Professional Profiles

SFU helps longtime reporter stay ahead of changing journalism industry

May 17, 2013
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Jenny Lee (left) with her daughter, Katie Mah (right). Photo by Dale Northey.

By Amy Robertson

Jenny Lee had no idea how much the journalism industry would change when she began her first job at a newspaper.

Today, journalism is a different industry than it was in the ’80s. Thanks to her desire to learn, the Vancouver Sun reporter is also a different journalist.

Lee, who first learned to write in England with a fountain pen, recalls typewriters, copy paper, and a “very early computer system” at her first journalism job. Today, in addition to her reporting work, she posts stories online, blogs, shoots video, and tweets to over 1,000 followers.

“It’s a completely different world now,” she says. “The timelines are different, the media are different, the way you write is different.”

Fortunately, Lee thrives on the change.

Lee explains that as a business reporter at the Vancouver Sun, whenever she writes a story, she needs to learn the background of whatever she’s writing about—whether that means finding out more about small-business tax laws, acupuncture, or the film industry. Her interview subjects explain things to her until she “gets it”—and for Lee, this is a job perk.

“My job is about learning every day. And that’s why I like it.”

She’s sharpened her evolving skills on the job, through the US-based Poynter Institute, the Editors’ Association of Canada, and SFU Continuing Studies.

Marketing course helps reporter ask better interview questions

Her most recent course choice, Introduction to Marketing at SFU Continuing Studies, was inspired by her daughter, a design student who wanted to learn more about the business side of her work.

“I thought that sounded very interesting. So I started looking for courses,” Lee says.

“I didn’t want a Mickey-Mouse course. I wanted something with some substance. I was a little worried about all these midterms and exams—but the opportunity to take the course with [my daughter] Katie was just too fun. It was just to cool. I had to do it.”

She truly enjoyed the experience, she says. She didn’t mind spending evenings in class at all—and she’s already found the course extremely helpful in her day-to-day work.

“When interviewing people, I want to make them feel comfortable, and I want to help them remember and share specific memories, events, and anecdotes, because it’s the specific details that make a story interesting to read. One of the things that helps me do that is to speak their language, so having a smattering of knowledge about a lot of things is really helpful. Understanding more about marketing allows me to ask better questions.”

Lee says she sees an element of marketing in nearly every interview she does.

She recalls a story she wrote for the Vancouver Sun a few months ago about a homeopathic doctor who came to Vancouver from India and altered his practice to fit the Canadian market. She interviewed both the doctor and his business mentor.

“My newly honed awareness of marketing led me to ask both the mentor and the entrepreneur detailed questions about differences in marketing in Canada and India,” she says. As a result, her story was richer than it might otherwise have been.

“Isn’t that wonderful?” she asks.