We are living in an age where social media has become a powerful platform for anyone to reach out to masses. With just one click, you can go live, capture a powerful image or video of any crime scene, a mass shooting or any incident that concerns masses. It is an age where a professional journalist is no longer a gatekeeper of information to share it in a public space. The role of professional journalists is now becoming more challenging. It demands more creativity, discipline, analysis, and explanation to make them stand apart from “citizen journalists”. However in spite of the already existing challenges of media profession plus the current pressures of social media, many young South Asian women are proudly carving out a niche for themselves in the Canadian media industry.
One such inspiring young women is Neetu Garcha. Often seen with a tripod and camera in hand Neetu is a broadcast Journalist for Global BC based in Vancouver. Be it braving the weather and bringing live images of storm, winds and devastating wildfires, covering heartbreaking stories of refugees and their survival, or even streaming live images of election results, Neetu has demonstrated exceptional skills in reporting during the short span of her career. Born and raised in Okanagan, she recently won the Broadcast Performer of Tomorrow award given by BC Association of Broadcasters. This award is given to someone who is relatively early in their broadcasting career but shows exceptional promise.
Neetu has been at the forefront of much important crime, political or breaking news stories. Troubled by the refugee crisis around the world, one day Neetu decided to travel to Europe on her own with a camera in hand and curiosity in her heart to hear the refugee stories. She investigated how these refugees were getting to the shores of, for example, Greece, what their stories were and what would happen once they arrived in Europe. How were locals handling this influx? It is this desire to explore and find answers to issues that bother her, that makes her stand out in her work and deserve the title of reporter of future.
She’s grateful that every day on the job is an opportunity to meet new people, to exercise creativity, to ask a lot of questions, to learn something new and to put together a powerful story. When she is not working Neetu loves to swim, read, go for walks, spend time with family and friends, travel, volunteer and learn new skills like painting.
In an interview with Desi Today, she talks about her evolution as a journalist and the changing role of reporters in today’s world.
1) Please tell us about your family, parents, and childhood?
My parents immigrated to Canada from India in the late 80s from Punjab. They, like many immigrants, gained a lot by moving to this home and native land – my dad is always quick to emphasize that there’s significantly less corruption here than in India, as one of the main reasons he’s so glad they made the move – but they also had to give up a lot. Both my parents are university educated. My mom studied economics while my dad says he followed a long-standing dream to become a lawyer. When they came to Canada they had to start from scratch. My mom worked at a fruit packing plant in the south Okanagan while my dad helped construct mobile homes at a Penticton construction company. All the while, my siblings and I have been able to live free, independent and opportunity-filled lives. I can confidently say that without my parents’ and my grandmother support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
2) Did you always have a passion to be a reporter or you discovered it eventually?
Although I’ve been interested in and fascinated by current events since an early age, I definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a reporter until I was well into my teenage years. I had considered various career options of becoming a nurse, elementary school teacher or even a commercial pilot but didn’t really act on any of these, they were merely answers I gave when asked: “what do you want to do when you grow up?”
But by my final year in high school, I really delved into my passion for volunteerism and giving back to the community, including being the youth voice on a city development committee, sitting on the board of directors of a local non-profit and organizing events to raise money for charities I believed in. That passion led me to a role as an ambassador for Penticton where I honed my public speaking skills. Already a news nut with a deep desire to make a difference and a new-found interest in the field of broadcasting, I set my eyes on a career in journalism.
- DT) Any particular reason you wanted to be a broadcast journalist?
I believe in journalism’s power to do good. I believe that the struggles, scandals and stories of people from all walks of life need to be researched and reported. I love being in a role that provides access to decision-makers and powerful people to ask questions on behalf of the public and having a powerful, reliable, respected platform to reach a large audience. I wanted to write, tell stories and make a difference.
- DT) What sort of career planning and courses you did to get into journalism?
When I realized I knew what I wanted to do, I made a plan. I researched journalism programs across the country and zeroed in on BCIT’s program. But I didn’t want to venture off into “life” without a university degree, so I first obtained a management degree from UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. During my university years, I hosted radio shows, did news reporting and also got involved with the university’s campus television station and became their first employed host and producer. After graduating from UBC, I started the broadcast and online journalism program at BCIT and worked as news editor for the campus newspaper. I also interned at CTV Vancouver, which gave me a good idea of how a large market newsroom operates.
