By Adrian Morrow
Photographer Steve Russell, investigative reporter David Bruser and designer Jason A. Chiu picked up National Newspaper Awards for work at the Star and the Globe and Mail.
The first time I worked with Steve, we were sent to Union Station last summer to cover a strike by Via Rail employees. The whole morning, Steve worked the scene thoroughly, capturing numerous candid photos of stranded travellers, shooting from every angle and even helped me find some people with the best anecdotes. This same candid shooting and spontaneity had paid off big for him the previous April.
Russell was assigned to get some night shots in the entertainment district for a feature on the effects of the recession, when six men spilled out of a bar and began a vicious brawl on the street.
"I was standing on a stoop so that I could stack up pedestrians and party people on my side of the street, traffic and a busy bar as a background," he says of that night. "I saw something starting to happen at the door of the bar and dropped my camera with a wide angle lens in favour of the camera with a long zoomer (70-200) on it."
The fight was broken up quickly, but Russell managed to snap a vivid action shot of the fight. In his photo, every detail pops, from the ripple of the mens' unbuttoned shirts, to the agonized look on the face of one young man who had been knocked to the ground.
The photo won the NNA for news photography, Russell's second.
Russell, a Sudbury native who grew up party in Peru, studied photojournalism at Loyalist College and cut his teeth as an intern at the London Free Press and the Toronto Star. The Star hired him permanently in 1998.
He remembers trying to learn from every photographer during his summer as an intern.
"The way they can smell the story amazed me. The lessons I learned in how to approach a variety of situations and stories are tools that I carry with me every day," he says.
From Nannygate to Jaffergate, it's been a big year for the Star's investigations team, and one of their own was feted Friday.
David Bruser won his second career NNA for "The War at Home," a series about the mental toll the war in Afghanistan has taken on Canadian soldiers. The investigation was at once a series of intimate portraits of men with deep psychological scars brought on by the horrors of the war and an indictment of the army's seeming indifference to helping them overcome their trauma.
Bruser, who studied journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spent two years at the McComb Enterprise-Journal in Mississippi before joining the Star's one-year reporting internship program in 2003. As an intern, he covered the fatal hostage-taking at Union Station. Subsequently, he worked as a business and transportation reporter before joining the investigative team in 2007.
"Because the Star under editor Michael Cooke provides support and resources to the investigations team, I and my colleagues have the great opportunity to try to do stories like the War at Home series," he says, who credits investigations editor Kevin Donovan more his mentorship, the staff of the Star library with their research help and multimedia guru Randy Risling (himself the recipient of an NNA Friday) for putting together a web component for the series.
When I worked at a student newspaper at Ryerson University, there was one campus paper, out of the hundreds from across the country, that always stood out for its design. With visually arresting covers and creative, magazine-style layouts, the art in the University of Ottawa's La Rotonde always seemed a big step ahead of the rest of us.
It wasn't until I started working at the Star that I met the guy behind it: Jason A. Chiu, a veteran of campus journalism. In addition to La Rotonde (where he served as co-editor-in-chief and production manager), he worked as a designer at student papers the Fulcrum and the Ryerson Free Press, and spent a year as the head of the Canadian University Press's graphics bureau. He came to the Star in 2008 for a year-long design internship.
Chiu, now at the Globe and Mail, won the NNA for presentation with David Pratt for the layout and design of "Decoding the Decade", a Saturday Globe package analyzing the first 10 years of the 21st century. He describes the project as a team effort, with input from editors across the paper.
"Being nominated was a great feeling, being recognized as the winner in your category is a step above everything, few things can compare," he says of his NNA win.
Chiu credits his Star internship with helping him move from small weeklies to major dailies. He says it also taught him the endurance and focus on deadline that helped him put together big projects like the one that garnered him his first NNA.
"These skills, while they might seem arbitrary, were key in the long hours it took to conceive the Decoding the Decade package, the countless late nights I spent working on the weekly Saturday Globes and of course, that time Bob Geldof and Bono were in the Globe newsroom skedding stories and rewriting ledes," he says.
Russell, meanwhile, offers some advice for incoming Star interns that applies aptly to young journalists anywhere, whether behind the lens, holding a notepad or laying out pages late into the night:
"Dive in, commit to it, get your stories/pictures looked at by as many of the writers and editors you can," he says. "Don't find a mentor -- find two or three. Develop a thick skin! Ask for critiques and don't shut down then you hear something negative about your work, listen hard, that is when you learn!"
Adrian Morrow spent the past two years in the Star's radio room. This summer he will report for the Globe and Mail.