Last November, Vanessa Hrvatin was deep in the throes of reporting for her features class at UBC Journalism.
One year later, that story — and the events it spurred — has led Hrvatin to the National Post in Toronto.
Just six months after graduating, Hrvatin has been awarded this year’s Michelle Lang Fellowship in Journalism.
The coveted one-year fellowship with Postmedia will be split between two of Canada’s top newsrooms: six months at the Post — starting Nov. 27 — and six months at the Calgary Herald.
Hrvatin will work as a daily reporter and pursue a project on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
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‘Easiest way to make a change’
At the School, Hrvatin distinguished herself with her in-depth health stories.
She specialized in biology in her undergrad at Queen’s University and spent a year reporting in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. When she arrived at UBC, Hrvatin took elective courses in public health and epidemiology.
In her second year, she was tasked with pitching a 4,000-word story for her features class. She considered the advice of her professor, James MacKinnon: Write about something you’ve wondered about.
Hrvatin’s grandmother had recently passed away from sepsis, a mysterious disease that kills nearly 10,000 Canadians each year.
She put out calls to people afflicted with sepsis and, to her surprise, received dozens of responses.
“I quickly realized how big of an issue it was, but how little it was being reported on,” she said.
As the class wrapped up, Hrvatin felt she had more work to do. She turned her feature into a year-long final research project, which meant bulking up the reporting and pairing the story with a literature review.
“Public health reporting is something that people can really relate to … It’s the easiest way to make a change.”
In June, her story “Blood ties: The inspiration behind a potential sepsis breakthrough” was published in Maclean’s.
“After the story came out, I got so many messages saying, ‘Thank you for writing about this. Thank you for putting a voice to this.’”
At graduation, Hrvatin was awarded the Helen Badenoch Scholarship for her reporting on community health.
“Public health reporting is something that people can really relate to and they really care about,” she said. “It’s the easiest way to make a change.”
Hrvatin’s work at the School gave her the confidence to apply for the Michelle Lang Fellowship. Now she’s ready to tackle her next big project: a series on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and how patients are diagnosed across the country.
“It’s so exciting to work on a project you really care about and that you really feel you can put a voice to. That’s such a rare thing nowadays.”
Hrvatin is the eighth recipient since the Michelle Lang Fellowship started in 2010.
Lang, a Calgary Herald journalist, was killed in Dec. 2009 while on assignment in Kandahar, Afghanistan. She was the first Canadian journalist killed while reporting on the war.
“The Michelle Lang Fellowship is a celebration of Michelle’s memory,” Anne Marie Owens, editor of the National Post, said in a release.
“We are very proud that the Fellowship is able to provide the opportunity for a talented reporter like Vanessa to work alongside Postmedia’s award-winning journalists to celebrate Michelle’s passion for storytelling and journalism.”