What has the pandemic meant for j-school graduates?

Trying to land a news job in the wake of COVID-19

J-school graduate Jack Fisher at his work-from-home desk Jack Fisher

J-school graduate Ritika Dubey is fed up with the pandemic.

The 23-year-old international student had decided to pursue journalism studies at Sheridan College in Oakville, mainly because of the course’s mandatory work placement, which would allow her to intern at a Canadian news media organization and acquire crucial experience to gain a foothold in the industry.

J-school graduate Ritika Dubey
CREDITS: Ritika Dubey

Now, due to COVID-19, those dreams stand crushed. She recently received the news that her internship at CBC has been cancelled.

Dubey is one of hundreds of j-school graduates across Canada who were looking to get their foot in the news media industry’s door this summer. Being an extremely competitive field, getting an internship opportunity at a news organization like CBC or Toronto Star is considered a worthy accomplishment. However, the pandemic-led stay-at-home directives eliminated any chances of students gaining that crucial experience.

In the past decade, with the digital disruption and decline of traditional news, jobs in the journalism industry had become sparse to begin with. Now, the pandemic has further worsened prospects for those trying to break into the field.

Humber College student Akanksha Lamba says she’s the only one in her program who was able to snag a work-from-home internship with Citytv Toronto. Although she could not pursue her original role of production assistant at the broadcast studio, she’s grateful for the opportunity. “I’m a remote research assistant for their show now and not able to learn much virtually, but I’m still thankful that I have this placement so I’ll be able to graduate from my program at the very least,” Lamba said.

J-school graduate Jack Fisher at his work-from-home desk.
CREDITS: Jack Fisher

Other journalism students, like Jack Fisher, 25, are scrambling to find new opportunities. Disappointed when his spring internship at CBC Toronto was cancelled, he decided not to let this setback keep him from gaining industry experience. He went down the entrepreneurial route by launching his own news website called the Guelph Wire.

On this site, he has been tracking the spread of COVID-19 in the City of Guelph and writing daily stories about how life has been impacted due to the pandemic.  “I’m hoping that this will set me up as if I had done an internship because I’ve kept my skills up and I’ve kept doing what we were taught in school,” Fisher said.

A glimpse of the coronavirus coverage on Fisher’s website guelphwire.ca

COVID-cation on Spotify

Students attending the Durham College journalism program in Oshawa were fortunate to have been supported by their faculty members, who quickly adapted to the new circumstances and allowed students to get their internship credits by working on independent media projects as well.

 The school’s coordinator, Brian Legree, approved students to work on an independent multimedia project called COVID-cation, complete with podcasts, video segments, and written posts. Legree said that third-year students worked as editors for second-year students, who were producers, and “everyone got a taste of a different experience from what they were used to.”

Filled with apprehension and faced with a scenario where the industry has almost completely frozen hiring, should journalism graduates be second-guessing their decisions of pursuing this career path?

A TV news veteran suggests that weathering the initial hurdles of trying to break into the industry is the most difficult part, which, if successful, will lead to fulfilling journalistic careers. CP24 meteorologist Bill Coulter graduated from university in the early ’90s and was faced with an industry that was just emerging from a recession.

Meteorologist Bill Coulter performing the daily wipe-down of equipment at CP24 studio.
CREDITS: Bill Coulter

His advice for today’s j-school graduates is to be persistent in seeking positions, even if they come from smaller markets like the ones in Southern Ontario or the Prairies.

 He emphasized the importance of “persistence that comes with saying ‘I’m willing to try and learn to educate [myself] to be the best’ and I think when people see that, they want to help you.”

Newcomers may only be offered positions that are temporary, freelance, or even voluntary in some cases. But using these opportunities to get one’s foot in the door and proactively working toward getting to know established professionals in their field will lead to more fulfilling roles, despite a pandemic.

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Posted: Jul 5 2020 6:25 pm
Filed under: Features Living Room Newsroom