Thoughts on the Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship

Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients 2011, with program co-ordinator Mark Mietkiewicz (center)

Hello September, I didn’t see you come in! Now that you’re here, I guess my first adventure in public broadcasting is really over.

I can go ahead and say it, then: I am now an alumna of the Joan Donaldson Scholarship program, an intensive four-month paid internship with CBC News.

I’ve had the chance to reflect on this moment. Our supervisor Mark Mietkiewicz (the jovial fellow holding a book in the picture above) recently asked us to write down our feedback for the benefit of future participants. Every year, roughly eight eligible students are selected, and now that I’m in the position to know what they’re getting into, I thought I’d share my insights with the interwebs.

PLEASE NOTE: Donaldsons used to do two rotations over the summer, both focused on television news production, but the CBC tried something different this year. My group is the first to do four separate month-long stints across a wider range of departments — including online and radio placements.

My rotations were:

  • CBC Toronto – regional news placement: May 18-June 17
  • – online placement (some people chose radio instead): June 20-July 8
  • CBC News Network – television placement: July 11-Aug 5
  • Arts content unit – content unit placement: Aug 8-Sep 2

What are your overall thoughts on the program?

I am astonished at the range of experiences I’ve had at the CBC – from feature writing and chase producing to video editing and clip gathering. The revamped Joan Donaldson program is a smorgasbord of opportunity and, once I got used to all the moving around, I was able to connect each new skill to the others. In one summer, I’ve experienced more departments at the CBC than some staff members do over decades. Given the changing nature of our profession, I was happy to put my adaptability to the test.

There are far too many internships that do not provide young people with meaningful work, fair compensation, or high-level mentorship. This program does the polar opposite: it begins by acknowledging our potential and then actively invests in our development.

As I’ve frequently mentioned, I am impressed by how many exceptionally supportive people there are at the CBC. Some names that stand out are:

  • Tashauna Reid
  • Lianne Elliott
  • John Keating
  • Mandy Luk
  • Kimberly Gale
  • Muhammad Lila
  • Jennifer Walter
  • Ian Johnson
  • Redmond Shannon
  • Michael Primo
  • Daniel Schwartz
  • Caroline Gdyczynski
  • Vanessa Conneely
  • Alison Downie
  • Dwight Drummond
  • Jessica Wong
  • Laura Heinbuch
  • Laura Thompson
  • Simon Parubchak
    (To the cub journos reading this, I left these names in so that you know who to look for when you’re dazed and confused. If the list seems long, you have no idea how many people work in the building. This is shorter than a line up for coffee.)

These are people who must remember what it’s like to be rookies, because they made it their business to be instructive and supportive in very specific ways – and if I were to list all those that have been helpful and kind more generally, I’d be here all night!

Did the orientation prepare you for what you’d be facing?

We covered so much ground during orientation – from newsroom tours to technical training. Those initial introductions helped me make a smoother landing in the newsroom. I can’t imagine starting this job without having been told the basics – training spared me from having to ask what vizRT is and why elevator colours are mentioned so frequently.

One thing I would add to the schedule is a visit to visual resources and other tape storage spaces. I would have also liked to meet some camera people and get a sense of where we meet them should we need to gather clips or report.

One thing I would get rid of is the technical explanation of how information travels between regions. Although intercity browsing is important to understand, I think it’s too much to process initially. It may be best to get trained in it a couple weeks after becoming more familiarized with DTV. (Forgive some of this inside baseball talk. Remember, I wrote this for the coach.)

I liked that the lines of communication stayed open after orientation. Our midterm debriefs and meeting with Jennifer McGuire were wonderful opportunities to reflect and see what others were doing in their placements. I appreciated receiving email from people like Kate Pemberton who were genuinely interested in our feedback on the program while we were still in it.

It’s evident that much thought went into designing our training schedule and getting busy people to welcome us to the CBC. This level of consideration is certainly not something I take for granted as an entry-level journalist.

What was the best part of program?

Although I have relished every opportunity, my stint with the online team was the highlight of my contract. Perhaps this is owing to my background in print journalism and blogging, but I really enjoyed writing longer articles and working on multimedia elements. My experience confirmed what I already suspected: online journalism is an exciting growth area at a traditional broadcaster. There is a lot of room to experiment and set precedents.

I also appreciate that, through social networking, the CBC is starting to rethink its role in a new media landscape. I believe we must continue to lower the barriers to public expression and civic engagement, and pass knowledge from the most experienced to the newly interested. It’s the shift from journalism as lecture to journalism as conversation.

What could be improved?

I think we could have the conversation about post-internship opportunities a little bit earlier. I know I stressed out about it quite a bit, and wondered if I would even get an entry-level shot after such an enriching summer. Of course it’s unfair and unrealistic to ask for guarantees, but the feedback process might include dialogue about job prospects. Supervisors could tell us whether or not they would hire us — or how competitive we are compared to the average applicant — and where they might imagine us working post-Donaldson. I think it’s also important to be frank about the state of the industry: most young journalists get offered back-fill and casual work before anything too stable. If we know that going in, we can prepare ourselves for the uncertainty.

What would you say to someone who was thinking of applying?

I would advise anyone thinking about this internship to take a course in television and/or radio production if possible, as there is some platform-specific logic to get used to.
I focused on new media at school, my internships have been in print and online, and my priority over the years has been to sharpen my writing skills. Although I still think that good writing is essential in all mediums, I wish I had spent more time understanding how traditional broadcasting works. For instance, when given the choice at school, I operated the camera instead of doing the stand-ups. In retrospect, I would have done the opposite or at least tried to do both. Some Donaldsons this year were able to do full items as reporters because they had that on-camera confidence.

In short, I’d tell new applicants that even if they don’t plan to be personalities, they should sharpen their performance skills enough to try it out.

What job prospects are you pursuing at the CBC?

I’m fortunate enough to have three opportunities lined up. Renee Pellerin has me signed up for nine days of tape management during the Toronto International Film Festival; Cindy Gould from News Network has offered me some work as an editorial assistant; and Darlene Domagala has hired me as a casual writer after my term ends. I can’t even express how grateful and happy I am! I am eager to continue working here, and grateful to those that made it possible. (I should mention that I spent a lot of time applying to jobs on and suggesting myself to those in the position to hire me.)