My resume has more padding than I know what to do with, now.
Two of the investigations that I oversaw at York University’s award-winning weekly Excalibur last year have been shortlisted for the John H. McDonald Awards, a series of journalism awards started by the Canadian University Press to recognize excellence in reporting at Canadian colleges and universities.
Doing investigations was a major objective of our news team last year, so as part of the speakers series that I coordinated to help give our staff and volunteers the essential skills to succeed in this business, I invited Kevin Donovan – the head of the Toronto Star’s investigative team – to come and chat with our reporters and give them tips on how to conduct investigations.
Donovan’s seminar was inspiring for our team and gave them lots of tips. He seemed particularly impressed with our news editor’s idea to do an investigation into whether the buses on campus were running on schedule or not.
The fact that two of the buses in particular seemed to never be on time was a frequent topic of chatter among commuting students. Our news editor put that notion to the test by sending our interns out to monitor what time the buses were arriving for an hour every day, which resulted in a front-page investigation titled “Dude, Where’s My Bus?” The story is one of three nominees for the investigative journalism award at the Johnnies.
The second investigation came from a news tip we received from our assistant news editor, Alexandra Birukova, that a jewelery kiosk on campus was hiring students and paying them below the minimum wage.
Our reporter Stephanie Directo went undercover and got a job at the kiosk, where she worked for two days- one training day and one full shift. We published not only a front page story, but also a video detailing how much money Directo made before we confronted her employer.
Overseeing this story was one of the most rewarding aspects of my experience as editor-in-chief. The adrenaline of doing undercover work and the challenges faced – including trying to reach the employer for a response in time for production – made it a true rollercoaster ride.
At one point our business manager even tried to persuade Directo from following through with the story by telling her that she was potentially putting herself in danger.
But despite being a little shaken, Directo did follow through, and I bet she’s glad she did now. “Employees Shortchanged by York Lanes Kiosk,” by Alexandra Birukova and Stephanie Directo, was not only on the front page of the issue that won us fifth place in the Associated Collegiate Press’s Best of Show competition, but it has also been nominated for a JHM award for investigative reporting!
Big congrats are in order for Birukova and Directo, as well as everybody on last year’s Excalibur editorial team for their hard work in supporting these investigations and allowing them to come to fruition.
Having two nominations- out of three- in the investigative category is a huge achievement, and has, in my opinion, set a pretty big milestone for student reporting.
After all, doing investigative work is pretty advanced stuff, with plenty of legal and ethical implications. Many student journos talk about doing this kind of reporting but never follow through- due to an inability to get necessary evidence, a lack of time and resources or even just plain fear of legal repercussions.
I think these nominations speak volumes about the hard work, passion and talent of our team.
P.S. A special thanks goes out to this year’s e-i-c Nicholas Maronese, who nominated our stories for these awards and helped our work get recognized. Thanks, Nick.