I want to talk about my summer, which did not consist of a trip overseas or a hot July fling. Instead, it involved an excursion onto the battlegrounds of journalism. I carried a notepad as my gun, 85 extra pens as my bullets, and a Caps and Spelling as my helmet. I clung to what I learned in my journalism classes, which would hopefully keep me alive. Apparently it did because I’m surprisingly still here to tell the tale.
There are certain things The Canadian Press Stylebook can’t teach you about journalism. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to draft the 18th Edition for the Canadian Press.
1. Fill it or kill it.
I was working the weekend shift at the Winnipeg Free Press. I was given an assignment in Nowhere, Manitoba on Highway 8, forty minutes outside the city.
I used my own car that day. My gas tank was close to empty, but I figured there would be gas stations along the way.
Once I arrived to my destination, a rally on the side of the highway, the orange gaslight appeared like an unwanted pimple in the middle of my forehead. After I finished interviewing people on the side of the road about animal cruelty, I would conclude with: “And do you happen to know where the nearest gas station is located? It’s for the story I promise…”
The closest one was two left turns, five right turns, six 43 acre farm fields and a 3 mile dirt road away. But I made it…without a debit card.
2. Dress for the parting of the Red Sea
People always tell you to dress to impress, which is true-except on days when the city is experiencing a typhoon and Winnipeggers are canoeing down Portage Avenue, then jeans are acceptable. One day, the weather forecast called for a 40 per cent chance of showers. I was optimistic about the weather. I wanted to please and make an impression. Thus, I wore a white dress to work.
I made an impression all right.
Also, always wear shorts underneath your dresses. Sometimes your boss will ask you to go to the Ex and tryout all the rides for a story.
3. Don’t communicate
Don’t respond to emails that consist of the words: ‘stupid’, ‘idiot’ or ‘dumbass’. Readers are looking for someone to blame, so ‘hey, why not shoot the messenger?’ These readers are on the prowl, and looking to ruin someone’s day. They aren’t worth your time. You have better things to do.
I once responded to an email that consisted of more than just the word ‘stupid’. I tried to explain the story I had written in ‘plain, simple language.’ He responded again with more than just the word ‘stupid.’
Don’t be a target. You have more important battles to fight on the battlefield.
4. Always have change, or get ready to change careers.
Whenever you have change in your purse DO NOT buy Tim Hortons coffee. Instead save it for a rainy day, or a day you’re heading downtown to do a story.
Before each story I would go to the bank, and then go to a 711 to get change. I arrived 30 seconds before each press conference that was held downtown. I called it fashionably on time, they called it ‘we thought you weren’t coming.’
Note: Robin’s Donuts does not do cash back.
5. Don’t spread it
Don’t ever give your parents your work phone number. Your dad will end up calling someone in advertising to ask if they know who you are, and if they’ve read your stories-after your first day.
6. Stay juiced
Charge your phone EVERY NIGHT. I went out to do a story about a man who passed away in a fire. His sister agreed to speak with me over the phone. It was great-until I realized I only had one per cent battery power left on my iPhone.
I found myself at yet another rural gas station-only this time to charge my phone.
7. No cavities
Tell more than 10 people if you’re going to be out of the office. If not-no one will know where you are. This summer, I had a dentist appointment and couldn’t make it to work in the morning. I told three people I wouldn’t be there. On the day of my dentist appointment, those three people were also away from the office. I was out of cell service, and the Free Press couldn’t get a hold of me. Once I finally made it back to the city, I received a phone call from one of the reporters asking where I was. The newsroom thought I had either been kidnapped or incarcerated.
8. Ask for forgiveness later-even though people might not give it
I went to an inner city school where Governor General, David Johnston spoke about the importance of Canada’s youth. After the presentation, I saw him in the school’s hallway. I gave him a hug, told him I watched the Queen’s message every Christmas, and started to ask him dozens of questions. Security didn’t like that too much and asked me to leave. His communications officer liked it a little less and told me I couldn’t use any of his quotes in my story.
9. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Yes, there is.
My instructors were right. It’s important to do your research before an interview. Peter Mansbridge might not do it, but it’s okay to plan a few questions ahead of time.
Premier Greg Selinger was holding a press conference by Polo Park this summer. He was discussing the new road construction on St. James, one of the worst roads in the city of Winnipeg. During a scrum, I was so nervous that my mind went blank. I asked him what his favorite store was in the mall and why…
It’s the Bay.
10. Can I check your driver’s license Ms.?
Get your license renewed beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll remember to do it on a Saturday night and you start work on Monday- the day it expires. An expired license means no Free Press car. No Free Press car, means no story. No story means-back to the service industry I go…or drive my own car and run out of gas.
11. There can only be one Vin Diesel
We can’t all be in the Fast and the Furious. In real life, it might not be best to speed. One of the reporters at the Freep was trying to be the first on the scene for a story. He too, took his own vehicle. The police officer didn’t believe him that he was a reporter on assignment. Thus, he got a speeding ticket and didn’t get to his story.
12. Don’t hold your breath
Every time I got on the phone or drove somewhere to do an interview, I would hold my breath hoping to pass out. Everyday I walked in to work and would seriously consider going back to the service industry. But I decided asking meaningful questions that got the story out to the public was more important than asking if customers would like a side of fries with their meals.
Journalism is a blast, you just have to be prepared for battle, and don’t hold your breath.