Jennie Russell, investigative reporter, CBC Investigates, Edmonton, Alta.
In university, I didn’t earn a living doing journalism. I worked in a Crocs store in Ottawa in the Byward Market.
I spent a lot of my free time volunteering at Rogers TV. I’d highly recommend that sort of opportunity to anyone. It enabled me to really get a lot of hands on experience.
I volunteered on a show called Talk Ottawa, a current affairs political show. I ran — as glamorous as it sounds — a local bingo show that was very popular with the senior crew. But, I got to do a ton of stuff on that show. By the time I had graduated, I was basically directing the show on my own.
I thought about being a lawyer, about trying to write for a living — whether that be magazine writing or a novelist — then shifted gears, focused on journalism and did a co-op placement in Grade 11 at the Lindsay Daily Post.
It was great experience, especially in a small town, because you’re not just fetching coffee, they need an extra body. These people are cranking out six or seven stories for each edition. I got a bit of a taste for journalism and went to Carleton University for that and political science.
Carleton University has an annual internship over the summer called the Tim May Memorial Internship. I’d never been west of Thunder Bay and I don’t have family out in Edmonton but thought, ‘You know, I’ll see where the interview goes and if I get the job I can decide whether I take the leap and do it.’
I came out to Edmonton and didn’t know if I would be here for more than four months. I started helping out on the desk and then started working with CBC reporter Charles Rusnell who kind of co-opted me a little bit of the time. He needed an associate producer and I got that job. That was in October 2012 and I became a reporter, officially, in January 2014.
One of the many things about Charles is he’s great to students. He’s incredibly generous of his time in terms of teaching you your skills. When I started, there were a couple stories that he was doing where he said, ‘Can you help me find a couple things.’ Apparently, I impressed him. I think he saw I was someone who had some drive and who he could trust.
I’ve always been curious in terms of knowing how things work, seeing a story and wondering about the story behind it or how things came to be. I’ve always had that. I’m not naturally as aggressive as some other people are. But it can also work for you sometimes.
You have to do it for the public. You have to see it as a public service. There are a lot more glamorous jobs, well-paying jobs, and less stressful jobs. But you have to believe what you’re doing actually makes an impact — that you’re doing it for the right reasons and you can actually impact change.
My first big leak was when we were doing the stories about Alison Redford, like Skypalace, taking her daughter on the plane and the fake passengers. In December 2014, I got leaked a document that basically concluded if the RCMP could prove the statements or claims the auditor general made in his report, that she could be charged with four offences.
I remember getting that document and being like, ‘This is a document that very few people have held or seen.’ It’s really a high. When you get that sort of stuff, you realize what you’re holding and that people don’t know that you’re holding it.
I think it’s really hard when you’re a journalist starting out and you’re kind of rudderless in a lot of ways. You’re fresh out of school, you’ve never really worked in a newsroom before. Having Charles who took the time, and continues to take the time, to teach me things and mentor me — he’s been incredibly generous with his time.
Charles still hates getting beat on a story. He chases tips down like no one else and that drive and ambition, that’s really inspiring to me. I wouldn’t be here, there’s no doubt in my mind, if it wasn’t for Charles.
Looking back eight or nine years, back to when I started my bachelors, I would not be able to plot or predict my career path to where it is now, but I wouldn’t change it.
As told to Stephanie Hagenaars. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Editor: Jolene Rudisuela | firstname.lastname@example.org