Ah, new journalists – what do they know?

Despite what it seems like, I haven’t been slacking off. In fact, I’ve been intensely working on a blog … just not this one. This screen shot is pretty self-explanatory:

If you haven’t been following my mini-saga, here’s the short version: my first-year undergrad students want to learn about the most promising young journalists. For the past week, I’ve been collecting nominees and soliciting their advice.

Honestly, it’s been more of a time commitment than I expected, but it’s really been worth it. All the nominees were asked a very general question: “What advice would you give a first-year undergrad who’s thinking of getting into journalism?”

The responses have ranged from general encouragement to specific strategies. Many entries manage to be hopeful despite realistic assessments of the challenges we face.

What has surprised me most, though, is how humble so many of these up-and-comers are. When asked to offer their insight, some began with paragraph-long qualifiers. This would make sense if their journalism looked, sounded, and read like the work of rookies, but it really doesn’t! In fact, I’m more excited than ever about the number of smart and talented people getting into the industry right now. Despite the non-stop parade of gloomy predictions, they’re rolling up their sleeves and saying “let’s do this thing.”

To answer the question for which this post is named: new journalists know a heck of a lot, and anyone interested in the future of news should pay attention to what they’ve learned so far.

The site isn’t really live yet because my students haven’t seen it, and it won’t be “googlable” until they do. For now, here’s a sample entry if you’re wondering what to expect.

As you can see, I start by showcasing the pointers, and then tell you a bit about the author. I’m also including links to their work or embedding multimedia wherever possible. It’s a simple formula, but hopefully a useful starting point.

I’ll definitely follow up when the site is ready to be read. For now, back to marveling at my peers.

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Journalism? Are you crazy?

What do you mean watchdog? I'm obviously a parrot! (Many thanks to my dog for modeling)

I recently began my job as a teaching assistant, and I’ve already had to clarify that I’m not a madwoman.

I’ll explain momentarily, but here’s some background: I’m assisting in the UBC School of Journalism’s only undergraduate course. The subject is New Media, and the class has proven to be a magnet for students who want to figure out if this field is right for them.

One such student interjected during the most recent lecture. We were looking at the Newspaper Death Watch website quite generally, but a specific poll caught the student’s eye.

“How would you answer that question?” she said to the instructor, Candis Callison.

The question: What would you tell a college student considering a journalism career?

The options:

  1. What, are you nuts?
  2. It’s a noble profession, but be prepared for a life of poverty
  3. You can make a decent living, kid, but you’d better specialize
  4. Go for it! This is a great time to get in on the ground floor.

Candis smiled and turned to me. (I am, after all, a student who decided to get into journalism despite the terror in my grandmother’s eyes.)

“What do you think, Fabiola?”

Well, I denied being “nuts” (though I did joke about embracing my status as a child of chaos) and wrote a follow-up forum post for the class. I started by saying that there is no short answer. Instead there’s a fascinating and ongoing debate. In fact, smart and experienced people hold a wide spectrum of views.

Although this is clearly dodging the question, I’m glad a student raised it so early in the semester. We’re going to revisit it often and, as we navigate the variables, I’d wager that opinions will change several times throughout the course.

In the meantime, I mentioned one point I’ve found interesting: CBC journalist Ira Basen believes that the “crisis in journalism” is not just economic but also existential. In fact, his two-part podcast on “News 2.0.” is a great entry point into the debate.

Part One

Part Two

I encouraged them (and you!) to take a break from the books and check it out. It’s a great overview of a complex landscape.

Some friends on twitter also weighed in:

It’s too early to give away my thoughts on the matter, but clearly I was not deterred – even after attending many harrowing lectures and conferences, and reading tons of doomsday material.

Jesse Brown, for instance, started a speech for a room full of student journalists called “The Future of News.” He laughed at us as we leaned forward in our chairs and then told us the real title of his presentation, captured in the following photo:

Jesse Brown dashes dreams, but makes it damn funny.

