2017 is the best year ever.
Started a new job, which I love with a really well-respected company.
Personal goals are all on track.
Moved in with the boyfriend.
But this is a professional blog so let’s explore that shall we?
It always amazes me how much a VJ has to do, can do, and how little some people know about it. In my estimation there’s no more than 12 VJs working in English in Montreal. The potential for growth is insane here.
Welcome news to see City TV is hiring new VJs. It’s always nice to see the industry growing.
One thing I love about my job is the freedom to push limits, especially when you’re in a new role. I think it’s the best time to take advantage of your creativity- set the bar high as to who you are and what you can do. It also allows you to carve out some space in terms of what sets you apart from any other reporter in the newsroom. One of my goals is to be known as someone who can flip a story on it’s head- to use creative video and editing to tell an otherwise mundane story.
It can be extremely difficult- and it’s important to recognize when and where it can be used. For instance, I wouldn’t use any flashy editing on a piece about a murder. It’s the stories that don’t have a lot visually that can be the most interesting to tackle. It makes you actively think about what you’re shooting and how it will be edited together. There’s no low-hanging fruit in terms of what you can display (and two-shots, signs and graphics get old extremely quickly).
One my goals before the year is out is to establish myself as someone who can be depended on in either hard news or features, and who has the ability to not make a two minute story feel like a lecture. It’s TV, it’s visual and it should be fun.
ON BIG STORIES
I’m writing this blog post from my hotel room in Quebec City. I’m here covering a shooting at a Mosque that has killed six people and wounded at least 19 others. In the past two days I think I’ve done over 40 lives (I have lost track at this point).
Covering big breaking stories is tough. It’s tough in the sense that the story evolves and changes, and what might have been reported an hour ago is no longer true. It’s also tough to keep up. Things move quickly and you see all sorts of things reported by other media outlets. You’re asked questions you sometimes don’t know the answer to but have to sound confident and know what to say. It’s difficult because people want to rationalize and make sense of things, and often times they don’t. It’s tough because people may jump to conclusions, create links where there are none or have their own ideas about what happened and why.
It’s also just physically tough. I got a text 20 minutes after the news broke from my boss asking if I wanted to go. I jumped at the chance. We left Montreal at 11 PM Sunday night and arrived in Quebec City just after 2:30 AM. I lay down (but couldn’t sleep) not even long enough for my phone to charge and were out the door again at 4:45. Starting at 6AM we were live every 10 minutes until 11AM. Then it was every half hour until 1 PM. This is standing in the snow in -10 degree weather. I underrated how difficult that would be.
Then back inside to do radio hits until 5PM.
Even in the face of all of that, this is such a rewarding experience. I get to report live from the scene of a breaking story getting international attention. It’s terrible that it’s from the scene of tragedy, but I’ve learned so much in the past 48 hours it’s hard to absorb it all.
It’s not the time to reflect just yet as it looks like tomorrow will bring a new set of lives across the country. I will have the chance to look back and see what I learned and how I can use it in everyday life, but this is an update just to know where I am now.
P.S. I’m so happy I had a go-bag ready.
P.P.S. On Monday I did lives for four different countries on three different continents. Pretty cool.
ON TAKING THE EXTRA TIME
My days are often a rush. Between driving, lives, research, chasing interviews and updating social media there’s not a lot of time to devote to image gathering- especially when it comes to standups.
Whenever I have the chance I try to put a little extra something into my standups so they’re not so flat. Keep in mind this rarely works on very hard stories (like crime or court) but on today’s assignment I had a bit more fun.
I covered a snowstorm that hit the city along with power outages. I wanted to display why people were struggling to clear their driveways and the texture of the snow. Here’s what I did:
It might not look like much, but taking the time to get that extra little cutaway is worth it. Amazingly, it was perfectly timed with my hand movements so that editing it was a breeze. Here’s what it looks like within the piece.
I’m trying to invest a little more times into my stand ups when I have it, this is just one small step.
Some of my favourite and most helpful VJ/MMJ resources. In no particular order.
1- The Solo Video Journalist, by Matt Pearl (Book)
Fantastic book (I bought it on Kindle) with tons of real world examples of daily life as a VJ. I share many of his struggles and picked up some helpful tips from shooting, to storytelling to even how I pack my gear.
2- Joe Little’s “Year Without Stick Mics” (Video)
One of the most creative reels I’ve seen for a VJ. I borrowed many of his ideas in my own work. I find some of the shots a little cheesy at times but it works for him. He’s a VJ based out of San Diego with a special focus on water stories so it’s a very interesting perspective.
3- Greg Bledsoe’s YouTube Channel (Video)
Another great VJ, oddly enough also from San Diego (what’s in the water down there?) He’s won a ton of awards and it’s clear to see why. I especially love his use of sound and how he starts his stories. Interestingly, I’ve always been hounded to get at least two interviews in my stories but his single-interview setup really works well.
