Nova Scotia students delve into their province’s history with their story on the Halifax Explosion

Audio Storytelling, University of King’s College; “What if the Halifax Explosion never happened?

The largest group to be nominated in the Emerge Media Award category for Audio Storytelling category is from the University of King’s College in Nova Scotia for their work, “What if the Halifax Explosion never happened?” Deciding to break out of the box with what would have otherwise been conventional newsworthiness, this team consisting of Avi Jacob, Trent Erickson, Will Gordon, Cameron Honey, Danielle McCreadie, Nermeen Ramadan and Jayde Tynes chose to explore an entirely new way of looking at a historical tragedy.

1. What inspired you to begin this project? Why are you passionate about it?

Trent Erickson-

As a class, we were searching for a topic that was newsy, but also one which we could be creative with. The Halifax explosion filled both of these requirements. At the time, centennial events were happening around the city — that provided the newsy aspect. The creative side came from the fact that the event happened a long time ago, and there’s a lot of accessible information on it. We could use this information to create narratives and to frame the old information in a new, creative way. The Halifax explosion is one of, if not the most consequential event in the city’s history. It killed approximately 2,000 people and shaped life in Halifax in ways that we still feel 100 years later. The North End of Halifax, which received the brunt of the explosion still lags behind the South End in terms of development. When the Imo and Mont Blanc collided, thousands lost their lives. Thousands of stories were also created that day. It was important for us to tell some of them as best we could.”

Will Gordon-

“We were originally toying with the idea of a podcast based on the idea of life-changing experience. Not being from Halifax, I was worried about my ability to find someone with a life-changing experience in a week, so I started thinking outside the box. The Halifax Explosion anniversary was approaching, so I started wondering what Halifax would be without the Explosion. I told the team my idea and they were willing to give it a shot.”

Avi Jacob-

We chose all of our podcast themes as a team. For our final week of production, it almost felt like we didn’t have a choice. The day our podcast was set to go online was the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. If we didn’t talk about it on the show, we would have been the only ones in the city. But then the question came up in a story meeting: what if the Halifax explosion had never happened? Could that be a show? Rarely have I had the chance to work on something that felt so unique, especially something so prevalent in the world around me. This project brought out what I consider to be the best part of journalism — the chance to learn about something totally new. We learned about history, geography, city planning, harbour laws and medicine, all in one week. And then we got to share it with the world. This was an experience that I could only have had in the time and place that I was.”

2. How do you feel as a nominee for the Emerge Media Awards?

Trent Erickson-

I feel very proud. As a student, I don’t often get to have my work recognized by people outside the classroom. It’s nice to know that the work we do here at King’s meets the standards of Canada’s other journalism schools.”

Will Gordon-

“It’s really great for something we put a lot of work into to get some recognition, especially when you’re at that transitional stage of feeling like an amateur but about to step into the workforce and not being sure whether you are up to that caliber yet.”

Avi Jacob-

As students, we work day-in and day-out to better ourselves. So often our work is personal and is only seen by a professor or a TA. As journalism students, we get the unique experience of sharing our work with the students and the community around us. We slowly learn to write and create for others, and not just ourselves. To have our work selected and shared across the country feels like the next step in the process of becoming a journalist. It feels wonderful to be considered for an award like Emerge. It feels like all of the hard work we have been doing is achieving exactly what we wanted it to being heard and enjoyed by others.”

3. How do you feel your school prepared you to create this work?

Trent Erickson-

“King’s has very small class sizes. There were only seven students in the audio workshop during that time that we produced the podcast. This meant that each of us got as much help from our instructors as possible. It also meant that we each got to know each other very well, and felt comfortable enough to ask each other for help and advice on our pieces.”

Will Gordon-

“Our audio workshop prepared us for that podcast. For weeks we’d been doing a podcast and a radio show a week, and this was the final podcast, so it was time to show what we had. We still had the usual mix-ups and last-minute changes that come from trying to put together a weekly show, but by then we were pros at it and we knew how to deal with it as a team.”

Avi Jacob-

If nothing else, King’s has taught us to be storytellers. From our first assignment — going somewhere in the city and simply describing what we see — to these final workshops in audio, digital, television, magazine, investigative and creative non-fiction, we have learned to tell one hell of a good story! As soon as we started experimenting with podcasting, those skills flourished. We all had so many ideas and so many tools to be able to create them. After four years in this program, creating this piece felt perfectly natural. On top of all of that, we had an amazing leader, Pauline Dakin. She took all of our ideas and focused them into a cohesive project twice a week. She showed us the importance and the power of an editor and a producer. We couldn’t have done anything like this without her.”

4. Why do you want to go into the media industry?

Trent Erickson-

The media plays an important role in democratic society. The “hard” sort of news lets the public keep up to date on the current affairs which affect them. It gives them the facts they need in order to make informed decisions. News also shines a light on government, business and other centers of power to ensure they operate in a fair and just way. The “soft” sort of news also helps society reach the same end. Person-focused stories provide anecdotal evidence which can support or contradict the facts presented in hard news. Judging by my experience with journalism so far, working in this industry would be meaningful and rewarding.”

Will Gordon-

“I’ve wanted to write all my life and this is one way for me to try and make a living doing that.”

Avi Jacob-

The closer I get to actually being a journalist, the harder it gets to explain why I have taken this path. It used to be as simple as saying that I liked writing, and I liked radio, and I liked the news. Now, the only answer that I can give is that it just feels right. When I’m walking into the press gallery at a council meeting or about to dial the number of a source, my heart beats just a little faster. When I’m sitting down with my material — quotes, pictures, audio clips, all ready to go — I am calm and focused. Right here, right now, this is the job that I am meant to do.”

5. What’s your ideal dream job?

Trent Erickson-

Radio is my favourite medium and politics is my favourite topic. I would love to work in a job that allowed me to produce mid-length (30 minutes) audio pieces that examined current political debates by showing sides of an argument through representative people.”

Will Gordon-

My ideal dream job would be to be able to write novels full time.”

Avi Jacob-

I dream of being an investigative journalist. I am inspired by the work of reporters and researchers like Robyn Doolittle and Fred Vallance-Jones (a teacher I’m a little too proud to say both Ms. Doolittle and I have in common). I have always loved information and I love finding that information even more. While news and reporting keep my blood pumping day to day, it’s deep, long-term projects that inspire me to push forward from one week to the next. Although, I have to say, as someone about to graduate from j-school, I’m just excited to start working — period!”

To hear the group’s story, check out their entry here.

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