By: Sarah Ladik, Community Journalism Trainer
It would be an understatement to say that I am an ambitious person.
Not in terms of fame or fortune or power – Lord knows I have zero aspirations to any of those. I mean ambitious in terms of what I can get done in a given amount of time.
Biting off more than I can chew is both a literal and metaphorical theme in my life.
I have been working as a community journalism trainer in Deer Lake First Nation for about two weeks, have had one unmitigated success of a workshop and one complete flop. I have learned where the store is, where the post office is (it’s in the store) and where to get prescriptions filled (surprisingly, not at the store). I have spoken to chief and council and been given some space in the band office to work out of, although people there and elsewhere have been a bit shy when confronted with my probably over-enthusiastic greetings. I have shared living space with a lady who came to take school pictures, and some guys from Reach For Life, a group of Indigenous artists touring northern Ontario First Nation communities to inspire and empower young people.
I have moved a lot in my career, and the one thing I keep needing to re-learn is that trust is not something that happens overnight. I can preach this message to my reporters, freelancers, and my mother, whom I call when I’m having a hard time. And yet, it’s something I need to figure out again and again, every time I arrive in a new community.
The successful workshop happened at the Deer Lake First Nation School 2nd Community Fishing Derby. About a dozen kids and one adult took photos, learned about protocol for asking people if they were okay with their photo being published, and how to write down caption information. This being the part of the job I personally like the least, I was heartened to see how eager the kids were to just dive in and get it done.
My flop of a workshop was actually meant to cover the Reach For Life visit, and I’m writing this while sitting in the lobby at Deer Lake First Nation School, waiting to see if anyone shows up. No luck so far.
While my sign-up sheet remains regrettably empty, I am still calling this a win.
In my two afternoons of sitting here, I have chatted with students, staff, and anyone else coming through for one reason or another. People who in my first week ducked their heads and shuffled away when I smiled at them are now smiling back. Kids, some of whom were part of that successful photo workshop, say hi to me by name and ask me about what I’m doing.
One young lady went a bit further, asking about what journalism is. I told her it’s reporting the news. She pointed to my computer screen, where I was working on a poster for an upcoming community forum, and asked if that was journalism.
I said no, but then reconsidered, and said yes, graphic design can absolutely be part of journalism. Laying out pages is something I did at the beginning of my career and remains one of my favourite aspects of newspaper production.
She said okay and meandered off.
This is the first time in about 10 years I have not been working as a journalist. I got my first gig in the Northwest Territories right out of university and that was all she wrote (or rather, that was the beginning of me writing many, many things). It’s a different mindset, to be doing training and not media production itself. I don’t know where the goalposts are and that is the kind of thing that really bothers me (see above, re: ambition).
That being said, sitting around somewhere until people get used to you and start to relax is a time-honoured reporter skill. So is being able to talk to pretty much anyone about pretty much anything, whether it’s the the deputy minister of whatever waiting for a meeting to start, or the kid who comes up to tell you she likes how your hair is braided.
Journalism is the prepping, interviewing, shooting, researching, fact-checking, producing, editing, and publishing of a thing. If we’re holding people in power accountable or hearing a new voice or story, so much the better. That thing, though, at its heart, is talking to people.
The best journalism comes from context and understanding and most of all, trust; trust you get by sitting and listening and absorbing, before diving in and making a real nuisance of yourself.
So maybe that’s what I need to remember here, especially as an outsider, and especially as a settler and guest in this community. Nothing comes from nothing, and while the goalposts may have moved, the game remains the same.
It’s about listening and showing up and talking to whomever wants to talk, which, I guess, at the end of the day, is journalism after all.