4- Telling the Story Blog (Blog/Podcast)
Our national reporter Mike Armstrong turned me onto this site. It’s a collection of podcasts from and about VJs. I’m not typically a podcast fan but these ones kept me engaged. Full disclosure I was also cooking when listening so I was a little in and out. The ‘Best of 2016’ is definitely worth a listen.
5- On Camera by Nancy Reardon (Book)
This book is not so much about VJing itself but about storytelling. What I liked is that after the reporters share the story of how the piece developed and got to air they include the actual script. Some great ideas for writing, but not so hot on the VJing side.
6- That’s Why I’m a Journalist by Mark Bulgutch (Book)
I was gifted this book for Christmas and I admit I barely put it down all holiday. This is pure inspiration for those who feel worn out and tired of doing the daily news grind. Special note to the chapter by the CBC’s Saša Petricic who was one of the station’s first national VJs starting in 2003! Pretty incredible.
7- ‘Phoning It In’ by Mike Castellucci (Video)
This is a 30-minute news special shot entirely on an iPhone by a reporter out of Dallas. Admittedly the storylines are a bit cheesy, but the video/audio quality and shots are super impressive. My managers would not be happy with the filming while driving at 0:55 though!
December 28, 2016
Spare time is a luxury for me, so with a 9-day Christmas holiday it’s inevitable that some work will creep in.
Lately I’ve been searching for ways to improve. To really explore what I can do as a VJ and how. To my knowledge I am one of the only VJs in Montreal who does their own lives and that’s something I’m extremely proud of. What I want to do now is deepen my stories, make them stand out and do it all on an insanely tight timeline.
One of the problems I’m running into is a search for resources. I’ve been checking out some classes on Poynter (the fantastic online news university for those who are unfamiliar with it), Googling some books to read and listening to podcasts from other VJs or MMJs.
Many of the lessons I learn in the field are from trial and error. Fantastic when it works but often if it doesn’t- I’m in a jam. It’s making me think about what I can do to develop and where this field is going. It’s exciting to feel like I’m on the cutting edge, but also confusing because it feels like there’s so much to learn.
I’ve tracked down some resources to work on- now it’s actually incorporating it into my daily life. Not the easiest job on little sleep and even less time. Bonne chance! Results to come (hopefully).
IF YOU DON’T GOT IT, FLAUNT IT
April 3, 2016
I was once told if you can’t hide something, you should flaunt it.
It was a summer job I had with Parks Canada making documentaries and promotional videos for parks and historic sites around Quebec. In retrospect, a pretty amazing gig for someone who is now a VJ. I was filming at Manoir Papineau National Historic Site of Canada in Montebello, QC where one of the main features of the grounds is this amazing giant oak tree planted by Louis-Joseph Papineau in the 1800s.
Here’s a picture of it:
Now as you can see this tree is being held up by supports. These wooden beams make sure the branches don’t come down and either a- crush anything b- kill the tree. I was filming it and struggling because these wooden beams were visible in my shots. One of the guides there suggested that if I couldn’t hide them, make them the focus. Change the narrative to show not just the tree being alive after all these years, but HOW the tree is alive.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about this weekend. A difficult aspect of being a VJ is that you’re held to the standard that any other reporter is held to. What I mean is that the viewer doesn’t usually know that you’re by yourself. When they see your piece, they are comparing it to pieces they may have seen where it’s a reporter/camera operator, reporter/camera/producer or more. Some reporters have a whole research team behind them with resources that I can only dream about.
The number one question I get in the field: where’s your cameraman?
So how can I turn being solo in the field into an advantage? Can I highlight being alone and spin it my way?
It’s a difficult question to grapple with for a few reasons. The one that is the most obvious to me is the time constraints. Working on such tight deadlines means that experiments can’t take all morning. I try not to devote more than 15 minutes to trying to get an experimental shot right. Most of the time it’s trying to find a creative stand-up.
I debate whether or not the viewer should know I’m alone. It’s consciously breaking the fourth wall and feels like the story becomes about me. There’s not many VJs I’ve seen do this.
Maybe it’s an opportunity to flaunt, not hide, that I roll solo. Just have to figure out how.
March 13, 2016
Finding inspiration for creative stand ups can be difficult. Often times I only realize how I could have made the on-camera aspect of my job more interesting only after I’ve taped and packaged my report. It’s becoming a challenge that I enjoy- especially given the range of news I cover.
Here are some recent examples of what I’m talking about.
I’ve been searching online to find new ideas and see what other people are doing. YouTube can be a gold mine, but often times I find the material I find a little cheesy.
One reporter who my colleague Mike Armstrong introduced me to is Joe Little. He worked out of San Diego and is making a name for himself with his ability to be a one man band.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the duplication of himself, his approach is interesting. Many times in news we are asked to take ourselves out of the picture. The story isn’t about us. Some of the most effective standups though work because you’re in the the story- you’re providing a first hand account of what it’s like not only just by telling people the information, but showing them how people are affected.
