photos: Top and Right: Julie Chapman and Nicolas Leech-Crier outside one of the classrooms in the Journalism Department at Langara College.

Taking stock of a 'positive, powerful combination'

Megaphone storytellers say heading to class as Langara journalism students was empowering and informative—not to mention a blast

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In the fall of 2021, in partnership with Langara College’s journalism department, Megaphone launched a pilot project called the Community Journalism Mentorship Program. The idea was to have peers with lived experience receive basic journalism training so they would be better equipped to tell the stories of their communities to a broader audience. 

While the initial aim was to teach reporting skills to a pair of Megaphone peers, the ultimate goal is for the program to be a recurring initiative which encourages peers to become an integral part of producing Megaphone magazine: brainstorming story ideas, conducting interviews, writing and reporting, and participating in editorial decisions. These experienced peers can then go on to mentor other student peer journalists in their communities.

The inaugural participants in what will hopefully be an ongoing program were Nicolas Leech-Crier and Julie Chapman. Both have been involved with Megaphone for many years as storytellers and members of Speakers Bureau, which works to eliminate stigma around substance use. And both have contributed extensively to research projects conducted by universities in the Downtown Eastside. 

Megaphone would like to extend its thanks to Langara College for generously covering tuition for Leech-Crier and Chapman, as well as friend of Megaphone (and Langara journalism grad) Geoff D’Auria for acting as a mentor and sounding board for the pair throughout the program. Also a big thanks to Megaphone supporters, who donated to our Stand Up for Storytelling campaign, which raised funds to support the program.

While in the midst of the course, Leech-Crier and Chapman answered some questions posed by Langara about their experience with the project. Here is that exchange.


Langara: What drew you to the program?

Nicolas Leech-Crier: What drew me to the program was the opportunity to return to post-secondary education, because I LOVE school. However, my own options for this were fairly limited, having dropped out a number of times, having no I.D., and not really being at the most stable part of my life right now. It seemed impossible to think I could return to college and succeed.

But Megaphone believed in me, and Langara did too. So they figured out a way to bypass some of the formalities and voila—I’m in class with a bunch of fresh new faces, learning journalism in the same professional market scene as other students, most of them way younger than me! It’s super exciting and I’m very honoured.

Julie Chapman: The opportunity to take a journalism/reporting course, this late in my life—at age 53—is an amazing opportunity. I have always been a writer and  wanted to attend a course like Fundamentals of Reporting for many years. I never dreamed that I would get  the opportunity, so when I was asked if I would be interested in being one of the first two peers to go through Megaphone’s Community Journalism Mentorship Program in partnership with Langara College, I couldn't turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

So Nicolas and I are bringing our lived experience from the Downtown Eastside, plus all of our skills we gained shadowing professional journalists and going on assignments for Megaphone magazine, to the classroom. The combination of our experiences with the completely different experiences of other students and faculty is a positive one. I am grateful and feel privileged to be part of what I hope will be an ongoing program.


What did you learn?

NLC: We covered a few topics in the reporting field, but of course, where else does one begin but at the beginning? We covered how to write a lede, how to construct a "nutgraph" (which is not as easy as it may seem), how to pitch a story, conduct interviews and cite sources, how to quote people and how to work under a tight deadline, and stick to a word count. We touched a bit on journalism ethics and style, but mostly those are covered in other classes. We only were enrolled in the one course [in the full one- and two-year journalism programs] but it's a course in one of the very best "J-school” programs in Canada... so I'm very grateful to have been chosen to take part. 

JC: I learned the importance of getting facts and information exactly right when I am going to be writing a story or an article. I also learned how to construct a story—from the very first pitch, to identifying and writing the ledes and the nutgraphs, to finding sources and conducting positive, compassionate and productive interviews, to putting everything together in a story and have it completed by a deadline. The skills and knowledge I have gained from this course are exactly the same as those of a working professional journalist.


What are your aspirations after taking this course?

NLC: Me? I'd like to use this Megaphone opportunity as a "foot in the door" to the full-time journalism program at Langara College. I’ll have to wait until next September to enrol in full-time studies, but it would be worth it! Also, if Megaphone runs this program a second time, it could be expected of me to mentor the incoming recruits as to how to succeed in this initiative, which, of course, I am more than happy to do.

Journalism is a tough gig at the best of times, and talent can get you so far, but you really have to pay attention to details, current affairs and technology. And you absolutely need people skills, and a good sense of timing and sharp intuition to guide your story generation. Some of this can be taught, some of it you just gotta love enough to learn yourself and keep your skills sharp.  

JC: I would like to get more involved with Megaphone magazine. By that I mean peers being more involved with brainstorming story ideas, interviewing and writing. With the support and the expertise of the Megaphone staff, peers could be good collaborators with them. For some stories, it may be easier for peers to get interviews, and have peers available to talk to other peers and be able to get a positive story from them.

I also feel that Megaphone has provided an amazing support system throughout the Langara course. I also feel that our Fundamentals of Reporting instructor Peg Fong is the type of teacher I always wished I had! She is so knowledgeable. Peg also made Nicolas and I feel welcome—from the first day we started the course, all the way through. She is always encouraging her students to take risks, to put ourselves out there as student journalists and go after the stories. I can't say enough positive things about her.

The same goes for Megaphone. They have made it  very easy for us to talk to them about anything, professional or personal. They have been supportive in all the projects and workshops that I have been involved with since 2002. I am grateful for their respect, compassion and non-stigmatizing way they communicate and interact with all people. A true grassroots organization!


What would you tell other people about the program?

NLC: That it really is an amazing opportunity! For anyone who loves writing, photography or journalism in general, you could not find a sweeter deal than this initiative. Even better, the next round of participants will have Jules and I as support mentors, showing you the ins and outs, how to get to class, how to pitch to an editor and so on, so that when you finish, you'll already have material for your professional portfolio, since the idea here is to have you go out into the field as competent freelancers, with skills you can sell anywhere, to any publication. For me, it's like a free backstage season's pass to anything that interests me. And they even pay you to go. Talked about a charmed life, LOL. Thank you to all the good folks at Megaphone and Langara, for giving me back the dream I thought I had lost forever.

JC: If you ever get an opportunity to be a part of such an empowering program, do it! Nicolas and I were worried about stigma or other classmates being judgemental of us. The class was more interested in our lived experiences and were asking us about the issues we face in the Downtown Eastside on a daily basis. We also had our experiences shadowing professional journalists to share with our classmates, which they were very interested in. It just goes to show, the DTES can collaborate with the West Side and it's a positive, powerful combination.

One other thing, keep writing! No matter what it is you write, keep doing it. I try to learn one new word per day from the dictionary. It can help expand your vocabulary and that is always a good thing to do.         

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  • Paula Carlson
    published this page in Vendors Stories 2022-01-14 14:27:12 -0800
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