(Spoiler alert!) Fabiola Carletti went to J-school anyway and, nearing graduation, still really wants to do this thing. She also thinks a lot of the journalists she admires are, well, just a little crazy — and she’s okay with that.

Note: Fabiola also lapses into the third person, from time to time.

Big reporters do cry

Dave Seglin's polished photo on the CBC's website

I’m used to way he signs off on his radio stories — the expected: “Dave Seglins, CBC news.”

During the Russell William‘s trial, he remained composed, at least on air, as he covered the horrific details.

Before today, I couldn’t have imagine Seglins, a seasoned reporter and radio show host, coming out of the experience “a blubbering mess.” But in a cautionary tale that he wrote for J-source, Seglins makes no claim to newsroom bravado and admits to his own trials and tribulations.

“To my own surprise, and terror, I melted down, incapacitated by several bouts of anxiety, panic and uncontrollable dread that I’ve never felt before — and hope never to again,” confesses Seglins.

“There was no real rest. No decompression. The depravity in the story kept escalating.”

Seglins describes pushing through the physical and emotional exhaustion, working well into the night only to awaken in time to line up outside the courthouse starting at 4:45 a.m. the next day, for several days.

“I’m finding it hard to talk with anyone about this,” he explains, now that the trial has ended. “The only ones who can really appreciate the torture of those long days are the others who were there in the court.”

As a young journalist, I appreciate knowing that even seasoned professionals sometimes need help, whether it’s back-up during the reporting or counseling after the fact. It was brave of him to share his struggle, and I think all  journalists would do well to read the story behind the statements I’ve picked out: One reporter’s trial.

Remember, we are people first.

From the breaking news desk: Aug 22 & 29

Photo by Alice Swanson

This is it. This is the final list of stories that I worked on in the Toronto Star radio room.

I trained some new interns on the 30th and 31st — forcing them to do real stories instead of practice stories — and it went really well. I’m especially proud of Manny and Noel who dealt with the Orangeville missing woman’s case, working well under pressure and calling neighbours and out-of-town police on the very first day. They ended up sharing a byline with Peter Edwards (Read the story here:  Missing woman may be linked to bloody crime scene) and were featured as top story on the website just hours into their first shift.

Training new interns reminds me of what it felt like to sit in the hot seat for the first time, wondering if some administrative error had led to my position. I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m so grateful to the Star for the opportunity. I’m going to do a “final thought” in a separate blog post, but for now I’ll note the biggest change in me.

I’m no longer compelled to qualify the word “reporter” by adding “student” or  “aspiring” before it.

This was the real deal.

Heat alert issued for Toronto
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has issued a heat alert as temperatures are expected to reach about 31°C on Sunday.

Officer injured while responding to false call
A police officer was injured while responding to a false 911 call in Wasaga Beach Saturday at around 2:15 a.m.

Firefighter in hospital after Burlington fire
Firefighters battled against a blaze that forced them out of a Burlington home early Sunday morning.

Mississauga cyclist clings to life after crash
A Mississauga man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries following a Sunday morning collision in Burlington.

Two women sexually assaulted hours apart
Police are investigating after two women were sexually assaulted in separate incidents on the weekend

Man shot dead by police
Fatal shooting in east end follows reports about a man with a knife (with files from me)

Dispute ends with man being shot
A young man was taken to hospital after suffering a gunshot wound to the buttocks early Sunday morning.

From the breaking news desk: Aug 13 – 17

Image by Markus Rödder on Flickr

My latest list of news stories from the Toronto Star radio room.


Boy, 4, in hospital after fall from window

A 4-year-old boy is suffering from life-threatening injuries after falling from the second floor of a Brampton home.

Police officer shot during training exercise

A police officer is in hospital after he was accidentally shot in the leg at Toronto Police College in Etobicoke.

