Archives for posts with tag: Reporting

Advice from Madeleine White

Whether you like it or not, selling yourself is a part of journalism. The art of freelancing is not that dissimilar to the art of selling shoes. You have to convince your customer (in this case an editor) that you’re knowledgeable about the product that you’re pitching, and that it’s good.

It’s been my experience that many journalists hate to talk about themselves, let alone their strengths. The good news is that a well-written pitch can let your work do most of the talking, but you also have be prepared to back it with some ego and expertise. To help build your confidence, here are five strategic points to consider when you’re putting a pitch together.

1) Do your research first.

Figure out which section of the website/paper your story would go in and then find out who is the editor. This may require that you make a phone call or two. Once you’ve found the decision-making editor, get their business email address and phone number.

2) Keep it short.

These section editors are usually incredibly busy people, assigning their own staff to stories, managing freelancers and working under constant pressure to produce award-winning journalism. Do not send them a pitch that is over 250 words long. They won’t read it.

Things to include in your pitch email are:

  • the nut graf of your piece (this gives the editor a sense of your writing style as well as the essence and importance of your story)
  • a brief (one, two sentences maximum) reason why you are the best person to write this piece (do you have an inside edge? are you more knowledgeable than others on the topic?)
  • the time line of your piece (is it embargoed news? can you have it done in less than a day?)

3) Give enough detail to intrigue the editor but don’t ruin the surprise.

A major fear with pitching is that the editor will take your idea and assign it to one of their reporters. There is no way to prevent this from happening, but one way to decrease the chance is to give only a bit of the story. Choose one tantalizing detail. But that’s it. You can also be a little coy and suggest there is more where that came from but make sure there is. There is nothing worse than a pitch tease.

4) Don’t expect to make riches at first.

Different sections pay different amounts for the a story of the same length, so try to freelance for different editors. But don’t balk at an offer. As a young journalist you need the clippings more than you need the money. Shitty medicine, but something we all have to swallow.

5) If someone takes you up on your pitch, work your ass off.

A big factor in freelancing is your reputation. As a rookie freelancer, you need to prove that you can develop your pitch into an engaging, well-written story on time. No pressure, right? Good work will help solidify professional relationships and once you’ve been published by an editor it’s a lot easier to go back and get published again.

Remember to keep trying if your first pitch isn’t successful. Like anything in journalism, it can be hard but it’s totally worth it when you do succeed.

Happy freelancing!

About Madeleine

    Madeleine White

  • J-school: MJ at Ryerson University, undergrad in Women’s Studies, Political Science and Zoology at UofT
  • Publications: Toronto Star
  • Platforms: web, print, video
  • Twitter: @mjwhite27
  • Most notorious piece of work: Why I look good naked
  • Previous incarnations: Political staffer from 2006 to 2009, Running Room manager

Advice from Sachin Seth

Internships are the key to the industry. If you want to make serious connections in the field, the best way is by completing as many internships during your university career as you can.

I got really, really lucky. I scored two really great internships in 2010, one at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, and the second at the CBC’s foreign bureau in London, England.

It was a great opportunity for me to see the contrast between two of the biggest journalism organizations in North America.

I learned a lot, but there was one thing I learned that made me especially happy. If you’re a visible minority (I’m South Asian) don’t pay attention to the stats that tell you that you have a less of a chance of making it big. In a world that’s this globalized,  journalists of diverse backgrounds are gaining a lot of support from upper management in big organizations, so the shift in employment is in your favour.

Since finishing the pair of internships, I’m frequently asked two questions:

Question One: “what does a correspondent actually do on a daily basis?”

Sachin worked with CBC correspondent Susan Ormiston (pictured) in London

Last fall, I got the incredible opportunity with the CBC’s new London correspondent Susan Ormiston for six weeks. The London bureau was really small (about 11 full-time staff) and the place gets pretty hectic on filing days.

For example, when Susan had to file a story on the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement, we were out all-day shooting visuals, interviews by Buckingham Palace, and doing live hits with the studio back in Toronto. Susan was writing her script for the final piece while out in the field, and when we got back in the evening, she voiced it and oversaw the editing process through until the end (which wrapped up around midnight or 1 a.m). That was a 14-hour day.

The days can be long and jam-packed, but really, the work is incredibly fun and there is very little repetition. You come into work with something new to do everyday, and that’s one of the joys and main attractions of the field.

In short, a correspondent may not have the same thing to do on a regular basis. Depending on his or her position, he or she may or may not file everyday. On non-filing days, the correspondent usually works on future stories, by researching and doing pre-interviews with future subjects. Their interns or assistants help with streeters*, doing pre-interviews, researching and, on occasion, writing.

