Eight months at the Times

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

LinkedIn tells me I’ve been working at the Times for eight months. Beginning in August, I tried counting it on my fingers but gave up after two tries. On my first try, my fingers weren’t keeping track of the months properly. On my second try, I forgot what came after October. I cannot fully express the wonder I have for technology, beyond its ability to keep track of dates for me.

Beneath my fingertips are 26 buttons corresponding to each letter in the alphabet. After a few hours of clickity clacking, what you get is a new article in the paper. Once the ‘T’ key got jammed and my screen was flooded with endless Ts. Breaking news! Students raise funds to save ttttttttttttttttttttrees. I found sentences like these all over in the archives of my student newspaper, where I worked for one year after graduation. Students in the 60s were radical in that way, breaking the rules of spelling simply because they felt like it. They misspelled words for fun, misspelled words by accident, and you couldn’t tell which ones were intentional or not.

After one year of work at The Medium, the independent newspaper at the University of Toronto, I traveled to Europe with my family. The trip marked our family’s first trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, my brother’s last summer of freedom before entering university and the end of my state of limbo.

I received Lincoln’s email about working as Staff Writer for the Times when I was eating breakfast on a balcony in Paris, completed my interview with him and Megan when I was in Switzerland, and then received the job offer when I was in Iceland, jumping for joy in our dingy youth hostel. And now here we are, eight months in, summer travels have fueled me up for a lifetime of solitary work.

I feel so honored to be trusted with stories from the Rainy River District. My first assignment was an article on the drug and addictions awareness walk hosted by Chelsey Blackjack, to commemorate the loss of her brother. It was my first introduction to the Indigenous community in the region and the ongoing need for more resources in northwestern Ontario.

As it is most days, I conducted an interview over the phone, explaining that I was a remote worker from out of town and may ask a few follow up questions, scoured the Times archives for former reports on the topic, and then wrote the facts of the matter, trying my best to show why the awareness walk was significant to the community through the eyes of my interviewee.

At the start of this job, I pressured myself to immediately learn everything I could about the news industry and the Rainy River District, putting a burden upon myself that I think many young people experience upon starting a new job.

In our first editorial meeting, the word “Emo” was thrown around on several occasions. The only “emo” I knew involved dark eyeliner and punk rock bands. Not wanting to make a poor first impression, I Googled “what is emo” only to be affirmed that emo is a subculture of rock music and its band members often sported dark eyeliner, spiky hair, and black clothes.

Finding myself at odds, I finally asked what the team meant by “emo.” They told me they were referring to the Township of Emo which was located a short distance from Fort Frances, something that I wouldn’t have known unless I was from the area. After sharing with them what I thought it meant, we shared a spout of laughter.

The journalist’s pursuit of truth can feel overwhelming, but I have learned that it is and will always be a process. Although I felt far behind in this pursuit as an out-of-town reporter, accepting that what I know is fragmentary helped me fill in the gaps to tell better stories and become a better journalist.

The book “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel highlights how journalism helps people have a better understanding of the world and how in today’s digital day and age, the need for accurate and reliable accounts of events is needed more than ever.

Truth, as it turns out, is not something that we suddenly land on. It is a process of verification, one that requires careful attention and collaboration with the community, where each article builds upon another as more details and elements become available. As written on page 54 of the book, truth is the goal, an elusive one at best, yet something we continue to strive for even if it is never fully achieved.

I find myself relieved knowing that the pursuit of truth—perhaps like many personal pursuits we may strive for, whether it is to be a better daughter, a better spouse, a better writer, or a better friend—is a journey. Like stalactite growing in a cave, where every calcium drop builds upon another, or in journalism, where every article builds upon another, maybe each day is also an opportunity to grow toward who we want to be.

Many of you have given me hours of your time to tell me about your work, a traumatic past, a joyous occasion, need-to-know information about town services, new events, or your perspective on certain issues. After working eight months at the Times, I just want to thank you all for being a part of my journey as a young journalist striving to find the truth.