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Jan Wong: Never give up

Friday night, journalist and author Jan Wong spoke as the keynoter at the Canadian University Press conference. Her talk was about 10 rules for getting the story, but she also talked about her battle with depression. It was a powerful presentation, and below are the basics of her talk. There was a student who recorded the entire speech and is posting it online (UPDATE: Here’s the official CUP newsletter review by David Johnston). As soon as I can find it, I’ll post a link to it as well. Wong is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Globe & Mail in Toronto.

Newsrooms are very darwinian places, you either sink or you swim:

Do stuff you don’t know anything about and you don’t like that much, because it’s good for you.

If you do something you’re not interested in because you’re forced to do it, it becomes interesting.

Fired from the Globe & Mail: there was a school shooting in 2006. Dawson College

I think in a democracy, it’s okay to attack a reporter, but you don’t attack a family. They went after my father, and they called him a criminal.

Who cares if Harper doesn’t like you? It’s a badge of honor in our business.

But the newspaper didn’t support me. The paper said you can not talk about this.

I think that people all over the world fight for freedom of speech, freedom of the press. This is the business that we’re in.

When you stand up for something you believe in, there are always consequences. And you have to make a decision.

Top 10 rules of getting the story

1. Push yourself – get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t know anything about sports. Go figure it out. You ought to push yourself, because noone else will. In the newsroom, there’s a culture of low expectations. Why should you bother? Because we live in a democracy. We need journalists.
Corollary: Scare yourself every day. Because one of the best drugs for journalists is adrenaline. Think of boldness as a muscle. Everybody has a boldness muscle.

2. Is there anything that you won’t do? Try not to break the law. Be careful if you do.

3. Push people to talk to you. Get out there and nail them. Don’t just put that cheap little line in your stories.

4. Don’t worry about asking a stupid question. Always ask a stupid question. Push people to talk to you on the record.

5. Always as at least one question where there is no good answer.

6. Everything is a story. Always be on.

7. Break down barriers any way you can. Your goal as a journalist is to get people to open up and reveal themselves.

8. It’s not over until it’s over.

9. Fight for time and resources. The more time you have, the more you can worth and report.

10. Consciously write for page one.