Even more journalists of tomorrow

Once a year, my employer the Montreal Gazette hands out bursaries to promising Concordia University journalism students. For the past four years, I’ve been interviewing the winners after they receive their awards to ask them about themselves and their thoughts on the future of journalism. I posted one set of interviews in 2010 and another in 2011.

Though I did more interviews in 2012 and 2013, I never got around to posting them. Today, another set of students will be coming in to receive these bursaries, so I figured it’s time to find those dusty notebooks and finally post what these people told me, along with some updates of what they’ve done since.

So here we are, another series of profiles of, if the selection committee is right, journalism’s latest rising stars:

Joel Ashak

Joel Ashak

Winner, Mike King Bursary, 2012. @JoelAshak / joelashak.com / LinkedIn

Ashak, who was 25 when I met him in 2012, is originally from France, the son of Egyptian parents. He envisioned a career in international journalism, working for Agence France-Presse, Le Monde or Al Jazeera.

“The whole point is trying to do something interesting with your life,” he said.

Ashak was news editor at The Concordian during his time as a student, and went on to intern at CBC/Radio-Canada. You can listen to two of his reports here. He stuck around long enough to be one of many victims of the drastic cuts to staff at the public broadcaster last month.

Until he gets something more permanent, he’s working as a freelancer.

Nicholas Laugher

Nicholas Laugher

Winner, Philip Fisher Bursary, 2012. @largiantribune / LinkedIn

Laugher, 24 when he won the award, is from Digby, N.S., which is across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John, N.B. He was a graduate student at Concordia, having gotten a BA in philosophy from Dalhousie University. A musician as well as a journalist (he’s part of a band called Year of Glad), he’s interested in human interest stories, about “marginalized aspects of society.”

“I’ve always been fascinated with telling stories,” he said.

Laugher is a freelance writer, and contributes to Vice, BeatRoute magazine. He’s also dabbled a bit in the dark side, writing press releases for a local marketing agency and being an assistant at another.

Jacques Gallant

Jacques Gallant

Winner, Lewis Harris Award, 2012. @JacquesGallant / LinkedIn

Gallant, 22 when I interviewed him, is from Prince Edward Island, and had just come off an internship at the Toronto Star. Before that he was the editor-in-chief of The Concordian and had done two summer internships at the Moncton Times & Transcript.

He said he was driven by curiosity, and “wanting to tell the stories that are bringing things to the forefront.” He had a particular interest in political and international stories.

Gallant went right into another internship at CBC Montreal, and the summer of 2013 began as a reporter at the Toronto Star. He’s still there.

“I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences at the Star (so far), including Lac-Mégantic, L’Isle-Verte, covering the worst mass murder in Calgary’s history this past April and now, filing stories on the Ghomeshi affair,” Gallant writes. “I would still encourage people who are serious about wanting to work in journalism to go for it, but they need to have plenty of story ideas and be able to quickly adapt to new surroundings and go out of their comfort zone.”

Elysha Gel Giusto-Enos

Elysha Del Giusto-Enos

Winner, Philip Fisher Bursary, 2012. @elyshaenos / elyshadelgiustoenos.wordpress.comLinkedIn

Del Giusto-Enos, 28 at the time, comes from Montreal. Or, well, she grew up in Laval and the West Island, but those places aren’t as cool. (This West Island boy can relate.)

She always loved journalism, she told me, but needed to learn to build confidence. “I didn’t really understand the world enough to call politicians on their bullshit,” she said.

Not that she’s in any way timid. She’s quite outgoing, which has served her well in her career. “Sweater vest = success” is the way she described her attire that evening.

She said she wanted to help organizations that need help getting their view out there, those marginalized groups that don’t have their own PR departments.

And what more needy organization is there than Rogers Communications, because after a year as Fringe Arts editor at The Link, she came in on the ground floor of Breakfast Television at City Montreal, where she works as a production assistant.

