By Matthew Lindzon and Esther Eisen
Since 2000, Dana Levenson has been a member of the CTV Toronto News Team. Dana graduated from Western University in addition to Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program. The Golden Falcon Newspaper reached out to Levenson for an interview about her career as a reporter.
How did you become a news anchor?
“Well, I’ve been at CTV for 18 and a half years and so I started a long time ago. I started as a general news assignment reporter, which I still am half of the time and just working through the newsroom and various positions. I’ve worn pretty much every hat in the newsroom and that’s pretty much how, in terms of my journey, it happened. But in regards to before CTV, I went to school first at the University of Western and got a degree in Film Theory and Criticism and then I went to Ryerson, where I received a Broadcasting and Journalism degree in RTA.”
What do you find are some of your challenges as a news anchor, specifically at CTV or in your career?
“I feel like the days are jam-packed. There’s so much to cover [with] being a local news reporter. We have so much to cover every day because we have to get that information out there. Now what I’m finding, I guess you could call it a challenge, is that media is multi-layered, so it’s not just the traditional newscast as we’ve known [where] you tune in at noon, 6:00, and 11:30, which we still have our faithful viewers, that still watch religiously during those times every single day and on the weekend, but people do expect to have news streaming 24 hours a day and where they turn to. That, of course, is social media. It’s not, you know how news morphed into cable news networks where we had 24-hour news cycle going on, television and radio, and now we have social media. So, the challenge for myself is to constantly be in the know, be aware of what’s happening all the time and be able to get that information out there and be able to take it in 24 hours a day, except for when I’m sleeping! Haha! I do sleep a little bit, not that much, but a little!
What would you say are your favourite parts of your job?
“Number one favourite part of my job is meeting new people every day. Often, given any week, I’m meeting 3 to 5, sometimes even 10 new faces every week, telling different stories, which is the best part of my job. Every day is a new day, so I wake up with the idea that I could be doing a political story, I could be doing a crime story, or a special feature story and that, to me, has kept the excitement of news alive for me because every day is a different day. Now on the weekends, I also anchor the weather. So that’s exciting too because the weather changes every minute! Haha! So often, while I’m live on television, the weather is changing, so I have to keep up with that too, so I find that very exciting. But I would say that the very best part of my job is meeting people and telling stories that I would say not necessarily anybody would ever know about.”
How do you determine which stories will be broadcast?
“So we have an assignment team and several assignment producers that start every day bright and early and go to all the news cycles from the evening, overnight, what’s happening in the morning, breaking news, ‘news you can use’, weather news, anything you can think of and they determine what has to be covered immediately. So that team, who I would say is probably the highest regarded team in our newsroom (it’s sort of the great minds come together; our news director, our producers, our assignment team), come together very early in the morning and they go through the day. That’s always changing too because of news breaks. That changes the whole line of the day; it changes where the reporters are going to be sent, where the camera people are going to be sent and what is covered. But generally, it starts with the assignment team and they decide where everybody goes and how they start their day and then that changes. So yesterday, for example, I started my day covering a story of the Yonge and Finch van attack and then I received a phone call on my way to that story saying ‘when you’re done that story, can you please head over to this story?’. So I had to do two stories yesterday and both were actually human interest stories. So often you go about your day doing one thing and then it changes or often you do many stories.”
We took a look at your biography and something that we found really interesting was that you broke a story about unsterilized medical equipment at the Lakeridge Health Centre. Can you please tell us a bit more about that?
“We received a phone call in the newsroom. I had just come off the air. These were the early days of my career so we didn’t have Twitter back then or social media. The phone call that I received was from a viewer who spoke to one of our producers but had asked to speak to me. The producer, of course, took the call and she told the producer this story, which was that she was breastfeeding her 5-month old baby and she had received a phone call from the clinic where she had just had a medical test – a colonoscopy – and they said to her ‘There may have been a problem with sterilization and you have to stop breastfeeding[…] So she gets this phone call and they said ‘We don’t think this equipment was sterilized properly and we’re not sure, so you need to stop breastfeeding your child because you could be at risk of all these various diseases but one of them [was] HIV’. She also had two young children and was freaked out so she called the newsroom. Now why this story meant so much to me at the time was it really was good old-fashioned hit-the-pavement journalism. It was a news tip that came in and it was hit-the-ground-running. We flew out the door to this woman’s home (myself and a camera person) to go talk to her and find out if there was any truth to this and then start that good old fashioned knock on doors, try to get into the hospital, try to get into this medical clinic that was associated with the hospital, which at the time was Lakeridge Health. It became a huge national story. So I went to speak with this woman, she told me her story, and in fact, it was true and there were hundreds of people that were called in various parts of the Durham region being told that they were at risk of HIV because of unsterilized equipment. From there, this sparked a provincial reaction, so the province had a news conference a couple of days later saying that they were investigating certain hospitals. From there, it went federally, so there was a national response to this story. It became a massive story. It became completely bigger than me. We followed through and there were hundreds and hundreds of people that were affected by just that one news tip.”
Do you have any advice for young journalists in terms of how to get those amazing opportunities?
“Well, I think for sure it starts with yourself and having a very positive attitude about where you are at that point in your career is very important so I really believe that you need to have that attitude. As an example, I interned for years and didn’t make a penny and it was years before I landed a job. I just kept slugging it out, living at my parent’s house, trying to get a job. So I think it starts with that positive attitude and of course education is incredibly important, whatever that may be. You need to be educated. You can’t just go into journalism and say ‘I just want to tell stories’ or ‘I just want to write because I’m a good writer or a good storyteller’. I think education is very important and should be highly regarded. I also think that once you do get the job or whether you’re an intern or it’s an entry-level position or you’re a high-level executive in a newsroom or wherever you may be, you need to be a team player. Nothing about my job, I feel, is just about me. It has to be about the people you work with and surround yourself with. I surround myself with the most intelligent, highly-capable humans every day and I am very grateful for that. I have always said I work with the best team in the business, but I really do work with the best team, CTV. […] I think if you look for that and then you act in that way, you’ll have a successful career, for sure.”
Can you walk us through a day in your life of a general news reporter?
“If it was a typical day or a day shift as I call it, I wake up at 7:00 AM, I get my kids up, and as I’m making breakfast everything is up and running. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are all on. I get my kids to school by 8:30 and then if I haven’t heard from one of our assignment producers by 8:30, I check in. So as soon as my youngest one is in his school, that’s my first email. I don’t usually email anybody before the kids are at school. That’s my personal thing unless I’m needed. Sometimes I’m called early in the morning for a story or I’m emailed about something and of course, I respond. But typically, it’s not before 8:30 until the kids are tucked away safely at school. Then at 8:30 I’ll find out what I’m doing for the day and I exercise. [I exercise] almost every day to also help with that positive outlook and that’s my zen. I try to take care of myself that way. Then I quickly jump in the shower and get ready, get bedazzled and bejewelled for work and go to the location and then we start our day. We start our stories, [we start] interviewing, sometimes we’re live at noon, often not, come back to the station, write the story, edit the story and then the story will be on at 6:00. We’re live at 6:00. Then my day shift is done at around 6:30-ish and then I go home and resume ‘Mommy’.”