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Our First Hummingbird Takes Flight

How do you create the best work you’ve ever done? Inaugural fellow Josh Kozelj is about to find out.

Olamide Olaniyan 13 Sep

Olamide Olaniyan is associate editor at The Tyee. Follow him on Twitter @olapalooza.

Please help us extend a warm welcome to Josh Kozelj, The Tyee’s inaugural Hummingbird Immersion Journalism Fellow, who started with us last week.

Over the next six months, Kozelj will become immersed in issues of importance in British Columbia, gain valuable journalism skills and produce an in-depth piece or a series with mentorship from a team renowned for swimming against the current.

Kozelj is excited to get started with the team. In fact he's already co-written a piece about mysterious deaths of Nechako river sturgeon with Tyee reporter Amanda Follett Hosgood, published today. “The Tyee’s passion for storytelling, reporting and writing always fuelled me to try and carve out a career in journalism,” he says.

Emerging journalists in Canada are familiar with the difficulties of breaking into the industry and the barriers to the skills and expertise necessary to create great work. They also know there’s never been a more exciting and consequential time to become a journalist, and that there’s no limit to the stories that are waiting to be told.

It’s why we appreciate the contributions of Rick and Della Stroobosscher, who are sponsoring the fellowship. Both born and raised in southern Ontario, Rick and Della met while studying at Calvin College in Michigan. At their commencement address, Rick and Della were encouraged to fly upside down — to live and work in a counter-cultural fashion — in order to make the world a better place. The Hummingbird Immersion Journalism Fellowship, so named because the hummingbird is the only bird that can fly upside down, provides a unique opportunity for an early career journalist to contribute to and learn from a news magazine that flies upside down.

"We're very grateful to Rick and Della Stroobosscher at Hummingbird, sponsors of the Hummingbird Immersion Journalism Fellowship. This builds on other paid, half-year fellowships we host at The Tyee via Journalists for Human Rights and the Tula Foundation, as The Tyee seeks to not just publish top-notch independent coverage but help train the coming generation of committed journalists,” said Tyee founder and editor-in-chief David Beers.

Teaching the craft of journalism is increasingly woven into daily life at The Tyee, he explains. “We’ve been known to call it the ‘teaching hospital’ approach to building that capacity in Canada’s news media. Sometimes the best way to learn a practice is right alongside veterans who are happy to share what they know. And of course, we learn much from our fellows, who bring a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and ideas. We keep each other on our toes!”

The Tyee is lucky to have welcomed three other fellows to our newsroom this year. Akhila Menon joined us as the inaugural fellow in a program with Journalists for Human Rights, and Kaitlyn Fung and Kate Helmore are this year’s two Tula Immersion Journalism fellows, in partnership with the B.C.-based Tula Foundation.

We talked to Kozelj about his journey to The Tyee as our inaugural Hummingbird fellow, how he spends his time off, and his thoughts on the role of the journalist today. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The Tyee: Welcome, Josh! What brings you to The Tyee?

Josh Kozelj: Hello! I’m so excited to join The Tyee as its inaugural Hummingbird fellow. In a way, The Tyee has always played an underlying role in my young journalism career. Dave Beers was one of the first guest lecturers I listened to during my undergrad at the University of Victoria. I had the pleasure of hearing Andrew MacLeod talk during my later years at UVic. And Robyn Smith took me under her wing for my first reported freelance feature in 2018. Their passion for storytelling, reporting and writing always fuelled me to try and carve out a career in journalism — be it through freelance, or thankfully now, as part of The Tyee team! 

It’s never been easy to be a writer. But you’ve jumped into the fray at a particularly fraught time in history: a global pandemic, climate catastrophe, widespread political unrest. What keeps you going?

I love storytelling. I always have. I’m motivated by researching and writing stories — particularly underreported ones — that mean something to a large community. From the family that puts up holiday decorations each year because they’re so happy to live in Canada to the 20-something who dropped out of university to sell retro sneakers to A-list celebrities, I love hearing people talk, learning about origin stories, and how (if at all) they represent a larger movement in society. It’s an intoxicating feeling knowing when you have a good story to tell, or have just finished an interview that you know will make for a great addition to a larger piece. 

What, to you, is the role of a journalist at this day and age?

To me, the role of a journalist should be to report stories fairly and honestly. There’s a lot of polarization in the world right now, and particularly mistrust in journalists. I hope with balanced reporting and honesty (be it through a first-person lens or interviews with multiple sources) trust can be established with readers with differing views on the world. 

In addition to a lively writing life, you’re an avid reader. What are you reading at the moment?

Great question, I am! Right now, I’m reading The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos. It tracks the life of a young Jewish girl who was abandoned by her parents, and life in Romania under Soviet Union occupation during the Second World War. I love historical fiction, my favourite book of all time is Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, so I’m really enjoying this one so far. 

You’ve supplemented your writing practice with long-distance running. Do you see any parallels between the two pursuits?

Definitely. At its essence, they are both solitary acts. However, whether it’s on a track team or journalism organization, you can also celebrate and work together with other like-minded people. It’s a great balance. I’m naturally quite introverted, but I love being a part of a team and working for something bigger than just myself. 

Where can we find you when you’re not at school or working with us at The Tyee?

Running Vancouver’s trails or roads in ridiculously short shorts! Or curled up to a good book in a park on a sunny day. 

Please feel free to leave Josh Kozelj a nice welcome and any information you think he’d find interesting in the comment thread below.  [Tyee]

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