Whitby man and boy killed in Iowa crash

A Whitby man and his young passenger are among six people killed in a three-vehicle crash near Colfax, Iowa.

Man, 51, drowns in Lake Simcoe near Innisfil

Police divers pulled the body of a 51-year-old man from Lake Simcoe on Monday night after hours of searching.

Woman killed in crash on Highway 427

Police are investigating after a 22-year-old woman was killed in a rollover on Highway 427 near Dundas St. W.

Tornado, severe thunderstorm warnings roll through Ontario

Residents of several towns were nervously eyeing the skies Sunday for the deadly funnel clouds.

Police identify homicide victims

Police have identified the two Toronto men killed in a pair of unrelated homicides Saturday.

Security scare at prime minister’s house

Man sets liquid aflame outside 24 Sussex Dr. and is arrested.

Severe thunderstorm warnings cleared for Toronto and many GTA neighbours

Severe thunderstorm warnings for Toronto now have been cleared, but remain for parts of Durham and areas to the east.

Hilary Duff weds NHL player Mike Comrie

Actress Hilary Duff tied the knot on Saturday with Mike Comrie, a free agent hockey player who last played for the Edmonton Oilers.

CAW and Union Station staff reach new deal

Union Station railway workers, who had been on the brink of striking on Monday, have ratified a new three-year deal that includes higher wages and improved benefits.

Teens target delivery drivers in series of robberies

Five teens have been charged in connection with a series of robberies targeting fast food delivery drivers.

GTA salmonella cases spike, men in 20s hardest hit

The provincial health ministry is investigating a spike in salmonella cases; most appear to be clustered in the GTA and affecting young men.

Cyclist dies a month after fall

A 40-year-old cyclist has died of his injuries after falling from his bicycle July 15.

Taxi driver robbed, locked in trunk

Police are looking for a suspect who threatened a taxi driver with a knife and locked him in the vehicle’s trunk on Wednesday night.

Man wanted for currency exchange scam

Police are looking for a suspect who may be targeting the Chinese community in an online currency exchange scam.

Police in bumper cars chase on Hwy. 401

A pickup driver is expected to face numerous charges after leading police in a pursuit that stretched from the Oxford county area to Toronto on Friday.

From the breaking news desk: July 29 – 31

The remains of a Dodge Caliber involved in a two-car collision in a quiet North York residential neighbourhood Saturday, July 31, 2010. The crash claimed the life of one man and left several others injured. CREDIT TORONTO STAR/STEVE RUSSELL

One dead, one arrested after ‘spectacular’ residential crash

Man not wearing seatbelt was ejected and killed; car looks like “it went through a war,” investigator says.

Toronto man charged with online luring

A Toronto man has been arrested in connection with internet luring charges involving a child in New Mexico.

Zero alcohol level for young drivers kicks in Sunday

Sunday at 12:01 a.m., it will become an offence for any driver 21 or under, regardless of licence class, to have a blood alcohol level above zero.

What’s open and closed this weekend

Here’s what to expect on the roads and shopping over the civic holiday.

Court officer charged with armed robbery

A civilian member of the Toronto Police Service has been charged with armed robbery following a home invasion in south Etobicoke.

Man shot dead in northwest Toronto

A man in his 20s is dead after being shot in the head on Friday at around 3 p.m.

Raw milk activist marks trial with operetta

Dairy farmer Michael Schmidt is milking his court victory by creating a comic operetta about access to raw milk.

Fifth arrest in Mississauga teen’s murder

Police have arrested a fifth suspect in connection with the shooting death of a Mississauga teen earlier this month.

Daylight shooting victim identified

Police are still looking for the person responsible for shooting a 26-year-old man on Friday afternoon near Sheppard and Jane.

Bystander acts quickly to aid a police officer

A passerby came to the aid of the police officer after a man became aggressive on Saturday at around 2:05 p.m.

Second weekend stabbing is the city’s 34th homicide

One man dead and two others arrested after separate stabbings this weekend.