We'd like to introduce you to the final member of our editorial team: Erika Engel.
Engel is the community editor and a reporter at CollingwoodToday. She regularly covers Collingwood council news and has taken on the health unit beat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enjoy this Q and A with Erika:
1. Have you always lived in Collingwood?
I've only lived in Collingwood since 2014, but my family lived in Thornbury for much of the late '90s and early 2000s and I attended Collingwood Collegiate Institute for all four years of high school. I moved away for school and came back (again to The Blue Mountains) in 2008.2. Where did you attend journalism school, when did you graduate and what publications have you worked for throughout your career?
I graduated from the Print Journalism program at Sheridan College's Oakville campus in 2008.
I did an internship at The Hamilton Spectator, worked a summer for a group of community papers based out of Hamilton, and was hired to be the reporter for the former Blue Mountains Courier-Herald in September 2008. One of my first assignments was covering the Beaver Valley Fall Fair.
After the Courier-Herald closed, I worked as a reporter for the Collingwood Connection and Meaford Express, then moved up to editor of the Connection and the Stayner/Wasaga Sun.
In February 2018 when Village Media launched CollingwoodToday.ca, I was hired as the first reporter.
3. What made you decide to pursue a career in journalism?
At first, it felt like a whim. I knew I loved writing and wanted to get a job doing it. I applied late to the Sheridan program and got accepted a few days after classes started. I was given about 30 minutes to decide if I wanted a late spot, and I said yes.
From the first day of class, I loved learning about journalism and how to write news. I cultivated a passion for it while in school and was fortunate to find jobs and editors who encouraged and challenged me.
4. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
The moments I would consider highlights change day-by-day. Sometimes, it's an email from a reader who says something I wrote helped them make a decision, answered a question they had or helped them find something they needed.
Some days I (perhaps vainly) take great pleasure in getting a good pun into a headline.
Other times, the highlights are those unique assignments like covering an appearance at the Royal York by Queen Elizabeth, riding the media truck in the Olympic torch run, and spending a month in South Korea.
5. You've been the community editor for CollingwoodToday since it launched in February 2018. What are some of the challenges of running a community news site? What are some things you really like about your job?
Community news in general (whether that's print or online) is challenging and rewarding for the same reason: it's really close to people.
A reporter and/or an editor in community news has to strike that balance of belonging to the community they cover. So there's a responsibility for objectivity, but you've also got to understand how the issues are impacting people, and sometimes those people are your neighbours.
I like the service side of community news. Sometimes people wouldn't be able to get, or know where to look for, information that we're providing. It's important to me that people have good information to inform their daily decisions.
6. What was the most difficult adjustment moving from newspaper to online reporting?
The world of online news is incredibly fast-paced, particularly during this pandemic where a story can be completely different within two hours of the information first being announced (like when playgrounds were closed for about 12 hours).
There's also a completely different dynamic when it comes to reader comments and feedback in the online news world compared to print news.
As a print newspaper editor, I might get a few calls, or even readers stopping by to tell me what they think about an issue or some grammatical sin I've committed, thereby further deteriorating the state of journalism in Ontario.
When news is online and instant, so is the feedback. And with the added impact of anonymity, the comment section is a bit of a wild west. Sometimes it's helpful to know how people react to a story, other times it's .... less helpful.
7. COVID-19 has been a challenging time for everyone, media included. Reflecting back on a year of reporting on a pandemic, what are some things you've learned? Has your perspective changed at all on the role media plays in community discourse? How so?
I wouldn't say my perspective has changed (some days I feel a lot more cynical than usual), but watching the pandemic happen and the media coverage and reaction to that coverage has reinforced, for me, the importance of impartiality in reporting.
Anyone can prove any point they want using all kinds of things they find on the internet, including news articles. So, I know I can't really control the reaction people have to the stories I write. But I can do my best to make sure my reporting is responsible, accurate, and balanced.
Other than that, I think the pandemic and related community discourse has reminded me how important it is to take regular news breaks and avoid putting politics above people.
8. Are there misconceptions out there about news reporting and editing you hear that you'd like to correct?
There are fewer people working in newsrooms than you think.
We are working hard. We have less time to spend on a story than we'd like.
Reporters and editors don't get paid extra if you click a headline, but we'd prefer you read the whole story and not just the headline.
9. What is one story you've always wanted to tell but haven't had the chance yet?
The story of refugees. I've been fortunate to meet and interview some people who have made the tough choice to flee their home because of danger. I think those stories are really important and want to tell more of them.