As Concordia’s Department of Journalism celebrates its 30th year, I remember when I first became part of its history two decades ago. Seated front row by the windows in a stuffy Bryan Building classroom, I toyed with the keys of the bulky manual typewriter, anxious to begin my education as a reporter.
This lanky guy sporting a grey suit and casual shirt ambled into the classroom and printed his name on the chalkboard. “There’s no ‘h,’” Lindsay Crysler barked. “If you’re going to be a journalist, you’d better [expletive] learn how to spell people’s names right.”
Whoa! This was not what I had expected, but it certainly reflected some of the gruffness I subsequently encountered in print and radio newsrooms. As director of the Journalism department, Lindsay (no Professor Crysler here) prepared J-school grads for the real world.
“And you’d better [expletive] learn how to spell,” he added on that and probably every first day he taught Introduction to Journalism.
Crysler’s Thou Shalt Never Misspell or Misuse commandments included the word “accommodate” and its derivatives. To this day, I check hotel signs and film credits for two c’s and two m’s. When Lindsay’s first class graduated in 1981, the students presented him with an album containing a prelude with “accommodate” misspelled a dozen ways, and their assignments covered with his infamous red ballpoint editing marks.
Lindsay made his first mark on the department before its inception. In 1974, as the Montreal Gazette’s managing editor, he reassured Ian Campbell, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at Sir George Williams University, that a journalism program could start out small, a supposition he later cursed when struggling with meagre budgets. He also served on the committee that selected longtime journalist David Oancia as the first coordinator of the minor in journalism program. It began with 20 students cramped into a Mackay Street classroom at the new Concordia University in the fall of 1975. The university also hired Linda MacDonald away from the Montreal Star’s library staff to be the departmental secretary. For nine years, her unwavering calm and logic rescued teachers and students from academic quagmires.
She and Montreal Star veteran and parttime teacher John Dafoe sat on another hiring committee after David announced his departure in 1978. Among the candidates: Lindsay Crysler. The death of Ottawa Today had left him without a job for the first time since he was 17.
None of the committee’s academics disputed Lindsay’s 25 years of newspaper experience, but they hedged their bets by also hiring Enn Raudsepp as the associate director. Along with experience in reporting and editing for several dailies, Enn had a master’s in journalism and a PhD in English literature.
Their personalities couldn’t have been more
different. Lindsay’s quick, often brash wit contrasted sharply
with Enn’s serene, contemplative philosopher mode. Yet their
passion for journalism and their students’welfare meant anyone
seeking counsel from either usually ended up with the same good advice.
Their one dispute in 19 years involved whether a reception should
be held for students beginning the diploma program one year.
“We didn’t have money and, besides, I thought it was unfair to the undergraduates,” Lindsay says. “So Enn said, ‘Fine. I’ll pay for it myself.’Well, of course, I couldn’t let him have that kind of moral victory, and found the money. When I mentioned the fight to someone else later, Enn asked, ‘What fight?’”
“I honestly don’t remember,” reiterates Enn, who took charge of the department after Lindsay’s retirement in 1997. “I had never met Lindsay before Concordia, but we really hit it off and worked well together. Perhaps I was more conciliatory, but Lindsay never confronted anyone unless that person deserved to be confronted. He knew what the department needed and went straight to the dean or whoever else was in charge for it, which intimidated a few ivory tower intellectuals.”
As the news industry computerized, Journalism struggled to keep up. “The computers we bought were three generations behind within a year,” Lindsay says.
Ross Perigoe, who joined the department 20 years ago, shudders when he recalls the orange-screened AES computers that required knowing a key code for every command. “I thought, please just let us go back to our typewriters and telling stories.”
The department kept the Olympia typewriters until 1988. “Even then we debated getting rid of them,” Enn admits. “What if computers with all their early problems were a phase?” The ease of operating personal computers finally alleviated such fears and the department bravely digitized, wired and otherwise caught up with technology as budgets allowed.
For its 30th anniversary, Journalism (along with Communication Studies) is getting one pearl of a new home in the revamped former Drummond Science Building. The overhaul, spearheaded a few years ago by Dean of Arts and Science Martin Singer and Provost Jack Lightstone, is part of a grander scheme to rejuvenate the Loyola Campus.
