Tara-Lee Novak didn’t always think she was going to be in journalism. It was only a few years ago that she was working as a teacher in Toronto after receiving her degree from the University of Toronto.
She realized that as much as she loved teaching kids, her passion for storytelling was really at the forefront of her mind. Without hesitation Novak moved across the country and enrolled in the broadcast-journalism program at B.C. Institute of Technology.
“I realized when I would show my students videos from National Geographic that I was more interested in it than they were,” Novak tells the Georgia Straight from BCIT’s Burnaby campus, “I wanted to produce videos instead of just watching them.”
Now in her final year, Novak has worked in radio, TV, and the Web. She has parlayed her education at BCIT into a job for the upcoming 2010 Winter Games, where she will be working as a camera assistant for the figure-skating competitions.
The BCIT program may be known for producing some of the most recognizable faces and voices around B.C.—Canucks commentator John Shorthouse, CBC broadcaster Stephen Quinn, and weather-girl extraordinaire Tamara Taggart, to name three—but it was the behind-the-scenes work that attracted Novak to the school.
Navigating the terrain of journalism programs available can be daunting. In B.C., there are several postsecondary schools that offer journalism programs, and they are as varied as the industry itself.
Students interested in a degree program can enroll in one of three schools that offer an undergrad degree in journalism. Kwantlen Polytechnic University offers a full-time four-year degree program that includes journalism-skills courses such as writing skills, photography, and news production.
Diverse courses are exactly the reason why Justin Langille decided to enroll at Kwantlen. Langille, a 28-year-old second-year student in the journalism diploma program, told the Straight in a phone interview that he’s impressed with the opportunities he’s had to incorporate new media into traditional print journalism.
“We’ve really had the door left wide open to figure out if a story is appropriate to develop a slide show around, and they [the instructors] encourage you to do that,” he says.
Graduates from Kwantlen include Georgia Straight music writer John Lucas and New Westminster News Leader editor Chris Bryan.
It’s no secret that journalism as an industry has come to a crossroads. Newspapers, TV, and radio have all been struggling to keep their heads above water. Bloggers are popping up all over the Internet, creating a whole new level of competition for traditional media sources.
Ask anyone why they want to become a journalist in an industry that seems to be imploding, and you’ll usually hear a variation of the same answer: it’s their passion. Veteran Vancouver journalist and Langara journalism instructor Frances Bula told the Straight in a phone interview that the industry may be restructuring but it’s certainly not dying.
“The reality is there are all kinds of media outlets making money, and I think that everyone thinks that something has to change,” Bula said. “But I don’t really see any evidence that people aren’t interested in stories and news anymore.”
Langara College has a two-year diploma program and an eight-month certificate program for those with university degrees. Graduates include Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter and Vancouver Sun reporters Fiona Anderson and Kelly Sinoski. According to Bula, the school is also looking at creating a degree program as well.
“Things keep changing, and you have to reassess what is important for students to learn to do,” Bula added, noting that like the industry itself, courses in journalism are always evolving.
Students at Langara practise a hands-on approach to their studies through doing research, conducting interviews, writing stories, and shooting photos for the department’s weekly newspaper, The Voice. Similarly, Kwantlen students write for The Chronicle and BCIT students work on their FM radio station, Evolution 107.9, and for BCIT Magazine on local cable television.
For students who want to focus on a different sector of the industry, Capilano University offers a full-time 15-week program in magazine publishing for students who have already finished their degrees or diplomas.
The only postgraduate journalism-degree program in Western Canada so far is at the University of British Columbia. Alumni of the master of journalism program, which runs over four terms with a summer internship, include CBC Vancouver’s Go Public producer Enza Uda. Students outside the Lower Mainland can look to Thompson River University and Vancouver Island University for their journalism-education needs. Thompson River offers a Bachelor of Journalism program that runs over four semesters followed by a 12-week internship, while VIU offers a four-year degree program in creative writing and journalism.