- DT) Tell us about your first break in TV journalism and how you worked your way up the ladder and entered Global BC?
It all began with babies. Women who went on maternity leave paved the way for my TV career, which launched when I covered two back-to-back contracts at Global Okanagan. I eventually became the first Global Okanagan employee to fill-in anchor on BC1, our province’s 24-hour news channel, and was also asked to co-host the annual Variety Show of Hearts telethon. That’s when I connected with my current boss, Global BC/BC1 news director and station manager, Jill Krop, who later hired me.
I first worked a year in Victoria – you guessed it – covering another maternity leave, as Global BC’s Vancouver Island correspondent in 2017. That year, I was given some big opportunities that I think really helped launch me into my role now as an anchor and reporter at Global BC in Burnaby. I was live from the B.C. Greens headquarters on a history-making election night, I did nearly three weeks straight of wildfire coverage in what would become an unprecedented wildfire season in B.C., and I travelled throughout B.C. from Prince Rupert to Nazko and Williams Lake to Loon Lake, to report while honing my skills as a video journalist, shooting and editing my stories solo.
- DT) You worked for radio before joining TV. How was the transition?
I clearly remember feeling withdrawals of being live on air when I transitioned from CKNW radio to Global Okanagan TV. It was also hard for me to adjust to focusing on just one story for the evening news cast and not reporting on it live as soon as I got the facts, as we often did in radio where we had newscasts at the top and bottom of every hour and would often go on live with the talk show hosts to speak about the stories of the day. I also remember having to change my writing style because in radio, you often want to describe what you’re seeing, where as in TV-land you often let the pictures do the talking.
- DT) What was your first assignment as a TV reporter? Were you nervous when your first story was broadcasted?
I believe my first story to go to air was while I was an intern at CFJC TV in Kamloops. If I’m remembering correctly, it was an adorable piece about a corn maze for children. There were plenty of sound-ups and great visuals to work with. It was a story that almost wrote itself, but of course I was nervous to see my first piece go to air! The first story that went to air that I had pitched was after an Indian-American woman was crowned Miss America, a herd of people spoke out on social media outraged because of the colour of her skin. We spoke to representatives from the Miss Kamloops pageant, to see if they had seen that sort of discrimination locally.
- DT) Being a journalist is no easy job but easily glamorized. Tell us something about the struggles and challenges that a TV reporter goes through.
Well, the job can be a lot of fun. You’re out talking to people, learning new things and exercising creativity every day, not to mention working with fantastic people who are passionate about their trade and hard working. But being a reporter is not always glamourous! I’ve filed radio reports from individual bathroom stalls at city halls and courthouses. I’ve sat on a Prince Rupert sidewalk with my laptop on my lap, editing a story get it to air on time. And of course, there are the weather stories. During winter storms for example, we’re out there braving the elements to bring viewers the latest information. The job can also feel risky, depending the story you’re covering, especially for women, who can sometimes be targets of unwanted comments on live television. The hours are never the same and we have to be prepared to be woken up to work in the middle of the night when there is breaking news. Good thing it’s fulfilling work!
- DT) What does a typical day look like for you?
The day starts with the assignment desk. An in-person conversation, email or phone call to nail down what the story of the day is. Then it’s on to researching that topic and making a bunch of calls to gather information and set up interviews. This requires organization and time management because there’s a hard deadline to get the story on the evening news casts, radio, online and sometimes afternoon BC1 as well. Then a reporter travels with a camera operator to gather b-roll (footage to accompany the story) and conduct interviews. The reporter is also tasked with ordering any graphics needed and to write the story incorporating all visual elements, interview clips, short sound pieces that we call “sound ups”, any graphs that may have been ordered and ensuring the story is factual and balanced. Once the script is done, it is sent to the newsroom for a vet (AKA proof read) and once given the green light, the reporter records their script, we call that part “voicing” before working with an editor to put all of it together. In my case, I often edit my own stories before sending them back to the newsroom so we can add them to our show “rundown”.
- DT) You have a history of covering challenging stories from refugee crisis to BC wildfires which was also the reason that bagged you Performer of Tomorrow award? How did you get involve with such assignments? What are some of your memorable assignments and why?
