Alex Migdal graduated from UBC Journalism in 2018 and currently works as a reporter and social media editor for CBC News in Vancouver. He was a recipient of the 2018 CBC News Vancouver Scholarship and has previously reported for The Globe and Mail, Guelph Mercury and Edmonton Journal.
Here’s what Alex had to say about his time at UBC Journalism and beyond:
What led you to UBC Journalism?
UBC was appealing because I had seen a lot of alumni who are now working in newsrooms like CBC. It also had some programs that caught my eye like the International Reporting Program and Reporting in Indigenous Communities course. I finished the Globe’s summer program and moved to Vancouver from Toronto with two suitcases. I started the j-school a couple days later. It was like a reset. I went from reporting for this rigorous newspaper to starting from scratch again.
I came into the program already having had experience in print journalism. For years I had been wanting to be a daily newspaper reporter. I had decided I was going to major in English and work at the student newspaper, so I could get a liberal arts degree but also get that hands-on experience in journalism.
What are the highlights of your time at UBC Journalism?
The first year, Reporting in Indigenous Communities brought me out of my comfort zone, which was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted reporting experiences that challenged me and made me think on my feet.
International Reporting is top of mind when I think about my time at UBC. We went to Turkey and reported on refugees. My story touched on LGBTQ refugees living in Turkey and that was an intense journalistic experience. I’m proud of the story we produced.
Then I did a final research project with Frances Bula about local newspapers and the impact that the loss of newspapers has on local democracies. That was tied to my experience reporting in Guelph. The Guelph Mercury shut down in early 2016, a couple years after I interned. The day that I applied to UBC Journalism was the day they announced it was shutting down. It was a weird, serendipitous moment where I thought, ‘Okay, clearly the print industry is in demise right now. This is probably a sign that going into this program might be the right idea. It might help me get my foot in the door in other kinds of newsrooms.’
Lastly, I took on the digital media coordinator role at UBC Journalism, which tied back to my interest in social media. I really enjoyed that role because I got to talk to alumni and write stories about work that students and faculty do.
Tell us about your internships during the summer between first and second year.
I did two internships. One was at Global National, where I was a researcher and I helped with day to day production tasks and putting together the show. I did that for six weeks because I wanted to see if broadcast was something I could see myself doing. It was a really worthwhile experience, and in the end, I learned that I preferred reporting over producing.
Then I went to CBC Vancouver and did an internship on their digital desk as a web writer. I loved writing in a daily news environment and applying my digital skills. I was coming up with my own headlines and picking the images for the story and suggesting tweets to promote the story. It was a toolbox of skills that I realised I had. I did that for four weeks and I was immediately hired as a casual employee on the web desk.
What does your day-to-day role entail?
People ask me what it is I do and it’s still a bit of an enigma in a newsroom. That’s what I like about it. Social media is a job that invites a lot of creativity. The nuts and bolts is that I ‘social’ or push out every story that we write on to our social platforms and that’s mainly Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can spend a full week writing a story, but if you don’t share it properly, no one will read it. It’s a critical component to a newsroom that’s often overlooked. Even crafting the right Facebook tease can get so many more eyeballs on a story.
We are also increasingly seeing social as its own platform at CBC, so I come up with treatments and stories for that. I work with a video producer that’s assigned to social and web because video is by far the most shareable format on social. We focus on social-specific content that feeds into CBC’s public service mantra and brings value to our audiences, such as explainer videos. A good example is a video I helped produce that debunks myths on measles and vaccines. On top of all that, I file daily news stories and original features for web and radio.
What’s your advice for prospective UBC Journalism students?
I had to remind myself to be patient. I knew it was a two-year program and I could give myself time to breathe. On a purely practical level, my advice would be to get experience. Go to the student paper or campus radio station. UBC has a really great student newspaper that will let you do original journalism that other outlets notice. You have to be willing to put yourself out there on your own because there are so many people who want to enter this profession. The school is great in terms of establishing a base and getting you acquainted with the idea of journalism, but you have to practice journalism from day one because your time at UBC is short.
My other advice is to be willing to do jobs you might not have envisioned in the first place. Part of the reason I ended up in my job as social media editor is that I said yes to things. I spent two weeks on the social desk during my CBC Vancouver summer scholarship and I specifically asked for that experience. I wanted to show them that I could do the job. Full-time web writer jobs are competitive and there are other reporters who have more experience and seniority in those roles, so I was willing to go where they needed me. Being flexible and willing to say yes to new opportunities can get you far.