The new Journalism facilities include a 75-seat lecture hall, designated classrooms, writing and conference rooms, and a 30-seat newsroom connected to one of three computer labs. Slide-card identification will give students 24-hour access to computers.
Broadcast teacher Peter Downie is ecstatic about the new TV and radio studios. “We’re finally going to have a radio control board that’s not better suited to a Kiss concert,” he says. “And there’ll be enough TV cameras and editing booths.”
The equipment will be superior to what students will find in some actual newsrooms. “We’ve removed the technical excuses for why something can’t be done,” Peter says. “And the more professional our facilities are, the easier it is to grab that middle group of students — who aren’t sure why they’re in a broadcast course — and to show them why this is so much fun.”
What a far cry from when CBC’s Stephen Phizicky taught students to edit radio interviews by jacking two tape recorders together. Mark Bulgutch, then a newcomer at CBC, still marvels at having taught the first TV course without cameras. Yet the course resulted in Jonathan Shanks, BA 83, landing a summer job at CBC TV in Regina, where he’s now the bureau chief. Strong research, interviewing and writing skills have led to many graduates advancing to successful careers, regardless of technical expertise.
“Thanks to Lindsay, I’m always conscious
of the difference between fewer and less,” says CJAD Radio’s
early morning host, Andrew Carter, BA 84. “Lindsay was the practical,
how-to guy who emphasized grammar and good writing, and Enn was the
thinker who got into the deeper issues related to history and ethics.”
Geoff Baker, BA 91, has won two National Newspaper Awards and now covers the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star. He credits the Press and the Law course taught by Lindsay for launching his investigative reporting career. “I really learnt how important it is to ensure information is based on facts rather than hearsay, and not to get scared just because someone writes a letter threatening a lawsuit,” he says. “I also really appreciated how I was encouraged to treat sports with the same investigative approach as other kinds of news.”
No wonder, with teachers such as iconic CBC sportscaster Bob McDevitt having been on staff. Current associate professor Linda Kay, MA 01, shared a Pulitzer Prize for her local reporting at the San Diego Evening Tribute in 1978. Her consistently positive student evaluations are the envy of peers. Alexis Kienlen, GrDip 01, explains why her former teacher deserves much praise. “Linda treats students as individuals and really works on building their strengths.”
Linda’s inspiration derives from the dramatic transformation she witnesses in most students. “They show up knowing little or nothing about journalism — some even thinking naively that someone else will do the research for them — and they leave knowing how to investigate and write great stories,” she says. “It’s also incredible to see how much young students mature while they’re here. They really become different people.”
The department has boasted an impressive array of journalists as teachers through the years, including Mike Gasher, PhD 99, Sheila Arnopoulos McLeod, MA 78, Gloria Bishop, Janet Kask, Hugh Anderson, Gail Scott, Dominique Clift, Don McGillivray, S BA 74, James Stewart, Michael Farber, Brenda Zosky-Proulx, Trudie Mason, BA 84, and Jay Bryan.
“No one teaches for the money,” Lindsay confirms. “They do it because someone helped them along the way, and they want to do the same.” Every time a graduate lands a job or breaks a story, Enn takes pride. “It’s nice to know that we’ve played a part.” Ross agrees, adding, “We’re not only training journalists, we’re building a community of informed citizens.”
State-of-the-art facilities and plans that include establishing a master’s program bode well for enhancing that community and Concordia’s already enviable reputation for journalism.
Its — oops, I mean, it’s (yes, Lindsay, I know the difference!) — a good feeling to be part of something that’s so vibrant after 30 years.
Julie Gedeon, BA (journ.) 89, BA (Eng. & cr. writing) 01, is a Montreal freelance journalist.
Concordia J-school alumni are legion in radio, newspaper and television newsrooms across the country and throughout the world. Here are snapshots of just a handful of them.
