From newbie to national award winner in one 'easy' step
I didn't have any experience in foreign reporting, I didn't know anything about Chile or South America or mining. I didn't speak Spanish.
National Newspaper Award winner Jennifer Yang.
By Sarah Ratchford
It started out as just another September day in the Toronto Star newsroom for Jennifer Yang.
But then foreign editor Colin MacKenzie asked her to come see him.
Yang was told to pack her bags for Chile. She had never done any foreign reporting but had so impressed senior Star editors that she was being sent to report on the attempt to rescue 33 miners trapped 700 metres under a collapsed gold and copper mine in northern Chile. The Edmonton native had just completed a year in the Star's premier program for young journalists.
That meeting with MacKenzie also put the 27-year-old on the road to a National Newspaper Award.
But there were a few bumps on the road along the way and a bit of fear and trepidation.
"I didn't have any experience in foreign reporting, I didn't know anything about Chile or South America or mining. I didn't speak Spanish," she laughs.
"There were a lot of 'Why me?' feelings."
She quickly got over her fear, though, and spent a week brushing up on things she didn't know. She put her hard-won skills to work and did some mining of her own, combing through contacts to learn more about the scene she was about to face.
She may have done lots of homework but her arrival in Chile was completely overwhelming.
"It was just unlike anything I've ever experienced in reporting. There were hoards of media from around the world -- BBC, CNN, NBC -- media I'd never gone up against in competition for a story."
At the time of the rescue there were about 2,000 journalists clustered around the San Jose mine. Reporters descended on the families of the trapped miners, everyone trying to get the most poignant and emotional interviews, all of them driven to be the first and the best.
It was impossible to get through to the family of Florencio Avalos, the first miner to emerge after two months.
"I'd never seen anything that competitive. You really had to be strategic and creative, especially when you're going through a translator."
But Yang had befriended Avalos's sister prior to the rescue. The woman had always declined to talk to media and stayed out of the spotlight, but Yang found her on the day of her brother's rescue and she agreed to talk. The two woman stood side by side and watched as Avalos was brought to the surface.
Yang's NNA was for explanatory reporting, a category celebrating in-depth reporting on the complexities of a current event. Pieces submitted to this category are detail-centric, outlining terms, equipment, processes or theories.
The Star was nominated for 16 NNAs and took home three at the annual awards dinner in Ottawa May 13.
Photographer Lucas Oleniuk, a former intern in the Star one-year program, took home an award for news feature photography, his third NNA, and the Star also won a team award for its breaking news coverage of last summer's G20 protest.
The Star offers three different internships: the radio room, summer reporting, and a year-long reporting internship.
Sarah Ratchford is a Toronto Star intern who works in the radio room.