Unique stand ups can make or break a story. If they go to far they can cheapen a serious issue. If used too sparingly they can be jarring for a viewer. Many stories don’t need standups at all because (as I referenced earlier) many stories aren’t about YOU.
November 22, 2015
Knowledge is power. Schoolhouse Rock got it right about 20 years ago. Working as a general news journalist means you have to at least be well versed in a little bit of everything. In the past two months I’ve covered Montreal’s sewer infrastructure issues, a court case involving the changing definition of the not criminally responsible plea, plans to covert a hospital into a refuge for Syrian refugees and, oh yeah, a federal election.
Obviously the easiest way to gain knowledge in a certain area is doing extensive research and reading about the topic. Unfotunately in this business that’s one of the things you have the least time for. I’ve found myself using my spare time reading up on Denis Coderre’s election promises or the latest articles on the Turcot Interchange construction timeline. One of my passions is reading and thank goodness it is, because having to be able to speak about a wide variety of topics in a knowledgable way is at the very least challenging.
Then there’s sports. This is the area is choose to focus on a lot, but the same holds true for a reporter working in any domain (business, arts, lifestyle, fashion). There’s a whole set of specific knowledge to know and I’ve come to realize: it’s impossible to know everything.
One of the best pieces I’ve gotten in the sports industry is from an executive at Sportsnet. He told me to read at least five article on a given topic. Every. Single. Day. I know on the surface this sounds easy. When I apply it to real life it gets a little more complicated. After getting up at 3:40 AM and doing an 8-hour shift that involved at least three live hits and a packaged report five days a week I find it pretty taxing to want to use my off hours to read up on the latest news. It’s a commitment I’ve made and I think I’ll be a better journalist for it.
The Socractic Paradox is something I abide by but at least I try to improve on it everyday. I find one of the great things about not knowing something is actually translating that to your audience. Often times when I don’t know something in a report I’ll be upfront about it. I can tell the audience- here’s what we’re trying to find out or we hope to know this once we talk to an expert. Letting people into the reporting process helps them understand it’s better to just admit you don’t know instead of sounding like a fake expert.
One area I’ve struggled with lately is analytics in hockey. I’ve gotten a personal lesson, read many articles on it, but still have trouble applying it to actual real-life situations. It’s something I hope to be more well-versed on by the end of the season.
Knowledge is power, and committing to getting it is a huge battle.
ON WHAT TO SAY
September 26, 2015
I’ve been asked by a colleague in the field to speak about my experience as a videojournalist (VJ) to her Concordia journalism students.
First of all- it’s a little surreal to be going back to my alma mater less far less than ten years after graduating to speak as a veteran journalist. It feels in many ways I was sitting where the students are just a few short days ago.
I’ve been mulling over a few talking points to go over that will be different from the standard ‘here’s how I got here and here’s what I do’ speech we heard so often in J-school. I’m also trying to avoid the doom and gloom “there’s no jobs in journalism” speech that, if possible, we heard even more as students. I don’t think that’s any way to encourage people to grow and seek opportunity in the field- especially as it’s changing so quickly and there are jobs out there now that I never even dreamed of five years ago. Makes no sense to me to preach about how there’s no jobs when really no one knows what kind of careers will be available.
The crux of the talk will have to be on how as a journalist you make it work doing both the reporting and camera. More often than not when I meet other journalists and camera operators in the field they are amazed that I do both with the standard gear and accommodating at least four live hits per day. Truthfully, it’s can be a challenge. Juggling news gathering (both factual and visual), with deadlines while developing the story and feeding the ever-present web sometimes feels like you’re off in four directions at once. Sometimes you get the smooth days, where everything just falls into place perfectly and filing isn’t a problem. More frequently there are a few road bumps but nothing that hard work and creativity can’t overcome.
What I want to impart on the students is that I think this is the way the field is going. I see my workflow being perfectly manageable and the results, while not always perfect, are on par with any television reports I see from other networks. Many reporters tell me, ‘I don’t know how you do both,’ but honestly I think that having both skill sets will soon be the norm. That shooting and editing will be just as natural as on-camera reporting, news gathering and writing. They are all in the same vein and ultimately are all essential parts of building the story.
This report was reported, shot, written and edited entirely by yours truly. This was within my first month of working at Global. See if you can spot the minor things that need to be adjusted.
The other thing I want to leave with the students is to not be afraid. I know this sounds like a very abstract concept but from what I see in the field there’s often a healthy dose of fear associated with change. Being a VJ scares the daylights out of some people. True, often I scare myself with frantic questions on the drive back to the studio (“Oh God, was the exposure ok?”, “did I get the clip I needed?”, “what the heck am I going to cover this with?”) but being afraid of making mistakes is a mistake in itself. I am not perfect, I screw up and have screwed up in the field. There have been times when my lighting was off, my focus was soft or the audio was peaking- but I can tell you I’ve definitely learned from each one of those mistakes. In the end, it’s made me a much more confident journalist and furthermore I can gauge my talents. I know when I need to ask for help and when I can do things alone- and that is something that can only come with time, mistakes and experience.
