Season 3, Episode 7: Trying Everything Once and the Future of Media with Jason D’Souza

Stephanie Werner: Welcome to FCAT after school, a podcast from SFU’s Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. In each episode, we join student hosts in conversation with alumni as they explore career journeys since graduation and gather advice for the next generation. Today, student host Emma Jean sits down with Jason D'Souza, host of CBC’s All Points West and graduate of SFU’s Communication program. Together, they explore how to stay flexible while pursuing your career goals and how to make the most out of an internship while getting your foot in the door. I hope you enjoy.

Emma Jean: Okay, what is going on in Canadian media? It's so critically important as a tool for synthesizing and reflecting what's going on in our communities both locally and globally. But every outlet seems to be slashing their staff numbers, funds for local reporting are falling away and newsrooms are struggling to stay afloat. What is the result of these gaps? And where did those folks who are interested in careers and media go when organizations can't even afford to keep their current staff, let alone hire and train new voices. Today's guest and necessity need for journalism and storytelling is never in doubt. He should know as a young person who's built an expansive career in the precarious media world and live to tell the tale.

Jason D'Souza: My name is Jason D'Souza. I'm the host of All Points West on CBC Radio One, which is the afternoon current affairs show across Vancouver Island and parts of the Sunshine Coast.

Emma Jean (VO): Jason is a graduate of SFU communication program and, ever since being chosen for the prestigious Gzowski internship during his undergrad, has been working at the CBC. But that was far from beginning of his relationship to radio.

Emma Jean:In terms of talking today, I wanted to go back to your early days, kind of your beginning out as a journalist. What was it that first piqued your interest in journalism?

Jason D'Souza: My mom would always listen to this Punjabi radio station. I loved cooking with my mom growing up. And so that was kind of the way we spent a lot of time together, watching the news, but also listening to this Punjabi radio. It was a call in show and I was also always so fascinated by the different topics that they would talk about, I still remember this memory, it must have been 12 years old, making dinner with my mom. And I have no idea what the topic was about. But I'm almost listening to it. And she was a bit annoyed at what callers were saying. And it didn't gel with how she saw this particular issue. And so she was like, “Hey, pass me the phone!” And I was like, I wonder who she's gonna call– she might be calling one of her sisters to rant about the topic. Sure enough, she ended up calling this radio show because it was a Metro Vancouver one. And, you know, 12 year old me was absolutely perplexed and amazed and so overwhelmed to see my mom in the kitchen and also hear her on this live radio show, expressing her feelings about whatever the topic was, I have no idea what it was. And I just remember thinking, wow, I never thought media could be so accessible in that way. And it was a moment where I stopped taking something like the radio for granted as just being there as existing, it felt like it was accessible for the first time. And then fast forward, where we had a career preparation course, and one homework assignment I got one day was to pick three potential career paths. And I remember just sitting there at the, at the kitchen table, having no idea what I wanted to write down maybe the stereotypical answer of like, a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer. Growing up, I was just obsessed with SportsCenter and Sportsnet, and I'd watch the hockey highlights over and over again at night. And I was watching Don Taylor, who is this legendary sportscaster, do his thing. And I thought, you know, what, what about something like that I love sports, bit of a theater kid. So why not marry those two things together. And I remember putting sports journalist down. And I think that was the first time where I genuinely thought, hey, maybe journalism, and the broadcasting element of it could be a nice fit. And so that was yeah, that was kind of the early earliest moments I can remember. And then what is probably quite typical for a lot of broadcasters. In high school, I ended up doing the morning announcements back in the day. And you know, the first foray into talking into a microphone. So those little memories and experiences I think kind of shaped the foundation of the potential of something like journalism or broadcasting. And yeah, fast forward a few years later, being able to get an internship through the CBC and through SFU called the Gzowski internship, which has been running since 2002. I don't know if I can say this. I don't know if you're editing this out. But you're going to be the upcoming Gzowski for 2024.