Alexis Kienlen, GrDip 01, poet, author and journalist
Alexis Kienlen’s freelance work includes being the literary
editor for the Asian-Canadian arts and culture magazine Ricepaper
in Vancouver. “Whatever I do in life, I try to write and publish
something about it,” she says. Her articles include the experiences
of being in Jakarta during the Bali terrorist bombing in 2002, and
spending four months in Mongolia interviewing people in 20 villages
for the Canadian Co-operative Association. “I would have never
had those opportunities if it hadn’t been for my undergraduate
degree in international studies, and the interviewing skills I learnt
in the Journalism diploma program.” Kienlen praises the Journalism
department for treating students like working reporters from the get-go.
“You can’t be late for class because it’s so important
to learn how to meet deadlines.”
Regan Jacobs, BA 00, executive producer, Loud Spirit Productions
Loud Spirit Productions, which Regan Jacobs began
with $500 and an analog camera in 2002, fulfils her dream of pursuing
broadcast journalism and representing Aboriginal people, starting
with those within her own community. Loud Spirit broadcasts television
programs on an internal cable network within Kahnawake. “We
have come a long way in two and a half years,” she says. “Now
we operate everything digitally.” Global, CBC, CFCF and APTN
frequently seek the images obtained by Loud Spirit. Regan also works
occasionally for Global TV as a reporter. As the sole owner and operator
of Loud Spirit Productions, Jacobs juggles the responsibility for
hiring and managing on-air and behind-thescenes people for various
Paul Gott, BA 95, producer, Global News
“Everybody negotiates salary,” says Paul
Gott, who produces the 11 p.m. Global News in Montreal, “but
I negotiate dress code so I can be myself, and one of the only punk
rockers in the news business.” After nearly making a career
out of attending university part time while pursuing musical and other
interests, he got the break he needed thanks to Journalism professor
Ross Perigoe. Unbeknownst to Gott, his TV professor sent a tape of
his work to CFCF (formerly Pulse) News. “One day I got a call
from someone telling me to show up at 2 p.m. the next day for my internship,”
Gott says. “I told the guy, ‘I don’t know who you
are or what you want, but I’m busy,’and I hung up.”
Fortunately, the producer called back and Gott worked the research,
assignment and line-up desks at CFCF for two years until, as Gott
likes to say, “Global hired me away” eight years ago.
Gott admits to probably holding the record for taking the most years
to finish an undergraduate degree, but doubts he would have found
his calling if it hadn’t been for the internship opportunity
that the Journalism program afforded him.
Christina Lawand, BA 90, Parliamentary correspondent, CBC TV
Christina Lawand credits Concordia Journalism’s
solid reputation with potential employers for helping land her first
job as an editorial assistant with CBC in Toronto 15 years ago. “It
was a real gofer job, but it got me in the door,” she recalls.
“Not everyone gets an internship or job right away, but the
chances are much greater with employers actually seeking out Concordia’s
J students.” Attracted to the program’s small class sizes,
Lawand chose journalism over law. “It’s a decision I’ve
never regretted,” Christina states. Educated in French but having
spoken English with her father all her life, she gave out a huge sigh
of relief when she passed the department’s tough English test
to be admitted into the program. She’s now the parliamentary
correspondent in Ottawa for CBC national television news.
Jennifer McGuire, GrDip 88, executive director for programming, CBC Radio
Jennifer McGuire opted for Concordia’s one-year
journalism diploma program after completing a science degree. “I
wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise,” she says.
“I thought about making children’s films and figured the
research and writing skills I would learn would be helpful.”
Her first story, on why a building’s heating system malfunctioned,
gave her the journalist’s bug. “I found it really exciting
to be able to ask questions about why something wasn’t the way
it was supposed to be.” A successful internship at CBC Radio
in Ottawa meant McGuire had a reporter’s job waiting for her
upon graduation. She has since climbed the ladder to become executive
director for programming at CBC Radio in Toronto. “Concordia’s
Journalism school opened the gateway to my career,” she acknowledges.
“It’s not always an easy life, being a journalist, but
it’s a vocation that lures people who are curious about the
If you have any comments about this article, contact
Howard Bokser, (514) 848-2424 ext. 3826, Howard.Bokser@concordia.ca