Jackie Hong, RSJ ’15, Reporter, Yukon News
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school?
I was super politically-active in high school, so going into Ryerson, I was convinced I would come out a politics reporter or be doing non-profit/NGO work. That, or something badass like a war correspondent. Oh, to be young and naive again…
How did that vision change as the years went by?
It didn’t even take a year — pretty sure I’d abandoned that vision after Week 1 of intro to reporting. Learning about the hard work that actually goes into good reporting and the responsibilities you carry as a reporter really helped to ground me and forced me to reevaluate what I wanted and what I could contribute. And thank god for all the in-the-field stuff that Ryerson gets you to do — I figured out that in practice, I found politics reporting okay, but that court reporting, something I had never even considered before, lights a fire in me like nothing else. I think that realization really set me on the path that got me to where I am now.
Thinking back to your first year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now?
I’d wanted to be a writer from Day 1, so I think first-year me would be pretty stoked to discover future me would still be in newspaper so far down the line. Moving to the Yukon (or anywhere else in Canada, really) wasn’t really on my radar in school though, so that would probably come as a surprise.
What do you think the RSJ experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
I loved that Ryerson was in the middle of downtown Toronto and just a stone’s through from all these “real-world” places students can go to learn and practice — Queen’s Park, City Hall, Old City Hall, Eaton Centre, 361 University, Church Street, the list goes on. That, combined with a lot courses focused on having students actually out in the field doing journalism early on was really valuable to me, especially after talking to some people who went to j-school elsewhere and were confined to classrooms 90% of the time.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position?
I’ve been working steadily in print (or I guess written journalism, anyway) since my last year at Ryerson. I started in the Toronto Star radio room in fourth year, and totally fell in love with the breaking news and crime beats. I did two more rounds in the radio room before getting the Star’s summer reporting internship, and after that, the one-year program (RIP). I was super lucky to have a few editors who really had my back and were supportive of me chasing crime and court stories I was really interested in, and even though I was technically a general assignment report, I like to think I carved out a little niche for myself there.
I was also lucky to have a co-intern during the summer and one-year programs who had worked in the Yukon for a couple of years, and who would always talk about how it was the most amazing place every time we went out. I think that sort of planted a seed in my head, and it just so happened that a few months before my one-year contract was going to end, his old paper in Whitehorse had a position open up for a court/justice reporter.
I got my application in two minutes before the midnight deadline. I had an interview a couple of days later, an offer a week later, and by the next month, I was in the Yukon.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career?
I think RSJ really helped create that solid foundation for me that I could build my career on — it taught me the basics like story structure, how to seek out sources, how to conduct a good interview, how to write to deadline, how to not get sued for defamation or found in contempt of court, all that fun stuff — so that when it came to it, I could just focus on the story at hand instead of sitting there being like “OH GOD WHAT’S A LEDE????” or asking throw-away questions like, “HOW DOES THIS MAKE YOU FEEL???”
I also found it helpful that a lot of instructors/professors had journalism experience and could speak from both an academic and personal perspective. I think those anecdotes, especially the ones about tough ethics calls, really helped show how what we were learning in class was relevant to the real world.
Can you talk about one of the biggest:
1) accomplishments you’ve made?
Honestly, I think it’s a pretty big accomplishment that I’m still working in print.
2) challenges you’ve faced as a journalist?
I witness a lot of pain on my beat, and navigating it in a compassionate, careful way while also watching out for my own mental health is always a challenge. It’s never easy to cold-call the mother of a murder victim, or to watch people on the witness stand recall, in brutal detail, the worst days of their lives.
That, and getting government officials to pick up their phones and answer questions in plain English.
What’s one of your favourite memories from j-school?
Hands down, my favourite, craziest and best memories from Ryerson came from my time at the Eyeopener. The late-night crunches to get the pages filled, the camaraderie, the rush of getting a scoop, the debriefs at the Ram … A part of me still misses it a lot.
Any memorable RSJ professors during your time at Ryerson?
I will forever loudly and proudly rep being in Kamal Al-Solaylee’s first-year reporting class. He’s the best and I owe my career to him.
I was also (and continue to be) particularly fond of Lisa Taylor and Dan Westell.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
I’d encourage them to get all the “real-world” experience that they can (while keeping on top of their studies, of course). Write for the Eyeopener. Get on RUtv. Pitch to your favourite website. Ask to shadow your favourite reporter for a day. Take the (paid) internship. All that stuff is so, so valuable, because it not only helps you build your portfolio, but is also a chance figure out if journalism is something you actually want to pursue. And if it is, great! You’ve just bulked up your resume and have more experience under your belt. If not, also great! At least you tried it out and you know it’s not for you.
And more importantly — take care of yourself. I know our industry and generation glorifies “the hustle” and pushing yourself to the limit and working 18-hour days and sleeping for 30 minutes a night and drinking 15 cups of coffee… And of course, work hard, chase your dreams, but also know when to take a break, drink some water, get a good night’s rest and all that. Success shouldn’t come at the price of your mental and physical health.