit meant a different experience for each reporter assigned. I was based in Victoria. The big day for me was Thursday: the day of the children’s party. I’ll never forget the pre-party briefing the media was given: ‘behave yourselves-or else.’ You can read more about it in our Reporter’s Notebook.

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The story behind the secret petting zoo visit of Princess Charlotte and Prince George still intrigues me. The takeaway from this experience: always, always take a screen grab.

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This has certainly been the kind of memorable experience a reporter never forgets…

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#ParkingWars and A Tale of Two Races: My week in pictures and video.

Parking in Vancouver is the pits.

You roll up on a street, hoping you can find a spot, only to have to circle the block and settle for a spot that’s *relatively* close to your destination. Thankfully, I have commercial plates on my news truck and–believe me–sometimes it really gets me out of a jam…

…and sometimes, it gets me into one. Such was the case on Wednesday morning, when I decided to park in a downtown commercial parking zone:


I don’t know why someone would park THAT CLOSE. It’s just ridiculous.

There wasn’t much room between my truck and the van in front, so I was really hooped. With the help of two passing strangers I got out of this mess, but it got me thinking about #ParkingWars and some of the crazy things drivers do, all in the name of a convenient parking spot. We can do better, folks.

FOLK FEST FRIDAY 

In every one of the Canadian cities I’ve lived in, the Folk Festival always has a loyal following. The music lovers who reminisce about the days of vinyl and when music was really, you know, music–not the stuff kids listen to today.

I didn’t get the chance to take in the Vancouver Folk Festival this weekend, but I did cover opening day on Friday. The story was about the challenges the festival has faced and how they’ve managed to weather the storms

…but my colleagues told me my best opportunity for video would be the (so-called) Birkenstock 500. Apparently, when the gates open on the festival there’s a mini-stampede of devoted festival goers who race to the main stage, all of them eager to claim a coveted front row seat.

That wasn’t the case this year, though. The team at the gate told me they wanted to avoid the mini-stampede this year, so they decided to let folks in one at a time. Unfortunately, the electronic ticketing system decided to grind to a halt right as the clock struck 1:00pm.

The Birkenstock 500? More like The Birkenstock Walk.


After about 20 minutes or so, the ticketing system decided to cooperate and they were able to get these eager festival goers streaming in at a faster pace. For the most part, they were all pretty zen about having to wait in line–only one man lost his cool (which was immediately frowned upon by many in line).

THE RED BULL 400

This was probably the most fun, interesting and visual story of the week.

In what is truly a race unlike any other I’ve seen, 400 uber-fit men and women set out to climb–as fast as they can–to the top of the Whistler ski jump. This is what it looks like from down below:

I cannot imagine how grueling this must have been on their bodies. They dug their hands and feet into the parched grass. I’m convinced the only things propelling these competitors forward was sheer will and a thirst for glory–is there anything better than getting to the top with a record-setting qualifying time?

The fastest time of the day? 3:53.

I can do a few things in 3 minutes and 53 seconds. Among them:

  • Walk to Starbucks
  • Make breakfast
  • Eat breakfast (after all, it IS only oatmeal)

That’s about it. (NB: climbing to the top of a ski jump isn’t on the list).

The race’s co-director joked that, next year, there might be a media climb. I wonder how many of my colleagues would be willing to huff and puff up that hill…Red Bull 400

Conversations about Race at Sunday Brunch

My mother is my biggest fan. No matter what city I’ve found myself working in, she has always made sure to call the cable company and order the channel or she’s tuned in online. My sisters call her ‘The Alpha Fan’ … though, the more I travel and report, I’m beginning to realize Mom isn’t the only one watching…

Recently, I attended a special Sunday brunch hosted by the Congress of Black Women of Canada (Waterloo chapter). I was invited by a woman who is a member of the group after she spotted me at the gym (on the StairMaster, right in the middle of a serious cardio workout). She told me it would mean a lot to her if I attended … and I’m glad I went.

