Sam Eifling wasn’t new to the world of journalism when he decided to join the J-school. Having written for publications like The New York Times, Harper’s and ESPN in the past, he spent most of his time at the School of Journalism exploring new mediums and taking an active role in the International Reporting Program.
Eifling reflected on his time at UBC and how it prepared him for the real world of journalism:
How did your j-school experience help you transition into a career in journalism?
My experience differed from most of my classmates in that UBC was for me a way to reset my journalism career. I’d worked in print for years, with a decent amount of success, only to watch newsrooms shed jobs and a website I helped edit get sucked under when the economy faltered. While others of my colleagues left journalism for law, public relations and marketing, I doubled down. My master’s guided me into new realms — radio, video and documentary — and gave me access to international reporting experience (not least by the simple fact of my moving to Canada). I’ve since found that even print editors appreciate the breadth of those experiences, because emaciated newsrooms expect young journalists to adapt to multiple platforms.
Tell me about one of your most memorable experiences at the School of Journalism. What were the key lessons you learned? Skills you gained?
The lessons I carried out of International Reporting defy listing. Our project dealt focused on targeted killings of indigenous leaders in southern Brazil, and every aspect of it — identifying the story and its characters, reporting in a hostile environment, navigating Portuguese — was a challenge. But I can summarize the main takeaways in three sentences. Try to over-prepare, even if there’s no such thing. Keep your head way, way down. And on the off-chance federal police pick you up on trumped-up accusations of visa violations, have a list of emergency numbers handy, and call ’em all.
What’s been the piece of journalism you’ve produced of which you’re most proud?
Three stand out from my time at UBC. One is the International Reporting short doc on Brazil, which ran on the New York Times site. A second was my thesis, about the perils of claiming innocence in parole hearings. It ran on the Tyee, as did a short doc about a prostitute in Vancouver and her difficulty transitioning out of sex work.
What would be your advice to aspiring journalists considering UBC School of Journalism?
Some of the dire clichés about journalism amount to nothing more than hyperventilation: The craft is strong, and our tools have never been better. That said, this field is not easy, consistent or particularly lucrative. You’ll get the most of out the School of Journalism if you also take advantage of UBC, where you can learn from world leaders in such fields as climate science, sustainability, urban planning, Pacific studies and other areas guaranteed to shape the next century. If the university supports your interests, the journalism program will help you explain them to the world at large.