Why good journalism can (and should) be infused with a reporter’s passions
By Kristian Trevena
Being knowledgeable about a subject, and doggedly determined in your reporting, are critical to the success of any journalist. But expertise is only half of the battle. It’s passion for a particular issue that makes you the perfect person to tell that story, according to News1130 reporter Ash Kelly.
“As cliché as it sounds, curiosity is all it takes—that little spark that pushes you to do the extra work and put those passion hours in,” says Kelly, a 2015 Langara journalism graduate.
Kelly started working at The Discourse-—an independent publication covering social issues in underserved communities—in 2013. She says the experience taught her the importance of writing on the social justice issues she cared most deeply about.
She recalls her first assignment for The Discourse: a story about the Pacific Northwest LNG and the effects it would have on the salmon population in the area. Reporting on stories that were meaningful to her translated into a deeper, richer level of reporting. “If you’re a good journalist, you work harder,” says Kelly. “Your biases are never put aside; you work within them. That’s what my time at The Discourse taught me.”
Kelly argues that the presence of journalists on social media is also allowing for a more intimate relationship between journalists and their audiences—and for readers and viewers to understand a journalist’s passions. “It’s no longer just a name on a by-line. That’s not how the news works anymore,” she says. “It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to care.”
Catherine Lafferty, a journalist with Indiginews, and author of Northern Wildflower, says that it is important for new reporters to not underestimate the power of their own voices. “That is the only way that media is going to change—if we make it so the people who are reading this need to hear what is being said and are captivated by it,” she says.
Still, she adds, reporters need to ensure that they get both sides of every story. “For me, there were a few stories I wanted to do that I needed to stop and make sure I had that neutral bias.”
Daphne Bramham, a columnist with the Vancouver Sun who writes regularly about social issues, thinks the obstacle that prevents journalists from indulging their passions is a simple one: Money.
“The problem is that nobody wants to pay us,” says Bramham. “For most journalists, if they want to follow their passions, they’re going to have to do it outside the newsroom.”
Though Bramham thinks it’s important for new journalists to cover issues they care about, they must first understand the basics of a newsroom environment. Delivering what your editors ask of you, and covering the daily news cycle, is critical for any reporter.
Bramham is generally critical of how newsrooms operate— with “editors who are still, in many ways, caught in the old-fashioned beat system, where we cover cops and crime but not these types of issues.” Still, she cautions young journalists against thinking they can walk into a newsroom and change an editor’s mind about what’s important.
“You’ve got to give them what they want—and then give them the better story, which is your story.”