Lisa Zane

Lisa Zane

Winner, Susan Carson Award and Enn Raudsepp Award, 2012. @Zaneeeee / LinkedIn

Zane, 24 a the time, from Mississauga, Ont., was unusual for two reasons. First, she was an athlete, having played almost 200 games for the McGill Martlets hockey team before moving to Concordia. But even crazier to anyone in journalism is that she’s also a scientist, with a BSc in kinesiology and a MSc in biomechanics from McGill. Her graduate thesis is titled “Force measures at the hand-stick interface during ice hockey slap and wrist shots.” (She learned that players have “force signatures” – which makes me want to patent a method of user authentication via slapshot.)

“I really like learning,” she told me, in a way far less lame than it looks like right here. She said she wants to get into science journalism, and wants to read scientific journals. “I’d like to communicate what these findings mean.”

And if you weren’t already seething with jealousy, she won two awards that night, the only time any of us can remember anyone winning twice.

While getting her graduate diploma in journalism from Concordia, she interned at the Westmount Examiner and wrote a freelance piece for The Gazette. She interned at CBC Montreal, worked a year at Montreal reality TV company Handel Productions (she hopes to see some of her work on Discovery Channel next year) and writes for the Crossfit Games.

Alyssa Tremblay

Alyssa Tremblay

Winner, Lewis Harris Award, 2013. @tremblayy / LinkedIn

Unlike most of the winners of these awards, I already knew Tremblay, because the 21-year-old had spent that summer as a Gazette intern on the copy desk. She would return again the following summer. She gained a reputation as someone who spoke softly but carried a big wit.

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom,” she told me after getting her award when I asked her about the future of journalism. “It’s changing while you’re in it. The structures that we’re given in our education are changing. It’s exciting to be in the middle of it.”

“I like editing. I’m also really into creative writing. As long as I see myself telling stories in the future, I’ll be happy.”

After graduating Concordia with a BA in journalism and minor in English literature, she started a Masters in communications and new media at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., where she’s also a TA and looking forward to actually working with students soon.

Sarah Volstad

Sarah Volstad

Winner, Mike King Bursary, 2013. @sarahvolstadLinkedIn

Volstad, 23 at the time, was in the “3 1/2th” year of a specialization print/broadcast journalism degree when she won the award, and had already done some freelance work as a reporter for Global Montreal and writer for Transcontinental Media.

“I really want to do TV reporting,” she said. “I love waking up in the morning not knowing who I’m gonna meet.”

She’s still freelancing for Global, and after graduating with “great distinction” from Concordia she left for Bogota, Colombia for seven months to work as a pre-kindergarten teacher. “Not really related to journalism, but something I wanted to do before undertaking another degree,” she writes.

Volstad just started a law degree at Université de Montréal, but says she still wants to be a journalist.

“I felt that my journalism degree gave me strong technical skills (how to interview, how to put together a news pack, how to focus a story, etc.), but I lacked the knowledge base to apply those skills to,” she tells me. “Essentially, I hope to be able to use what I am learning in law school to gain a better understanding of the issues I report on. And so far, I can say that it is helping, without a doubt!”

Olivia Bako

Olivia Bako

Winner, Philip Fisher Bursary, 2013. @OlivBako / oliviabako.wordpress.com

Hailing from Edmonton, the 22-year-old graduate diploma student who did a psychology major and political science minor at the University of Alberta said she wants to work somewhere “that’s really dynamic” and she doesn’t like being bored.

“I didn’t want a job where you’re always sitting at a desk,” she said.

She was optimistic about career prospects in journalism. “I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to have all these different skills. You’ll always need journalists. So there’ll always be journalists.”

Having interned at McGill’s CKUT Radio, she said she really enjoyed the medium. “You can really delve into people’s stories,” she said. “It’s kind of the opposite of corporate media. When you’re given an hour you can really interview someone in depth.”

She said she wanted to “hear the social aspect of people’s stories,” without presenting those stories in a patronizing way.

Since the award, she moved back to Edmonton.

“I’m currently working for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters as an Events and Communications Assistant. ACWS is a non-profit organization that supports over 41 member shelters and works towards ending violence and abuse against women through community engagement and workplace training.”

She also reports she’s working on a documentary on violence against women and domestic abuse in Poland.