Emma Jean (VO): Jason is right. And I'm kind of terrified. That's part of why I was so keen to talk to him and grateful that he took the time.

Jason D'Souza: It's a long and storied history of this internship. So huge congratulations to you.

Emma Jean: Thank you very much. When you started the communication program at SFU, was that in the back of your mind that this program was going to get you into sports journalism, or broadcasting in general? Or is that kind of a side thought that was kind of like, okay, maybe this could happen?

Jason D'Souza: Yeah, so I purposefully picked communication and SFU, in the hopes of getting into some sort of situation with broadcasting in the future. But I knew I wanted to get a degree before anything that was specialized. And so communication seemed like a good fit. So I remember my six year goal after high school was to get the communication degree, have that under my belt, and then hopefully, be able to go into a BCIT program for journalism broadcasting specifically. And that was kind of the immediate idea behind communications. But as you know, through through FCAT studies, it's so much broader than I ever thought it would be like all the different aspects of communication and the different places you can take it in terms of you know, geopolitics and the history, I remember those great courses on rhetoric and back into the, you know, Greek philosophy and stuff like that, I was pretty overwhelmed by how much theory was behind it, I loved it. But I also wanted to marry that experience with bit more practical elements as well. And that's how I found the Gzowski internship. Pretty incredible boat, because if people don't know about it, it's offered to four students across the country. And St. John's, Newfoundland, Montreal, Toronto, and SFU, specifically, so I thought, Wow, this could be a really, really exciting fit. And yeah, here we are, all these years later, it was it was great.

Emma Jean: Amazing. Can you tell me about what your time as the Gzowski intern was like at CBC Vancouver? Do you have any particular moments or memories that stood out to you or kind of defining moments in your understanding of yourself as a journalist, and as a broadcaster?

Jason D'Souza: I remember being very overwhelmed by the internship immediately. I mean, you're essentially thrown into programming major programming right away, to work on these huge shows that reach these massive audiences. And of course, you know, being an undergrad, no journalism, school experience, kind of being thrust into that world felt really overwhelming at first, huge kudos to everyone who was so supportive at the time, really patient with trying to learn the ways of journalism and how to do things. But it was yeah, it was challenging. It's a four month internship, thankfully, because I think the first first month, I just felt like I was just trying to keep breathing and learning so much about the industry and, and how things worked. And so the first month was a bit tricky. And I remember thinking, Oh, maybe maybe media is not for me, maybe there's, there's too much I need to learn. And it's too much of a learning curve for me here. But after that first month, I started doing more on air pieces. So I would go out and interview people and presented on air, which at the time felt like the most overwhelming and terrifying thing when the red light turns on on your microphone. But just the exhilaration, the rush afterwards of knowing that you're live on the radio right now, I just remember that feeling. And wanting more of it. And more and more and more. And like with anything else, the more you did it, the more comfortable you got. The great thing about that internship is you really had the chance to get a sense of the different programming that exists at CBC Radio. So you could be on the morning show where it's a lot of hard hitting interviews and reading up scripts about the topic of the day conversations with ministers and mayors. And then I remember really loving my time on the weekend morning show as well, which was a different pace, focusing on arts and culture. And that was amazing to me as well. And then all the happenings of a hustle and bustle newsroom. It was kind of before I'd say the real revolution around the online space with journalism, which of course, you know, fast forward to today is all encompassing, but I still remember that, you know, there was elements of dipping your toe into the online world of story writing. And so yeah, it was a whirlwind. But I'm so grateful for it.

Emma Jean: What was it like to kind of transition more into, from the background research work to an on air role? What was it like to try to find what your voice sounded like on the air?

Jason D'Souza: So, full disclosure, and I wonder about this for you, Emma, because I do have a bit of a theory. I was a theater kid in high school. Did you ever do theater?

Emma Jean: I sure did! I was a big theater kid.

