Justin McElroy is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver.
Alma Mater Society: When did you work at The Ubyssey? And what was your role?
Justin McElroy: I worked at The Ubyssey from 2008 to 2012 — first as news editor, then sports editor, then coordinating editor for two years.
AMS: What drew you to working for the newspaper? Did you know much about the paper beforehand?
JM:I wrote a sports column for the paper on campus athletics in my first couple of years as an undergraduate, because I was one of those keeners that tried a bunch of things, and writing for a newspaper seemed like a fun lark — but not something you could turn into an actual job. But a couple of editors lobbied me to actually enter the newsroom and see what it was like on the editing side; and I fell in love with the group of passionate misfits who ran the paper, and decided in 2008 that trying to become a newspaper writer and make a living in Vancouver was a smart idea. It was objectively the most irrational big decision I've made in my life, and ultimately the most rewarding.
AMS: Who were some of your colleagues or mentors at the time?
JM: Colleagues: In my final year at The Ubyssey, every editor whose goal was to get a full-time job in journalism succeeded, and continues to have a job in the field today: Arshy Mann, Jonny Wakefield, Kalyeena Makortoff, Micki Cowan, Brian Platt, Drake Fenton and Andrew Bates. Seeing them be able to achieve their goals has been immensely rewarding.
Mentors: When I arrived at the paper, Jon Woodward and Bruce Arthur were recent alumni who had "made it" in the journalism world, and I asked a few times for advice or to give a talk to our newspaper or to even be a reference for a job interview. They barely knew me but, everytime I asked, they said yes and I will be forever grateful.
AMS: What was “the big story” at UBC during your tenure?
JM: I struggle to think of one "big story" — by far the most popular thing we wrote in my final year at the paper was the obituary of a homeless man that spent quite a bit of time in the student union building who became quite iconic. But there were the general ups and downs of student union controversies, of protests around campus development, and everything in between.
AMS: List some of your favourite memories of your time at UBC in general.
JM: Monday's at Koerner's Pub, the quiet of the campus in the summer, the intense energy on Imagine Day only to be replaced by the regular monotonous bustle the other 364 days of the year.
AMS: How did The Ubyssey advocate for the student body in your role?
JM: My philosophy was pretty simple: our job was to discuss things happening on campus or affecting students directly. It's easy as a student journalist with "power" for the first time to focus on the particular things that interest you, but I was devoted to the idea that we were paid by students to inform them about what was happening within their university. In so far as advocacy, we argued consistently that the university should be more transparent, and that students (particularly people living in student housing) should have a say in the governance of the lands around them, same as any other urban area with a university in North America.
AMS: What did you take away from the job?
JM: That I could be a journalist, that it beats getting a regular job, and the importance of having a campus publication that could inform, provoke and amuse — while keeping its focus on always serving the student body.
AMS: How has working for The Ubyssey shaped your future?
JM: I managed to get an internship with The Province newspaper as a result of my time at The Ubyssey. And I've been gainfully employed in the media ever since. It's safe to say working for The Ubyssey shaped my immediate and long-term future more than just about anything else I did.
AMS: What is your current role?
JM: I'm the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver.
AMS: Consider those in the same role who came before and after you. How do you feel to be a part of this lineage?
JM: I can think of few greater privileges. Knowing I had the same job as Pierre Berton and Allan Fotheringham, of Vaughn Palmer and Bruce Arthur, and dozens of other inspirational people in between, inspired me to do my best to live up to those impossible standards — and reminded me of the duty that we had to document the goings on of campus as so many others had in the decades previously.
AMS: How has your association with UBC advanced your life, personally and/or professionally?
JM: I met my best friends to this day during The Ubyssey. I discovered what I wanted to do with my life at The Ubyssey. I'm able to do my dream job every day because of a path that started at The Ubyssey. Other than that, not much.
AMS: How did you make an impact on students during your time at The Ubyssey?
JM: I'm unsure what "impact" I made and, to be honest, don't give the idea much thought. Students seemed to appreciate what we provided. (They approved a referendum in 2011 that raised our per-student levy per year from $5 to $6, and tied it to inflation.) And I appreciated what I got out of my time with the paper, and I can't really ask much more than that.
AMS: What advice do you have for UBC students today?
Jm: Take advantage of the space and time and freedom you have to explore and try things and make mistakes and figure things out. You won't have it again in your life and, if you're not careful, it'll be gone before you know it.