During the fourth week of September, a meeting was held for students in my journalism program in the alumni hall auditorium to talk about internships – these vague things that happened months down the road in April.
A bunch of faculty got up and spoke, including a Mr. Doug Kirkaldy, who I didn’t know very well yet, having not taken the radio workshop (oh, how much I had to learn). After the talk was over and everyone was filing out I went over and tapped his arm.
“Are there CBC offices abroad we can go to?”
Because he is very kind he mentioned some further places in Canada, and then said, “Well there is the bureau in London.”
I fixated. “I want to go. How do I make that happen?”
He essentially said to check back in with him down the road. Doug didn’t know me very well because I hadn’t taken his radio workshop (yet), but I really liked him. I was in the middle of a shorter broadcast class that he taught with another professor and he said something in the first class that really won me over:
“Write for one person. Choose a person in your mind who listens to you, who you like to tell things to — not a lover. Choose that person in your mind and write everything like you’re writing to them.”
I mean, poetry, right? Between that and the CBC Radio Style Guide (a surprisingly good read), I was hooked on radio. So I took the radio workshop later in the fall and I kept bugging Doug about London every so often.
Much like a dog who pees on their favourite fire hydrant, I think I told everyone at the school who asked that I was trying for the London internship. My territory, mine!
It’s lucky that I ended up getting it. There would have been a lot of explaining to do otherwise.
With Doug’s help I put together a cover letter, portfolio and sent the whole thing off to CBC in early January. I heard back shortly after that I’d been accepted and could do my six weeks in April! Cue the trumpets!
The day I left was a day of eating. Eggs benedict on fish cakes with basil hollandaise sauce and chocolate milkshakes at The Armview with Rob for breakast, then fried chicken at home with Dad and my sister for lunch, then korean table barbecue at BiOne on Quinpool with friends for dinner before my 11:30pm redeye flight.
Clearly I was afraid there would be no food in London.
The day was sunny and light. A great day to leave. Rainy departures always feel sadder.
I also packed tea, which Rob quickly unpacked as he was saying, “You’re going to London. You don’t have to bring tea. They’re going to have lots of it there.”
Me: “Are you sure?”
He also eyed my choice to pack some incense and an incense holder and shook his head at me, disgustedly: “Real world travellers don’t pack incense.”
“Real world travellers don’t pack incense.”
He drove me out to the airport for 9:30pm. Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ was playing and he was singing along (one of his favourite albums). I was a bit in shock. Not because of his singing, but because I was going off to do something (two things, actually, Photographers Without Borders in Bosnia right after my London internship) that I totally dreamed of doing as a kid: working as a journalist abroad and doing photography for an NGO.
Then, I was nervous. What if I fuck it all up? Rob saw this and rubbed my leg. He’s the best. Interspersed with Meatloaf, he gave me some advice.
“All you have to do is be nice to people and work hard.”
Okay. He’s right. I can do that. That’s not so bad.
We said goodbye and took a pre-departure selfie (it’s tradition).
I rolled my bag into the terminal. Got my ticket, loaded my bag into the new, automated bag-taker thing.
Passenger Hattie, we have accepted your baggage.
Okay, well. I can’t turn back now. It has my bag.
After getting on the plane I realized I had a tiny piece of beef stuck in my back molar from the Korean barbecue earlier this evening. Crap. This is going to drive me insane. Note to self, typed into phone: ALWAYS BRING FLOSS ON THE PLANE.
The weather on my first day was strange. It hailed, rained, was sunny and warm, and hailed again within my first two hours. There was a hurricane off the coast.
I headed to my friend’s dorm room where I was staying for free while he was back in Halifax for spring break. As my friend Luke from England said, “A free place in London is ludicrous.” So I’m very lucky in this respect.
As I was lying in bed on Sunday night trying to get to sleep (midnight here is 8pm at home), I kept worrying about my first day at the bureau on Monday: What if Nahlah Ayed doesn’t like me? What if I’m not serious enough for ‘real’ news?
Rob’s words floated back to me: “All you have to do is be nice to people and work hard.”
Those are things I know I can do. If I can do that, I’ll be happy with myself.
First Day of CBC London Internship
Holiday. Is. Holiday.
The first day of my internship was listed as Monday, May 28. I arrived at the CBC bright and early at 9am, researched and ready, everyone at the office’s phone numbers entered into my phone.
Following all the good rules that Mr. Kirkaldy and the other professors had laid out for us: I knew that David Cameron was the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson was mayor of London, that there was an upcoming mayoral election in May, that the big British news stories were Brexit and whether tariffs should be imposed on Chinese steel imports to save Britain’s suffering steel industry and had been listening to BBC4 every morning for the last week. So, I felt prepared.
I rang the buzzer. It looked a bit dark inside.
After a couple minutes of no response, I emailed bureau producer Erin Boudreau:
Re: Your King’s intern has landed!
Just arrived at the offices and looking forward to meeting everyone. I think I’m in the right place – at the second floor door with a CBC call box and I can spy a poster for the National inside, but it looks a bit dark. Are people coming in later today because of the holiday?