I remember when I was in university one of our advisors Elias Makos (who was later a coworker and good friend) told us his job is to make us able to say ‘yes’ to as many questions as possible in a job interview.
Can you report on camera? Yes.
Can you do the research and make sure it’s factual? Yes.
Can you organize your story in a logical way? Yes.
Can you shoot the story including yourself? Yes.
Can you haul around 60+ lbs of gear? (Sometimes in heels) Yes.
Can you edit the story? Yes.
Can you write web copy and update social media in the field? Yes
Can you report from the studio while reading a prompter? Yes
Can you do all of this on a deadline? Yes
No matter what angle on journalism you take- whether it be hard news, arts, business, sports, crime, politics etc… being able to say ‘yes’ to all those questions is a huge asset that will set you apart.
Finally, have fun doing it. No matter how stressful the situation is, or how upset I can get at my mistakes I can remind myself that it’s a privilege to do this job.
ON NEW BEGINNINGS
July 15, 2015
It’s been two weeks since I started at Global Montreal and I feel like I’ve run a few marathons, prepped for the SATs and learned how to read all over again. Starting a new job always comes with a sense of “what the hell am I doing here?” and after working on a sports magazine weekly for the past two years I’ve gotten a healthy dose.
Once of the biggest tasks is getting back into the groove of daily reporting. Time management and efficiency reign supreme along with a good sense of timing, hard work and a lot of luck. Yesterday I filed my first full-on story as a VJ. You can see it below.
WARNING: Visuals of dead cats ahead.
A few bumps and bruises, but overall not too bad. It lacks the polish that an experience editor brings which is naturally disappointing- but it was my first time. One of the hardest things to accept is that the learning curve is slow and that there will be things I’m not good at. Anyone who knows me knows I strive for the best out of myself so who knows when I’ll be satisfied.
What’s tough is feeling like as a VJ you start behind the 8-ball. You have to rely on you, and if you mess up, it’s on you. Writing and transcribing in the car is a luxury I don’t have anymore. Often my races back to the station are worry-filled affairs about how my footage looks and sounds.
It’s a tough road but it’s a challenge I’m happy to have. I think it’s the direction that the business is going so it’s better to train now instead of later. Time for story #2.
ON LETTING GO
June 3, 2015
“Come on, we have to go to a meeting where we’re all being canned.” At first I thought my boss George was just joking. After all, he’s got one of those dry senses of humour where I never really know if he’s serious.
A week ago today I was let go from my job. Not fired, but laid off. No matter which way you word it the bottom line is the same.
At first it was surreal. Sitting there in a meeting with my team listening to the powers that be explain the dollars and cents and how the show would live on without us. I remember not being able to look anyone in the eye, focusing instead somewhere in the collar of their shirt region and doing mental math as a way to hold the tears back.
Then we met again with the wider team; our cameraman and editor, to go over again what was happening. I was less successful at keeping my emotions at bay.
Truly this was a job I loved doing. Although it had many bumps and bruises and frustrating days and moments where I wanted to give up- I got to do a job not many people got to do. I helped found a television station. On my first day of work I was one of four people on the floor- the others being Bob Babinski, George Athans and Ian Graham. We prided ourselves on telling stories that you wouldn’t find in a highlight reel and that not many news outlets have the time, money or interest in covering. We were a small but scrappy team, fighting for resources and simply to have enough material to put to air some weeks, but we never missed a deadline. Best of all, it was a place where I had the chance to learn so much from so many talented reporters. I had opportunities to cover professional sports teams.
I remember my first day covering the Montreal Canadiens. They were in the second round of the 2013-2014 playoff run against Boston. I was nervous because A- I simply didn’t know where to go, B- I felt like the new kid and C-I was the new kid. I didn’t know what the etiquette was, how the seasoned reporters innately knew the right questions to ask and in what order. I was green. I joined the scrums but stayed quiet as everyone else asked their questions. Unfortunately, filing for a daily show like most of them were doing wasn’t getting me any clips I could use on my story: the perspective of the new members of the Canadiens on the oldest rivalry in the NHL. I knew I had to get some of them solo. So I walked up to Mike Weaver and politely said, “Mr. Weaver, can I ask you a few questions?” Now, a few things you need to know about Weaver is that he has a great sense of humour and he has the patience of a saint. He happily obliged but had to crawl through a scrum of reporters to grab a shirt from his locker. He had the misfortune of being right next to PK Subban who of course was mobbed by journalists. Before he answered my timid questions he apologized for not putting his teeth in. It was a great day.
This is the first time I’ve been laid off in my life and it still feels surreal. It’s almost like I’m on a vacation or an extended long weekend. Then again, it’s only been a week.
Looking back it’s been an incredible run on a job I didn’t think I had a chance of getting. Luckily people much wiser than me know that trusting a young journalist to make her own way (and make a ton of mistakes along the way) is worth it. I count myself extremely fortunate to have had a chance to do so many types of stories- from armwrestling in an NDG alleyway to chatting with Ochocinco at Alouettes practice.
