By: Daniela Olariu, (RSJ ’17)
Lianne Castelino, RSJ ’93, Broadcast Journalist, Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy at St. Michael’s College School
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school?
I had one main goal as a kid — to be a professional tennis player. After that dream fizzled, I focused on the next best thing — which became my singular focus from then on, continuing in university. I wanted to be a sports broadcaster at a time when there were almost no women in sports television and even fewer men or women from diverse backgrounds in the media.
How did that vision change as the years went by?
My vision of where I wanted to go in my career never changed. In fact, it only grew. I just had to be patient on the way to realizing it.
After graduating from Ryerson in June of 1993, I was fortunate to be hired as an on-camera presenter at The Weather Network — a job based in Montreal.
After just over a year there, I got a job as a news reporter at CTV in Montreal. I covered news for just over three years until there was an opening in the sports department. I was on maternity leave with my second child when I got the call about that opportunity. I never looked back!
Thinking back to your first-year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now?
I was pretty shy and quiet in first year. You would not have looked at me and said sports broadcaster is in her future — that’s for sure! But university/post-secondary is as much about discovering things about yourself as it is about formal education.
I volunteered in television throughout my time in high school and university at a cable tv station near my home in Toronto. That experience, coupled with what I learned and experienced at Ryerson helped me break out of my quiet shell in order to take the next step. Let’s just say many of my Ryerson classmates were ‘floored’ when they learned where my career path led.
What do you think the RSJ experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
What Ryerson figured out well before most other post-secondary institutions – and for which it has been a leader for many years — is how to deftly marry theory with hands-on practice. Being able to apply what you learn in theory is invaluable. Whether it was putting together a newscast, filming and producing a documentary or covering stories that other working journalists in the industry were covering — we had the opportunity to roll up our sleeves as students and experience real-life situations. These days, it’s referred to as ‘experiential learning’.
The school’s enormous success, especially in the journalism program, of producing students who are able to adapt fairly seamlessly to a real-world setting is a testament to its approach of providing students with the theory plus access and opportunity to participate in hands-on learning in relevant, meaningful and impactful ways. That’s a gift as a student — back then and even more so today.
What have you done since graduating/how did you arrive at your current position?
I’ve always joked that ‘I’ve never truly worked a day in my life! That’s because I have been incredibly passionate about everything I’ve done in my career.
After graduating from Ryerson, I began working almost immediately at The Weather Network, which was a pretty new organization back in 1993. I was a national weather presenter and then hosted an environmental news show.
In 1995, I began working as a news reporter at CTV Montreal. From bomb threats and fires, murder cases, floods, health, education, politics, protests and business stories – you name it, I likely had the opportunity to cover it. What a rich kaleidoscope of experience it was over the course of almost four years.
In 1999, while on maternity leave with my second child, I received a call about an opening in the sports department at CTV. It was the opportunity I had been waiting for!
From 1999 to 2007, I was a sports reporter and anchor at CTV, covering all sports from the Montreal Canadiens, Expos, Alouettes and Impact to amateur athletes, Olympians and everything in between. I loved every minute of it! Often, I was the only female in many of these dressing rooms, sharing the same space as many legendary Canadian sports journalists. The psyche of an athlete and particularly a professional athlete, has always and continues to fascinate me!
Interspersed during these years — spurned by the birth of my first son in 1995 — I also became an entrepreneur, founding a company focused on educating and empowering parents with expert advice — leveraging all available and emerging platforms and channels.
Our first production was released on VHS in the early 2000’s! It is still sold today as a DVD and downloadable as video clips. My journey as an entrepreneur has included two award-winning DVDs, co-authoring a book, a radio and television show, the role of columnist in a national magazine, blogger, speaker and much more — under the banner of parenting. Our products were sold in major retailers for several years, used as a teaching tool across North America and are still sold in several continents today, namely North America, Europe and Australia.
After moving back to Toronto in 2007 with my husband and three young children, I was eager for a new adventure. So, I freelanced in media for three years — working in almost all the major broadcast newsrooms in Canada in a variety of roles from on-air host to line-up editor and producer. This enabled me to balance work and family.
When it began to look like profound changes in media were here to stay, I started thinking about the direction of my career, once again. As such, I pivoted to the ‘other side of journalism’ — communications, public relations, media advisory and marketing roles —working in not-for-profit, healthcare and now education for globally-recognized brands and currently an organization that has existed for more than 160 years.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career?
Without question, I felt well-prepared and confident to enter the ‘real-world’ that awaited after graduating from Ryerson.
The instruction that we received from professors and educators, who often were working as journalists in tandem with teaching, was truly an exceptional advantage. They were able to share nuggets of wisdom from first-hand experience, providing an unvarnished look into roles in the industry and what it took to be successful in them.