Jason D'Souza: So many of us, broadcasters and journalists, we’re just theater kids, you know? lt's just tapping into that. That kind of like desire for the spotlight. You know?

Emma Jean: Absolutely.

Jason D'Souza: So I mean, the the I don't want to use the word performance, but the kind of broadcast side of journalism weirdly, in some ways, as much as it was nerve wracking, always felt very natural. Roll to me and really exciting. That said, nothing really prepares you for your first official live hits on the radio and you're looking at the host, and you're staring into the abyss that is the radio, really nervous. But after it was done, just really feeling proud of it, listening back to it and thinking I sounded so much different on air than I felt like I sounded like in real life. And once you do a couple, you get more comfortable. And yeah, just for me, I just remember thinking, there's so many aspects of journalism that I love. I love asking people questions, I love being able to be a vessel of their communication and their storytelling. But I really just love the On Air experience and the rush of knowing that you're talking into a microphone that's reaching thousands of people, wherever they're wherever they're tuning in.

Emma Jean: Yeah. Wow. What was the process like of transitioning from being an intern being this offski Intern into being a full time employee at the CBC? What was what was that transition like?

Jason D'Souza: It was long coming. So it wasn't, wasn't a quick turnaround. Essentially, the Gzowski internship, as I mentioned, four months, and at that point, I hadn't finished school, I think I applied for it way too early, to be honest with you. And so I still had quite a few classes that I needed to take. But the CBC was was really gracious and allowed me to take up shifts and kind of continue to work a little bit. And so I remember I was taking nighttime classes at SFU, I was taking weekend classes, so I was at work as often as I could be. And so it was, yeah, it was it was overwhelming a little bit, just to try to juggle the school and juggle work, I'm really glad I did it. Would I recommend it? I don't know, it was a lot of work. And I think you got to really love the job because it was all encompassing. And again, you know, even though I went through the internship, you know, at the time, the media environments, a bit different than it is today. But it's still a competitive one. And one where were jobs where, you know, tricky to come by in terms of full time work. So I did a lot of part time work, which has its challenges, but also has its opportunities as well, because it allows you to try different positions, try different types of jobs, and really get a more well rounded perspective on the different types of journalism that is available on air or off air. I remember it feeling like a lot, but also being really proud when I was able to get my degree and also kind of work at the same time. Yeah.

Emma Jean: So in the years since now that you've been working at the CBC for for all these years, what have been, what have been your favorite projects and stories that you've worked on that you're you're the proudest of?

Jason D'Souza: A few things that come to mind. I think the one that always feels like the standout project that I'm so proud to have been a part of and to have put together was back in 2019. We did a series called Matheson. And this was all born out of the mind, actually of the host of the morning show. The Early Edition, Stephen Quinn, who I remember we were chatting after a morning meeting where he mentioned, you know, I've got these teenagers in my house, and they just don't talk to me about what life is like in school. And I just I always want to know, it's such a big part of their life, of course, and I think every parent feels this way that we've got these teenagers and we just don't know, the questions they have the issues they're facing, because they won't you don't necessarily talk to their parents about that. And it's a it's a tale is oldest time. And Steven was like, you know, I think we have an opportunity to maybe put together a series like this, except I need someone who is on the younger side of journalism, and that kids might trust. And then I was nodding along think again, this is great. You know, I think it's super valuable to get young people's perspective on life. And then as he kept describing the type of journalist he wanted to be in this role, I realized he was about to say, “I want you to do the project.” And I was like, no way. There's nothing more terrifying than interviewing really cool like high school students and feeling like you're an old person trying to like at, you know that “hello, fellow kids” meme?

Emma Jean: Yes. [laughter]

CLIP: 30 Rock

Steve Buscemi: How do you do fellow kids?

Teenager: What?

