Top Talent: Multimedia Journalist Stuart A. Thompson


“It’s important to be a multimedia journalist because that’s what it says on the ‘Help Wanted’ sign.”
Stuart A. Thompson, media studies graduate, The University of Western Ontario

It’s tough to be a young journalist these days.

Between unpaid internships, the changing state of the media industry in Canada, and colleges and universities pumping out more wannabe journalists than could ever hope to be employed by the mainstream media, how can any of them hope to stand out and get a foot in the door?

If they want to compete with a new breed of multimedia journalists, like Stuart A. Thompson, they’d better brush up on their graphic design, web development and video production skills.

Over the two years that Stuart spent as News and Web Editor, and then Editor-In-Chief, at the University of Western Ontario’s student newspaper, The Gazette, he brought the paper, its content and its website into the 21st century.

Post-Stuart, The Gazette is a shining example of what a modern student newspaper can and should be.

Since June, Stuart has been working at The Globe and Mail as a Multimedia Intern. Keep reading to find out what makes him Top Talent.

Tell us about something unrelated to your career path that shows you’re going to be a superstar in the workforce.

I had the chance to work with an arts collective in London for a few years, which was such a great experience. We were all volunteers, but we tried to help the arts and music scene in London by planning events and festivals, making some websites and releasing some albums. It was amazing work with amazing people who were truly passionate about something. It’s rare to see that kind of passion.

I think employers recognize when someone has a passion for something through what they do on top of school and on top of work. I was volunteering there while I was working at the newspaper and held a part-time job. It’s something employers always notice and ask me about. They ask, “When did you sleep!?”

For people in university, volunteering is the best thing you can do. Work for free while you can afford to. Find a passion or make it happen.

What have your Top 3 life experiences been, and how can you relate those experiences to your career?

I’m not sure what these would be. Mostly, I just work. You could say The Gazette was one experience. Leading a newspaper, having fairly free rein to do as you please. It really tests your mettle.

As young people, we don’t often know what it’s like to have no boss to turn to. So that’s a job where something will happen and you have to make a very difficult decision very quickly. You can lean on your co-workers and colleagues, but you have a readership and a newsroom looking at you for answers you may or may not have. It’s a job that ages you.

I think that whole period was life-altering for me. Before I started full-time at The Gazette, I was working part-time at the university, volunteering at The Gazette, volunteering at the arts collective and making my way through school. I was very busy, but that’s how everyone feels in university. Everyone’s always “too busy.” But that’s just relative. It’s always possible to take on more and do more.

“Even spare time in the evenings or on weekends can be spent doing something productive. You don’t have to, but someone out there will be. You can always cram in more work, always do more.”

In the sciences, that’s much harder because school is so demanding. But in liberal arts, and especially my program, there’s so much free time.

Even spare time in the evenings or on weekends can be spent doing something productive. You don’t have to, but someone out there will be. I learned during that time that you can always cram in more work, always do more. It takes time to build up to being very busy. You have to add on a few volunteer hours at first, then you adjust. Then you can add on a few more, or pick up another job, or freelance. Then it feels so busy, but you adjust. Then you can do more.

How did your time at The Gazette help shape your plans for a future career path?

My time at The Gazette was hands down the most important step in developing my career. It’s directly responsible for everything I’m doing now, from web design to journalism. People don’t seem to believe me when I say that for some reason. They consider my school or work ethic to be the major contributing factors.

The interesting thing is The Gazette didn’t hand anything over. School was doing that: giving me lessons and information and theories and eventually a degree. But when you’re volunteering, you can only take out what you put in. I put in a lot, so I got a lot out of it.

Today, somehow, I’m a paid web developer. It doesn’t make sense to me, since I’ve never taken a programming class. But while I was at The Gazette I decided to redo the website from front to back. In the process, I learned all about WordPress and picked up PHP and jQuery and beefed up some lingering HTML and CSS skills from back when.

The Gazette didn’t teach me these things, but it provided something to get passionate about. And that’s the single greatest motivator people can hope for. When you have passion, it’s not work. It’s just life.

The other interesting thing about working there is meeting people in the industry. You can talk to working journalists from all over, build some connections (especially on Twitter) and get a feel for what the industry’s really like. This is pretty key when you’re trying to decide your career path.

As students, we tend to see industries as single careers. People want to be directors, not sound guys. But the sound guy is a real job in the movie industry and maybe it’s an interesting one. People want to be journalists, not audio editors. But without trying these positions, it’s hard to tell what you’ll enjoy most. So that’s where volunteering comes. It fills in the gaps.

You describe yourself as a multimedia journalist. How do you compare to a generic journalist? Why is it important to be a multimedia journalist?

I think most people expect journalists to focus on writing. The best ones still do and it works for them. But a lot of newspapers are shrinking and they need journalists who can do a lot of jobs.

I think calling myself a multimedia journalist comes from having an interest in doing web design and programming, graphic design and video production on top of reporting. I’m definitely not the best at any of them, but when combined it makes for a unique skill set.

It’s also important to consider where the industry is going when you’re planning a career. Print-only journalists are definitely still around, but the chances of doing that are slim. Things are always shifting online. Social media exploded over the past several years. Now things are shifting mobile in a huge way. Identifying those trends and trying to educate and eventually market yourself to those industries is a wise move. So I guess that’s a part of using the “multimedia journalist” title too — identifying that all those skills are in demand, that I can do most of them fairly well, and sending that clear message to employers.

I can also say that the London Free Press, as an example, no longer hires “journalists.” They only hire “multimedia journalists.” The job is still mostly reporting, but they expect you to have a Twitter account and use it successfully, help make videos and probably a lot more.

So it’s important to be a multimedia journalist because that’s what it says on the “Help Wanted” sign.


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Photo credit: Sophia Lemon
About the author

Alanna Glass is a Media, Information and Technoculture (MIT) student at Western University who completed an internship at TalentEgg in Summer 2011. She is a Food Network junkie and a lover of all things media.