I also had the chance to work with and learn from a team of incredible people. Aly, Wilder, George, Bob, Ian, Sean, Sam, Manuel, Jordan, the BT team and many others. Every one of these people taught me something new about myself- even if I didn’t like learning the lesson.
Now for the big question: what now? The short answer is I have no idea. In the past week I’ve gotten so much advice that I feel like I could write a book (or a blog) about this topic alone. If I could only share one piece it would be from my longtime mentor and friend Bob Babinski: take your time and know your worth. It’s something that can easily get forgotten after getting a blow to the ego. I’m not saying to be conceded or arrogant, but know what you’ve learned and where you are.
So what have I learned in the past week? That losing something you love is extremely hard, but to hold your head up and keep persisting. Journalism isn’t easy but it’s the challenge that makes it great.
April 23, 2015
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past year is humility. It’s a strange contradiction to be proud of learning to be more humble. I am a stubborn person, when I think I’m right it will take a lot to change my mind. Working in a tightly knit team means that compromise is a necessity and I’ve learned that often times the suggestions I think aren’t going to work or have less value are the ones that teach me the most.
I hate being proven wrong, but it’s such a valuable experience. I know I’ve got so much to learn in this business and as long as I can get better one day at a time then it should count as a good day.
One aspect of my job where knocking me down has shown me the most is on camera performance. Working with Bob Babinski has opened my eyes. Sometimes you need to go back and work on the foundation before you start reaching too high. It’s a lesson that has resonated with me in the past few months.
Even on the days when I feel like my job is easy I look back and ask ‘what can I be doing better?’ or ‘how can this piece go to the next level?’. I look at shows like E60 or 30 for 30 for inspiration. I’m learning that arrogance is a death sentence in this business. There’s always more to learn, room to grow.
It’s a hard lesson to learn but in journalism you’re entitled to nothing. No matter if you hit it out of the park one week or fall flat on your face, you need to keep proving yourself over and over. Resting on your laurels does nothing but make you complacent- and that’s the last thing I want to be.
Humility. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn- and the only way to learn is by getting the hammer down on you. A lesson I won’t forget.
April 9, 2015
The timing of this post is strange. As the NHL’s regular season winds down and playoff excitement ramps up, the Montreal Impact make history in Champions League and the rest of the wide world of sports carries on, I’m searching to disconnect.
I don’t mean disconnect in the sense that I’ll turn my phone and laptop off- but mentally start and end a work day instead of living on 24 hours of sports.
When I worked for CBC Montreal the day finished at 6PM. That’s because the show I worked on was a daily current affairs show and it was nearly impossible to book ahead simply because I couldn’t predict what would make news the next day. After work I could turn my brain off and let myself relax.
Now it seems like every second you have to be on and plugged in. Work happens all the time. Partly because working on a weekly magazine show means that stories take time to develop and that means more opportunity to think about them, agonize over changes for hours and add more research. In addition sports doesn’t usually happen between 9-5. Often I’ll start my day at morning practice at 10:30AM, go to work at the office after, then head to the Bell Centre and wrap up around 11:15 (if I’m lucky). It’s not Monday to Friday either. Weekends aren’t for relaxing anymore but for covering games, watching others and catching up on the ones you missed.
Don’t get me wrong- I love sports. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. What I’m learning now is that at some point I need to be able to turn off and say “for the next few hours I’m not going to think about Price’s save percentage, the Habs first round matchup or how to pronounce the names of the Impact’s new recruit.” I find it harder to leave work at work now more than ever before, but I’m also challenging myself like never before.
It’s a difficult balance to strike and one I’m still learning to master. What I’m coming to realize is that there’s value in disconnecting- it’s not just for pleasure. It’s a similar experience when I’m struggling with a script. Walking away for a few hours actually does help. Of course during those hours I need to keep my mind or hands occupied so I don’t dwell on work or the problem. If only brains had off switches…
March 3, 2015
I am extremely lucky. I’m fortunate in many ways but one that has struck me the most profoundly in the last year is how lucky I am to have so many amazing mentors in my life. As a young journalist you’re constantly learning, growing and experimenting with new ways of working and presenting stories. Since Day 1 at City I’ve had two incredible teachers helping me through the process of finding my voice. (Also, I count one of my professors at Concordia as one of my mentors as well)
One of the most important things they’ve done for me is let me make my own mistakes.
Although at times it didn’t feel like it, one of the most important things they’ve done for me is let me make my own mistakes and helped me learn from them. Let’s be honest- not every story you do is going to be a home run. They’ve allowed me to see what went wrong, why and what lessons I should take away from it. They’ve let me be stubborn on things I thought were right and let me realize in my own time just how wrong I was. Now when I approach a story I’m not so rigid in the way I think it should be covered. On the other hand I can listen to their advice but not always take it. It’s a delicate balance but one that has made me infinitely better.