Jason D'Souza: That’s gonna be me! It wasn't just as simple as going to a high school for a day and interviewing kids. What was unique about this pitch was we wanted to be there, longer term. So not just for a day, the idea would be at the school for a month, essentially embed myself into a school, have a full grade 11 class schedule. I'd be there Monday 8:30 to three o'clock until Friday 8:30 to three o'clock. Every single day, I'd be back in the classroom. The idea being that, you know, it can be intimidating for students to talk to a journalist about you know, whatever they wanted to talk about whatever issues, but if I had spent a reasonable amount of time with them, got to know them, they would trust me, I would trust them, then maybe we would be able to actually have more than just a surface level conversation.

CLIP: “Matheson” CBC

[bell rings]

When you spend an entire month back in high school, you hear a lot of stories . . .

Jason D'Souza: Once the students got comfortable with me, they had no problem sharing thoughts about anything and everything. The other part of it is we were like what school in their right mind would let a journalist you know, be in the classroom every single day for an entire month. And we had put this request out to a bunch of school boards across Greater Vancouver and Surrey came back to us immediately. In particular, one school, LA Matheson, which is in inner-city Surrey, and they said, “Hey, listen, this project sounds really exciting for a whole bunch of reasons, primarily, because we're super proud of our students. And as folks in Metro Vancouver might know, Surrey often gets a really unfair stereotype about the type of school, about the type of students and the things that happen. And we see on a day to day basis that our students are some of the most amazing across the board. And that's backed up by awards, and all these different initiatives. So we're super proud of our school come in, talk to the students get to know them. And from our perspective, that will, you know, get rid of this this Surrey stereotype.” So I was in Matheson, and yeah, the school board and the students absolutely did that. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, we're in good hands of this next generation’. I'm to this day, I'm so grateful. I know those students are all, you know, in university and taking on professional careers at this point. And really was important, I think, for us as the media to get that perspective. We often talk to teachers, parents, and counselors about students. But we need to talk to kids more, we need to talk to younger people more if you truly want to know You know, what's happening in life.

Emma Jean: I want to ask about, you know, growing up in Metro Vancouver and then moving to Ontario to work on for CBC for Fresh Air, and then now on Vancouver Island, for All Points West, how do you familiarize yourself with reporting in communities that perhaps you haven't lived in before that are new to you?

Jason D'Souza: So I went to Ontario, in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, to take on a program called fresh air, which is the weekend morning show. And your question was the exact same question I was asking myself, which was, I feel like an outsider, you know, this is such a incredible show. It's existed for so long, it's a legacy program for not only CBC but airwaves across Ontario, people love their weekend morning show. And I felt intimidated by the idea of never really living in Ontario before. It was also a challenge that was really exciting to me. I think when you ask, how do you how do you prepare for that? And how do you work on being someone who can be behind the microphone talking to all these different communities, you really have to put the work in. So I decided when when when I got the job, that my partner and I instead of flying out to Toronto, which were which is where it was based, we were going to road trip from Vancouver to Toronto, not only because it would be a good excuse to drive across the country and see the country, but specifically because it forced me to be in all of these communities from Kenora. East, you got to drive through it, I got to talk to people in those communities, I got to spend time, because you know, as you probably know, Ontario is a massive province, it is mind boggling to think that road trip, you get to the official border, and you only are really halfway there because driving around Lake Superior is such a process. But it was great in and allowed me to have exactly that experience on the ground, I could be in those communities that I know I would be talking to and talking about. So you have the firsthand experience. So that's one element, I think you really have to put the work in as a broadcaster, as a journalist, we're taking on the responsibility of hosting a program that was this big and talked about really important topics to people in Ontario. I think the other aspect of it too, is turning something like my lack of Ontario history into almost a strength for the program. And we talked about that a lot like join me on this ride. As I moved to this new province, and curiosity would be at the base of it asking questions and and you look at a city like Toronto, or Kitchener or Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, quite frankly, you could go anywhere across Ontario. And in recent years, it's so transient, you have people coming who are newcomers from around the world, but also different places in the country who are now calling different cities in Ontario home and lean into that I'm one of those people, you know, so it was an element of, of not feeling like I needed to be a voice for Ontario or anything like that. But asking questions as someone who's new to it to experience it. It's the same template I've used in Vancouver Island. So a lot more familiar. I'm a, you know, West coaster, born and raised. But still I think any good broadcast should always be curious about the places that exist and try to include the communities again, not not unlike having young people on the program. Talk to places and from places that maybe aren't necessarily the metropolitan and don't necessarily get a lot of time, make the effort to go to places, hear from people and tell those stories.

