This is the conclusion of my two-part review of Ryerson University’s journalism school for the class of 2018. All posts are based upon my first-year experiences as a full-time student in the program. Find the previous post here.
Here we are, end of the line.
Just two-and-a-half weeks shy of exams and my first year of journalism school is basically done. I came in here with a lot of tribulations to overcome and a bundle of preconceived notions as to how this would all turn out. To my surprise, my path was not just altered from what I had in mind, it was off the rails. I never expected the winding, twisted route I took to get here would bring me to such an amazing place in my life. In a way, I admit defeat: I wasn't that good of a writer when I first walked in these doors.
Now, for once in my cheap, broke, penny-pinching life, I actually feel justified in the $7000 I spent here.
Not only am I presently surprised with this program's ability to accelerate your overall writing abilities, but every aspect as a journalist is given a shot of growth hormone and kicked out the door at Ryerson. This actually didn't strike me until yesterday's JRN 121 class when we examined an absolutely horrendous piece of journalism that came from a real newspaper. For those new to this, it's something you'll do pretty often should you choose Ryerson as your base of operations.
While discussing the piece and picking it apart, my instructor, a former Toronto Star editor, mentioned how the author most likely had no formal training as a journalist. Immediately, my mind revolted against the statement: "Who needs journalism school? I only came here for the connections and opportunities."
At this moment, the Jumanji board I had brewing in my mind came to life as I entered I point of deep thought and epiphany. Elephants carrying flags of new perspective rushed into my jungle; the vines that grew over my ironclad thought process began to tremble at the idea that all of those hipster-millennial authors, the ones writing articles that justified journalism school, might have been right.
An ultimate fact about journalism is that, no, you don't need to be trained to do it. Most of the industry's best never went to an elite program that trained you both in Canadian Press fundamentalism and the dynamics of networking at cocktail parties. But that was a different age - the older generation that inhabits journalism grew up in a socially-harsher time. Back then, you still had to talk to people face-to-face, call them up on the phone, experience actual human interaction.
In today's age, we've lost a lot of those aspects in life that beat the social pulp out of us. The Internet and cell phones have made it comfy to communicate with people while blocking out the uncomfortable moments of rejection or negativity. Ryerson's Journalism school not only teaches you how to navigate these situations, it also makes you a master at controlling them.
When I wrote my first full-length (around 500-600 words) copy back in September, it took me from 2.p.m right up until my deadline at 6.p.m. to go through all of my interviews and notes and synthesize it down into an article. Four fucking hours. Now, writing 600-word copy is a 20-minute endeavour, a drop in the bucket. Who gives a shit? NEXT.
When I first made a cold-call interview, I stammered a good bit and asked dry, rigid questions in an order that made no logical sense. The ordeal was over in no more than five minutes and I was left with only one or two pieces of pertinent information, all while forgetting to ask the subject's age, occupation and what they had for breakfast. More recently, I've had both heated and intellectually-satisfying phone calls with top writers, editors and figures you generally don't want to piss off. I've worked within 10-minute timeframes and been on that phone for as long as hour, all without my heartrate burying me under a dump-truck-load of anxiety.
When I did my first interview, I was unable to take notes while maintaining comfortable eye contact with my subject. I remember interviewing one of my classmates, getting maybe two words down and then giving up to rely on my recorder. Now, my hand moves like Da Vinci on a canvas - steady but thoughtful. I don't try to write everything down but rather make concise and usable bites of information to refer back to.
The point I am trying to make here is that Ryerson has caused me to evolve way more quickly than I would have expected. The staff at the school have cultivated a low-risk but high-failure environment where you will be hit hard but given a billion helping hands if you're willing to take them. You will write detailed news pieces in mere hours, and you will fail if you get a detail wrong. You will write profile/feature stories over the course of weeks, and you will only be given one shot. You will have the opportunity to write for the school's various publications, and you will be critiqued and roughed-up by editors.
But through it all, you won't die. Eventually, that feeling to just survive will turn to an insatiable thirst to thrive. You just have to be ready to quench it.
Back during frosh week, while recovering from a groin injury, I limped with my friend Anders to the Toronto Islands. That afternoon, Nas was playing a concert for Ryerson students. We got there early because we had convinced the student union that we were from a major newspaper. They gave us press passes and let us into the front photography cages, just inches from where Nas would play hours later. I remember faking our way in and thinking how phoney we felt, but still how nice it was to just do it: to take photos, wear a media badge, be the observer of the performer and his audience. We were outside the box, both journalistically and from the rest of the scene.
That feeling of being outside the box - of being a journalistic hack - lasted with me for a while. I recognize now how that was merely a growing pain in the process of it all. This experience has not only given me the ability to feel like a journalist, but actually believe myself, too. And when you believe yourself, so do others. The rest is history.