Journalists of Tomorrow … or not: Safia Ahmad

Every year, I speak to winners of Concordia’s journalism school awards as they’re presented at the Montreal Gazette offices. Today, one of the 2016 winners of the Philip Fisher bursary, Safia Ahmad.

Not everyone who graduates from journalism school goes into what you would normally think of as journalism. In fact, I would guess that a majority don’t. Some decide that journalism isn’t for them and pursue something entirely different, others struggle to find jobs (not everyone from my graduating class could be a national journalist at the CBC, not that I’m jealous or anything Catherine), but a lot of people find that their skills and passion are more suited to a job that is like journalism, but not quite.

There are a lot of what I would call journalism-adjacent jobs out there. Arguably, as a copy editor, I’m in one myself. And just because you’re not hounding prime ministers with questions doesn’t mean you’re not doing something valuable in the media ecosystem.

Safia Ahmad, after being honoured with a journalism award in 2016, became a summer reporting intern at the Montreal Gazette the next year, writing many stories that I and my colleagues edited.

But she’s since decided that it’s not for her, as she lays out below. Now, the 25-year-old born-and-bred Montrealer works in communications, notably as media relations manager for Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where I’ve run into her at games.

Why did you decide to study journalism?

When I was in Grade 11, my math teacher told me I would make a good journalist. I danced around the idea for years until I finally started writing for Concordia University’s school newspapers while I was completing my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I wrote a few articles for The Concordian before finding my voice with The Link newspaper. I covered the Concordia Stingers and loved it. I decided to complete a graduate diploma in journalism after that experience.

What does journalism mean to you?

For me, journalism is a form of storytelling and relating to the world around you. When I interned at the Montreal Gazette, I was lucky to speak to everyday Montrealers and share their great stories.

What kind of journalism did you want to do?

I wanted to be a sports journalist and probably would aim for that job if I decided to get back in the game.

How do you see the future of journalism?

It’s hard for me to explain how I see the future of journalism because the field is changing so much. I think there will always be a need for journalism but the field faces serious obstacles, one of which is incorporating writers and broadcasters of colour. More people are talking about this issue but there needs to more diversity for better, accurate and appropriate storytelling in all mediums.

What have you been up to since receiving your award and interning at the Gazette?

Since receiving the award and completing the internship at the Montreal Gazette, I became the media relations manager for Les Canadiennes. I am also managing the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey social media accounts. I have done some social media work for MLS, providing them with game day coverage of select Montreal Impact games. I co-host a podcast with Melanie Desrochers of Les Canadiennes de Montréal called The Last Stretch. It looks at what makes an athlete be the best of the best. Not only do we speak to athletes but we look at the individuals that help bring them to excellence.

Why did you decide journalism wasn’t for you?

It doesn’t work with the kind of lifestyle I want and I wasn’t happy. I never close any door but I think it’s unlikely that I’ll end up pursuing a career in journalism.

I started working for Les Canadiennes a week or two after completing the internship at the Montreal Gazette. I saw a job posting for media relations manager on the team’s website. I like working with a team and I want to help these amazing athletes get the recognition they deserve.

I started working for the Stingers men’s hockey team this year. Given I covered the team while I was in university, it only felt natural to go back, this time working with the team. The work itself is a lot of fun. It gives me the opportunity to gain more experience working in social media, develop my skill set, and watch some great hockey.

I have no regrets about pursuing journalism. I think it allowed me to become more critical and gain a better understanding of the media landscape, which is really important when you work in PR.

How can people follow your work?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at Safs_OnTheGo and follow The Last Stretch Podcast on Twitter and Facebook.

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