Photo courtesy of Maclean’s
If you’re in your third or fourth year, there comes a time when your parents start asking what your plans are after graduation. Sure the question can be agonizing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seriously start thinking about what your life will be like after your time at the University of Ottawa.
The Fulcrum caught up with U of O alumni Nick Taylor-Vaisey to chat about his career at Maclean’s and his tips for future aspiring journalists. Taylor-Vaisey gained some writing experience for two years at the Fulcrum as sports and news editor. He also was appointed as the Canadian University Press (CUP) Ottawa Bureau Chief in 2007-08.
The Fulcrum: What made you decide to study at the U of O?
Nick Taylor-Vaisey: I wanted to leave Scarborough and go as far as I could without leaving the province. Ottawa seemed the furthest away in the province to strike out a new path without going to Thunder Bay or Sudbury. I have nothing against those places I just wanted to go to a bigger city. Also, I was interested in politics. So Ottawa seemed like a natural choice.
F: What did you study at U of O?
Political science. It was, at first, the School of Political Science, and then they made the switch to the School of Political Studies, I think. And so there was that debate, and still is, whether or not politics is a science. The school changed names halfway through but my degree is still political science.
F: What was one of your favourite stories you worked on as an editor?
When it comes to sports, I was writing during the year when the Gee-Gee’s football team was pretty powerful. I started in 2003. They reached the national semi-final. We hosted the national semi-final at Frank Clair Stadium. That was a pretty remarkable game. They had about 60 seconds to go. And that was a heartbreaker for any Gee-Gee fan. It was the most thrilling loss I ever covered.
On the news side, I was the Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Canadian University Press (CUP) in my last year in 2007-08. I got to cover the federal budget for the first time. I was surrounded by all of these journalists who I adored growing up. And then I guess now they’re not exactly my contemporaries, but in the same room. That was pretty cool.
F: After graduating from the U of O, how did you end up working at Maclean’s as a reporter? Most graduates don’t find a job right away in a field they truly want to work in.
I freelanced for about three years. Then I ended up editing Open File Ottawa for a few years. I did that for a couple of years, and now Open File ceases to exist. But I picked up a job at Maclean’s and have been with them ever since.
F: Is there something you wish you knew back then you know now as a journalist?
I’ve heard this advice from many people, and that is: journalists have to write quickly and work quickly. Not only work quickly, but the key thing is to write quickly. It’s not just about being fast, but the faster you write, it means you can cover more stories, and cover more ground. You can build your portfolio and nothing bad comes from writing more stories. Doing it quickly is impressive, but you have to do it well. If you can do it quickly and well, then that’s key.
Whether you do it at school or afterwards, make sure you do more than write, if that’s possible. If that’s possible, it’s really important. And I’ll put a twist on what people follow this up with. Usually people say, “Don’t just write, you should learn how to shoot video.” That’s true, if you can do all those things, you’ll have a stronger CV; you will have a set of skills that will hopefully impress somebody who is hiring. But I would say instead of looking at those visual strengths you can build, think in terms of technology.
I’m talking about data journalism: learn how to build maps, which is a visual output but it takes a lot spreadsheets. It takes a lot of working with data to produce a good map that is part of journalism. Learn how to do research which can contribute to your hunt for your data that can eventually help you find stories to tell, but do it in a non-traditional way.
There’s a lot more to it—you can be advanced in a lot of things journalists aren’t even intermediate at. There’s still a lot of space for that in newsrooms. Even in a lot of jobs coming up, the more you know just about every way you can gather and get data for a story, or just tell that story, it’s going to get you ahead.
F: That said, what do you get to do now as a reporter for Maclean’s?
I’m a researcher-reporter. So I write stories in the magazine (and) I write online. This week I’ve been writing a daily round of the news. We’re attempting this thing where we do “5 things you need to know about the day.” I do that kind of online writing.
I’ve spent much of this week scraping the parliamentary website looking for voting records. I’m writing a story for that but I’m feeding that to other reporters so that’s kind of the research role. And occasionally, oddly enough, editing stories, posting wires in the morning. Every day is a different evolution. It includes many facets of our craft.
F: And finally, what is the newsroom like at Maclean’s? Most of us in university have only witnessed professional newsrooms on Netflix or HBO shows.
It’s pretty quiet actually because we don’t do breaking news. We don’t have televisions blaring out stuff. Of course we do have TVs. For example, it was on a lot in the spring and the summer during that revolution of Rob Ford’s last year. It’s a pretty quiet place, but it’s a serious place. But it’s fun too.
The stuff Maclean’s pumps out is pretty extraordinary. They have the story of the Franklin expedition that everyone is trying to re-tell. And I don’t know how long they had to write this story. I mean I think the news only broke out on Monday, and production closes on Tuesday. Actually it’s the same production schedule as the Fulcrum. They do big stories like that, like 2000 words. They run quite fast and they just write really compelling stuff. I really love being in that newsroom. Really smart people.