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Share your experience – be a mentor to an aspiring journalist

By guest blogger, Katherine Lapointe

As an aspiring young journalist, did you get the chance to sit down with a professional to ask questions about your future career, to get feedback on your work, and to talk about challenges you had encountered on the job?

Working with a mentor is a valuable experience for any young journalist, and it has become even more important today with the increasingly significant barriers to entering the profession. This is why CWA Canada, the Guild’s parent union, and the Canadian University Press (CUP) have come together to launch a mentorship program for student journalists.

CWA Canada has been working closely with CUP, a national not-for-profit co-operative owned and operated by more than 80 student newspapers from coast to coast, to build a relationship with student journalists across the country, and to foster the growth of the next generation of informed and engaged journalists and union members.

As an aspect of this partnership, the mentorship program was launched in November 2011 to help students develop their journalism skills, make connections, and gain knowledge about their rights as workers.   A mentorship most commonly involves the mentor and the student meeting for an hour over coffee, or the mentor dropping by a campus newsroom to meet with students for an afternoon.  It does not take much time out of the mentor’s schedule, but can make a world of difference to these young, enthusiastic journalists.

Matt Rabey, a staff writer at Laurentian University’s newspaper, Lambda, signed up last spring to be paired with a mentor.  He had the chance to meet with veteran Sudbury Star reporter, Bob Vaillancourt. They went for coffee, and Bob offered concrete feedback on both what he enjoyed about Matt’s work, as well as how it could be improved.  “The mentorship program has been a great benefit to me as a staff writer at the Lambda by providing me with professional feedback on my work that I would have otherwise been unable to obtain,” Matt says. “I would recommend a mentorship to any aspiring writers or journalists.”  Bob also gave advice on how to handle common challenges that come up for professional journalists, and they talked about Matt’s career options.  Bob found the experience to be very satisfying. “This program is a great experience for both the mentor and the mentee. One provides the other with enthusiasm and the mentor provides the mentee with experience and fuel for that enthusiasm,” says Bob.

Another way that journalists can get involved in the program is by visiting a campus newspaper to meet with students and share advice.  Tamsyn Burgmann of the Canadian Press (CP) started working with the Ubyssey, the paper at the University of British Columbia, last winter.  Tamsyn ran two workshops, and was present to offer advice and editing during several in-house press days.   On top of these group activities, she also held office hours at the paper where students could drop by with questions about their work.  This allowed her to mentor the news editor, Kalyeena Makortoff, on how to pitch, write and edit an article for CP that ended up in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Vancouver Sun, Toronto Star, and other newspapers across the country.   “Having a successful reporter take the time to read my articles and give me advice, made a career in journalism feel accessible,” says Kalyeena. “My mentor pushed me to improve my work and was able to answer questions that the student newsroom left unanswered. I received a lot of encouragement and constructive criticism on my writing and interview style that I might only find in J-school.”

CWA Canada is looking forward to setting up more mentorship opportunities in 2013.  Mentoring is a chance to share knowledge about your profession, and impact a student’s professional and personal development.  If you would like to advise and inspire a young journalist, please get in touch, as we always welcome interested mentors!

To find out more about the program or to become a mentor, contact Katherine Lapointe, the program coordinator, at cwa@cup.ca or 416-795-8598.

Katherine Lapointe is the CUP-CWA Canada’s mentorship Program Coordinator


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