School may teach the fundamentals of journalism but ‘baptism by fire’ is the best way to actually learn the job, according to journalist Robin Gill. She’s worked in the field for over 20 years and as a B.C. correspondent and weekend anchor for Global National, she knows what makes a good story, even if it’s told over dinner with friends who’re just looking to unwind. Robin’s experience has allowed her to amass wisdom in finding balance and taking time to unplug; she loves connecting with a tight group of women who also work in the field and understand the deadline-driven daily stresses. Robin says success isn’t measured by career milestones, and prides herself instead on providing context and careful details for everything she covers. When in the thick of dangerous circumstances, like reporting on Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot, Robin feels calm; she focuses on telling the story that matters. With newsrooms’ shrinking budgets presenting ongoing challenges, this multitasking professional doesn’t skip a beat in doing as much as she can to present her audience with what’s happening in the world. Going live is second nature to the seasoned reporter, who checks out of any on-air jitters by checking in with her team.
My values align with being honest and straightforward
My aeroplan card: anytime I can get downtime, I try to get away
One of the most rewarding things about my job is supporting charities
Strunk and White: my bible.
My job involves rushing from interview to interview
The glue to life is surrounding yourself with people who believe in you
Believing in my truth
My iPad is the first thing I turn on in the morning
I need to clear my head at the end of the day
My iPhone. It obviously keeps me in touch with producers and contacts
Wine. It’s part of my lunch club with my lawyer friends
How would you explain what you do?
My job is sort of two-fold. I report three days a week and then I anchor our weekend edition of Global National. I’m actually in the middle of a story on preserving Chinatown as we speak. I’m a correspondent for the West Coast essentially and an anchor for a national show.
Did you know early on that this what you wanted to do for work?
My sister tells me that when I was five that I said I was going to do this. I don’t remember that because I don’t remember much from age five, but my sister always says I was very adamant that this is what I was going to do.
How did you get started in journalism?
Right after university, I went into a journalism program; one thing they do is try to place you in a job as soon as you’re finished the two years. I got one of my first jobs in a small town in Saskatchewan, and I spent about a year and a half there. I had to do everything: I was a reporter, I was an anchor, I was a producer, I used to shoot my own stories, and I had to edit my own stories – it’s really the groundwork to learn the job. I had to do news, weather and sports and so I basically I got a good idea of what the business was going to be like. After that, I came back to Vancouver and freelanced for a year at CBC, and then from there I went back to Calgary, where we launched a station on which I hosted a morning show, as well as reported.
It sounds like you’ve lived in several different cities. How important is it to be open to relocating when you’re first starting off in the business?
I think you have to take opportunity as it comes. There aren’t that many jobs in the business and so you have to take them where they are. I think that this actually set the stage for the job that I’m in right now because I’ve worked across the country; I’ve worked in B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan; I worked in Toronto for nine years too. I think it set me up well for the national job I’m doing now because I’m very aware of issues right across the country.
How did you know you wanted to get specifically into television broadcasting?
It’s funny because I actually thought I was going to be a producer; I didn’t think I was going to be on air per se – it just sort of happened. I guess I always wanted to do it. I can never answer that question because it just sort of all came together.
Can you give me a glimpse into what a day in the life is like for you?
On a day that I’m reporting, the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is I check social media sites; I check Twitter and I check newspapers and I try to get a glimpse of what’s happening that day or what’s happened overnight. After I get into the office I read a couple more papers, then I have a meeting with our bosses and our editorial team – all of our producers and writers. During that morning meeting we sort of hash out the plan; sometimes we pitch stories that we’d like to report on, and other times if something is urgent we’re assigned a story. Next we go out to interviews, get footage, come back and put the story together. On the days that I’m anchoring, it’s a little bit different in that instead of going out we look at the overall production of the show, including what we’re going to lead with. We decide on a daily basis – for example, are we going to lead with the London attacks? Are we going to lead with something that’s Canadian? Has Trump done something today that we have to pay attention to? It’s a lot of juggling ideas and stories to put together a show to go to air.
What's it like delivering the news on television? How do you prep yourself for on air or live scenarios?
