Over a year ago, I thought was I making a drastic shift.
I decided to leave my job as a casual reporter at CBC New Brunswick to join the team at Bonfire, a marketing and communications firm in Saint John. I was prepared to jump ship and embrace my inner Peggy Olsen as I took my storytelling abilities in a different direction. At least, that’s what I thought.
But my new bosses, Allan Gates and Lise Hansen, had different plans for me. They had no intention of having me write press releases and communications plans for long. Instead, they wanted me to be a part of something that would disrupt New Brunswick’s media market and fill in a gap with stories not being told. They wanted me to help build Huddle.Today.
Though the concept of “new media” is a battle that has been fought and won in the rest of the world years ago, creating and sustaining something like Huddle wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Especially in a province like New Brunswick.
Working at CBC, which is often categorized as “old” or “legacy” media, taught me an incredible amount of skills. They taught me about not only journalism, but what I was capable of. I encourage young reporters to spend time there early in their careers. I wouldn’t be who and where I am today without all the amazing people I worked with and who helped me.
Yet, building and working at a new media publication has taught me some pretty important lessons, lessons I don’t think I could have learned anywhere else.
Here are some of them:
1) You might not be taking down public figures, but your stories are important.
Most of us who go through journalism school are taught that journalism’s role is to speak truth to power. We are the watchdogs who must educate the “sheeple” about what the people we give power are doing. This is absolutely true, but there are also so many other types of journalism and storytelling that are important to our culture and society. That’s hard for some people to grasp.
I’m not going to lie, when I was first told the concept of Huddle, part of me felt a little dirty. It was like I was about to betray the profession or something. Was I still a journalist if I was primarily just writing profiles and features? Does writing for a niche publication that wears its mission on its sleeve make me less worthy of respect? Can I still produce good, compelling work? These were the kind of questions I was grappling with when Huddle launched.
Although we may have some haters, we soon discovered people are craving the stories that we’re telling. They want stories about people doing cool things, not just government policies. They want stories about people giving the finger to the defeatist attitude that’s been plaguing the province and region for too long. They want to know about the interesting, even groundbreaking research and business that’s taking place in their backyard. We’re filling that gap in the market. Whether you like it or not, people are reading; people are sharing and people want more.
This of course is not to belittle or diminish the importance of the work daily “hard news” reporters do. We absolutely need to know about crime, what’s happening in the legislature and city councils. But there are other stories that can be just as valuable and important to public discourse. We know this because we’ve seen it not only in our web traffic, but from comments and feedback from our readers.
2) Digital is fun, but it’s not as easy.
Every media organization by now has realized that web and digital is king. What most haven’t realized is how to successfully adapt to that new reality.
Many old media companies are simply taking their usual content and pasting it up online without any rhyme or reason. They are doing their best to utilize tools like live-videos, but it seems to be for the sake of it. They have no idea how it’s helping grow/benefit their audience. A lot of it is for the quick “hit fix,” but the problem is when you try to wear too many hats, you never master anything and you risk failing.
Even with “print” stories and traditional long-form features, organizations need to find a way to tell the story that suits the digital medium. How do you find the best, most engaging way to present this information to someone on their smartphone? Vox recently created a whole damn division to deal with this.
Huddle certainly hasn’t mastered it yet, but it’s something that we’re constantly thinking about and experimenting with. It’s really hard, especially with a team as small as ours. But as we grow, this is something we’ll be putting a lot of focus on. We don’t have a choice.
3) They see us roll’n, they hate’n.
Like any other media organization, we’re not perfect. It’s totally valid to critique and ask questions. It’s not fine to be an asshole just because we’re not the CBC, Brunswick News, or the Globe and Mail.
We don’t want to be like them, that’s kinda of the point. They’ve got their mandate, we’ve got ours. Media diversity is a cool thing, folks.
Some people are incredibly suspicious about anything that’s not negative about New Brunswick. If someone tries to share anything that’s not shitting all over the province, they believe the government has to be behind it. It’s really not the case.
Don’t believe me? Look at our work itself. We don’t cover politics. The only time we ever mention government is if it affects business.
But of course there are people, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, who will continue to spout whatever they want to believe. That’s fine, they don’t have to read it.
4) You really have to do a little bit of everything.
This is especially true if you’re part of a small team. Over the past year I have gained experience in so many different aspects of starting and growing a media company. Writing, editing, audience growth and development, social media, and the list goes on. Many of these things I wouldn’t have had the chance to do in old media, at least not in such a short time period. Some of these things I had very little experience with, and yet, I didn’t crash and burn while trying to do them. It’s a cliché, but you really just learn by doing.
I’ve definitely made some mistakes and I’m far from perfect, but I’ve surprised myself more in this job than any of my previous.
5) New Brunswick has a really long way to go.
Huddle certainly writes about a lot of great, cool things, but there are still a bunch of things New Brunswick needs to deal with if we are ever going to catch up with the rest of the world.
Child poverty, illiteracy, language wars, unemployment (just to name a few) are holding this province back. All of these things are going to take more than business and economic development cheerleading to solve. There’s no arguing that at all.
Yet, what’s not going to solve them either is beating the same dead horse over and over again.
Yes, we’re poor, but how can we fix that without government handouts?
Yes, there’s poverty, but what are some new, innovative ways we can work together to tackle that issue?
We definitely need jobs, but how can we do that without expecting government to do it (because GOVERNMENT DOESN’T CREATE PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS)?
There’s a stereotype that New Brunswickers hate change and, man, I definitely see where that comes from. It’s almost infuriating. These concepts, these “new” ideas Huddle writes about are things that are often commonplace in cities like Toronto, Boston, New York, San Francisco, places that are leading, not following.
Many of us have awful attitudes. It’s one thing to point out our issues, but it’s another thing to offer solutions, to present examples of how others are doing it and see what we can learn or add to them.
Otherwise, we are just regurgitating the same tropes those Maclean’s think pieces (written by people who don’t even live here) perpetuate.
It’s really time for us to get some new material, and that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned. New Brunswick is ready for it.
– Cherise Letson is an Associate Editor and Writer at Huddle