Emma Jean: Thank you for sharing. So we were you were saying about how you've seen the media landscape evolve since you started as his Gzowski intern to where you are now about how it wasn't digital media was sort of it was kind of in its infancy, but it was still, it was still growing into the sort of dominant sort of form that it is today. And I think CBC is an interesting position being a public broadcaster compared to organizations like bell that are seeing a real uncertain future. So I wondered what you see as being the future of Canadian news media in the next 10 years, both CBC as a public broadcaster, and just broadly. What do you see as that future being?

Jason D'Souza: Yeah, it's such a such a great question. I mean, I don't even know like, even if you look back 10 years, and I look back, you know, even 10 years, when I was relatively new to the industry, how much has changed? You know, we talked about the digital revolution, you can't help but think that's just going to expand exponentially. I mean, it already is in terms of how many people get their news content from social media versus, you know, maybe more of the traditional platforms that exist. You know, I'm a communication student at SFU. And so, you know this Emma, we learned about Marconi and how radio changed the game. And then television changed the game. And so I think, you know, one that was really cool to think about SFU and the communication programs and looking back, to try to inform how the future is going to unfold, but then also acknowledging that we just have no idea like the technologies that might exist in three years, let alone 10 years, who can really predict that if you look at the past to see how things have changed. I, of course, always believe that there is such a strong need for journalists, and for storytellers, and for truth seekers to always exist. And, you know, there's no sugarcoating the fact that it's been really devastating the last little bit in terms of how many journalists have lost their jobs, I can't even tell you the number of amazing friends who are journalists, reporters who, you know, have left the industry over the last 10 years. And of course, there's going to be need to constantly to adapt and and meet people where they are with the news that they need. But I also just hope that we continue to understand the need and the power of journalism continuing no matter what, no matter where that journalism exists.

Emma Jean: It’s interesting about the continued need for journalists and storytellers and true seekers. And I wonder if you have any advice for people who are looking to get into news media or as reporters as broadcasters, but aren't sure what sort of path exists for them now, as the industry is changing? Yeah.

Jason D'Souza: I mean, I'll get to that in just a second. But I'll give you the classic kind of host answer first, which is my curiosity. And I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about how you feel about entering the media landscape, taking on this big CBC internship that's coming up? How are you feeling about the potential of the future that you see for you?

Emma Jean: Right, well, thank you for asking. I feel a bit conflicted, because working as a journalist was something that I always wanted to do growing up. And it seemed more more as I got older, that that was less and less feasible, just in terms of the amount of opportunities that were available, and the sort of seeming precarity of so many of the work that was available, you know, you always hear about layoffs and funding changing, and it sort of seemed less and less viable to me. So it was something that I sort of thought I would shift my focus away from and focus instead on trying to get communications experience and things like that. But it seems like this really is where my passion is. So it's– I'm glad to be taking any opportunities that come my way, and I'm so grateful for them, especially with media, because that is sort of my– what I really care about. But I'm– I feels like it's a tentative following of that path. Because it seems like it's maybe an uncertain future and maybe a future that may not exist for me, if that makes sense.

