My Big Fat Life: PROUD TO SEE HER TALENTED STUDENTS SPREAD THEIR WINGS

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Goofing around: Theresa and her students share a fun moment last Christmas.

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner on Monday, April 30, 2012

My second-year students headed out on their internships last week. Eight beautiful and talented people, all destined to lead interesting lives, left the journalism classroom for the real world.

For eight weeks they’ll immerse themselves in the medium they love. Students are scattered throughout radio stations, television studios and newspaper newsrooms in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. We have one student working in a national newsroom, another at a magazine in Toronto, with another heading to a national entertainment program in June. One of our students is also working with a well-known Canadian publisher.

To say I’m proud would be an understatement.

It was a great week, but not just because my students began to truly spread their wings. Their work was also showcased last week when CBC Radio’s provincial afternoon show SHIFT ran their five-part multimedia series on the community of Juniper.

Juniper: An Uncertain Future was created after spending more than 12 hours in the community in late March. We arrived there early one sunny morning and hit the ground running. Photos, interviews, video, audio recordings all gathered while visiting former teachers, business owners, farmers, the local school.

Tape was collected when talking to people at the gas pumps, dropping into people’s homes, and getting to know the challenges the community faces from the people who know the community best. It was an exhausting but exhilarating day and some students fell asleep on the bus on the way home.

The day was far from perfect.

Not everything ran smoothly. They had a few technical hiccups, they had a couple of personality conflicts, they made mistakes, they fixed them, they missed out on an interview, they had another interview not go as smoothly as they had hoped, they got great tape, they got amazing pictures, they got wet feet in getting just the right shots, they were turned away from one business, and welcomed into another, and found that when one restaurant closes because of electrical upgrades, another will open for you and feed you like kings. All – instructor and bus driver included – learned a lot that day.

The end result is a series that students can be proud of.

The people of Juniper were grateful for the time we spent with them. Many bent over backwards to accommodate us. Many expressed feelings of desperation – believing that two levels of government had forgotten about the community.

Others spoke with sadness in their voices, knowing Juniper will never be as prosperous as it once was. Some were resigned to the fact that houses will continue to stand empty, unable to be sold, and that families will continue to be split, with husbands and fathers working away in Alberta to help make ends meet.

Stories like this don’t come from quick visits or phone calls. The series is a beautiful example of journalism that can be achieved when reporters aren’t rushed.

Taking the time to sit down with people and allow them to tell their story at their own pace, and not the news organization’s, is hard to achieve in this age of ‘getting it first.’

Sadly, deadlines are the nature of the beast. When I worked at CBC the saying was, ‘Feed the goat.’ We had an insatiable goat that had to be fed no matter what. Your day was all about getting the story for the next newscast or the next radio show. It was rush, rush, rush, day in, day out.

My students understand that this was something special. They know they won’t get the a lot of opportunities to spend hours with the people they interview, but they might get a few chances. There will be days when you pitch a story to a producer in just the right manner, when in explaining your need to spend more time than usual in a community, the producer will see what you do – a golden opportunity to create something special.

You will, from time to time, get the chance to tell beautiful and compelling stories listeners and readers and viewers talk about for days and weeks after.

You can see the Juniper series and other work produced by my students at http://www.jschoolnbcc.ca.

I’ll end with a special message to my interning students Tony Bourgeois, Jill Constantine, Kyle Dupont, Ethan Haslett, Michael MacDonald, Geoff Stairs, Michael Trusiak and Jocelyn Turner:

Thank you for two wonderful years. Thank you for pushing envelopes, pushing deadlines, pushing journalism boundaries. Thank you for going above and beyond some days, and being truthful and telling me when you couldn’t on others. Thank you for being deadline-driven and for being yourself. I have enjoyed each and every one of you and your unique storytelling styles. Lastly, thank you so much for making me proud. I can’t wait to hug each and every one of you as you cross the stage in June.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.  Check out her magazine agelessNB at www.agelessNB.ca

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