We’re putting a show together almost right up to the last minute – there might be some changes or there could be something breaking, so I don’t really have a procedure to get ready. I’m writing and checking and vetting and we’re talking; I’m in touch with our producers and I’m touch with our control room. It’s just become a routine, so maybe that’s my process – checking in with everybody? There’s nothing that I do personally, I’m really just focused at doing my job. In our business now, you don’t just do one thing; everybody is multitasking and I’ve always been good at that, thankfully.
A newsroom must feel high energy during production; is that something you feed off of?
For sure, but when there’s a big breaking story it’s remarkable how calm I become. I have to be both empowered by the energy and calm at the same time in dealing with that stuff.
In journalism it’s often understood that school is to learn the fundamentals but learning really happens best on the job. Do you agree?
You’ve totally nailed it. It’s true, you learn as you go along. You can go to school but baptism by fire is the best way to learn the job. It’s all about getting right in there on the ground and actually doing the work; I’m always learning new things.
Can you talk about what you love about your job and also touch on some of the challenges?
I like meeting interesting people who have a great story to tell; I enjoy people contributing ideas. The challenges I have are mostly logistics; sometimes an interview will fall through or the availability doesn’t match your 2:30 PM deadline, that kind of stuff.
What are some of the big stories that you’ve covered?
Gosh, I’ve done so many stories it’s hard to keep track. I covered the Stanley Cup riots here in Vancouver; I covered the Tsunami in Japan about six years ago in 2011; I covered the Fort Mac fires last year. I’ve covered a lot of court cases: I covered the story of this woman who went to court to find out the identify of her father, who’d been a sperm donor. It was really interesting because she just wanted to know about her medical background.
What’s it like to be on the ground covering stories as they unfold?
It’s busy, and it can be stressful. You get a million emails asking you what you got on assignment too, but you have to keep focus on what you need to do.
Have you ever felt like you were in personal danger while covering a story? If so, how’d you handle that?
When I was in Fort Mac I definitely didn’t feel like I was in danger because I was in a centre for evacuees, so we were in a very safe area. I just felt so sorry for the people who lost their homes; you end up forgetting about yourself because their story becomes the most important thing. When I was in Japan however, during the Tōhoku-chihō disaster, there was a lot of fear because the nuclear plant was in trouble. I’m there, just trying to get my job done and get stories told; I’m trying to get interviews and I’m not thinking about the immediate danger. A couple of my bosses back in Vancouver were actually the ones who decided it was time for me to get out and come home. When things are blowing up, it’s funny how calm I can be – I’m just focussed on the task at hand.
You’ve obviously covered some heavy content. How do you handle the emotional strain, or do you have a way of leaving work at the office?
For a very long time, I had a really hard time leaving work at work. I did take it home, but with experience I’ve found ways of dealing with that and I’m now able to leave things at work. It’s about seeking balance. I think as we get older we realize there are other priorities to factor in; it’s always hard to seek balance no matter what kind of work you’re doing though.
How’ve you witnessed the industry change since you started?
It’s funny, when I got into the business they were talking then about how there were cutbacks and how things were being streamlined. It’s still happening though – every year we’re still on air but yes, we’re on with fewer staff and fewer resources than we were before. That’s frustrating because I want everyone to be employed and I’ve seen it shrink quite a bit. Right now our big challenge is social media because people seem to just want a few letters of news and I don’t think that’s enough. I think you have to see context and I think that’s where we deliver; we can give you a headline and a story, but we give it to you in context as well, and I think it’s really important to do that.
You mentioned the newsroom shrinking; are there any other pressures that you're faced with in your job or in the industry?
I think our biggest pressure is that we are limited in resources. We don’t have as many foreign bureaus open anymore; we don’t have as many producers on the ground to help out. The entire business is going that way and if you look at the newspaper business, it’s the same thing: they don’t have as many reporters out in the field. It’s just the climate and I don’t want to blame any generation because I don’t see it that way. I think that maybe people just aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in their world like they should.
Are there people in the business that you look up to or seek inspiration from?
I have a really good group of girlfriends who are in the business as well; we’re all extremely supportive of each other and you know, honestly if I didn’t have that, I’m not sure how it would have all worked out for me. I think about how amazing my friends are all the time. The reality is that sometimes we’re going after the same jobs, so having supportive friends who’re in the business has helped in that it’s been a big driving force for me. There are a lot of reporters and journalists that I do look up to but I couldn’t name them all because I don’t think it’s fair. Picking and choosing really good journalists is hard because it’s more based on the qualities they have: this person is a really good reporter, whereas this person is a really good writer; this person is great at creating tension and drama while telling a story, et cetera. I feel very fortunate to have worked beside so many talented people over the years.
