“It was a wild experience,” says Avery Stewart about the Master of Journalism (MJ) program she will soon graduate from. “I feel like I learned a lot, not only about journalism, but about myself. It’s been really, really good.” Stewart, who came into the program as a Sylvia D. Hamilton scholar, was not your average MJ student. A published poet, she entered the program to explore another style of writing and broaden her communications skills. And while she enjoyed learning to work in a range of media, writing continues to be her passion. “I came into the program a writer and I’m leaving a writer,” she affirms. “But now I can parse out ideas much easier and that’s due to the concise nature of journalistic writing. It’s been so helpful to learn to take my stream of consciousness writing and put a dam in it.”
Stewart credits the program for some personal transformation as well. “I came into the program terrified to interview anybody and I was nervous being around so many people who had such easy interpersonal skills,” she explains. “King’s helped me break through my introversion. My professors got the fact that I was pretty introverted right off the bat and they didn’t make me feel like it was a problem. I really appreciated that. They just worked with me and I am so grateful.”
She may consider herself shy, but Stewart didn’t hesitate to tackle challenging journalistic stories. She did her professional project on opioid agonist treatments, a medication-assisted treatment for people recovering from opioid addiction. “These are difficult treatments and I wasn’t seeing coverage that explored both the good and bad experiences. I wanted to develop a broader picture that would help people who are struggling with opioid addiction make the right choice and also help the people who are supporting the addicted. People need to understand that they may be on the treatment for the rest of their lives and that opioid agonist drugs can themselves be incredibly hard to come off of. I wanted to highlight the humanity in the whole experience. At the end of the day they’re just people, far more like you and me than we would ever imagine.
The MJ program may have brought her some practical skills, but Stewart’s romantic nature is still solidly in place. At time of writing, she’s applying for a visa to work in Ireland. “When I was doing my undergrad I fell in love with Irish literature, poetry and Ireland itself. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland and it seems like now I can make it happen. I hope to work there as a journalist but I’ve also applied for a job as a narrative designer for a video game company, which is another great interest of mine. If I don’t line up something in advance I just plan to show up and fly by the seat of my pants. I have faith that it will figure itself out.”
“I feel like I learned a lot, not only about journalism, but about myself. It’s been really, really good.”
When Crystal Greene talks about her year as a Bachelor of Journalism student, she does so in such an understated way that you don’t immediately pick up on her strength and determination. Her adventure-filled journey, before and during the program, has given her an incredible range of personal experiences and skills that she’ll soon be putting to work.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Greene, of Anishinaabe and Cree heritage, graduated from a joint communications program through Red River College and the University of Winnipeg. “I focused on the technical side of media … camera work, editing, broadcast production,” she says. “Journalism had not yet come to mind.” She worked as a production assistant on some film and TV productions and produced some videos for Winnipeg non-profits before a brief stint as an associate producer at CBC. “That’s when I first felt the need for stronger journalism skills.” Connecting with a reporter who was one a work placement through King’s, Greene learned about the one-year Bachelor of Journalism program. “A reporter I met along the way had studied journalism at King’s and I filed that away.”
A self-described “‘nomad,”’ Greene travelled, documenting some of the important environmental protests and crises of the day, like Idle No More, which protested the Canadian government’s dismantling of environmental protection laws, endangering Indigenous Peoples. Later, she took her camera and went to Standing Rock in North Dakota where she filmed the protests to protect the Sioux Reservation from the Dakota Access Pipeline. “I went through a personal awakening. I was documenting all these things but I wasn’t doing anything with it and I knew I should be.”
A move to Nova Scotia with her then-partner, and the birth of her daughter, sharpened Greene’s focus. “The lockdown, the ending of my relationship and finding myself a single mom got me thinking. I had it in my mind that I needed to set an example for my daughter.” She remembered learning about the one-year Bachelor of Journalism program and decided to apply. “It’s been a whirlwind of a year. It put so much more in my toolbox. The professors were terrific, and everyone was so kind. I loved learning from [Rogers Chair in Journalism] Trina Roache. I aspire to do the kind of work she has done.”
Greene’s immediate future is brimming with possibilities. She’ll move back to Winnipeg, and she has received a fellowship to attend the upcoming Native American Journalist Association conference. “It’s always going to be environmentalism that interests me most,” she says. “I want to shed light on these issues.”
“It’s been a whirlwind of a year. It put so much more in my toolbox.”