From stability to uncertainty
After an eight-year stint with the Vancouver School Board, Patti Bacchus returned to the industry she originally went to school for.
The former school trustee worked for the VSB from 2008-16, before being fired by the B.C. education minister, along with the rest of the board, in October 2016. Two years later, Bacchus is the K-12 columnist for The Georgia Straight, producing commentary on current events that relate to education and the Vancouver School Board.
“It allows me to stay engaged in the issues and talk to people that I didn’t always get a chance to talk to,” Bacchus says. “It helps me and I like it.”
Before entering politics, she was involved in communications for multiple companies and was a reporter for the short-lived Richmond Times in the late 1980s. Bacchus studied journalism at Langara College, and says the education has been beneficial—both in and outside the industry.
“Having training in journalism is a really valuable experience for a lot of things,” Bacchus says. “The ability to look at a complex situation and ask the right questions and distill it down and be articulate.”
Bacchus represented Vision Vancouver when she was a school trustee, and admits there were times she did not agree with some of the party’s decisions. Now, as a commentator, she says she doesn’t need to put on a filter.
“Sometimes I had mixed feelings about things we were doing, but you had to present a certain front,” Bacchus says. “This way I can truly be an independent. As an independent, I’m not speaking for anyone but myself, which is lovely.”
Excelling in one career does not always mean it’s what you were meant to do. And that is exactly what Bala Yogesh discovered when journalism came into his life.
Growing up in India, Yogesh was fascinated by the structure and mechanics of vehicles. Having started driving while sitting on his father’s lap at the age of eight, it was no surprise to his family when Yogesh began to pursue automotive engineering.
What surprised him, though, was the love he found for writing while working as a freelancer during his undergraduate for Formula 1, an online motor sport magazine.
Yogesh describes his Indian family as quite traditional. So when he decided to take a 50 per cent cut to his salary and pursue a career in another country, he says they were shocked.
“No one in my family was in this industry. And India … when I started journalism, [was] kind of moving slowly into a digital age.”
Automotive engineering may have been personally satisfying, but Yogesh says journalism goes beyond that.
If he hadn’t rebelled against the traditional expectations of his family, Yogesh says he imagines he would have ended up with an office job, and a wife and kids, leading a normal life with no worries about the future. Still, he doesn’t regret his choices.
“I want to make a difference,” Yogesh says.
For some who go into journalism, the desire is for a 9-to-5 job with a stable salary. Others, however, like the freedom to choose the stories they write, when to write them and how to write them.
Masa Takei has always been the independent type. After studying geography at UBC, Takei worked as a tree-planter; wandered and rockclimbed his way through Japan and France; travelled the globe as a consultant; and lived off the grid in Haida Gwaii for two-and-a-half years. While Takei was always in control, he didn’t always know where each decision would take him.
“My parents were worried when I took an economic free fall—you know, took a 90 per cent pay cut to write, which I can understand,” he says. “But they were still like, ‘You’ll figure it out.’”
His original career in management consulting seemed like the perfect fit for Takei. Collecting, making sense of and presenting information satisfied both his love of learning and his natural curiosity.
“Management consulting is a license to talk to whoever you want, going wherever you want, and exploring subjects that you’re interested in,” Takei says. “The way consulting was different [than journalism] was that your client would tell you what you’re interested in at that particular time.”
Journalism didn’t fall into Takei’s lap, but rather crept up to him through a series of small events. He was inspired by peers working as freelance writers, and made connections with people like Charles Montgomery, author of the book Happy City, who offered Takei a position writing alongside eight other freelance writers in an office space in the Downtown Eastside.
“If I’d stayed in [consulting] I would have probably owned my own house, I would’ve had kids—I didn’t have kids—but when I balance those things I still don’t think I would have changed it,” Takei says.
Though freelance writing may not always be the most sustainable way to make a living, Takei believes if you have to make rent, that’ll get you writing.
“I tell my students all the time that the most valuable thing you have is time. We can always make more money—but you’re never going to make time again.”
Raising a toddler while in customer service was not Sarah Gawdin’s dream.
Since the time she was 13 years old, Gawdin knew she was meant to do more and also that she had a passion for writing. But when her mother passed away from breast cancer, Gawdin’s plans for university—and a steady career—were put on hold.
“My life kind of went weird. I bounced all over the country,” Gawdin says. “I had a stint of homelessness in Toronto and I ended up in Regina—and I did not like Regina at all.”
Gawdin made a promise to herself to apply for the University of Regina’s journalism program. She was working at the time for a local company, where it was her job to listen to every newscast in the evening and write a nutshell blurb about it. That job, she says, helped prepare her for the entrance exams.
“I had no idea what I was signing up for,” Gawdin says. “I thought an editor would give me a story and I would go and write something pretty about it. Once I got into journalism school and learned about what it really was, I was hooked. I was like ‘This is just the best thing in the world.’ ”
Now, almost eight years after graduating from journalism school, Gawdin is working in her first full-time journalism job covering the entertainment beat for The Chilliwack Progress.
Though her path had multiple unexpected turns along the way, Gawdin says she is thankful for all of the experiences that brought her to where she is today.
“I know what it’s like to be someone who has to work from 10 at night until six in the morning, or someone who deals with a cash-based job, or who has to deal with any of those kinds of complications,” Gawdin says. “I’m able to look at it from a different angle than had I never experienced anything besides journalism.”