“I’m also learning how to knit.”

Katherine Wood Williams

Katherine Wood Williams

Winner, Enn Raudsepp Award, 2013. @kwoodwilliams / LinkedIn

The 34-year-old Montreal-born diploma program student with a degree in anthropology from McGill, and who studied history at Concordia and sustainable development at Université de Montréal, said she was living in Buenos Aires doing PR at a newspaper (The Argentina Independent, an English-language publication), and “I always felt really jealous about the journalists. I started realizing that that was something I wanted to do.”

She admitted she jumped a bit from subject to subject, like someone in a TV drama who doesn’t know what to do with her diploma.

But she felt attracted to journalism and how it’s a “practical way for getting ideas out there.” She also said she has a “good eye for developing a good story. I feel I have a sensitivity for knowing what’s coming.”

After graduating, she made another slight deviation in her career path. “I found myself drawn to employments in the community sector,” she writes. “In June 2014 I started working for a community organization and I’m still there. I’m helping the organization with communications, social media, fundraising and events. I’m working with great people and I really like my job.”

“In a way I’m applying skills learned studying journalism to the community sector. And the community sector is a really inspiring environment. The organization that I work for makes a concrete difference in peoples’ lives, namely refugees and children from low income families. So all’s well and I feel like I’m in the right place doing communications/public relations work in the community sector.”

Sabrina Giancioppi

Sabrina Giancioppi

Winner, Susan Carson Award, 2013. LinkedIn

“I always liked writing and I always hated math,” she said. So she got a degree in English literature from Concordia, but realized “this is really not for me” and so topped it off with a graduate diploma in journalism. “This is what I want to do,” she said. “I like telling long stories. I feel like that can be done in print.”

Giancioppi said she was more attracted to “more of the arts and entertainment. I kind of like the fun stuff, more feature-y things.”

She’s currently a freelance journalist, writing for Montreall.com and interning at enRoute magazine. She’ll also be doing some Christmas Fund profiles for The Gazette over the next month.

Salima Punjani

Salima Punjani

Winner, Philip Fisher Bursary, 2013. @salimapunjani / @cbcsalima / cargocollective.com/salima / LinkedIn

Punjani’s LinkedIn page and website do a better job selling her than I ever could, but I’ll try anyway. She was 27 when I met her last year, and probably 28 by the time I saw her again recently at the launch of Ricochet. She’s from Vancouver, studied mass communication and political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, and after her diploma at Concordia she worked at CBC as a recipient of the Joan Donaldson scholarship.

“I hate winter with a passion,” she told me. (Did I mention she’s from Vancouver?)

Punjani traced her interest in journalism back to Grade 5, when Kevin Evans, then the anchor of CBC News in B.C., came to talk to her class about journalism.

She learned that what the news reports and what reality is can often differ. “What I saw on TV was a very distorted view,” she said. “Since then I’ve been really interested in showing marginalized people.”

She doesn’t just talk the talk either. She worked for Oxfam in Ethiopia for six months, which exposed her to the “everyday moments” of people in that country, the kind of stuff you don’t see in a two-minute report on the evening news.

In addition to written journalism, she’s also a photographer. Earlier this year, she put together the My Montreal Our Values project, in which she provided cameras to people and asked them to take photos of their daily lives. She’s an artist in residence at B21 “where I’m designing a participatory multimedia storytelling project with/for people using a local homeless shelter.”

Punjani remains hopeful. “If you work hard, I don’t think you’ll ever have a problem finding a job,” she said. “There is opportunity, you just have to find it.”

Astute readers might notice that the class of 2013 is all women. My gender is clearly underperforming here. We’ll see if that changes tonight.

3 thoughts on “Even more journalists of tomorrow

  1. Dilbert

    Good luck to them, hopefully it works out. One can’t help but feel it’s like the last graduating class from the buggy whip factory, however…

  2. Benjamin

    Really nice to see you posting these, Steve, and to see you encouraging people to become writers and pursue it as a career. I wish someone had done the same for me when I was younger – I had to find my own way to this profession, which has been incredibly rewarding.


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