Busy reporter makes time for school 

By Barbara Black

James Fitz-Morris already had a great job in the CBC newsroom in Ottawa. What was he doing trying to fit in journalism classes in Montreal?

At work in Beirut. Magnifying glass

At work in Beirut.

“To be perfectly honest, there was a lot of pressure from both sides for me to give up one or the other,” he said. “Work thought it was silly to earn a degree for a job I was already doing, and school thought I should finish my degree before working.”

Thirteen years ago, Fitz-Morris, who had been running the radio newsroom at John Abbott College, applied to Concordia’s Broadcast Journalism Specialization and was accepted. In his second year, he began wondering whether journalism was what he really wanted to do.

“Rather than waiting for the internship the school would arrange for me in third year, I arranged my own.”

He got a job on the early shift at the now-defunct CIQC (600 AM in Montreal). “I started at about 3 a.m. and would cut tape and write scripts for the morning show and newscasts. Then, at about 8:30 a.m., I would leave work and go to school.”

This could be a tough schedule. “I almost never got to bed before 11 p.m. and had to get up at 2 a.m. to get to work, and that obviously took a toll.” During the 1998 ice storm, he worked three solid weeks of 16- to 20-hour days, “which pretty much shot the semester.”

He had been told he couldn’t use anything he had done professionally as a school assignment, but there were benefits to being a working scribe.

“The wealth of experience it gave me really helped my studies and it was something I feel I was able to pass on to my classmates. I ended up being the teaching assistant for the advanced radio class and for the diploma students. It’s not often a second year undergrad gets to do that.”

Meanwhile, he was steadily rising as a professional reporter. He was hired by CJAD and CFRB (CJAD’s sister station in Toronto) as their Ottawa bureau chief. At the same time, he was freelancing for the CBC, covering the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri of Beirut and the ensuing revolution. This led to more work with the CBC.

The logistics of managing a demanding career and his classes required ingenuity.

“While I was in Ottawa for CJAD and CFRB I did a number of courses online, and even did the commute for a couple of others I needed that weren't offered online — twice a week for a whole semester.

“When I got back from working in Beirut for CBC and the Daily Star [an English-language newspaper in the Middle East], I stayed in Montreal to work early mornings and weekends for CBC so I could attend the classes I needed to.”

Now Fitz-Morris is back in Ottawa in the CBC newsroom. He finished his last courses online, commuting to Montreal to write the exams.


Concordia University