This morning I had to the chance to sit down for a long time with one of these great men and discuss at length what I think my strengths and weaknesses are. It was a revealing experience and it showed me where to focus my energies. On my way home I reflected on how great it is to have someone who’s been in the business for years to guide you along the way. It’s another advantage that this person is a renown performance coach and I’m working incredibly hard in that area.
The best feeling is knowing that you have someone in your corner. Whether you’re in the highest highs or the lowest lows knowing that professional support is there to help you is incredible.
So to Bob Babinski, George Athans and Jacques Grenier: I can’t thank you enough.
George in action on CBC News (circa 1989)
February 21, 2015
In the past few months I experience many amazing firsts. First time being a regular at the Canadiens games for Sportsnet, first time doing Montreal Hockey Talk- an all Habs podcast, first time writing for various hockey websites and the first time doing a screen test. It’s only re-enforced that for me, new ≠ scary.
I remember when I first moved to Montreal at 17 for college EVERYTHING was terrifying and slightly thrilling. Don’t get me wrong, living away from home was amazing but it was a whole new life to get used to. When I say everything was terrifying, I mean everything. Learning how to use the STM, finding my way back from the grocery store, adapting to new classes, new friends, a new schedule, cooking for myself (thank god for my mom’s pork chop recipe).
Now I love doing new things. Yes, there are always a bit of nerves but whenever I feel them I always remember how many firsts I’ve accomplished to get to this one. Also, doing something for the first time is the scariest and it always gets easier the second time around.
So now I look forward to firsts- I relish the rush it gives. In a field like journalism it’s invigorating to constantly challenge yourself in this way instead of just doing the same old tired report or to copy what other reporters are doing. Just remember, there’s a first time for everything so don’t waste any time worrying about it. Enjoy the moment!
February 5, 2015
It’s in the moments when I’m completely exhausted, can feel my feet throbbing and all I want to do is curl up in bed for the next few days that I realize I’ve made it. These past two weeks have been particularly crazy with my regular job, subbing in on Sportsnet, being a panelist for Montreal Hockey Talk’s pre and post game shows and writing for Habs Eyes on the Prize. Balance that with trying to maintain a social life, working out and the necessities when you live alone (yay! clean laundry!) and it makes for a very hectic life. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ok, full disclosure says I wouldn’t refuse another few hours of sleep every night but the point is that it’s the hustle that keeps me going. As a young journalist it’s imperative to have the motivation to go out there and try new things. I’m consistently amazed at how much people expect things to fall into their lap without actually striving to get it. Throughout my career I’ve learned that the best way to get something is to work your butt off for it. That’s not the most original answer to the question of how to get ahead but it’s a staple for a reason.
The only way to get something is to put yourself out there for it. Yes, that is a terrifying experience at times but when it pays off it’s worth it. So go out there and earn it.
ON FREELANCING AND FEAR
January 27, 2015
There’s a saying in journalism that, “you’re only as good as your last story”. As a freelancer those are words many live and die by. Although I currently have a steady job I still am considered a freelancer and often produce work for various print, radio and television organizations. While hustle is a huge part of freelancing it is often confused with fear. Many of my conversations with freelancing friends have undertones of fear, frustration and uncertainty in them and I’m starting to wonder why.
A colleague of mine talks frequently about how if you’re not front and center at all times, you’re going to fade away in an instant. How if it’s not your face, your voice, your personal touch to the story then you will be left in the dust. Let me tell you, hearing this doesn’t help. At all. Fear is a horrible motivator- it paralyzes what you think you can do and what you can do. Working from a place of fear permeates the entire story from the gathering process to the edit and it will make your life miserable every step of the way. In my case I do what I do as a freelancer simply because I love it. I know it sounds incredibly cheesy but feeling comfortable and dare I say having fun with stories is the best part of my job. It also has allowed me to take big risks with stories- whether good or bad. I remember what Sportsnet’s Hugh Burrill once told me, “I would rather have someone try something crazy and fail then stick to the same thing every time.” It’s impossible to do that when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or feeling like you’re working with one foot out of the door.
I remember last January I wanted to do a story on Snowga in Montreal (snow+yoga=snowga, get it?). It was an unusual story for me because I was part of the story trying it as a first-timer. After doing interviews and getting the standard BRoll I jumped right in and tried it. Mind you, before I did this I meticulously went over every detail about what I wanted with my cameraman and ensured that if I was completely terrible at it then I could still salvage a story out of it. Luckily, the risk paid off- the story turned out charming and I loved the interaction between myself and instructor.
Here’s the final version:
While it’s always nice to see how taking a risk can turn out well you learn far more from taking a chance that flops. It’s funny how it becomes so obvious when things are going wrong how you could have fixed them earlier. I won’t get into the stories I’ve had that I didn’t like, but needless to say learning from them and leaving them behind is a cathartic experience.
So in the words of a very wise woman, “take chances, make mistakes and get messy!”