They also challenged us constantly, so you knew what was required and whether you wanted to or were able to deliver it. Among the key skills I learned at Ryerson — relentless research, the craft of interviewing and storytelling, how to dig, pursue and dig some more, etc., — are all skills that I have used in some way working as a television journalist, an entrepreneur, and now in a marketing and branding role.
Can you talk about one of the biggest accomplishments you’ve made?
Winning two national awards in the U.S. for each of our parenting DVDs (‘Bringing Baby Home’ and ‘Yummy In My Tummy’) was definitely a highlight. Receiving that kind of recognition for what was in many ways ‘trailblazing’ in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was deeply meaningful. Even more so, the feedback received about how our productions helped new and expectant parents and grandparents navigate some of the early challenges of parenthood (caring for a newborn) has been and continues to be incredibly rewarding.
Challenges you’ve faced as a journalist?
Covering stories in small and sometimes remote communities in Quebec, and interviewing people in big cities during a period where Quebec could have potentially separated from the rest of Canada — was an interesting experience. People were always polite, but by and large, you could tell that they were surprised to see someone like me in their midst — a female from a diverse background. It wasn’t a challenge per se. It was more an education for both parties. I was also interested in their perspective and they were usually curious, if not cautious, in some way by me. The playing field became equal when we spoke to each other in French.
As a female sports journalist working at a time when there were simply not many other women in the industry was also interesting. From time to time, I could sense that I was being tested by whomever I was interviewing or even fellow male colleagues about my sports knowledge. It was never overt and always professional — but it was definitely there. Gaining the trust of the athletes I was interviewing and my peers was something that I think I achieved through both a professional approach and the quality of my work.
What’s one of your favourite memories from j-school?
Getting the opportunity to put together an actual newscast on a regular basis, with each student being assigned a role as it would work in the ‘real world’, was practical and enriching. This was a third-year class. Exposure to this kind of hands-on learning was invaluable in myriad ways.
Meeting my husband in third-year — a fellow journalism student — trumps all memories from J-school!
Any memorable RSJ professors during your time at Ryerson?
I appreciated, maybe more after the fact, her no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is way. Nothing was sugar-coated in Joyce Douglas’ first-year print class. I remember her saying something like, ‘there are 150 of you here now, by this time next year, half of you will be gone’. If that didn’t wake you up, then…
She was always tough but fair and challenged us to understand and execute the foundational concepts of being a strong writer.
Bob Culbert, who was with the CBC at the time, was a third-year television teacher. The pearls of wisdom he was able to share with us in class, based on his experience from the night before or that day from his ‘other job’ were priceless. I learned a ton in that class and he made the experience enjoyable, while helping us push our own personal limits.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
I happen to believe that there has never been a better time to be a journalist than now. Storytelling is at the core of just about everything we see today involving technology — be that a video ad, a blog, vlog, a tweet, etc. Crafting engaging compelling content is rooted in being able to tell a story and tell it well — honing in on the facts, digging for what’s new and notable, conveying that through words, photos, moving images in the most impactful way possible – be that in a few sentences, a longer article or a video clip. Zeroing-in on how to tell an impactful story is a skill. It only gets better with practice and over time. Work relentlessly to hone that skill.
Current journalism students should never lose sight of the fact that being a strong writer should be the cornerstone of their skill set. From it, everything else flows. If you are reporting live from the scene of an accident for a TV hit, you need to be able to articulate that story succinctly in your head, and likely on paper, before you can possibly communicate it. Words matter. Clarity is key.
The other piece of advice is to always remain rigorous in the pursuit of both sides of a story. Editorializing is best left for the columnists. In today’s fast-paced world, the need for speed and the access to technology often mars the truth. Resist that urge. It’s what separates the true journalists from those who ‘think’ they are. Optimal preparation, diligent research, presenting both sides of the story — is what we were taught at Ryerson. When you do that, the reader or the viewer can form their own opinion of the story. The journalist does not have to enter the story and/or provide their opinion. This is always what builds and ultimately sustains trust.
Something else I would offer is to continually strive to add new tools to your arsenal — be that being able to film, take photos, edit video, graphic design, etc. The more skills you have as a journalist, the more relevant, and marketable you will be — especially in a digital ecosystem.
Lastly, always remember what a gift it is to be a journalist – to be able to enter the life of a complete stranger, even briefly, and have them trust you enough to share their story with you. They don’t have to. It is a gift. I’ve always operated with this thought in mind. That’s one of the reasons why more than 25 years after graduating from Ryerson, I remain enormously grateful for my career choice – truly the greatest job in the world!
This interview has been condensed for clarity.