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 one of a couple dozen of others laid off across the network. The network announced it would change how newscasts would be produced. 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 lived most of my life; both have similar population sizes and land areas.

On top of my regular duties, I was also a video journalist (VJ). VJs shoot and edit their own reports. They’re also called multimedia journalists (MMJ) and one-(wo)man-band (OMB) reporters. At the time, I was the only non-sports reporter at the station who handled those extra duties on a regular basis. To my knowledge, all day 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 also had reporters in the city, and there was at least one from Sun News Network. 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.

The weather presented one of my biggest challenges. Trying to shoot something for extended period outside when it’s supposed to feel like -50 C made me a changed man. I didn’t know my nose could turn so white. I’ve written more about life in Regina in another post.

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 = report for 6 p.m. My stories often aired on Global Saskatoon because of the station’s proximity, ditto Global Edmonton.

I found myself producing 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 reported there when the Grey Cup was held in the city in 2013. The rest of my stories normally focused on events, community issues, 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 adored 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.

A story on residents of Elmer Lach’s hometown reflecting on his death was one of my favourite stories I produced. I drove there thinking I might not get anyone to speak for my story. Instead, I got to interview 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.). Still, 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 produce on the weekend. There was a second reporter for some weekends when I worked there. The anchor and the producer would start work at 1 p.m. (or so), so the photographers (there were two) and I would have to deal with everything before then by ourselves, including keeping up with police scanner talk, reexamining what the news of the day would be, and such.

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. The pace was less hectic in Regina than in the bigger cities I’ve lived in.

Dealing with public relations representatives was challenging at times (this is a starter market for some, 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. On 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 my camera’s lens so they could use it as a visual cheat sheet if needed during the interview. Another 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. 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 didn’t see anything in this industry being 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 was a weird way to live life, perhaps too paranoid a way to live life, but my logic was: I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the inevitable. And I was.

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

Thankfully, I had a few job offers in the prior weeks. In fact, I was entertaining some of them on and around L-Day. The main bother was leaving the station without getting time to say goodbye to some of the people I worked with out of the office. I spent so many hours developing great working relationships with them, and I saw some spokespeople more than my family and friends. Eventually, I did get to reconnect with them (several actually reached out to me). A few people also offered me jobs.

(I think I forgot my scarf at the station.)

I felt that my storytelling skills had improved dramatically in the prior weeks; the aforementioned Lach story, the last story I shot and edited, 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 several documented adventures, and a few months enjoying Toronto life later, I started working at Global Halifax as a VJ on September 1, 2015. It’s a better environment 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 presented to me 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 my experience reporting in Saskatchewan. People trusted me to tell their stories, which is such an honour. Yes, the winters were harsh, and I left suddenly, but I got to prove to myself that I can report for television.

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