June 2002
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Career Profile: Melanie Penner: SNN Writer to Broadcast journalist
By Julia Klassen, SNN Senior Editor, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

Where do School Net News writers go when they've been good? If Melanie Penner, Manitoba journalist, is any indication they go on to bigger things.

Penner is currently employed by Golden West Broadcasting in Winkler, MB as a news journalist. Her journalism career began in high school as a School Net News writer during its first year. For Penner, who has always liked writing, the choice of journalism came through a process of elimination. "I knew I didn't want to be a nurse or a teacher," she says, "and since sports had always been an interest sports writing and later reporting sparked my interest." In her Sr.4 year, Penner took Co-operative Education, a job placement program, working as a student reporter for the local newspaper, "The Winkler Times." This Co-op Ed. placement landed Penner a full-time summer job with the "Times." That fall, she pursued her interest in writing and took the two-year Creative Communications program at Red River College in Winnipeg.

Many interviews, deadlines, and stories later, Penner decided it was time to leave the print side of journalism and give broadcasting a try. That was two years ago and she currently enjoys the challenges and rewards a broadcast journalist faces everyday. "Radio is very immediate," Penner comments. "In a weekly paper, you have all week to get your stories done. In radio, I'm expected to have three stories done daily, often with quick deadlines."

For a broadcast journalist, no day is ever a "typical day." "It's just never the same," Penner says. "All days bring something new. You're dealing with happening news, that's out of your hands." Penner's workday can begin as early as 5am and often includes late hours and evening meetings. "The first thing in the morning, we'll have a quick meeting as journalists and editors to gather ideas, determine the stories, and bounce ideas off one another," she explains. After she has a general idea of what the day's stories will be, and who she needs to talk to, Penner has the "chase," the part of the day where she sets up the interviews and then connects with these people in person or over the phone.

"I get out of the office as much as possible," Penner says. "I usually arrange a whole bunch of interviews, go out to gather the information I need and then come back to my desk and do the writing. It's the public relations of the job that makes it really enjoyable."

After the facts have been gathered and the five W's answered Penner cuts the audio clips from the interview to fit into a 15-20 second slot that will be heard on the radio. The story is then written providing back-up for the audio clip and giving further explanation. At that point, the story is done…or is it? Unlike print journalism, Penner actually writes two or three versions of the same story providing variety and revealing different angles so the listeners can hear new and fresh versions every newscast. Penner also has regular monthly meetings and covers a certain beat, such as town council or the school board.

Penner is the first to admit her career comes with its share of difficulties, drawbacks and sacrifices. "Radio never stops and it's tough during the slow times, when your news stories aren't coming together, and you can't connect with the people you need to talk to," she says. Penner also does the occasional on-air shift, which means waking up at 4am so she can be at work and on the air by 6am. These early hours and after work meetings is a sacrifice of time and can take away from personal life but Penner also knows that these meetings are generating news and for her, that is a positive thing.

Having already experienced both newspaper and radio journalism early in her career, Penner is keeping her future options open. "I'd like to expand to possible freelance writing for newspapers, magazines, and radio but just not get stuck doing only one thing." she says. "I'd also be really interested in Desktop Publishing, creating newspapers, brochures and promotional material, and maybe one day being in a Media Relations/Spokesperson position."

"Get involved in your community and do all you can in high school" is the advice Penner offers to SNN writers who aspire a career in journalism. "Pay attention to what goes on, even if it's in your social circles because it might be a news idea. Keeping your ears open everywhere can help you out." Looking back she says she appreciates the on-the-job experience she gained through her high school job placement at a real newspaper and everything SNN had to offer, even in its first year. "School Net News is another media outlet providing an audience waiting to see your stuff," she says. "Take advantage of these opportunities, get involved, and get to know people."

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