In late 2015 and early 2016, I started to see a lot of — often heartbreaking — images of refugees fleeing primarily Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. I became so interested in learning more about how these refugees were getting to the shores of, for example, Greece, what their stories were and what would happen once they arrived in Europe. How were locals handling this influx?
I decided to find those answers myself. I booked a trip to Europe, took my personal camera gear and curiosity with me and in Lesvos, I witnessed the most difficult situations I have ever seen first-hand. Babies, seniors, young adults and parents all stuffed on overcrowded inflatable rafts with their belongings, in the middle of winter, soaking wet, freezing cold, but hopeful. It was horrifying to think of how many people didn’t make it across the Agean sea from Turkey to Greece, where I was and it was difficult to hear some of the tragic stories of the refugees through translators.
Journalistically, the experience was second-to-none. I came back to Canada and showed my news director the footage I gathered and made a pitch for a four-part series. It was approved and I had the privilege of bringing our audience international stories, from a local Okanagan reporter. Prior to this trip, I took my gear with me to Haiti, where a Penticton elementary school class handmade pencil cases for an entire school in Cap Hatien, I filed stories on this effort. It was amazing to be able to document the children making the pencil cases in Canada, then being there when the students in Haiti received them and coming back to Canada with photos and videos to show the Penticton students the reaction of their Haitian counterparts.
As for the B.C. wildfires, I was working from Victoria at the time and was asked to head to the Interior when the season was ramping up, little did we know it would turn into the worst wildfire season on record in B.C. I was able and more than willing to stay for nearly three weeks to report on the facts and the stories of real people with real struggles. It was powerful to see how much communities throughout the province and the country came together to support those hardest hit. I remember hearing one evacuee had said “imagine if we were always like this” and that stuck.
12) When you cover a story, apart from reporting the facts what is it that makes it special and makes it a Neetu Garcha story?
I don’t think I could pinpoint my own “niche” or particular style of story-telling but every time I report I try to tell an objective story that’s creatively written, easy to understand and visually appealing.
13) How would you describe the scope of journalism as a career in Canada? What are the growth prospects? Are salaries as good and equal as any other demanding professions like a being a doctor, IT, accountant, lawyer etc?
Before I entered this field, I heard people tell me that I better have a backup plan in place because this is a “dying” industry and I still hear those sentiments today. Newsrooms across the country may be shrinking but I’ve also heard another perspective: we are reaching more people than ever on a wider range of platforms. As for the pay, journalism definitely doesn’t pay anywhere near the salary of a doctor or lawyer, depending on the position of course. But it is rewarding and plays a really important role in society.
- DT) What are some of the traits that one needs essentially to be into reporting and journalism?
A passion for making a difference, a love for storytelling, an ability to write creatively, curiosity, strong research skills and charm.
14) With social media taking a lead in today’s world, where do you think the future of broadcast journalism stand? Also has social media created more challenges or has it worked as a tool for reporters? What are some of the pressures that you go through as a reporter in the world of social media?
I think we are going to continue to see an uptick in web content from videos and tweets to online exclusives and live streams. Fewer people are waiting for “appointment TV”, in other words, the five of six o’ clock newscasts. They want their information immediately and on whatever platform is readily available to them: their phone, radio, computer or TV. Social media is a very valuable tool for journalists especially when we are trying to get information fast, social media is, at times, one of the first places we dig for details or try to reach out to potential interviewees/sources. But it does come with its pressures: we are already so slammed trying to meet our deadlines for various platforms and social media adds another layer to that.
16) Any particular reason that there is a lot more presence of young South Asian women in the mainstream electronic media than ever before?
More and more, newsrooms are looking to diversify their on-air talent, opening more doors for south Asian women, and people of various other ethnicities, to obtain those kids of positions.
17) What is your message to the young readers?
More than ever before, it is crucial to consume consciously. We’ve all heard that advice when it comes to shopping for clothing or food, but the same goes for how we consume news and other online content. I can’t stress enough how important it is to double check what we are reading is true, ensure it’s coming from a reliable source and to fact-check before sharing. The onus is on us to be responsible consumers and sharers of news in this age of information overload. This responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly.