Photo by Lucas Oleniuk, TorontoStar
Toronto Star reporters Jesse McLean, Jennifer Yang and Jayme Poisson.
By Aleysha Haniff
Jennifer Yang waited quietly in the shadows cast by bonfires and floodlights in the cool desert night.
She was riveted by the sight of men working to free Florencio Avalos, one of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground in a devastating collapse of a gold and copper mine in northern Chile's Atacama Desert in August 2010.
By Yang's side was Violeta Avalos Silva. They waited as Silva's brother, Florencio Avalos, became the first miner hauled to safety.
The rescue at the San Jose mine had played out in the world spotlight for more than two months.
Camp Hope, the tent city that had sprung up during the rescue, was crammed with eager reporters and in the twilight of the mid-October night they mobbed the Avalos family as the family waited for Florencio Avalos to be freed.
But not Yang.
The 27-year-old reporter, fresh from a year in the Toronto Star intern program, had bided her time and persuaded Silva to be interviewed away from the media storm.
Together in the shadows, the two women kept vigil, Silva holding her young daughter in her arms.
The mood was anxious, tense.
And then Silva turned to Yang, her eyes gleaming with tears as she saw her brother emerge from what could have been his grave.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much emotion while covering a story before,” Yang said.
Her story explaining how the rescue worked won a National Newspaper Award, May 13. The award is one of the most prestigious in Canadian journalism.
Foreign reporting is not that unusual for young reporters at the Toronto Star.
In February, one-year intern Jayme Poisson, 27, travelled to Cairo and chronicled a democratic uprising that would rock the Middle East.
Poisson remembers one emotionally charged scene in the crowd.
Wael Ghonim spent 12 days blindfolded in detention, unaware that Egyptians had died for the cause he had started on Facebook and Twitter. When he was released, supporters poured into Tahrir Square and Ghonim’s cousin grabbed Poisson by the arm, pulling her from the jumble of people onto a makeshift stage.
Poisson stood by Ghonim’s side as he addressed the roaring, jubilant crowd.
Cairo was Poisson's first foreign assignment and the stakes were high.
“It feels like incredible crushing pressure because it feels like you’re competing with the world.”
As Poisson returned from Egypt, 23-year-old Jesse McLean was off to Bahrain to cover that country's bloody revolt.
McLean walked among corpses peppered with shells at a hospital, looking through medical charts to learn the names of the dead.
At one point, Lucas Oleniuk, a Star photographer in Bahrain with McLean, had to dodge bullets powerful enough to pierce metal lampposts.
Oleniuk was a one-year photo department intern in 2003.
McLean, one of Yang's 'classmates' in the one-year intern program, was sent to Haiti to cover the earthquake that overwhelmed the island in January 2010. He was just four months into the one-year program at the time.
Yang and McLean are two of five reporters who completed the one-year internship in September 2010.
Both say the day-to-day grind of the program helped them get the job done when they covered history in the making.
Each September, the Toronto Star brings a fresh group of young journalists into the newsroom, where they spend time in a number of departments including city, business, living and photography. The program is open to journalists under 30 who have never held a full-time, permanent staff position at a Canadian daily newspaper.
Yang said the Star’s emphasis on professional development drew her to the program. The interns would regularly have sessions on anything from filling out freedom of information requests to figuring out the court system.
One of her favourites? Walking through the city with the Star’s Christopher Hume as he filled them in on the architecture and history of Toronto’s core.
Aleysha Haniff is a reporter in the Star's radio room. She recently finished her last year of journalism school at Ryerson University. Follow her on Twitter