Out of the workshop, into the real world

Katie Meekis, left, and Victoria Meekis cover the Deer Lake First Nation spring clean up June 6, 2019. 

By: Sarah Ladik, Community Journalism Trainer

DEER LAKE FIRST NATION, ON – I have always been one of those editors who is probably over-invested in her reporters.

There isn’t much better than seeing the people you have coached go out and succeed in this work. The only thing better is watching those people succeed while being their beautiful, creative, informed selves – approaching things completely differently than I would. 

As a result of their and my travels, the reporters I have mentored over the years are scattered across the country. Now there are two more on the list, right here in Deer Lake First Nation. 

The community hosted its annual spring clean up June 6, and for the first time since I’ve been here, we actually did some coverage. I had a number of kids from Press Club – our afterschool program for youth interested in reporting – volunteer to report on the event, and in the end, it was me and two young women, Katie and Victoria, venturing forth armed with a camera, a recorder, and a notebook. 

While this was their first time covering an event, we have done a number of workshops to build up some of the skills they would need. Previously, we had done a session or two on photography, one on interviewing, and a few on what’s needed for news story. While both girls had a pretty good idea of the plan going in, there is always something unexpected to deal with and learn when you’re actually out there in the world doing the job. 

What I hadn’t anticipated (though perhaps I should have) was how much everyone involved in this story – on both sides of the notebook – would figure out together. 

There is a rhythm to event coverage. Sometimes it’s hectic and hard to get your voices, and sometimes they are all laid out for you, but the beats are essentially the same. Usually, the people running events I go to have done media interviews before and are familiar with the process. Usually – though not always – we step to a slightly quieter corner, chat for five minutes, exchange phone numbers if I don’t already have theirs in case there are any follow-up questions, and that’s about that. At some point, you find some participants, and then a voice from local leadership to talk about why the event is important.

By contrast, our main interview for the clean-up story stood behind a table laden with food, flanked by helpers and other organizers, and entertained everyone in the vicinity while answering questions. Our student participants gave one-word answers as their classmates clamoured around them, and our leadership voice initially turned us down for an interview. 

This would have thrown me off my game at 20 after four years in j-school, nevermind on my very first assignment as a middle-schooler. 

These two very fresh reporters, however, were not phased. They did their jobs, got the photos, asked the questions, and got all the voices they needed and then some. 

The afternoon did not unfold quite as I had anticipated, and that is a good thing. The reporters figured it out, and so did the people they interviewed. The rhythm wasn’t what I am used to, and why should it be? If this kind of initiative is going to work in Deer Lake and the other communities Journalists for Human Rights is and has been in, it has to be because it works for those communities and their members, on their own terms. 

On our way back to rendezvous at the school, one of the reporters asked what the next story we covered would be. I don’t know yet, but I do know that whatever it is, I’ll be able to step back a wee bit and watch these young women do their thing, which, in the end, is the whole point. 

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