*streeters: non-gender-specific version of what used to be called the man-in-the-street interview. “Go out and shoot some streeters on gas prices.” Also known as voxpops (Latin: vox populi, voice of the people).

Question Two: “What does an anchor do all day before going on-air?”

Sachin worked with CNN's Don Lemon (pictured) in Atlanta

Before my internship in London, I was at CNN in Atlanta for 9 weeks, working almost 60 hours a week. I worked, for the most part, on a specific show called “CNN Newsroom with Don Lemon.” I got to see first-hand what a national anchor does every day, and how crucial his supporting cast is to the successful execution of the show.

Don, like most anchors, does not write his full script (that would be impossible, especially for shows that go on for one or two hours). He did however write the tease* for every show, and read over his scripts several times before going on-air, just to make sure he was familiar with the material.

He also made executive decisions on which stories to include and not include, and was heavily involved in story meetings on the two days leading up to his weekend shows, as well as on the day of the shows.

Don did a number of live interviews on his shows as well, many times with questions that were written for him but that included a lot of his own input. Of course, the live follow–up questions were his responsibility.

Being a correspondent/anchor/reporter/any type of journalist is really hard work. As you’ve probably have heard a thousand times already, the hours are horrendous, the pay is usually pretty sub-par, the work is stressful and can be depressing. But the type of people who work in the industry are probably the kindest and funniest people you’ll ever meet. The people who practice journalism do it for the love of the work, and because they feel a responsibility to educate others on subjects that they care about.

If you feel the same way, then you’re in the right field.

*tease: a promo which doesn’t give away the kernel of the story. “This man has committed no crime, but he’s wanted across Canada. We’ll have his story…later on the show.”

About Sachin


Advice from Lily Boisson

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Maiko received bad news. An earthquake struck her home country of Japan.

Maiko is a J-school grad who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She couldn’t reach her family and she was worried. As soon as I found out I sent her a text saying, “I know how you feel.”

I know all about the initial panic—the mad dash to reach family members, the anxiety as images of destruction flash across the screen and the harrowing thought that loved ones might be hurt.

I lived through all those same emotions last year when my home country was stuck by a natural disaster. I was in Fredericton, where I live and study, when I heard the news that Port-au-Prince had been rattled by a strong earthquake.

As a Haitian-born Canadian and a journalist, I gained a different perspective on disaster stories and the people affected. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1)  Speaking to the media isn’t a priority for everyone

When I first heard about the earthquake, my immediate thoughts were with my family members. My father, aunts, uncles and cousins all live in Haiti. It was two hours before I could reach my family. Those two hours were the darkest hours of my life.

It wasn’t until after I heard from my dad that I even considered doing interviews with local media and writing about the earthquake.

When trying to reach a source for a comment or an interview keep in mind that talking to the media may not be their first priority. That being said, many people will be eager to talk to the media and bring attention to their situation.

2)  Don’t let the disaster define the people affected

There are many dimensions to every culture; don’t let your subject be defined by the disaster. We are all too familiar with images of devastation and strife on the news. Unfortunately, these images can come to over-represent an affected area.

When I spoke about Haiti after the earthquake I soon became aware that many people were associating my home country with poverty, devastation and death. I tried to balance this by telling them about all the wonderful things Haiti has to offer.

On the ground in Haiti many reporters covered religious services after the quake. In Haiti these ceremonies are accompanied by singing, dancing and impassioned sermons. This was a good way to showcase Haitian culture and tell the story of a grieving population.

3) Be compassionate, be human

While people shouldn’t be defined by their suffering, the gravity of their situation should not be downplayed either. Journalists on the scene in Haiti were overwhelmed with the suffering they saw around them, but they managed to produce some excellent work.

CBC journalist Paul Hunter’s story about a makeshift hospital is a good example of this. Hunter, doesn’t mince words about the dire conditions at the hospital. During his stand up he draws attention to the cries of a young girl receiving treatment.

4) Stick with it – cover the recovery

Any good journalist should always be thinking of follow-up stories. Natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis are just the beginning. In Haiti, a Cholera epidemic followed. In Japan it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster.

The effects of the earthquake are still palpable in Haiti’s capital. In fact, tent cities once thought of as a temporary solution for the newly homeless, are now being considered permanent settlements.

Often the most captivating stories happen after the initial disaster. Stick around, there will be more stories to tell.

