Steven D’Souza: From Convocation to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Steven D’Souza, Journalism ‘00
I first heard about Steven D’Souza in my third year TV Reporting class. I mean, I’d seen Steven on the local news, but this was the first time I heard about him outside of the professional journalism context.
On the first day of class, our experienced instructor, Mark Bulgutch – known for his high standards in broadcast journalism and his equally high expectation in his students – noted some of his former students that have graduated and gone on to work in the field. He doesn’t always remember names but when he does, it’s because he sees them in the CBC hallways at work.
Graduated in 2000, with job offers and a résumé rich with experience, Steven D’Souza is one of the success story from our Journalism program. This CBC News Toronto reporter went straight from convocation to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
When I e-mailed you, you didn’t think that anyone at Ryerson remembered you. Why do you think that?
While I was at school, I had three jobs at one point. So there are a lot of profs that don’t remember me because I wasn’t in their class very often. My English prof actually asked me when I came in for a lecture one day, if I was in the right class because he didn’t know who I was.
I completed all my assignments and essays and handed everything in on time, I just rarely went to lectures.
Where were you spending most of your time?
Classes were always important but I felt like I needed experience to supplement what I was learning and that would be the thing that would help me get a job.
There was one point in third year when I was balancing three jobs. I worked at the Canadian Press wire services on weekends. I volunteered at a radio show as well, it was a pro-wrestling radio show that ran Sunday nights from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. And I was with a hockey news magazine as the copy editor, but that was only for three weeks. So, hockey news job during the day, CP at night, and then radio show on Sunday night.
So tell me about where you went right after graduation.
Well, I already had a full-time job with the Canadian Press, so that summer, summer of 2000, I was at the Olympic desk. Physically in Toronto, but working Sydney hours. They offered me a job when the summer ended, but I declined because I knew my future was in broadcasting.
There were two weeks in between before I started working for the morning show in Toronto, Newsworld. My first jobs were behind the scenes. I had all these different responsibilities, I was tape producer, reported item from across the country and any interviews we did, my responsibility was to find B-roll to support those interviews. Then I became a chase producer, booking guests to talk on the show, I also did lineup, and then control room producing so I was in the control room taking the show to air. I did that on and off for about four years.
So now you’re a Video Journalist. How is that different from being a reporter?
As a VJ, my job is pretty much to do the same thing as a TV reporter but I also do my own camerawork. When I first started in Prince Edward Island at my first reporting job, I had to do it all: shooting, reporting, editing.
You worked in PEI?
Yeah, I was Toronto first for Newsworld as a researcher. Then I got trained as a VJ, and moved to PEI. A lot of smaller newsrooms just don’t have the staffing and the budget to have reporters. They needed people who were more flexible. Three in one man, it’s a great money saver.
It helped me as a reporter to learn the skills of a cameraman and an editor as well because now I can see my story from all those different perspectives. As a cameraman, I knew what visuals I needed to get, but as an editor, I also learned which shots to put together.
But It’s difficult because you can’t really give yourself fully to any of the roles, so it’s tough trying to focus on being a great cameraperson, or a great reporter because you always have to balance the other things with your deadline. The important thing is that you have a piece to file at the end of the day.
What was an important thing you took away from Ryerson?
Haha, not to suck up, but Mark Bulgutch perhaps prepared us the best in terms of what it took to put a show together. He really gave us the journalistic chops to handle ourselves because there’s people who can teach you how to do things, and there’s people who can teach you to understand how to do things. Mark really taught us how to understand what we were doing, and not just how to do it.
And in fourth year, Howard Bernstein also taught us life beyond the CBC. Because a lot of the instructors are from CBC, he was too, but he’d also worked in other places.
One thing I really took away was work ethics and how to work hard and that nothing is going to be handed to you. Like just the environment was very competitive, if it’s this hard at school, how hard is it going to be when we apply for jobs afterwards?
What do you wish they’d taught you at Ryerson?
Hm, there’s a lot of things they don’t teach you in school… a lot of things they probably shouldn’t teach anyway because it might make you reconsider this job!
For every exciting story I’ve done, like the G20, the Sunrise Propane explosion where you’re running on adrenaline and everything’s happening around you—there’s a story where you’re sitting in a boring council meeting where you’re just counting the hours of your life you’ll never get back. But really, the mundane gruntwork leads to the best stories, sometimes.
What do you consider to be some of your best stories? I know with filing up to five times a week for 12 years, you have a lot of stories…
Haha, yeah I’ve worked at the CBC for 12 years, and reporting for the last seven and a half.
Among many, two main highlights: in terms of live reporting, like being on the scene, I covered the Shafia trials earlier this year and I was proud of how that turned out.
In terms of ongoing stories, I did the Tori Stafford murder trial this year. It was such a sensitive topic and trying to weave together all the emotional elements to tell a story that conveyed the horror of what had happened, but still inform viewers about the story, that was one of the most challenging, and ultimately, most rewarding stories of my career.
Oh, I also did a series of stories on a drug in a Punjabi community in Mississauga and Brampton called dode. It’s made of dried poppy flowers, so it’s an opium derivative. It started off as a relaxant but people became hooked, it ruined a lot of families. Health Canada didn’t really understand what it was at the time. After our stories, they started changing their guidelines. We interviewed users, followed police on raids, and I actually went undercover to a store to buy some at one point.
What advice do you have for students in journalism or people who want a career in journalism?
I have lots of advice! The best advice I have is to always stay focused and do what it is that you want to do. If you want to be a reporter, do your best to be a reporter. It will be difficult if you start off working as a producer and find your way to being a reporter. Likewise, if you want to work in sports, start off in that.
Of course, get as much experience as you can. Volunteering, interning because that will ultimately help you decide what you like and what you don’t like to do. As well, it will give you those connections. In this industry, it’s good to pad your résumé, so when you apply for jobs, you’ll have more than just a degree. But a degree is also important too, haha.
And if you have a blog, write it to the best of your ability. If you have a Twitter, show you’re interested in the news and the topics you want to cover. You know that what you Tweet is what your employers will see and determine the type of person you are. It goes back to branding yourself, if you can come out of university and have a strong brand, that’s going to help prospective employers.
And don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and move away. I’d recommend that. For me, I grew up in Richmond Hill, studied in Toronto, but started working in a town of 15,000 people, Prince Edward Island. Having that experience, you get to make mistakes where people don’t see them, it allows you to learn in an atmosphere that’s still pressurized, less demanding than say, in Toronto. It also gives you life experience.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?
That’s a good last question. That’s my advice, always ask that question at the end haha.
As we went out of interview mode, Steven began to reminisce about his third year broadcast class and his class’s prank which included an elaborate 14-minute weather forecast (in a 30-minute broadcast) that involved travelling to Mark’s house and interviewing his family members.
My classmates will remember a list of words that journalists often mindlessly use but should avoid because it’s not a part of conversational English. ‘Slain’ and ‘blaze’ are a couple that Mark forbid in class.
In the first few years of his job reporting, Steven remembers quickly rushing to do a stand-up report on a fire, accidentally referring to it as ‘a blaze’. He knew instantly that he’d made a mistake. Sure enough, when his phone buzzed, he saw an e-mail from his former instructor: ‘Did one of my former students just say blaze on air?’ Worse mistakes have been made in journalism, but that evening, Steven couldn’t help but feel frustrated with himself because he knew he’d been taught better. Even 12 years after graduating , the lessons he learned in that third year class still carries to his professional work every day for this Ryerson alumnus.