You are currently working with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Georgia. What does that entail?
I started out producing a series of radio stories for IWPR. Now my role is more diverse. In addition to articles, I write regional reports, plan trips for journalists to the field, and assist journalism students with radio projects.
You are also a freelance journalist and editor. Why did you choose to be freelance rather than on staff?
When I moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, I decided to try out the world of freelancing. I didn’t have a job lined up, and I figured it would be a good place to experiment. I began taking on freelance contracts largely because that was what was available. But I love it! It gives me autonomy and flexibility to choose how I spend my days.
What is a typical day like?
Every day is truly different. As a freelancer, I plan the day based on my deadlines and priorities. I might spend the entire day working from home or from IWPR’s office on an article or a report, or I could spend the day moving from interview to meetings to teaching. I really love the flexibility my work gives me. While being a freelancer means that I often have to work untraditional work hours to meet deadlines, it also means I can choose to take an afternoon off when my schedule allows it.
Why did you decide to move to Georgia?
I have looked for every opportunity to spend time abroad since I was a teenager. While I really enjoyed my work at Canadian Geographic in Ottawa, my partner and I both felt it was a good time to try something new. We both looked online for opportunities, both job announcements and open work permit schemes. As my partner is French and I am Canadian, finding a country where we could both receive open work permits was tough. So when my partner received a job offer with Transparency International Georgia, we jumped on it. At the time, almost anyone could live and work in Georgia without a special visa, meaning that I could find freelance opportunities once I arrived. I had visited Georgia as a tourist a few years before and had found the region fascinating. Taking the risk of moving to a new country without a job lined up was worth it.
Before being a freelance journalist in Georgia, you worked for Canadian Geographic as a New Media Editor. What did it entail?
Canadian Geographic is owned by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society(RCGS) and staffed by a fairly small team. What’s great about being part of a small team is that you have the opportunity to take on work well beyond the scope of your job description. My official role was to manage, edit and create content for the organisation’s websites and blog. I also managed our online photography community, planned and developed multimedia content and put the magazine online. But my actual work extended beyond the digital sphere. I contributed to editorial planning, wrote articles for the print magazine, managed interns, and worked with the expedition teams funded by the RCGS.
Managing the digital content of an organisation like the RCGS was an exciting job because it required being involved in some way in all of the organisation's diverse activities.
Which story are you most proud to have covered?
There were a couple of stories I covered quite early on that boosted my confidence as a journalist quite a bit. While I was in Ghana in 2011 researching my Master Research Project, a radio documentary about the impact of a biofuel company on local communities, I happened to meet some young Ghanaian men who had just returned from Libya. They had migrated there through the Sahara to find work and, for some of them, a way to Europe. When the civil war broke out, they were evacuated back to their home country. But their return was very difficult for their families who had depended on the remittances they sent home from Libya. I was excited to report on the lesser-known side of an international story. I published the story with the Christian Science Monitor.
You have a BA in Global Development and an MA in Broadcast Journalism. Are those degrees you’d recommend?
I loved both of my degrees. Not only were they tremendously interesting to me at the time, but I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now without them. I stumbled upon the Global Development programme when I was in my first year of university. As soon as I read about it and the course requirements, I knew it was for me. It was an extremely interdisciplinary degree that had lots of flexibility. The way I saw it, I could take every course that intrigued me — whether it was within the geography, religious studies, women’s studies, history or health departments — and still end up with a degree. I was lucky to be around inspiring professors who encouraged my classmates and I to think critically about the world around us. Perhaps the best part of my degree was a study abroad programme to Ghana for a year through another Canadian university. It was truly a transformative year and an opportunity I would recommend to anyone in a global studies-related field.
I found my masters programme the same way I found my undergraduate one — through lots and lots of late-night web-surfing. I knew I wanted to do an MA because I love studying, and didn’t feel I had the necessary skill set to get a job yet. I looked into every master’s programme at every school in Canada that was remotely related to my interests. The problem was that I had too many interests and couldn’t imagine specialising in one narrow subject. A journalism programme seemed like the perfect fit: I could gain technical skills and continue to learn about the world.