January 14, 2015
Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Whenever I’m specifically looking for stories to cover- ideas never come. When I’m out with friends or talking to my parents or even just walking home from work I’ll see something that piques my interest and have the start of a fantastic story. What’s especially odd is how this generally happens when I try to turn my brain “off” from work-mode. I suppose it goes to show that for journalists turning your brain off never really works. (This perhaps explains why there is a stereotype of the gin-soaked journalist, that is definitely a time when I can’t even find the on-off switch in my head).
As corny as it may sound, if you keep your eyes open there are stories everywhere. Recently I was talking with two friends at dinner about the struggles of being a band in Canada and being denied a Visa to play in NYC. We were joking about ways to circumnavigate the laws by taking separate cars and having their instruments shipped wrapped as gifts. It’s conversations like these that give you the launching pad for stories. No matter how trivial or jokingly you look at it, there is a real issue there. The best part is that now you’ve got your first person account- one of the most difficult things to find when working from a generic announcement or from a press release. Now be warned friends-of-journalists, at some point you may be mined for information when you get onto a topic we find newsworthy. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found connections, contact information or leads from friends. There was a time when I may have ended up blocked by many people on Facebook after doing general shout out for stories at the CBC.
It’s simple ideas that can unveil some great characters- which is the heart of any great story no matter what the medium.
My amazing colleague was recently working on a story that came from simply getting his skates sharpened at one of Montreal’s best hockey skate sharpeners (I just had to turn around to see if they also do figure skates). It’s simple ideas like that that can unveil some great characters- which is the heart of any great story no matter what the medium.
One of my favourite examples of finding stories in any situation is CBS’s fantastic series Everybody Has A Story. The premise is simple: Steve Hartman would throw a dart at a map of the USA, travel there, flip through a phone book (this relic dates the series) and pick out a name. He would then prove that even the most commonplace people have something unique about them and build fantastic stories about it.
Here are some of my favourites:
So sometimes when I’m feeling stuck looking for ideas or great subjects to talk about I take a step back and look at the simple ways that regular people are impacting the world around them. From the NDG skate sharpener to the pro hockey player- stories are everywhere, sometimes you just need to look at it from a different angle.
January 10, 2015
Looking back on the past few months I’ve come to learn that roadblocks in career and in life are inevitable. No matter what you do in media there will be people who don’t like you for an array of reasons. Some reasons will be valid and provide valuable feedback for you to improve, others will be more trivial and relate to things that are just part of who you are.
Overcoming these setbacks isn’t easy. There’s no formula for moving on or getting over negative feedback. It will take as long as it takes and as I learn to deal with it I’ve come to realize that’s ok. I used to think that moving on should be quick, but in reality these things linger with you. One of my mentors recently told me that you can always improve, but you should never apologize for who you are. In my case it’s dealing with having a non-masculine voice and accepting the ‘look’ I have naturally.
As I was reminded today career growth isn’t always linear. Sometimes it plateaus, sometimes it drops and sometimes it spikes. If enduring the bad makes me better in the end then it will have been worth it. It’s hard to maintain that perspective while you’re going though it, but that’s where perseverance fills the gaps.
The most important thing is to keep moving, keep busy and let yourself take a step away from it all- something I’m still learning how to do. It’s incredibly amazing to have such a strong support network and having people remind me that they believe in me.
I hope to write a post in the near future looking back on how these days allowed me to grow. With any luck I will be better for it.
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”
-Mary Anne Radmacher
‘SO WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?’
December 28, 2014
At breakfast this morning I was introduced to members of a friend’s extended family. The conversation inevitably led to that question that I’ve now come to hate: “so what do you do for a living?”. I was getting to know this person for the first time and they had the best of intentions and were trying to put me at ease in uncharted territory but I’ve noticed an almost certain trend after divulging my profession. I love my job as a sports reporter but there’s a few reasons talking about it can be extremely irritating.
First of all, everyone knows how you should be doing your job better. No matter who it is, they’ll have an opinion on what’s wrong with sports media, why is isn’t effective and why on-air talent should be different. I would say about 95% of these conversations have a negative scope. I can’t remember the last time someone shared something positive about what they saw. Believe me, these criticisms can be valid and are extremely wide ranging- from the look of the talent, to their sound, to their analysis, to the production value, to the camera angles, to the directing, to the graphics, to the station it’s on (I could go on…). It’s fantastic that people are watching our product and care enough to form opinions, but when it becomes a laundry list of everything that is wrong with you, your channel or your industry it becomes extremely exhausting. Media is one of the industries where criticism tends to be the first response. Journalists are trained to have thick skins but when feedback is in no way constructive it’s frustrating to have to answer to everything that’s wrong while not having any meaningful discussion about what can be done better.
Don’t get me wrong, knowing what viewers want is extremely important. Whole divisions are dedicated to figuring this out. However in my own career I try to solicit feedback from a smaller sample group. Not only because garnering feedback from a huge range of people can be overwhelming and contradictory, but these people can provide guidance and constructive ways for me to improve. This is the feedback I find most valuable.
