Why did you decide to pursue a career in journalism and news in particular?
I knew growing up that I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t sure how to turn my passion into a real career. I came across the Ryerson School of Journalism while researching university programs when I was 17, and it just clicked right away. I knew it was what I wanted. Beyond that gut feeling, I can’t really explain what drew me to journalism, but it seems to have worked out. I love covering news, especially breaking news, because of its fast-pace nature. I often come into work not knowing what I’ll end up writing about, which can be nerve wracking, but I end up learning so much on a daily basis. My favourite part is speaking with people from across the country about issues they’re passionate about. I’ve met and interacted with so many incredible people because of my job.
What are some of the challenges in your industry being a woman of colour?
It’s no secret that Canadian newsrooms aren’t very diverse, which means there are experiences and opinions I have that often no one else does. One thing I personally struggle with a lot is online hate, whether it’s on Twitter or reader messages and comments. Unlike other journalists, for example, ones that are white and male, messages directed to me are not about my work but are more personal. There aren’t a lot of answers in the Canadian journalism community on how newsrooms should be dealing with this problem, which means it can feel like a personal battle.
News is often about strict deadlines and includes hard stories — is there anything about this beat they don’t teach you in school?
J-school definitely teaches students about the basics, such as how to write news stories effectively. It’s very difficult to teach what being in a newsroom will be like during breaking news, it’s something you have to experience. There’s so much multi-tasking — from writing, to fact-checking, monitoring updates and coordinating plans with other teams. My advice for anyone interested in news would be to start early, while still in school, by freelancing and interning.
Let’s talk about mentorship, why are you interested in Didihood’s first program?
When I entered my first J-school class, there were very few people of colour and Muslims. I felt that I would have to conform to a specific way of doing journalism, one that didn’t acknowledge my unique identity. I rarely spoke about being Muslim because I felt I had to tone down my identity to be a hireable journalist. When I began wearing a hijab in the second year of university, I felt like there was a chance I had just kissed my potential career goodbye. The fact that I could succeed in journalism, while embracing my identity, isn’t something I learned until very recently. I don’t want young journalists, whatever their background or identity may be, to feel like there isn’t a place for them. It may require some extra work, but it’s possible for every young journalist to be successful and have their identity show through their work (if that’s what they want).
Did you ever have a mentor in your career? If so, what was the experience like? If not, would you have liked one?
I’ve always had people to turn to for advice on my career, whether that was in school or as a working journalist. But I don’t think I’ve had one person I turned to again and again. It would have been nice to have someone following my career closely, who had the experience to guide me because there have been moments I’ve felt overwhelmed. But at the same time, I can look back now and take 100 per cent ownership of my career and the decisions I’ve made to get here, which is a pretty cool feeling.
What would be your advice for anyone interested in working in breaking news?
I know the thought of doing breaking news can be really intimidating, especially as someone just starting out. But breaking news is also exhilarating, and incredibly rewarding. I have two main pieces of advice. First, question everything and trust your gut. If something isn’t adding up, don’t just publish it because some other news organization did it. Being a few minutes late is better than being wrong. The second, and most important advice I have for any journalist, is to keep tabs on your mental health. Journalists, especially those in breaking news, face immense pressure, and have to read and look at horrifying things. It’s OK to take breaks and ask for help. That’s something most editors understand, so there’s no reason to feel alone.