A ongoing project, Community Journalism 101 is a five-week course organized in partnership with Megaphone Magazine with instructors Alex Samur and Jackie Wong. The course runs twice yearly. As of Spring 2014, an advanced level, Community Journalism 201, has been added to the program.
What is the story of Community Journalism 101?
I had come to know Am Johal as one of my favourite people to interview about the Olympic resistance movement when I was working as a news reporter for the Westender in 2008, 2009, and 2010. I was glad to make his acquaintance through reporting on his long history of political organizing in and around the Downtown Eastside, and we kept in touch after I left the job to start freelancing in 2010. He was eventually hired at SFU Woodward’s to work as its community engagement coordinator and asked to take me for coffee one rainy early morning in January 2011. He suggested the idea of me teaching a journalism course at Woodward’s for Downtown Eastsiders. Having never taught before, I thought it was a crazy idea and it terrified me. But most things terrify me, especially the most meaningful things, so I went against my instincts and said yes. Am paired me up with Alexandra Samur, a journalist and editor who I had met at the Tyee Christmas party the year before. We developed the curriculum and recruited students for the first round of Community Journalism 101 that spring, in April 2011.
Now, five years later, teaching Community Journalism 101 has been consistently one of my favourite jobs. I’m happy to call Alex a good friend. Alex has also had a baby in this time, so last year I co-taught the class with Geoff D’Auria, also a wonderful journalist, editor, and teacher. I had always wanted to teach and had previously had few opportunities to do so. Now, I divide my time between editing Megaphone, teaching creative writing at UBC, and teaching Community Journalism 101. I feel so grateful for Am for reaching out to me with the opportunity—we carry that spirit of exciting new frontiers with us with each iteration of Community Journalism 101, where students are often stepping into a classroom for the first time in years, making good on long-held hopes or plans to put their experiences into writing.
What is the nature of your program and the partnership with SFU?
Community Journalism 101 is a partnership between Megaphone magazine, a social enterprise non-profit headquartered in the Downtown Eastside, and the community engagement office part of SFU Woodward’s Cultural Unit. Megaphone provides employment opportunity and a voice to homeless and low-income people. It’s a monthly magazine sold in Vancouver and Victoria by homeless and low-income vendors who purchase the magazine for $0.75 and sell it for $2, keeping the profit.
How does the class create an impact both at a personal level and at a community level?
The class is designed to provide a tuition-free, low-barrier educational opportunity to people who have traditionally faced barriers to education due to homelessness, poverty, trauma, a history of addiction, mental health concerns, physical disability, or colonial violence.
Like Megaphone, Community Journalism 101 works to provide a voice to marginalized people. The course equips participants with writing skills to document the stuff of their everyday lives and to feel empowered to engage critically with media. Whereas people living in poverty or in the inner city are often misrepresented in mainstream media, Community Journalism 101 works to empower people to tell their own stories and play an active role in shaping how they are represented, on their terms, when approached by media representatives for interviews.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Working to make the class relevant and accessible to people with a variety of talents, interests, hopes, and skills.
Do you have any thing else you would like to add?
It’s been a fantastic experience! Thanks everyone who has made this possible, especially Am Johal, Andrea Creamer, and teaching assistants Carla Stewart, Linnea Strom, and Fioriella Pinillos. You’ve all been marvellous to work with!