About Lily

Advice from Adam Avrashi

Broadcasting is very technical and, popular belief aside, it’s not about shoving a microphone in someone’s face and hoping for the best. It requires a lot of preparation: know what questions you want to ask, know what sound you will need for your report and be prepared for difficulties.

Questions should be specific ( because a microphone just incites most people to just blather on) and you need to be very attentive. Also, as an interviewer, speak as little as possible. You should be listening to what your interviewee is saying and be prepared to ask a follow-up question based on that.

1) Your story is too long

You should know what clips you want to use for a report before you get into the editing booth. Know your material, and the piece edits itself.

In my experience, the best editors aren’t the ones who know how to create cool effects. They are the ones who insist you cut down your story. And trust me: your story is too long. It always is.

It took me a while to realize this, but the audience has a short attention span, and no matter how much you like a particular clip or sequence, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to tell, take it out.

Broadcasting is not about quantity but about quality. If you’re story is two and a half minutes long, try cutting it down to one minute 45. Chances are you are saying something superfluous or belabouring a point, and your audience will definitely appreciate a more concise piece.

2) You don’t have to have a “voice for radio”

I don’t have a God-given voice for radio. And yes, some people just do have that booming presence. I’ve worked with and gone to school with a handful of them. But having a booming voice isn’t really that important, but sounding authoritative and interesting is.

If you are like me, and just have a normal speaking voice, there are a couple of things you can do to try and improve your on-air delivery.

First off, record yourself having a regular conversation, just on the phone with someone or speaking with a friend in person. Then listen to it. Chances are, you will be very surprised with what you hear. We are used to hearing our voice in our own head, so having our actual voice played back is a strange phenomenon.

Once that’s done, try recording yourself reading some news copy (don’t just read an article online—go ahead and actually write yourself some news copy. Remember, the shorter the sentences, the easier they are  to say). Now record yourself, with headphones in your ears to hear the resonance, reading the copy. Try to make your voice sound powerful, use pauses and try to alter the speaking tone and insert emotional flourish when appropriate—no newscast should be read with a monotone drone. Practice and repeat.

You know you have found your broadcasting voice when you can listen to yourself without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious. You should be able to listen to the piece and hear your story instead of your performance. Then you’ve got it.

3) Tips on hosting a radio show

I have hosted my own current affairs radio show for nearly two years on campus radio. If you are interested in broadcasting, this is some of the best practice you can get. Booking guests, preparing interviews, producing discussion topics and segments all take practice and it’s something you won’t learn in class.

I’ve interned in two different radio newsrooms and the equipment and the preparation process aren’t so different than working on campus radio.

My tip would be to over-prepare — know your topics and discussion points so well that when you go on air, you barely need any text in front of you. All you should have are facts or story details—you shouldn’t have everything you want to say written out or the show won’t feel organic and result in boring radio. And remember, radio is the theatre of the mind, so make sure you are descriptive and illustrative when recounting a story. Make your audience sees what you are talking about.

4) Where to get story ideas

Story ideas can come from anywhere: a newspaper article, a press release, something I overheard on the bus or a story my grandmother told me. But remember that not every story will be a good fit for every audience, so make sure you know who is listening to your show or report. Read newspapers and listen to radio, that is how you develop a good sense of an interesting story. But if you get a tip that excites you and you think would be of interest to others, it is worth exploring.

5) How to address controversial subjects

When talking about something that could be construed as controversial—religion, politics, sex, etc—don’t panic but bring your A-game. This is the type of show or report where you need to triple check your facts. Also, if you are concerned about saying something that may offend others, try picturing those people sitting in the radio booth beside you. Would they be offended? Do they have reason to be offended? Are you treating their point of view fairly?

As a show host, you have the right to say something controversial—it is stipulated under media law as fair comment—but it is important that the comment actually is fair and based on truth. A Muslim woman in Quebec refused to give a presentation in front of her class because she claimed it was against her religion. We covered this topic on my show, and it was important for me to express my point of view, but I imagined that the woman and her family were sitting next to me. It is easy to say something into an empty room with a microphone, and much more difficult to say the same things in person.

Final thoughts

Practice, practice, practice. If you can’t get your own show on community radio, make a podcast and put it online or play it for your friends and family. The more practice you get, the better you will become. And have fun.

About Adam

Advice from William Wolfe-Wylie

There are so many ways to succeed in journalism, it’s impossible to count them. What’s important to realize is that everyone must forge their own path based on their own passions, ambitions, loves and fears. The admirable list of bright young minds that Fabiola Carletti has compiled on this site is a testament the diversity of our chosen profession.

