She graduated from journalism school less than a year ago, but Leila Beaudoin has landed the assignment of a lifetime on the CBC Radio Sunday Edition.
After growing up in Port Saunders, Beaudoin earned a degree in English from Memorial University, before heading out west to take the two-year journalism program at the University of Regina, SK.
Upon graduation in 2011, Beaudoin was hired in the casual pool with CBC NL. She filed a number of stories, from hard news to softer human interest pieces, doing an admirable job on all of them. Beaudoin has a certain spark; a presence on camera that compels you to pay attention. To catch up on some of her CBC work, click the video links at her site:
When casual work with the CBC dried up in November 2011, Beaudoin pondered what to do next.
“I've flirted with the out-west dream but that’s just not me,” she said, in an interview. “To be honest I am more comfortable in rubber boots than heels, so I decided to try and make a go of it here on the island."
Beaudoin met with Marie Wadden, Network Producer for CBC Radio in this province, to talk about potential freelance stories. Wadden also teaches an English 3901 investigative writing course for the English Department at Memorial University, which requires students to develop and write one story per term.
“They have to pitch it to me, and make it a story that they want to work on for the next couple of months,” Wadden said, in an interview. “Often, the thing that’s hardest for the students is identifying the story they want to tell.”
Wadden went through a similar process with Beaudoin, who suggested local stories from the Great Northern Peninsula. However, most of them had been done before.
When the subject of Beaudoin’s mixed nationality came up – her mother is from Newfoundland, and father from Tunisia – Wadden’s curiosity was piqued. Beaudoin’s parents both worked as cooks in Yellowknife, NWT when she was born, but separated soon after. Beaudoin was raised by her mother in Port Saunders, with occasional contact with her father. But her Tunisian heritage was evident in her thick, dark hair and tan complexion, which contrasted sharply with the pale, fair-skinned children of Port Saunders.
“When she told her personal story, I said, ‘Wait a minute, Leila – this is really interesting’,” Wadden said. “There seemed to be in that personal story a quest for identity, a sense of loss, of not knowing enough about her father’s culture, and even though physically she looked more Tunisian, she said how growing up they had a derogatory name that distinguished her racially from everyone else. And Tunis is in the news lately for having started the whole Arab spring. So I suggested that maybe she could turn her quest into a story. That was sort of the genesis of it.”
Wadden helped Beaudoin craft a story pitch, then put her in touch with Karen Levine, documentary producer with The Sunday Edition.
The Sunday Edition is one of the top current affairs programs in the country, hosted by Michael Enright, arguably the best journalist in the country. (Yes, that could be quite an argument. But still.) Most journalists dream of filing a report on that show and many make the pitch, but precious few get the opportunity.
For Beaudoin, so fresh out of journalism school, it was a long shot.
But it was a bullseye. Beaudoin smacked a home run, right out of the park. Her quest to explore her roots will air on The Sunday Edition, in the 2012/13 season.
Beaudoin has already interviewed her mother, in Port Saunders. Then she flew to Yellowknife, her birthplace, for a photo shoot with renowned photographer Dave Brosha, who was intrigued by her story. Next stop was Calgary, where Beaudoin reconnected with her father for close to two weeks. That bonding time included lessons in Tunisian cooking, which Beaudoin posted to her Twitter feed (@leilabeaudoin). After that, she will fly to Tunisia, to meet her extended family and explore a country she has never visited.
“I do have a relationship with my father, but I don’t know anything about my Tunisian heritage,” Beaudoin said. “So I am going to go there, meet my family and see how they relate to me. They’ve always wanted to meet me. I receive messages all the time from my grandparents and cousins.”
Beaudoin is also excited about exploring the country itself.
“It’s a year after the Arab spring, which started in Tunis, so I’m very interested in that. There’s a new English news program there being run by journalists, so I’m going to check that out. There are so many stories there to do, but I’m going to stay focused on the item I’m doing for Sunday Edition. I’m going as a new journalist, at a very exciting time in a very exciting climate, so there’s going to be a lot going on. But I feel ready for it.”
Beaudoin realizes what this assignment means for her career, and is suitably excited about it. Just a few weeks ago, she was out of work and pondering her next move. Now, she is in the midst of a major radio documentary that will take her halfway around the world, and produce a career-making resumé item.
“It’s really cool for me because I’ve never done a radio documentary before, so that’s going to be great experience. Plus I’m going to get a national audience for a really important story, so it’s a great opportunity. It’s so weird because everything is just falling into place – the modeling photo shoot, my grandmother being 80 years old and saying this is an ideal time for me to do this, and I’ve got the support from my mom which is really important for me. She’s ready for me to do this journey just as much as I am. My mom and I are very, very close, so having that support is excellent. At first they were a bit nervous because of all the news coming out of that part of the world, but now they’re saying, ‘Nope, you’re ready for this. We want you to do it.’ I’m just so excited.”
I closed by asking Leila what she’d like to be doing five years from now.
“I’d like to be an established journalist, living in Newfoundland. There are so many stories here that I’m passionate to tell. It’s a new time, there are new changes in our government, and I’d very much like to be here and be established to a point that my stories are being heard. I love this place. I just feel so privileged to go to a shed and talk to a fisherman about sealing, firsthand, when they’re washing the blood off their hands after coming in from a day’s work, and actually see how these people are living. I think it’s so rich here in stories. So I’d like to be here and have an opportunity to see that stories here on the west coast are heard, provincially and nationally. That’s where I’d like to be.”