The first recipient of a new award for journalism students at Red River College credits her industry training with providing an entirely new outlook on life.
“My experience in this program has helped me to find my voice and my talents,” says soon-to-be RRC grad Rachel Young, who this spring received the first-ever Dawna Friesen Global News Award for Journalism.
“Prior to Creative Communications, I was lost.”
The new award — named for Friesen, a fellow CreComm grad (1984) now serving as Global’s national news anchor — was established as part of the organization’s commitment to local news and community involvement, and as a means of encouraging the next generation of reporters.
The recognition caps off a whirlwind period of transition and growth for Young, who only three years ago was unhappily working a full-time job in retail. She’d graduated from university, but found herself unmotivated to do anything with her degree, and in her own words, settling for a career that wouldn’t challenge or inspire her.
Then she learned about Creative Communications at RRC. Though she initially assumed entry was unattainable, she enrolled on a whim, and was accepted.
“My outlook on life changed,” she explains. “I was ready to fully dedicate the next two years of my life to achieving this goal.
“I wanted to use this opportunity to change my future. I gave up the steady paycheck and, with the support of my partner and family, I chose to invest in my future.”
At 26, Young is a few years older than some of her classmates. Her fears about returning to school after years away had given her a drive to succeed, but in a somewhat ironic turn, she found her first forays into the world of news gathering a bit daunting.
“Journalism was the class I feared the most,” says Young. “After one of my first assignments, my instructor Joanne Kelly told me that it was more about the progress I made, rather than the mark on the paper. This advice carried me through to where I am today.”
Buoyed by Kelly’s mentorship, Young honed her storytelling skills even further in her second year, working harder and asking more questions as a Media Production major.
“My skills improved and I gained confidence after every assignment,” she says. “Today I look forward to a career in broadcast journalism. I want to meet people, share their stories and be inspired by the world around me.”
Young was one of a number of second-year CreComm students to apply for the new award, which includes a $3,000 scholarship. A shortlist of three applicants was presented to Global reps for consideration, and while their decision wasn’t easy, they say Young’s eagerness to adapt put her ahead of the pack.
“Over the course of the interviews and based on the written essay, Rachel showed not only a willingness to adapt, but also to learn and grow,” says Michael Goldberg, executive producer at Global Winnipeg. “Adaptability is one of the most important lessons someone can learn as preparation for this industry. How we work now is not how we worked five years ago, and will not be how we work in five years’ time.”
Citing Global’s role as an industry leader — both in working with new technology, and evolving in step with the changing media landscape — Goldberg says reporters must be willing to fight to have their stories heard, noting journalism can change governments, help drive policy and improve lives, providing its practitioners remain committed.
It’s a standard set proudly by Friesen herself, who over the decades has gone from smaller rural outlets to a gig in the U.K., later landing at her current position, which finds her delivering the news to hundreds of thousands of Canadian households each evening.
“It’s Red River College that launched me on the road to where I am today,” Friesen said in 2011, two years after being named one of RRC’s Distinguished Alumni. “The same basic principles I learned at school … are the same basic story-telling skills I use today: getting the facts right, double-sourcing, diligence [and] patience.”
Friesen began her broadcasting career at stations in Brandon, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, later covering national news and federal elections for CBC and CTV. In 1999, she took a position as a London-based correspondent with NBC, covering some of the ensuing decade’s top stories, including the fall of Iran and the struggle to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Her part in team coverage of Barack Obama’s historic presidential victory earned her an Emmy award in 2009.
“Dawna’s career has taken her around the world, and now has her anchoring Global’s national news broadcast,” says Goldberg. “She is a fantastic role model that we hope many will look at and try to emulate.”