Sarah Millar is one of the most driven young journalists I know. Every piece of work she does, every decision she makes, every interview she conducts is of the highest professional standard she is capable of producing, and geared toward making herself a better journalist. She is a professional and her path to success reflects that: strong decisions, unparalleled drive and a head for learning on the fly.

Erin Millar, on the other hand, hates the idea of working 9-5 hours. She’s a musician, a bit of a hippy, loves to travel and has more ideas pouring out of her brilliant mind that anyone could collect. Her drive to become one of Canada’s top young professional freelancers is an evolution from these personal traits. Her desire to make her name, to achieve the highest professional standard, drove her to write her book and write for magazines most journalists don’t breach until they’re 15 years older than she.

Nick Taylor-Vaisey is smart and refuses to accept that there’s any such thing as bad news. I’ve never met a man more persistent, more optimistic and always able to work with a smile on his face. His work with OpenFile was a direct result of his community engagement, incredible knowledge of local issues, and desire to tell the stories of the everyday person. Nick loves, and it’s love that drives him forward.

Since 2003, I have been volunteering at conferences for the Canadian University Press, helping young people get their foot in the door. I offer one-on-one writing critiques to help them improve their craft and also help them to find freelance work when I think they’re ready for it. There are a few people I’m keeping my eye on to see how they develop professionally, some even at UBC right now. None of them mirror the images of the bright young people on this website. They are each forging their own paths, according to their own talents and passions.

Over the past seven years, “how do I make it in journalism” has been the second most common question that students I’ve worked with have asked. The most common is “how do I get better at my craft.” That, to me, is more telling than anything. So as you flow through this page, take every piece of advice you agree with, and disregard every piece you don’t. Filter everything through yourself. Spend some time being introspective, as terrifying a prospect as that can be. Figure out what drives you, what you love, and pursue those passions. Make friends, whether for networking or to share war stories. Call on them when times get rough, because they will. Pick yourself up when you fall, because you will. Never stop reading. Never stop paying attention. Love what you do, and if ever you stop loving it, have the courage to change it, because you’ll want to.

This is an enormously competitive and changing industry, but there is room for everyone who works hard.

Work hard.

About William

William Wolfe-Wylie

  • Name: William Wolfe-Wylie
  • J-school: None. B.A. in History from Mount Allison University
  • Current/Past employers: Current: Quebecor
  • Publications: Each of QMI Agency/Sun Media’s 200+ newspapers,, Via Rail’s travel magazine, others.
  • Platforms: Print/online
  • Twitter: @wolfewylie
  • Sample work:

Laser attacks on planes on the rise
Social Networking and Gender Categories

Fair Trade Jewlery May Have Bright Future

Eyes on the Prize

Dungeons and Dragons banned from U.S. prisons

Remembrance Day hits home

Advice from Calyn Shaw

The best journalists uncover a fact, or set of facts, someone is trying to keep from the public. Often your digging is going to meet some resistance. The challenge is to marshal as much evidence as possible and make your story airtight. Don’t give anyone a foothold to discredit your story or attack you. Don’t make even the smallest factual error. This may seem straightforward, but you would be surprised how a seemingly innocuous error can discredit your whole story.

When dealing with government sources you have to be willing to be a huge pain in the backside, but you have to do it without being adversarial. Most government employees receive extensive media training, which teaches them to give you as little information as possible. They are not employed to make your job easy. Don’t get frustrated when people don’t call you back or pass you on to yet another department, just keep following up.

Many sources are only going to give you the information they want you to have in order to spin you and your story. Do not become a propaganda tool. Always take the time to ask yourself, what is it they aren’t telling me? Be skeptical of everything you hear. The moment you start taking things at face value you should probably hang-up your notepad.

About Calyn

Advice from Leslie Young

Be interested in everything. As a journalist, particularly a young journalist, you will be covering stories on a huge variety of topics. In a single day, you may be interviewing a professor about their research into black holes, looking into municipal transit budgets and talking to an athlete about training for the luge. Your job is to make all these things interesting and relevant to your readers. The best way to accomplish this is to be genuinely interested yourself. Find that angle or meet that person who will make you care about whatever is going on. Your readers will care too.

Be curious. As you walk down the street, take note of things you see and try to figure out why they are the way they are. Ask questions about everything – and then go out and find the answers. Read everything you can, as much as you can.

Finally, never stop writing. I was told in journalism school that writing is the basis of the entire craft. My teachers were right. No matter what medium you work in, good writing will carry your story. It’s also very transferable – writing for radio for a year has made me a better print journalist as well.

