50th-anniversary special: The circle is complete

Special guest Bill Johnston was in the first graduating class of Journalism at Sheridan College - Class of 1970. He came to visit our newsroom in the fall of 2019.

Mayor Bill Johnston stands in front of the Town of Churchbridge offices, on February 17, 2021, in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan. (Bill Johnston/Sheridan Sun Alumni)
Mayor Bill Johnston stands in front of the Town of Churchbridge offices, on February 17, 2021, in Churchbridge, Saskatchewan. (Bill Johnston/Sheridan Sun Alumni)

I completed an important circle in my life this past week.

We’ve just returned from a seven-day visit to Toronto, or more specifically, Oakville, a beautiful town (population approaching 200,000 and still a “town”) on Lake Ontario a short distance west of Toronto. (More about the trip in general in coming editions.)

We were there to have some long-overdue get-togethers with relatives, but also to return to Sheridan College, the place my career as a journalist began 50 years ago.

Sheridan opened the door to my getting my first job as a newspaper reporter which led to 12 exciting years on four newspapers, acquiring the skills, knowledge and confidence to eventually launch the Four-Town Journal and keep it functioning for 38 years.

This being my 50th year in the newspaper business I thought it would be a good time to go back to the starting point, going full circuit to complete my journalistic career.

As I was considering making the trip I realized I should be under no impression whatsoever that this was going to be a sentimental journey back in time, seeing places and people with which I could regale people with “I remember when…” stories for hours on end.

Sheridan College today is not the Sheridan College I graduated from in 1970. Not by a long shot.

The building we took our first courses in is no longer standing and was actually in another city. The building in which the Journalism programs are being taught today, the SCAET building (Sheridan Centre for Animation and Emerging Technologies) wasn’t built until decades after our class was long gone.

My class was actually the first Sheridan College Journalism class, graduating after two years of studies in the spring of 1970.

The length of that duration was made perfectly clear when one of the current professors, hearing that I had graduated in 1970 did an “Oh wow! I wasn’t even born then!” And that was a professor, far less a student.

But no offense taken. I am old.

The primary reason I wanted to return to Sheridan was to get a sense of what professional journalists are being taught to prepare them for paying careers in an incredibly challenging profession.

I was impressed by what I saw. Sheridan’s Journalism program deals with all aspects of news gathering, writing and disseminating

It has a state-of-the-art television studio which would make many TV stations jealous over the quality of equipment in it. There was a radio booth and while I saw no examples of print journalism rolling off a press or photocopier, I knew that on the computers which filled all of the classrooms were likely the best graphic design and editing programs available.

Sheridan has earned a worldwide reputation for its work in all aspects of the arts and many other fields.

Domee Shi, a Sheridan 2011 Honours Bachelor of Animation graduate, received an Oscar earlier this year for her short film, Bao, in the Best Animated Short Film category.

Since 1985 five Sheridan graduates have won Oscars.

The college’s Ovations alumni magazine is always filled with stories highlighting achievements by Sheridan grads, which is why I proudly wear my Sheridan hoodie whenever and wherever Saskatchewan weather allows.

What I saw during my two-hour tour was a vibrant learning environment which couldn’t help but leave me wishing I was entering it, rather than retiring from it.

What was particularly encouraging to me was the enthusiasm the students and the faculty approach this challenging business of reporting ie. story-telling.

Sheridan tackles it from many angles. In addition to Journalism it also offers a Journalism – New Media program for graduate students which is directed beyond the traditional media platforms of print, TV and radio to include the ever-expanding digital universe.

One student who drew the short straw and had to interview me, told me that his plans are to develop some form of media outlet, probably a revenue-generating blog, to cover the world of electronic games. It wasn’t that long ago that plan wouldn’t have even been on anyone’s mind, much less to the point of moving forward with it.

I got a chance to speak to a few of the Journalism students and was encouraged by their commitment to this business of journalism.

It needs, more than ever, that strong commitment from those who wish to be good reporters. They face a world filled with cynicism and negativism. A world in which “fake news” has become such a broad brush it not only typifies those who blatantly ignore the principles of good, responsible journalism, but denigrates those who try to be the honest tellers of what this world is all about.

I wish I could have scheduled our tight one-week visit to Oakville to include a classroom sit-in with one of the Journalism classes to hear how the course’s professors address reporting in 2019, but listening to and seeing how dedicated they are to teaching their students the “how” of reporting, I have no doubt they’re equally dedicated to teaching the “what” of the job. What is a good story.

The business of journalism in 2019 is completely different from what it was in 1970. Well duh!

But the objectives remain the same: telling a good story that’s accurate and true, and which will inform and/or entertain.

I started my newspaper career with that goal in mind, and I was pleased to see, first hand, that it still remains an objective of today’s professional journalists. The circle is complete.