Every day in our newsroom, reporters have to send an email to the producers, outlining three things about their assigned story–one of them being what surprised you most about it. At this brunch, what surprised me most was the sense of pride these Black women said they felt when they turned on the TV and saw my face for the first time on their local newscast. I was a stranger to them and them to me, but that unfamiliarity between us seemed to last only for a few seconds. There were a number of candid conversations–particularly about race and the media and their desire to see more young, Black journalists on the air across North America.

These conversations were something of an eye-opener to me. As reporters, we aim to make our stories relevant and relate-able. However, I didn’t realize how closely newscasts were being watched–not just for the content, but also for the deliverers of that content. What’s more, despite all the advancements that have been made by the mainstream media, there were some who told me there’s still more work that needs to be done.

What exactly did they suggest needs to be done? I’ll save that for another post. I will say, though, that meeting these ladies is something I’ll never forget–and I’m sure they won’t forget either. Much like my Mom, I’m sure they’ll be watching.

Nadia

“Did a man bring you out here?” and other awkward questions.

I love my job. I love asking questions, getting answers and sharing them with the public. However, sometimes, I find myself answering questions, but not the kind you’d expect…

Questions from viewers are never meant to offend…but sometimes they’re just terribly awkward. I remember meeting a viewer for the first time when I lived out east. They were curious as to why I would want to move to eastern Canada (Newfoundland, of all places!) for work. “Did a man bring you out here?,” they asked.

Now, if someone had asked me this question back in–oh, I dunno–the 1940s, it probably would have been fair. But in 2012?? I couldn’t help but laugh before, politely, answering.

Over the years there have been more questions–and sometimes puzzling statements–that I’m still at a loss for words over.

“Are you single?”

“Is that your real hair?”

“You’re prettier in person.” (Well, what do I look like on TV then?!)

“I love your tan. It’s just such a lovely shade!” (NB: The viewer was talking about my skin tone…)

“Are you from Africa?” (See my earlier post about this FAQ)

In my defense, there is no appropriate response for some of these questions/statements (#3 is a perfect example). Often when I return to the newsroom and share these stories, the only thing my colleagues and I can do is laugh. The viewers are sincere and this is just their way of letting you know that they like you (they really like you!).

I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely mind these encounters. Awkwardness aside, it confirms an important fact: people are still watching local news. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

Nadia

Re-discovering Ontario

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Growing up in Toronto/GTA is like existing in a bubble: everything you need is here, so why bother looking anywhere else? Having grown up in this world, I’m all too familiar with the downsides of ‘bubble-living’ and the narrow-minded city dwellers that kind of lifestyle produces. Its a big part of the reason why I was so keen on leaving Ontario to pursue my career in this industry.

It wasn’t until I left Toronto/GTA and made my way to other parts of the country–particularly western Canada–that I realized just how much Canadians *dislike* (hate is just so strong a word) Toronto (hereafter referred to as the ‘Centre of the Universe’). However, that feeling is also alive and well within the province too.

I have a number of friends/colleagues who proudly call Toronto home–and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yet, this week, I also caught up with some of my girlfriends from University who happily call smaller, lesser known Ontario towns, home–Fergus, for example–and are just as happy as my city-dwelling friends. It’s worth noting that these country converts have also lived and worked in Toronto–they know very well what they’re leaving behind…

…The same things I was also all too eager to ditch back in 2010: unbearable traffic, a stressful commute, smog, an un-affordable housing market and, to be honest, a city that had begun to feel just a bit tired.

Being close to ‘The Centre of Universe’ means I’m closer to my family–and that’s a nice feeling–but I’ve only been back to Toronto 3 times in 2 months. In that time, I’ve noticed traffic has gotten worse, the commute even more stressful…and the people less patient. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, perhaps this return to Ontario is a chance to re-discover my home province–you know, see how the rest of the universe is living. My University girlfriends have given me a list of events that I *must* attend and I plan on taking them all in (suggestion are welcome!). The countdown to the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games 2015 has already begun.

 

Nadia

Questions for Toronto’s future mayor

 

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Toronto hasn’t been home for me for the last few years, still I always keep an eye on the city’s municipal elections–particularly, the candidates vying for Toronto’s top job. Mayoral races in the city are always exciting: closely watched, hard fought and full of surprises. This year has been no exception.

