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.

Disturb us Lord

While listening to a podcast this week about the art of leadership, Anita Gaffney, Executive Director of the Stratford Festival, spoke about a former artistic director she worked with who “couldn’t stand complacency.” While he wasn’t at all a religious man, Gaffney said his favourite prayer was ‘Disturb us Lord’–one I had to Google, as I’d never heard it before.

As I read it, it struck a chord.

Complacency is the enemy of progress. It is a very subtle state of being…one we easily slip into when we get to where we want to be–and that’s key. All of us want to get somewhere: to a certain position within our company, a city, we want to get married, we want to get rich. Time and time again, we’ve heard from thought leaders and pastors how getting what we want isn’t the key to fulfillment: you can get what you want and still feel unsatisfied. However, we often get what we want and settle into a comfort zone: another way to describe the state of being complacent.

Nadia CBC Calgary Flood
A shot from the makeshift set I anchored a newscast from during the Calgary floods in 2013. Hosting this show was WAY outside my comfort zone.

I (happily) left my comfort zone in 2010, when I left Toronto. It was, easily, the best decision I ever made. At the time, I thought the move marked the beginning of my professional journey. Eventually, I came to realize it was also the beginning of a deeply spiritual journey–a parallel journey. As much as I questioned my career–questions about the relevance of the stories we told, questions about race and representation in the industry–I also questioned my faith: what do I believe and why. I never would have asked those questions, never would have begun seeking, never would have found God and my purpose and passion, had I not stepped outside of my comfort zone.

I can honestly say I’ve been living outside of my comfort zone for almost a decade…and it’s the best place to be. I’m pursuing dreams that are bigger than me, trying new things and learning new things that challenge me to resist complacency daily. It isn’t comfortable–but it is invigorating. My hope and prayer is to always remain in this place: a constant state of growth, where the disturbances lead to fruitfulness (John 15:5 NIV).

Disturb us Lord

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

More than just a Masters.

I had absolutely no interest in pursuing my Master’s degree in 2006 when I graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber. I just wanted to work.

I’d already been volunteering at Rogers Television in Mississauga: first behind the scenes as a floor director, then on camera as a reporter (and then as an anchor and talk show host). I was hungry to get into news and a master’s degree seemed, at the time, like a waste of time. It would take another 10 years before the timing finally felt right. It was just a question of what to study.

A trusted mentor (one of my former news directors) told me not to bother pursuing a master’s of Journalism. “What’s for?!” she asked, pointing out I’d already spent over 10 years in the industry. She was right: there was no point…and my heart was telling me no. I looked at programs focusing on women’s issues and political science, but none of them really struck a chord–not because these weren’t worthy or noble areas of study, but because my heart was pulling me in another direction.

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering: at my local church growing up, at Rogers Television and with Junior Achievement in both Calgary and Vancouver. There’s nothing more rewarding than giving back to the community. I knew I wanted my masters to intersect with my passion…a passion that recently underwent a shift by way of my faith. 2017 was a transformational year, leading me deeper into my walk with God. Suddenly, this wasn’t about volunteering, but about serving: giving of myself to my church and community in response to the awesome things God was doing in my life.

That year, I decided to send a ‘thank you’ note to someone who’d helped me very early on in my career. While looking up his mailing address, I came across Trinity Western University and decided to check them out. That’s how I found their Masters of leadership program. Immediately, I knew it was the one: I knew it then, and on my first day of classes back in January 2018…and even now as I’m midway through course #4.

There is something about studying Transformational Servant Leadership–leading like Jesus–and applying those timeless principles to your work life. The journey, so far, has been character building and deeply challenging, forcing me to examine my actions and decisions through the lense of my faith. To boil this down: am I doing unto others as I would have them do unto me (Matt. 7:12 NIV)? The honest answer is no. I know I can do better.

And this is what my leadership journey is all about: doing better. My focus is on nonprofits (more about that project in a future post) and it intersects with journalism. My leadership studies are preparing me for this next phase in the journey. Once again, the intersection of life, work and faith.