She responded within a couple minutes:
Hi Mel. No the office is closed today. It’s. Holiday. See you tomorrow!
My internship did not start today. The office was closed because it was a holiday.
Journalism school had not prepared me for this.
We never got holidays in j-school.
What a treat!
I headed out for a walk around the Oxford Circus neighbourhood where the bureau is located. Discovered a Carphone Warehouse was open and ran in to get a British SIM card, then went home, had a nap, got some groceries, did some reading. It was a good day.
A holiday. Journalism school had not prepared me for this.
Going to the CBC in the morning dissolved a lot of my nervousness. Seeing the familiar red logo inside the door was like a beacon in a strange land. I slept great and didn’t worry about my actual first day at the internship.
Actual First Day of CBC London Internship
As I was brushing my teeth in the morning I heard over the BBC4 morning show I was streaming that a situation was developing with an EgyptAir plane that had been hijacked and landed in Cyprus. Since we’re five hours ahead of Toronto, my day here doesn’t officially start until 10am, but I was so excited by this developing story that I headed in for 9am instead.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that news of the hijacking meant something would be going on.
This time when I got to the office and rang the doorbell, someone answered. I met Tracy Seeley who’s the news producer in London and Tom Parry who usually reports from the parliamentary bureau in Ottawa (he’s also been to Afghanistan four times) who was filling in since our other TV news guy Tom Daigle had been in Brussels covering the bombing and its aftermath.
Other regular members of the office include Nahlah Ayed, foreign correspondent, who was out on my first day, Erin Boudreau who is the bureau producer, Margaret Evans, foreign correspondent, and Ellen Mauro, her producer, who were away in Ethiopia working on stories.
There’s also Anjuli Tchalikian who’s in charge of all the equipment and technical aspects of the operation, cameramen Peter and Pascal, and our accountant Emily, from Galway, who you can rely on to be in the bureau, since the other reporters and cameramen are frequently coming and going from London for stories. There was also Natalia Balcerzak, the outgoing intern, to show me the ropes.
The hijacker story was interesting. With hindsight we now know the hijacking ended up descending into farce, with his suicide belt being a fake, with the four-page letter to his estranged wife, the hijacker selfie and amazingly, no one being hurt. It was almost a nostalgic throwback to the 70s. Not a Brussels, not a Lahore, not a Paris. A tragic relief.
It was cool to see how Tom would do his live hits from the studio to give updates to CBC News Network in Toronto about the situation. I went out with Tracy and Pascal to interview an aviation security expert in front of the BBC, which is just a short walk from our office!
After Tracy was done her questions for the expert, she kindly let me ask any follow up questions. This was really cool! So I asked the expert to talk about the conversation around aviation security and mental health. Part of his answer ended up getting included in Derek Stoffel‘s piece on The National! It made me really happy, like: yeah, I can do this! Derek is our middle east bureau chief, but since Cyprus is kind of between Europe and the Middle East, the bureaus collaborate.
Altogether it was a very welcoming and exciting first day. And good timing! Not only did I get the lovesick hijacker, but it was also Tracy’s birthday, so after work we headed to the pub and shared some beers, ciders and later called for pizza (some pubs around here don’t serve pub food — it’s the oddest thing). The pub called The Kings Arms is conveniently right across the street and with its warm atmosphere and heavy-curtained windows, is satisfyingly how I pictured a British pub to be.
Everyone at the bureau has really great stories. I loved listening to them talk. The fact that I didn’t have to come in until 9:45 the next morning made staying at the pub much easier. I learned that if you want to cover the Pope’s death for broadcast, you have to book a hotel balcony to shoot from about a decade in advance. Who knew? The things you learn.
Anjuli also passed on some great wisdom, “This internship is your last chance to really fuck up and ask any dumb questions you want. Once they start paying you, you can’t get away with anything.”
Second Day of Internship
My main goal today was to finish transcribing a bunch of interviews that Nahlah and Tracy had just come back from India with.
One really cool thing about this bureau is that the correspondents are able to take a deeper dive into some of the erupting news stories in places like Ethiopia, India and Brussels.
News-wise as the leading story of the day was the man from Leeds who took a photo of himself with the EgyptAir hijacker. Then the following Twitter row that emerged after too many people called it a selfie.
A daily ritual for interns here is to peruse all the Canadian national news that aired for broadcast the evening before and see what other stations’ foreign correspondents are doing. Basically, we keep up with the competition. Then we crawl through the day’s British newspapers to see if there’s anything good stories starting that we should have our eye on. Did you know there’s a Cat Ripper in Croydon? I also watch the TV monitors above and beside me for breaking news, as well as monitor Twitter.
Today’s newspapers were full of the hijacker photo. The Sun’s none-too-forgiving headline read: HIJACKASS. So that’s what Tom Parry held up in the studio as he reported on News Network.
This is a pretty great job.
