Lee Pitts of CBC Newfoundland and Labrador has won a fellowship to die for.
The awarding winning video-journalist has been honoured with the St. Clair Balfour Fellowship, from the Canadian Journalism Foundation.
In a nutshell, Lee will take eight months off work at CBC NL to do some really cool stuff, in a classroom at Massey College, University of Toronto.
“The Fellowship is designed to give journalists, with some experience and a body of work behind them, the chance to take time away from the daily grind, the next deadline, the next story, and look at my industry, and topics important in Canada, from a different perspective,” Lee said, in an email interview.
The Fellowship is difficult to explain, partly because each Fellow is free to shape much of the experience to suit their own skills and interests, but clearly it is a great opportunity.
“From what I've figured out from chats with previous Fellows, each one has an entirely different experience from the other. However, all have told me they had an amazing experience; time to think, read, explore, travel, meet influential Canadians in the journalism industry and outside of it, and debate/discuss the future of the industry. Within that experience, I'll do some personal study on topics that I've yet to figure out, and more travel. I also have to attend formal dinners wearing a black academic gown. There are some regimented traditions at Massey College that will take some getting used to… I have already started creating a list of people I’d like to meet with, including Romeo Dallaire, a man I've met a couple of times before, but not for a 90-minute off-the-record conversation. The other Fellows and I will have to decide together who we invite and see whether we can get them to participate.”
Lee said he will live in residence at Massey College for eight months, auditing some graduate courses, and organizing and taking part in weekly journalism seminars.
“(We’ll) be discussing both journalism and contemporary topics with my other fellows and invited guest speakers. Those guests will be decided by the group of Fellows, and in the past has included former Prime Ministers, news executives, heads of national newspapers, senators, and the list goes on. It’s an opportunity to discuss emerging trends in the industry, the future of the industry, and debate, discuss, and learn about other contemporary issues in Canada.”
Lee drew a blank, when asked why he made the final selection for this Fellowship.
“I don't know why I've been chosen. I met with the selection committee in May in Toronto, and after I left, I thought I'd never see them again. I lost my voice and could barely speak or answer any of their questions, and I just didn't think it went very well. Apparently I was wrong. I've been told that I had been chosen out of thousands of applicants. There are three other Canadian Fellows, one from Mexico and one from Ghana. I'm told that Massey College likes to create a ‘team’ each year with the journalism Fellows, a group that will be cohesive and likely have similar interests. Based on the other Fellows’ backgrounds and my own interests, I suspect the ‘team’ has common interests in debating and studying social and digital media, the changing industry, and international journalism and affairs… I'm told I'm in for a wild ride, an amazing experience that can't be simplified into a sentence – and I find that both exciting and terrifying at the same time.”
Lee is definitely a ‘jack of all trades’ around the CBC newsroom. He has performed as host, senior producer, line-up producer, field producer, reporter, video-journalist, radio news reader and has even filled in – quite capably, I must say – for weather presenter, Ryan Snoddon. So, where would Lee like to be, career-wise, five years from now?
“I can't say I haven't thought about that question – my friends will tell you it’s all I talk about! But I am stuck for an answer. Partly because there have been so many changes in journalism over the years that by the time I reach the ‘job’ or level I want, it has changed or morphed into something else. For example, when I was younger, my mom asked me whether I wanted to be a ‘cameraman’ or a ‘reporter’ because I couldn't be both. Ha! I'm now a video-journalist, trained to shoot, edit and write all of my own stories, as I did when I traveled through Africa a couple of years ago. (Though, I admit, I now regularly work with amazing shooters and editors at CBC and don't always VJ)… I suspect where I'll end up in five years likely won't be a position that exists today. But I hope to remain on the air as a TV and Radio journalist and keep taking on more challenging assignments over time. I'd also like to stay with CBC, but it’s a large organization, so it’s hard to say where within the CBC I'll end up.”
Lee is honoured to be chosen for the Fellowship, and gives much of the credit to his co-workers.
“I owe so much of it to my coworkers at CBC for being so supportive of me and my career over the years, helping me, giving me opportunities, and constantly pushing me. I've worked at several CBC locations across the country as a reporter, and CBC NL is the most supportive of all of those locations, and it’s all down to the people who work here.
“I think the body of work my coworkers have helped me create has led to this Fellowship – a rare opportunity to get paid, not have a daily deadline and pursue experiences that I wouldn't get to chase on a regular basis. The whole thing sounds too good to be true. To be honest, I'm excited, nervous, and somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of it all.”