Jason D'Souza: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's, as I mentioned, when you you know, even just take stock in the last few years, the number of journalism jobs that have disappeared, is really devastating. I remember when I started feeling very similar as well, in terms of advice, you know, even acknowledging what you mentioned, Emma, in terms of the challenges that exists, I always tell journalism students or people who are who are new to the industry to as much as possible, try new things whenever they come up, if something opens up that you didn't necessarily think, you know, oh, that's not the type of journalist I want to be or that's not necessarily the medium that I want to work on. I always encourage trying those different situations. I think, and this is not even a commentary on media. I think this is a professional landscape situation. People get pigeonholed into who they are and what they can do all the time, not necessarily out of malice or incompetence, but just out of efficiency, right? The problem is, then you become pigeon holed and you don't know what else you might actually love and grow to love. You know, when I talk about my own journey in journalism, even thinking about it, I was convinced that I can only be something like a sports journalist, right? Because sports was a huge part of me. And I didn't, I didn't necessarily think I, I had the smarts or the know how to jump into the world of current affairs. And fast forward today. I mean, I love current affairs, it's one of my favorite parts of the of the job is to jump into kind of the nitty gritty of the hard news. And so just based off my own experience, I would say don't don't allow yourself or others to pigeonhole you into the type of person you are media, or journalism, or otherwise, keep trying these new opportunities, you really never know what it is that you might find a new passion for, or a deeper passion for, unless you put yourself in positions to try new things.

Emma Jean: That's really interesting about not limiting the multitudes that you could contain that you just might not be aware of, in that you could find passions and interests that maybe are dormant or don't exist yet.

Jason D'Souza: And then again, when you kind of acknowledge just how fast things change in terms of platforms and technologies, like always, always, you know, quite frankly, being on the front foot in terms of how that gels with storytelling is is also a huge asset as well.

Emma Jean: As you mentioned before, I'm very excited and lucky to be about to do the Gzowski internship myself that you went through, back in 2012, do you have any advice that you would give either yourself if you could go back in time about to start that internship, or to me about to start the internship, or to any future interns as well.

Jason D'Souza: I think I remember feeling really overwhelmed, as I mentioned, about just jumping into the media landscape. And I was like, wow, the pace of the work and having to turn around scripts and constantly being on top of new stories, and everything's constantly evolving, like my head was spinning after the first week. So I would say, just like doing the Grouse Grind, don't panic after the first 15 minutes if your heart rate is like, it feels like it's beating out of your chest. It’s normal, you know, it's an adjustment to the total different pace than schooling. So take a few deep breaths if you find you're in a situation like like I found myself a few weeks in. Yeah, as I've said before, am honestly just try the things that you really want to try. And the things that you've never really thought about trying both of those will be so affirming in their own ways. Yeah, I'm so excited to see what you do, though. So welcome aboard. I hope you're really looking forward to it.

Emma Jean: I've been thinking a lot about Jason's last few words there. I think it's an antidote to this fear of the unknown, the mistaken belief that we're born fully formed. If we are large, if we contain multitudes, how do we know what those multitudes are without taking stabs at what they could be? Maybe this applies the current landscape as it exists now in media and beyond. Those of us who think we want to work in media, maybe we will, maybe we'll find another path along the way. The possibilities are… unpredictable. We simply won't know until we're there and we find out for ourselves. Thank you for your company and getting to know all the remarkable guests this season. It's been a pleasure exploring their lives after school with you.

Stephanie Werner: Many thanks to Jason D'Souza and Emma Jean for sharing this candid conversation on Canadian media, and the power of pursuing your career goals with a flexible mindset. You can listen to Jason on CBC Radio’s all points west in Victoria, Monday to Friday from six to 3pm

FCAT After School is produced by Emma Jean, Torien Cafferata, and Stephanie Werner, with help from Stu Popp and Tessa Perkins Deneault. We respectfully acknowledges the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Qayqayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples, on whose unceded traditional territories our three campuses reside, and where many of the stories shared in our series take place.  If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to leave us a rating and subscribe to FCAT After School wherever you listen to podcasts. You can follow us on social media at FCAT at SFU. That's F C A T @ SFU across all platforms.  For feedback or guest suggestions, reach us by email at: F cat ENG @ All links in the show notes. See you next time.