Angela Sterritt is an award-winning Gitxsan journalist, artist and writer, from British Columbia. Sterritt has worked as a journalist for close to twenty years and has been with CBC since 2003. Her reports have appeared in the Globe and Mail, The National, CBC’s The Current, and various other national and local news programs. She tells us about the importance of compelling storytelling through people’s experience.
Being able to bring an in-depth or investigative story to listeners, viewers or readers to provide insights that provoke thoughtful reflection. For example, one of the hardest but most important of stories I worked on this year was covering the inquest into the death of a man in solitary confinement in a Canadian prison. Speaking to his parents, the guards and to human rights advocates, I was able to bring our audience into his cell, his life before and during solitary, and his final days before death. I was told very early on in my career that the most rewarding part of our job is creating change, be it legislative, policy or human. Months after my story was published, I read that the Ontario government was looking into the length of time prisoners were kept in solitary.
Another reward of my job is having the tools to tell a robust and accurate story that illustrates the multiple dimensions of Indigenous communities. Too often in news stories, Indigenous people’s lives are wrought with tropes and stereotypes, which creates an inaccurate picture of who Indigenous people are. For example, sharing the complex and delicate stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women very early on in my career, I was able to shed light on the strife of family members to be heard and the challenges they faced. One of the highlights of my career was when I reported on Indigenous people’s relationship to the oilsands. My series showcased a reality that there are not just two sides of Indigenous people – those who want industry and those who fight against it, but like all humans, Indigenous people live within complex realities.
How do you use social media?
Mainly to share news stories. When I am in the news reporter pool, I’ll share updates of the story I am working on that day (or hour). I’ll send video highlights or live tweet a press conference for example, post interview clips if I am out in the field or share still shots of a scene I am on. I once live-tweeted an entire Shell Oil tour the company gave us, that allowed us exclusive access to the expansion of their Jackpine Mine and reclamation efforts they were working on. It was a decision my cameraperson was not a fan of but it was something that gave thousands of people instant access to an area of Canada that is often closed to the public. When I am working on a long-form investigative story, I may share elements of my story on social media that are, for the most part, already part of public discourse. For example, I recently spent about 50 hours driving along the Highway of Tears, and tweeted some of the compelling billboards of missing women, red dresses that were hung along the highway and provided updates or reminders on specific cases.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends on the shift but if I am on a morning shift, a producer will generally provide an assignment. Earlier on in my career, journalists would be encouraged to pitch news stories a lot more than is done today. I will start making calls (anywhere from 2-40) and depending on where the story is going, I will be assigned to do a TV, radio and digital story. I will then head out in the field with a camera. When in the felid I will tweet, chase guests, conduct interviews, and let the cameraperson know what b-roll I am looking for. If the story is time sensitive, a writer will start a story for our online platform that we can update throughout the day, with pictures, quotes and videos that I gather. Usually I will file radio hits for the morning or the noon news, and by then will have tweeted various aspects of my story. If network TV or radio producers want news hits, I will do them on scene. For local news, I will normally package a rant or pak that will be edited in house, unless we are in a remote location and need to edit in the field. Depending on the shift and the story, TV news may request a live hit from the scene. Current affairs programs may also ask for an in-studio Q and A, to give depth to the story I am working on. I often do syndication or network hits for multiple regions in Canada for big news stories. This means doing several (I once did 17) hits throughout the day (This would normally be a day on it’s own, not on top of local assignments). Late night TV hosts or producers often request a rant or pak, and generally that is the last thing I do before I leave that day/night.
What is the main message you want to convey through your work as an artist?
That Indigenous people are not just all buckskin and arrows, and all doom and gloom, but that we have vibrant, complex and sophisticated stories of modernity and history to tell. I hope people connect to the people in my paintings, see themselves and create their own interpretations, ones that are filled with hope, enlightenment, kindness and empowerment but ones that are not afraid to peel back the layers of the darker sides of truth too.
What advice do you have for PR people wishing to connect with you?
1. Come to me with a compelling personal story. This is key. I get 5-15 messages a day, with people wanting me to tell their story, but if there is no person or people in the story who are able to go on camera, radio and be quoted for an online story, there is no story.
2. Have a game plan. Share a succinct — short but well thought out and written story idea that explains why our audience will care about it. Have a fantastic, candid, thoughtful guest or guests ready to go — before the press release or call comes to me, who is or are comfortable with speaking on TV and radio. Explain the visuals that you have, that we can tape or that you can supply, and provide great quotes.
3. Follow up, share your thoughts of the story I did, and your excitement about future stories.
First website you load in the morning?
Twitter! Then CBC, Globe and Mail, New York Times. In that order, on most days.
Coffee or beer?
Coffee. And always need more.