“Irritating to say the least, offensive to say the most.”
Secondly, and I find this far more with men than with women, people think it’s an open invitation to try to stump me on sports trivia. This is especially true when meeting people of my own age group in bars or at parties. I will be the first to say that I don’t know John Elway’s 1990 passing stats, or the Montreal Canadiens 2002 third line centre or can even name more than 10 schools competing in NCAA Div I basketball off the top of my head. It’s something I struggle with and I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell myself there’s no way I can know it all. To some, that translates to saying that I don’t have the credentials or capabilities of doing my job. So without ever seeing my work or the types of stories I do- I am relegated into the stereotype of ‘pretty girl with a microphone’. Irritating to say the least, offensive to say the most.
Personally, I don’t think sports media is heading in the direction of stats-driven reports. That being said, stats are an extremely useful tool in this profession and often times they are intimately tied to the stories we tell. Look at the shift Sportsnet has taken after obtaining the NHL rights. Their content is more story driven and about the people behind the numbers. Same with the elite sports documentary programming: 30for30, E60, 60 Minutes Sports. I’m happy the focus is moving away from Tomas Plekanec’s +/- rating change to the storyline of where he’s fitting on the team and how that is affecting his numbers. It’s a popular trend right now and I feel that it’s moving in the right direction.
Perhaps the most superficial of the reasons that sparked this post is that it’s a Sunday, friendly brunch during the holidays. I love my job, but to have an hour conversation about it on my time off isn’t my ideal way of getting to know someone or spend my free time. I appreciate the interest in my job and that people are trying to help me by pointing out the flaws of the industry but at some point I will want to talk about other things.
So know that although I love my job, and love having constructive conversations about where they industry is going and the changes, the spreadsheet of problems like ‘why this person isn’t good enough’ or ‘why can’t it be more like this’ is something I find tiring. My best solution: sleep it off and be ready for it again tomorrow.
ON DEMO REELS
December 24, 2014
One of the most narcissistic, uncomfortable and just plainly awkward experiences I’ve had in my on-camera career has been building a demo reel. The idea is that a demo reel is supposed to show off your best material, show who you are, what you stand for, your look and sound- all in less than three minutes. Not an easy feat.
Ultimately what I was striving for when building my two demo reels was to :
- Show off my on-camera comfort
- Highlight my versatility
- Punch the viewer in the face with how awesome I can be
Granted that third bullet point is taken with a grain of salt because after watching yourself over and over and over you start to see all your flaws and therefore need to build up a healthy sense of confidence and humour.
“First off, get over yourself.”
I was extremely fortunate to have quite a bank of material to choose from with stand-ups, sit-down interviews, double enders and participatory journalism but I soon learned that sifting through 60+ reports is not only time-consuming but an exercise in organization. I also lucked out in having an amazingly patient and committed editor to make me look my best but also provide critical feedback on the tone and feel of the pieces.
The most difficult part is being clinical about what material deserves to be featured and which should be left on the cutting room floor. Understandably a reporter will develop an emotional connection to the story in a way that no viewer will. We know the story behind the story- the time that it took to get the perfect opening shot, how a 20 minute interview gets whittled down to two minutes or less and the painstaking time spent in post.
I found the best method was to have a solid second opinion but ultimately I have the final say. Having an outsider look at your work with fresh eyes will uncover flaws and strengths you’ve never seen. Often I find I get hung up on some same detail that no one else even notices. More often than not these things are cosmetic: the way my hair looks, how I move my hand or (my biggest pet peeve) a head tilt.
“Understandably a reporter will develop an emotional connection to the story in a way that no viewer will.”
For anyone out there looking at building their own demo reel I have a few lessons to pass on.
First off, get over yourself. Might sound harsh but no matter what there will be one small thing that bugs you about every time you see yourself on camera.
Second, less is more. I’ve seen colleagues with demo reels over 15 minutes. I even cringe at my own which clocks in at 3:58. I think the ideal time for a reel is three minutes. Just enough to get a taste of what you can do without boring the viewer or seemingly like everything you do is so good that you couldn’t leave ANYTHING out.
Thirdly, get a second, third and fourth opinion- but no more. Often times I solicit opinions from people whom I trust to tell me honestly what they think. It’s a double edged sword as the more opinions you get the more confused you become. In my case I asked two people (a former professor and a colleague) about the editorial content, a friend who is a video editor about the look and my former boss about the impression it would give to employers.
Lastly, take the time to really make the demo reel sing. I’ve seen the rush jobs before and it’s so obvious how little time and effort went into something that’s supposed to be your calling card. These reels took me about a month to complete. That includes re-shooting some material as well. A long and often tedious job but in the end I’m extremely happy with the way they look.
If you agree with me I’d love to hear your impression. If you disagree, then write those comments in a box, put it inside another box, mail that box to yourself and when it arrives… smash it with a hammer.
Just kidding, criticism is welcome as well.