I highly recommend doing a degree in journalism, even if you don’t want to be a journalist in the traditional sense. My classmates and I learned about research methods, communicating ideas and concepts, how to hold government officials accountable and a whole slew of technical skills related to audio, video, social media and web-publishing. I firmly believe that you don’t need to study journalism to be a journalist, but it certainly helps!
What would you recommend to a woman who would like to follow a similar career path?
Constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities that push you beyond your comfort zone. Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of the internet in order to investigate every option that’s out there, like grants, writing opportunities, internships, and volunteering positions. If something doesn’t apply to you now but could in the future, write it down somewhere! I personally am always adding to a list of things I might like to do later on. Apply to everything that peaks your interest. Read everything you can about the topics that interest you and get out in the community to meet the people who are doing things related to those subjects. Everything you do will lead to something else. Don’t focus too much on how you will get to this job or that job or whether an opportunity fits with your planned career path. Just start doing and see where you wind up! I could never have anticipated the path I have taken so far, and I am excited for all of the future opportunities that I can't even imagine now.
How did you become interested in foreign policy?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always read the news and I’ve always wanted to travel. I was the child who would read the newspaper with my cereal everyday before school and seek out the novels set in other cultures and times. I was very fortunate in high school to go on a school trip to Egypt. That trip confirmed my fascination with places beyond the community I grew up in. It’s impossible to study other modern cultures and the connections between them without studying foreign policy. One of the takeaway messages from my undergraduate degree was that everything we do — or don’t do — in our own country affects people elsewhere.
What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?
I had many jobs throughout high school and university to help me pay the bills. All of them have given me skills I still use today. For example, while working as a tour guide, I learned about storytelling and public speaking — hugely important skills for all fields. While working as a fundraiser in a call centre, I learned about the importance of building a rapport with people and how you can do that quickly.
My first career-related job was as a casual worker for CBC Ottawa’s local radio shows. There, I learned about the art of pitching and developed ways to push myself to speak up. Since I was only casual, if I didn’t contribute with ideas, they would have stopped calling me in.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
I love learning about diverse topics, sharing my knowledge and pushing myself to take chances. Most of all, I love talking to people about their experiences and sharing their stories.
But journalism is a struggling industry driven by lots of different interests. It’s hard to work around those interests, and sometimes, for many complicated reasons, the stories you want to tell don’t get told.
In your experience, what are the specific barriers and advantages women face because of their gender in foreign policy, if any?
Women all over the world continue to face significant barriers in foreign policy because of their gender. One of the areas where this is most apparent is in the online world. Women must think twice about being a prominent online personality and taking a public stand on an issue. Too many women are forced offline because of rape and death threats simply for stating their opinion. It is unfortunate that the online space, which is theory should be accessible to everyone, is often dominated by just a few voices.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
I'm a good learner. Journalism is about constantly learning about new subjects, and online journalism is changing at such a rate that journalists need to have a decent understanding of the internet and online tools to keep up. I depend on the wealth of fantastic resources that exist online and try to experiment with different tools whenever possible.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
When you enter communities, interview people or write a story, you often have an impact. But it may not be the impact you expect or intend to have. Good intentions aren't enough.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
Putting myself out into the world for criticism. I was a shy child and refused to let anyone read my essays even in university. I somewhat got over this during my masters when I didn’t have a choice but to have my classmates and others read my work. I still struggle to promote myself, but the more I try to do it, the easier it gets.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud of all the times I have found work and built a community in new countries with no support. I arrived in Georgia having connections to no one except my partner. I wrote to every local English-language news outlet I could find and met as many people as I could. Many editors were kind enough to take the time to meet with me. One assignment led to another, and now I’m turning work away.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
There are two Canadian journalists in particular I’ve admired since I first started out in journalism: Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent, and Anna Maria Tremonti, the host of The Current, a current affairs radio show on CBC Radio that influenced my decision to go into journalism. Tremonti is tough, extremely knowledgeable and asks great questions. When I interned at The Current I was pleased to discover that she also takes time for interns.
Heather Yundt | Freelance journalist | Georgia
Three years' experience
CV in brief
" If something doesn’t apply to you now but could in the future, write it down somewhere! I personally am always adding to a list of things I might like to do later on."
"I highly recommend doing a degree in journalism, even if you don’t want to be a journalist in the traditional sense"
"I still struggle to promote myself, but the more I try to do it, the easier it gets."