PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. - Maritimers have a longstanding reputation of supporting each other and welcoming people into their homes, often serving a cup of well-steeped tea to a stranger on the well-worn premise that "a stranger's just a friend you haven't met."
However, for the three Atlantic Canadian participants in the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) launched by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS), the level of support and camaraderie extends far beyond geography.
It all began in early 2020, as the hired journalists and station managers for Telile Community Television in Arichat, Nova Scotia, CHNE-TV in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, and CHCO-TV in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, gathered in Wakefield, Quebec for the week-long training session that would set their 66-week contract into motion. From the first night, when they landed at the rental property they would quickly dub "Maritime House," the energy and enthusiasm were palpable among the six-person crew, whether they were singing '80s sitcom themes en route to their workshops or developing their own musical tribute to the week, "Eight Minutes To Wakefield," to the tune of the Eddie Money chestnut "Two Tickets To Paradise."
"I knew right away that Maritime House was going to be the place to be," recalled CHCO-TV LJI participant Vicki Hogarth.
Before the training week had even wrapped up, the bond grew stronger. Telile LJI participant Adam Cooke interviewed Hogarth for a podcast demonstration, and was shocked to discover that her previous life as a magazine writer and entertainment reporter with the likes of the E! Network and W Network in Toronto had taken her around the world, from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to Milan Fashion Week. Hogarth's previous interviews included the likes of pop star Justin Timberlake, actress Keira Knightley, and even a pre-politics version of Donald Trump, during his hosting stint for the NBC series The Apprentice.
Already a part-time employee at CHCO-TV by the time the station was approved for LJI funding, Hogarth took her new job and ran with it. In addition to hosting and producing the weekly Tuesday-night round-up Newsbreak 26, she now hosts the regular series Southwest Magazine and Your Town Matters, and is a co-producer on the series New Brunswickers Want Action, which grew out of last spring's Black Lives Matter protests and seeks to provide greater diversity on the CHCO-TV airwaves.
Hogarth spoke of her experiences in a recent interview with fellow LJI participant Adam Cooke, a veteran journalist who has been busy adding programming to Telile since he joined the Arichat station a year ago. After a successful launch to the weekly hour-long newsmagazine TELILE 24/7, Cooke recently developed a podcast version of the series and simultaneously debuted his first-ever French-language journalism venture, the weekly half-hour interview series Notre Coté.
While Cooke graduated from the Halifax-based King's College School of Journalism in 1995 and has served with several local media outlets since that time - including Port Hawkesbury's CIGO-AM Radio (now 101.5 The Hawk FM) and the town's weekly newspaper, The Strait Area Reporter, as well as a twice-monthly guest slot on CBC Radio One's Information Morning program for Cape Breton - he feels his LJI work at Telile has finally allowed him to live out his childhood dreams of being "a broadcaster and a storyteller."
Similarly, Hogarth feels that her work with LJI is "more meaningful" than many of the glitzy entertainment events that she covered prior to returning to southern New Brunswick, and she is grateful for the opportunity to give a voice to those who may not find room in the province's traditional media landscape.
"Somebody once asked me, 'Why don't you go back to Toronto?' And I told them, 'Because there's a hundred of me in Toronto, but there's only one of me here,'" Hogarth recalled in her interview with Cooke, which was conducted in part to help celebrate the first anniversary of TELILE 24/7.
In the meantime the LJI program's Maritime participants continue to lift each other up, thirteen months after meeting for the first time in their CACTUS training adventure. Cooke has collaborated with CHNE-TV's Paula Dayan-Perez on coverage of anti-racism rallies in western Cape Breton, and he admires the work the McGill graduate and former Montreal resident has done since she arrived in the Cape Breton Highlands early in 2020.
"[CHNE-TV has] such a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube," Cooke said of Dayan-Perez's efforts, which include a weekly round-up of community events in English and French, and regular gavel-to-gavel coverage of Inverness County's municipal council meetings in Port Hood.
Hogarth, Cooke and Dayan-Perez and their station managers also frequently gather to bounce ideas off each other, discuss the occasional stresses that come with being journalists in the COVID-19 era, and reminisce over good times from Wakefield in an "Atlantic Facebook Bubble" that has taken shape over the past year.
"We're each others biggest cheerleaders," Cooke enthused.