What is the competition like in the journalism field - how important is it to be the first on a story?
There is absolutely always pressure to be the first at anything and at everything. Sometimes you beat the competition but it’s all part of the game; we’re all familiar with it and we all know that’s how it goes.
Since you are a public figure, do you have to create boundaries when you’re out on your own personal time?
I was out having lunch with a friend the other day and these three women yelled over at me to come to their table. I just wanted to enjoy lunch but you have to do the PR part of the job where you go, ‘Hi, how are you?’ They proceeded to tell me I was shorter in person and looked ‘fatter on TV’ – I just felt a little like ‘this is what you interrupted my lunch for?’ but what are you going to do, right?
Do you have any advice you would give to someone who is just entering the field?
You need to have a thick skin because there will be people who say, ‘You’re not good at this and you’re not good at that’ but if you really, really want to do it, be tenacious and keep at it.
Your career path seems fairly straightforward, like you moved from one opportunity to the next. Is that accurate?
Let me just rewind a second – it hasn’t always been straightforward. Let me put it this way, I didn’t always get every job that I wanted, so there have been some disappointments for sure along the way. But I always feel that if you don’t get it, that’s what’s meant to be and you’re supposed to be guided in a different direction.
Have you always had a good attitude toward rejection?
I’ll be upset for a little while, but I have a very amazing friend in this business who said to me ‘you know, it’s not going to be on your tombstone that you did this, this and this. It’s going to say that you have great friends, great family and those things are going to be way more important than what you did in your career.’ She’s right; I’ve started to see things in a different way. For a long time I didn’t think I was successful enough – I really didn’t, because of all the disappointments. But then I realized that actually doing what I like is success in itself.
How did you get to that reassuring place?
Again, it’s through supportive friends that my eyes got opened. Having friends in the same industry telling me ‘all right, get over yourself – it’s not that big of a deal’ has been invaluable. It’s a little school of hard knocks but you know what, I totally appreciate it.
You currently work in Vancouver; how do you like it in comparison to other cities you’ve lived in?
You know, it’s funny because sometimes I think Vancouver is a little too laid back; it’s a bit frustrating because I’m a type-A person. But I kind of get it; it’s all about that lifestyle in this city. I remember when I worked in Toronto it was all go, go, go – I worked 12-15 hour days, always trying to beat the competition. I was also in local news then, so it was a different beat. Being at the national level now, we get to pick and choose our stories instead of throwing tentacles out to everything; so the difference may not be so much the city, but more the job that I’m in.
Are you always coming across stories easily? Do you get inspired by things in your social realm?
That is so funny you say that because sometime I’ll be out with my friends for dinner and they’ll be telling me something and I interrupt: ‘wait a minute, that’s a story!’ They say, ‘can you relax for five minutes, we’re having dinner – calm down.’ The other day I was meeting with an old contact – he has a resource company in a very obscure part of the world – who was telling me they communicate with their employees there solely through social media – another story!
Sounds like you’re always ‘on’ - do you ever unplug?
I do. I actually now take my two days off. One aspect of my job is being a part of charity events, either emceeing or attending on behalf of the company, so quite often I have to do that. But when I don’t have something like that, I’m turning it all off. I’m bingeing on Netflix or coming home so excited to open a book. I felt like that yesterday – I have no idea what the book is about – I’ve got a pile sitting on my night stand – but I’m just so excited to read any book. I used to offer to come in on my days off when I was first starting in the business, and I was like that for a long time. Now I realize there are a lot of people who can cover what needs to be done – I can have my day off and enjoy it. As you get older, you get a little wiser. Again, it is not going to be on my tombstone that I came in on my day off.
You’ve been in the business for twenty-plus years; what’s kept you going all this time?
You know what, I just love telling stories. I like writing, I like putting stories together, and I like putting a show together – I think that’s a story in itself. When I was a kid I used to write stories, so in one way it’s just been a continuation of my childhood. I’m still writing stories, but now they’re based on fact.
Is there a message that you always try to share with your audience?
To me it’s ‘here’s what’s happening in your world right now’ and when I say world I mean globally, not just in your backyard, not just in your city. I mean in your province, your country, you planet – here’s what’s happening.