There are just two months to go before Torontonians will choose their next mayor–October 27, 2014, to be exact. I’ve been poking around, asking friends of mine whether or not they’ve made up their minds. The short answer: some have, but many haven’t. I’ve had friends tell me they’re ready for change–that the city’s current leadership (Mayor Rob Ford) is overdue for removal. On the flipside, I’ve had friends tell me there’s nothing wrong with the status quo.

I also have friends who are still on the fence enjoying the view… 

…And over the last few days and weeks, there’s been lots too see: accusations of ‘dirty politics’ between candidates, dust-ups at other mayoral debates. The candidates have discussed heritage preservation and the all important topic of transit.

Also ahead on the agenda: diversity. Mayoral Debate

This week (Friday, August 29), the Diversity Advancement Network will host it’s own mayoral debate. I’m told the three leading candidates in the race–Olivia Chow, Rob Ford and John Tory–will all be there, along with Dewitt Lee, one of the mayoral long shots. I should point out that while she is on the poster, Karen Stintz won’t be there as she’s dropped out of the race.

Last week, I was contacted by Paul Ade with the DAN to help them come up with a few questions. As a voter, I think debates are key in helping people make up their minds. As a reporter, debates are exciting to cover… but are always a challenge: there are always more questions than there is time.

Still, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this debate. In addition to questions I have, I canvassed my Facebook friends for questions they also would like to have answered. Here are the 5 that made the list:

 
  1. TRANSPORTATION: What is your plan for transportation across the GTA? Will other municipalities play ball with Metrolinx? More importantly, for any of your proposed plans, how will it be paid for?
  2. YOUTH: What are your plans to help at risk youths in vulnerable communities?
  3. COMMUNITY AND POLICING: How will you work with law enforcement in Toronto to foster an open and healthy relationship between the city’s many diverse groups and Police?
  4. LEADERSHIP: The city of Toronto hasn’t always had a mayor who reflects the entire city. In the past, mayors have appealed to voters in the suburbs, but not in the inner-city–and vice versa. What makes you a leader whom all Torontonians should support?
  5. OFFICE OF THE MAYOR: Over the last few years, the office of the mayor has suffered a few blows to its reputation. While Toronto remains a well liked and popular city, it hasn’t always been cast in the best light. What will you do to bolster this city’s reputation?

So, what do you think–anything missing? There’s still time to get a few more questions in.

 

Nadia

“You must be from Africa!”

I’m always blown away (and, I’ll admit, entertained) when viewers try to figure out where I’m from. Personally, I’m not sure why it matters–it doesn’t really. However, no matter what city I’ve found myself working in, there’s no shortage of people who like to guess.

So, when another viewer set about guessing my origins recently, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. The viewer saw me shooting and excitedly proclaimed, “You must be from Africa!”

This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened…and Lord knows it won’t be the last! Here are the top 5 countries people have guessed over the years:

  1. Nigeria
  2. Zimbabwe
  3. Cambodia (This one I’ll never understand!)
  4. Trinidad
  5. Scotland

I’ve had this same conversation with viewers so many times over the years that I’m not at all taken aback by their comments. In this case, I just smiled and told them that I was born and raised in Toronto, but my parents are from the Caribbean.

I have to say, this “Guess the Homeland” phenomenon is only one that I’ve experienced since I moved away from Toronto/GTA in 2006. When I lived on the east coast, this happened frequently–a few times a week. I thought it would die down when I moved out west…but that didn’t happen at all!

I’m never offended by these comments, however I do often find myself feeling just a little disappointed. Its impossible to look at someone and know exactly where they’re from or what their backstory is–and yet people do it. Everyday. Coming to conclusions based on what they see.

In my case, it’s totally harmless: there’s never any malice behind the comments.  That said, I’m sure what happens to me also happens to others in Canadian cities…and sometimes, it’s not so harmless. Rather than guessing and coming to conclusions, what people are really missing out on is an opportunity to get to know someone: find out where they’re *really* from and what they’re all about.

I don’t think I’ll ever work in a city where this won’t happen. To some extent, I think when you work in the media, this sort of thing is just par for the course.

I just wonder what country (or continent) a viewer will guess next…