About Leslie

Leslie Young

  • Name: Leslie Young
  • J-school: University of British Columbia
  • Current/Past employers: CBC Radio, OpenFile
  • Publications in which her work has appeared: Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, CBC Radio, OpenFile, PBS Frontline/World
  • Platforms she works in: radio, print, online
  • Website:
  • Twitter: @leslieyoung
  • Work samples:

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (Emmy award-winning documentary)
Ottawa methadone treatment options limited

Downtown shoppers paying a premium for groceries

Advice from Lauren Pelley

My advice is simple. Just love what you do. Take on more complicated stories than you think you can handle, try new things you haven’t done before, explore all areas of media from video to social media to beyond — and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Embrace every challenge thrown at you and learn how to be the best journalist you can be. And do it with integrity. But back to my first bit of advice — just loving the job. If you aren’t enjoying this field 110%, you’ll never be happy (since the pay is crap and it’s an uphill climb to get any decent jobs). So above all, find out if this is truly your passion… or just go into PR.

About Lauren

Lauren Pelley

  • Name: Lauren Pelley
  • J-school: Western
  • Current/Past employers: The Gazette, CHCH Television
  • Publications in which her work has appeared: See above
  • Platforms she works in: Print, web, broadcast
  • Website:
  • Twitter: @LaurenatGazette
  • Sample work: The Dundas Dilemma

Advice from Allison Cross

Be flexible. Most aspiring journalists have a vision of what their career will look like but because the industry is evolving so fast, that vision may have to change. Be open to exploring multiple formats, moving cities and taking on piecemeal work. Don’t be tied to getting a perfect, permanent 9-5 job, because it might not exist when you graduate. The best experiences I’ve had so far in my short career have been during short-term contracts or freelance opportunities.

About Allison

Allison Cross

  • Name: Allison Cross
  • J-school: UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism
  • Current Employer: Toronto Star
  • Past Employers: Postmedia News (formerly Canwest News Service), Journalists for Human Rights, Vancouver Sun, Nanaimo Daily News
  • Publications in which your work has appeared: Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, The Tyee, Nanaimo Daily News, PBS Frontline/World, Brave New Traveler,
  • Platforms: Print, online, video, blogging, photo
  • Twitter: @AllisonCross
  • Link to recent sample: Push on to solve NY arson case that killed 7 Canadians

Advice from Arden Zwelling (served cold)

Journalism is far from a glamorous pursuit. If you want to be really good at it and make a living from it, you’re going to have to endure a lot. It’s not the ninth ring of Dante’s Inferno or anything. It’s just close. I want to make it clear this ain’t no walk in the park.

Are you ready to work for next-to-nothing for an extended period of time early in your career? Are you willing to pull the late nights (like 3 a.m. late), early mornings (like 6 a.m. early), working lunches (it’s okay to type with your mouth full) and dinners on the go (just don’t eat and drive) that are an ultimate byproduct of this pursuit? Are you prepared to make some drastic sacrifices in the amount of time you spend with your family and friends? Are you ready to pick up a large, complex story on a subject you likely don’t completely understand and turn it out in a well-researched, informative and balanced fashion within just a couple of hours? If you’re going to cut your teeth in hard news like I did, are you ready to deal with death, pain, anguish, evil, hate, injustices and inhumane crimes on a daily basis? Are you ready to be lied to, generally disliked and told you’re an idiot by a magnitude of people?

These are the questions you have to ask yourself. Journalism can be extraordinarily rewarding for those that are good at it. But it can be a real nightmare if you’re not aware of what you’re getting into. I don’t mean to take the cynical route with this thing. I just want to be honest.

Editor’s note: Arden’s entry is just about 4 pages long, and he asked me to select a portion to share. Instead, I’ve decided to give you the option of reading the full text version of his advice. Aspiring sports journalists, pay special attention.

About Arden

Arden Zwelling

  • Name: Arden Zwelling, 23, Toronto, ON
  • J-school: In final year of Media and Information at the University of Western Ontario
  • Current/Past employers: UWO Gazette (news writer, sports editor, associate editor), the Canadian Football League (staff writer, featured columnist), Major League Baseball (associate reporter), The Score (blogger, blog editor, web editor), Sports XPress (editor), CHRW 94.9 FM (radio host)
  • Publications: UWO Gazette,,,, Sports XPress
  • Platforms: Print, web, radio, television
  • Web:,,
  • Twitter: @ArdenZwelling
  • Work samples:

Foster fights for a home in the Lion’s den
Brouillette lays down the law for AIs
Shelters remain overcapacity as temperature drops

Fournier falling his way in the pros

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