This summer Karen McColl (BJ ’14) is embarking on what – for most people – would be the adventure of a lifetime: a seven week canoe trip up the MacKenzie River from Fort Simpson to Tuktoyaktuk through 10 remote communities. For this intrepid freelance journalist, however, it’s all part of the career she has chosen. “You won’t find me on the couch watching TV,” she writes in her blog. “I like to seize the day and write about it.”
Karen is the winner of the 2014 Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary, which is worth $15,000 and is awarded to an early career journalist to fund a major research and reporting trip.
The purpose of Karen’s trip is to document the impact of oil, gas, and construction development on remote communities. Major infrastructure projects are taking place in the area to support the MacKenzie Valley gas project.
“We could be on the verge of seeing large-scale and irreversible changes in the region and I think it’s important to capture the voice of the people who will be most affected by these developments,” says Karen. “I have a deep respect for First Nations culture and I hope to give a voice to people who don’t always get to be heard in the mainstream media.” She will document their stories about their land, culture, concerns, and needs.
The bursary was created in 1984 in memory of Gordon Sinclair, who reported from around the world for the Toronto Star in the 1930s. The aim behind the bursary is to encourage a young journalist to get off the beaten track and spend a considerable period away on a reporting assignment. “One of the reasons the board members of the foundation liked my proposal,” says Karen, “was because it was something they could picture Gordon Sinclair doing.”
Karen is aiming to have her work published with either the Toronto Star or CBC on her return, two places where Gordon Sinclair spent much of his career.
“Karen is a real go-getter,” says King’s journalism professor Doug Kirkaldy, who taught Karen as a student. “She came to us after spending a fair bit of time in the North and has turned her experience there into winning this prize. She’s hard working, keen, reliable and dependable. A good person to have in the room.”
Karen and her trip partner, Daniel Campbell (BJ ’13) were connected thanks to Kate McKenna (BJ’ 13) and Randi Beers (BJ ’13).
This is a second win by a King’s BJ grad. Robin Tress (BJ ’13) won the same bursary last year for a project to travel to Fort McMurray, Alberta, to explore the social impact of the oil sands industry.