Third Day of Internship
More Toms! Tom Daigle returned to the office after reporting from Brussels. Tom’s 29 and he’s what you’d call a VJ, or videojournalist. He’s from St. John, New Brunswick. Another East Coaster! He’s extremely self-sufficient. A big part of his job is hauling the video equipment and Dejero (used for streaming live to TV networks) to locations around London and doing live hits about whatever the issue of the day is.
It’s pretty cool to be on site with someone and all of a sudden have them be reporting live back to headquarters in Toronto and knowing it’s appearing on air around the country.
The issue of the day in the morning was the Amnesty International released a report condemning FIFA for its poor use of migrant workers in building its 2022 World Cup stadium in Doha, Qatar.
I also note that Qatar on air is now pronounced “Kotter” and no longer “Ka-tar”. Kotter sounds more like the local dialect.
We packed up the gear, hailed a cab and headed off to Amnesty’s headquarters in London so that Tom can do hourly live hits for News Network from 10-2pm.
[dark_box]Fun Fact: the Amnesty we’re shooting in front of is the one J.K. Rowling used to work at before she wrote Harry Potter.[/dark_box]
I’m leaving a note here for future interns: BRING WARM CLOTHES when going out to shoot with Tom! You can expect to be outdoors for a few hours, at least. If you happen to pack some coffee or tea in a thermos, that would also be very wise. It wasn’t a cold day, but being out for a few hours can leave you chilly anyway, especially if you’re in the shade.
So we’re setting up in front of Amnesty and realize immediately that this is not a great location to shoot live in. It’s really noisy, right in front of a bus stop, and the Amnesty logo is small so it’s not even that visible to the TV viewer. We vow never to shoot live from there again.
We do one live hit in front of the Amnesty building before an overpass collapses in Kolkata, India, killing at least ten people (as of today the count is 24) and injuring many others. Tom gets an email from Toronto telling him they want him to do studio hits on that, so we head back to the bureau.
This is a great demonstration of the chaos effect: a bridge collapses in India and two Canadian journalists go scurrying across the city in London.
So, the bureau is Europe. And sometimes Asia. The day before Tom Parry had filed on the swearing in of a new President in Myanmar/Burma.
I loved being on location but was glad to head back to the studio because it gave me more time to finish transcribing the interview from India for Tracy and Nahlah. I enjoyed doing the transcription not just for the topic and content, which was very interesting, but from a technical standpoint, watching the raw footage gave me an opportunity to learn how Nahlah, Tracy and their cameraman (Rich) went about getting the material for piece. It also let me listen and learn Nahlah’s interviewing style.
CBC’s Thom Dinsmore also popped by the station today because he’s been in town making arrangements for our coverage of the Queen’s 90th birthday this summer.
So today we have Tom Dinsmore, Tom Parry and Tom Daigle. A regular rotation of Toms. Parry and Dinsmore are heading back to Canada tomorrow though, so it’s a temporary turnout of Toms.
We go out to the pub to celebrate their comings and goings. Dinsmore tells us a funny story about my professor/journalist Stephen Puddicombe involving a bathroom in Haiti (Puddicombe? Are you reading this?)
Fourth Day of Internship
In continuing my great luck of the first week of internship, today I get to go to Canada House at Trafalgar Square with reporter Tom Daigle and cameraman Peter. We’re covering Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s visit to the UK to give his spiel about the federal budget.
Morneau makes his speech, and then there’s a scrum. During the speech I was writing down questions to ask (it wasn’t my job, Tom’s the one doing the scrum, but it seemed like the right thing to do).
I showed Tom my questions to see if I was on the right track and he reminded me that because of where we’re interviewing him from, we need to ask questions relevant to our location.
I had some questions written down that weren’t bad, but I could ask him them in Canada, or at a pub down the street. They were good but generic – not UK-specific. Not foreign correspondent-y.
That’s one big thing I’m learning here: how to think of stories from the foreign correspondent angle. How to tell stories from the UK that are relevant to Canadians back home.
When I landed in the city I started looking around for stories. And there are lots. Interesting ones. But from a foreign correspondent perspective you need to think about how and why those stories would be relevant to people back home. Stories that you’d pitch if you were working for a daily local don’t work here. It’s a whole other ball game. It might not even be a ball game.
Getting to see Canada House was really lucky! They don’t shoot there all the time. There was also a pre-speech buffet, so, double-lucky. You could also see part of my head reflected in a mirror behind Morneau during a clip they used of his scrum during News Network.
And that was my first week. After the high commission I spent the rest of the day finishing my transcriptions of the interviews from India and left the office around 7pm. Time flies here.
I should also mention: it turns out that everyone in the office is really nice. Phew. (Okay, Margaret and Ellen were in Ethiopia all week and I haven’t met them yet but I’m willing to bet they’re status quo.)
One last note: My official CBC London job title is Researcher, but my purpose here is to help with anything as much as I can while learning the trade.
Thanks for sticking around through this extremely long post! Every week won’t be this long, I promise. I was just very excited for this week and I felt like there was a lot that I wanted to get down.