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. 

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.

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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The ups and downs of cross-country moving

I’ve always been curious: always wanting to know whatever it is I don’t know, see what I haven’t yet seen, do what I haven’t yet done. It’s part of the reason why I chose the career path I have. That said, I never anticipated that desire for adventure, insatiable curiosity and love of news would lead to as many moves as it has over the past 5 years…

Since January 2010, I’ve lived or worked in five cities. Five cities in almost 5 years. This is not something I’d planned for–at all…and yet I have no regrets.

My first move–to Newfoundland–is still the most memorable. I remember packing two suitcases and venturing off to a province I’d only ever read about. When the plane landed that night in January 2010, I couldn’t see a thing out the window for the fog (pea soup is how the locals described it). My boss at the time (a woman I both respect and will never forget) picked me up from the airport and drove me to the B&B where I’d be staying until I found an apartment. She was the only person I knew–not just at CBC NL, but in the entire province.

Over the course of the next 2.5 years, St. John’s became my home; the people I met there, my family. I still believe it’s the best move I ever made.

After that came a short stint in Edmonton, followed by a longer stay in Calgary–a city I never thought I’d love, but can’t seem to get enough of (except when it snows. I’ve had enough of that). There’s something about life in Calgary–life in western Canada that’s grown on me…

Regardless of what part of the country I’ve found myself in, there’s one thing that’s always been the same: Canadians are indeed a friendly bunch. Despite having moved to cities where I haven’t known a soul, I’ve never felt alone: I’ve had more orphan Thanksgivings/Christmases/New Years with complete strangers than anyone should have! Over the past five years, my birthday has never gone uncelebrated (one year, my friends bought me three cakes. Three cakes!). Gifts from friends in NL always appear in my mailbox come Christmas time. And there are still regular phone calls with my cross-country network of friends to discuss work, stories, news (and, of course, all the other “important topics” women in their 30s talk about).

Now, there are only a few things I dislike about all this moving. Chief among them? Packing. It gets easier the more you do it, but it will never be fun. You wanna know what else isn’t fun? Unpacking. The only thing that trumps both of those torturous tasks is having to say goodbye. That never gets easier.

That said, I always look forward to what comes after the ‘goodbye’: the ups and downs of a new city, a new adventure. For someone as curious as me, the change and challenge that comes with a new city has made my cross-country moving all worthwhile.

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