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.
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.