That time I was a journalist in Regina, Saskatchewan

Yes, I did a lot of weather stories.
Yes, I did a lot of weather stories.

Four months after finishing grad school, I was hired as a reporter/anchor for Global Regina in October 2013. I was adamant I had to report for television ASAP to prove to myself that I could do it. I left Toronto within a week of accepting the position, and my first report aired on Oct. 28.

I have reported for professional news outlets since I was 15, but this, at 23, was my first full-time reporting job. I worked there for one year, five months, and 18 days before being laid off on April 9, 2014. I was part of a couple dozen of others laid off across the network after an announcement of changes to the production of newscasts. It was an ending of a chapter that led to a better one bringing me back to the network.

I had never stepped foot in Saskatchewan before, but it turned out that I had a decent idea of what I was in for by researching it online: it gets extremely cold in the winter, and people are obsessed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Regina reminded me of the Etobicoke suburb of Toronto, where I have lived most of my life; both have similar populations and land areas.

On top of my regular duties, I was also a video journalist (VJ). VJs, also called multimedia journalists (MMJ) and one-(wo)man-band (OMB) reporters, shoot and edit their own stories. At the time, I was the only reporter at the station who handled those extra duties on a regular basis. To my knowledge, all reporters were VJs at CTV Regina. I recall seeing only one CBC News VJ in the city.

Other reporters I came across in Regina were from 620 CKRM, MBC RadioNews Talk 980 CJME, the Regina Leader Post, and The Canadian Press. Prior to closing, Metro Regina and Sun News Network also had reporters in the city. Some journalists had specific beats, particularly reporters at the Leader Post.

It was obvious that Regina is a starter market. Most reporters I met had been reporting for only a few years (if that), and there were a lot of young reporters originally from other provinces starting out like me. Some reporters took the competition too seriously but most were nice to each other. CTV VJs especially liked me because I was always willing to hold their microphones in scrums when I had a photographer with me (and even without). My record was holding all three main Canadian TV networks’ microphones in a scrum.

Because the Saskatchewan Legislative Building is in Regina, some of my stories were about provincial politics. Many of those stories were straightforward: embargoed email came in by 9 a.m., then scrum + other side’s scrum + any other voices I could fit in = story for 6 p.m. My stories often aired on Global Saskatoon because of the station’s proximity. I also noticed that Global Edmonton aired a lot of my stories.

I found myself doing a significant number of sports-related stories. Regina reporters don’t have much of a choice, really. People truly are obsessed with football team the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That, and I was reporting when the Grey Cup was held in the city in 2013. The rest of my stories normally focused on events, community issues, policy changes, weather, and the hard news standard fare (homicides, fires, and such). I also covered several stories in Moose Jaw, about a 45-minute drive away. Saskatchewan has a significant population of indigenous people, and I enjoyed getting to learn about their communities’ traditions.

I enjoyed covering stories outside of the city the most. I liked learning about what people did for fun in small-town Saskatchewan, what made them tick. I met some of the most genuine, good-natured people there. They would do anything it took to make sure I got every last thing I wanted for my story. It felt like they didn’t want me to leave; I didn’t either.

A story on Elmer Lach’s hometown reflecting on his death was probably my favourite story done outside of Regina, probably my overall favourite story I did in Saskatchewan. I went there thinking I might not get anyone to speak for my story. Instead, I got to speak with a lifelong fan, and, without even requesting it, the fan got a 97-year-old childhood friend of the hockey star to drive into town on his truck to speak with me.

(I sometimes felt like I was the only person in the province without a truck.)

I didn’t mind working weekends because my Saskatchewan social circle was, initially, nonexistent. I became friends with a few reporters who worked weekends at other stations; we would hang out during our weekends. I also enjoyed the schedule (Friday-Tuesday) because I could get so much accomplished on Wednesdays and Thursdays (dental appointments, etc.).

During my off-hours, I’d watch other stations to see who produced the better story, call sources for story ideas, and such. No journalist is ever off the clock, really (and I’m a workaholic).

The weekend crew at the station was small. We’d plan out on Fridays what stories we’d air on the weekend. The anchor and producer would start work at 1 p.m. (or so), so the photographer and I would have have to deal with everything before then by ourselves.

Finding experts in Regina for stories wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be, but getting them to meet up with me before my deadline was another story. Reginans are far more laid back than Torontonians.

Dealing with public relations representatives was challenging at times (this is a starter market for them, too) but was, generally, a fine experience. Some would take as long as possible to respond to my interview request if it was a story that, in their mind, didn’t paint their client/organization in the best light. On one day, one government representative would scold me for calling to ask where they were with my request; another day, the same person would “accidentally” forget about my request because I didn’t call to check in on their progress.

Once, a spokesperson asked me to hold their press release beside the camera lens so they could use it as a visual cheat sheet if needed during the interview. One spokesperson would send daily press releases that included a new photo of their dog. An encounter that stands out involved a representative who, just prior to a scrum, hugged every reporter in the room. Coincidentally, a similar incident occurred with a spokesperson from a competing group.

So, back to being laid off. I was called in on my day off and, having not been told why, I expected the worst. Another employee was laid off, too, though that person had another month or so left on the job. I was allowed to pack up all of my things myself, which was nice.

Being out of a job was oddly relieving. My goal was to be reporting elsewhere by that coming summer, so I made sure not to establish any deep roots. It was something that was (and still is) always at the back of my mind: a voice telling me not to get too attached to anything. I mean, it was 2015, and news outlets were doing more cutting than hiring. I simply didn’t and still don’t see anything in this industry as permanent. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to even buy a toaster because I doubted it would fit in my car when moving back to Toronto.

I think I went a year without bagels.

(It’s a weird way to live life, perhaps too paranoid a way to live life, but my logic is I want to be prepared as best I can for the inevitable.)

My desk life all packed up.
My desk life all packed up.

Thankfully, I had a few job offers in the prior months and was entertaining some of them on and around L-Day. The main bother was leaving the station without getting to say goodbye to some of my sources. I spent so many hours developing relationships with them, and I saw some spokespeople more than I did my family and friends. Eventually, I did get to reconnect with them (several actually reached out to me). Also, I think I forgot my scarf at the station.

I felt my storytelling skills had improved dramatically in the prior weeks; the aforementioned Lach story, the last story I shot and edited (fitting, no?), was probably the pinnacle of that. I’m thankful I got to leave on a noticeable — for me, anyway — high.

A road trip, which included a several documented adventures, and a few months later, I joined Global Halifax as a VJ in September 2015. It’s a better position for me, and I’ve definitely fallen for Nova Scotia. I’m getting to report on more things I’m interested in, and I’ve been given opportunities that would never have been possible in my previous job.

As the song goes, “You think there’s not a lot goin’ on,” but there is, and I try to keep the many great people I met and some of the memorable stories I produced top of mind when looking back on the whole experience in Saskatchewan. Yes, the winters were harsh, and I left unexpectedly, but I got to prove to myself that I could report for television. People trusted me to tell their stories, which is such an honour.

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