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Allow Me to Reintroduce Our Northern BC Reporter

The Tyee’s Amanda Follett Hosgood came aboard as a full-timer last week. Let’s get (re)acquainted.

Olamide Olaniyan 16 Sep 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Olamide Olaniyan is associate editor of The Tyee. Reach him here.

For more than a year now, Amanda Follett Hosgood has regularly covered many of the biggest stories in northern British Columbia for The Tyee. But last week was her first official week as our full-time northern B.C. reporter, and frankly, what took us so long?

Tyee readers first became acquainted with Follett Hosgood’s work last April when she interviewed Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks on the eve of a major UN speech and on the heels of his nation’s first conflict over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Her subsequent story about a missing Indigenous woman’s family and their search for answers highlighted the asymmetry of police resources being poured into protecting the pipeline as compared to their investigation into her case and showed how some communities feel “over-policed and under-protected.”

In February, she filed on-the-ground reports on the Wet’suwet’en crisis, a week-long standoff as Hereditary Chiefs and supporters resisted the pipeline going through their traditional territory. The standoff ended in several RCMP arrests at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre.

Now, some deep cuts for the Follett Hosgood fan club. After earning a journalism degree from Carleton University in the 1990s, she worked as a reporter and then assistant editor at two Alberta newspapers in the early 2000s. In 2006, she visited Smithers, B.C., and decided to stay.

She did a master’s in intercultural communication at Royal Roads University in Victoria, writing her thesis about media coverage of the Sacred Headwaters dispute on Tahltan territory. This gave her the opportunity “to better understand the relationship between Indigenous communities and the mainstream media, as well as how to better cover these issues,” she said.

Since then she’s freelanced for publications like British Columbia Magazine, Explore Magazine and Coast Mountain Culture, to name a few. She also spent three years writing and editing for a Smithers-based publication called Northword.

She even wrote a few stories for a feisty, little online magazine called The Tyee back in the day, writing this 2008 story about what art and culture could mean for the future of rural B.C. and this 2009 dispatch about the Tahltan blockading moose hunters on their territory.

Now, she’ll continue to report on important stories from northern B.C. full-time under the Tyee banner.

“It feels good to be contributing northern voices to a wider audience,” Follett Hosgood said. “I’m passionate about community and northern B.C. is really just one big community with its own unique concerns and perspectives. Being able to amplify and honour those voices is my goal with every story.”

Tyee editor Robyn Smith said the publication is proud to be able to add Follett Hosgood to the regular reporting roster, noting her coverage of the Wet’suwet’en standoff was “fair, essential and hard-won” given the difficulty of accessing the sites.

“We’re thrilled that Amanda is now a full-time Tyee reporter, so that we can broaden our coverage of northern B.C. on all the issues that matter most to that region,” Smith said.

In order to learn more, I called up Follett Hosgood to ask more about what she learned reporting from the centre of a national crisis, what she hopes to bring to the role and what the hell a “straw bale” house is. Feel free to send her a welcome or story tip in the comment thread below or email her directly here. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Hey Amanda! You spent quite a bit of time in the world away from journalism. What were you up to during that period, and why did you decide to return to this profession?

I left my last full-time journalism job when I moved to Smithers from Canmore, Alta., 14 years ago. While I took a big step back from breaking news, I always had a finger in journalism, mostly freelance writing for magazines. Living somewhere remote also meant taking on a variety of gigs to make it work — everything from doing communications for small businesses and non-profits to teaching English at the local college and editing our local independent magazine, Northword. I even taught yoga for a few years. But sharing stories has always been my first passion, and it feels good to be contributing northern B.C. voices and perspectives to an audience beyond our region.

What drew you to The Tyee?

I first discovered The Tyee shortly after moving to B.C. in 2006 and liked that it was doing something different and a bit edgy. I’d spent the previous five years working in corporate media and was really disillusioned by how reporters were increasingly expected to do more with fewer resources, and how that ultimately affected local communities and the quality of news they received. I love that The Tyee is leading the way for a new model that puts good reporting first while delivering interesting, relevant stories in the process.

You really led Tyee coverage on the Wet’suwet’en crisis over several days from the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre and behind a de facto media exclusion zone. What did you take away from that experience?

Oh wow. That’s a big question. I report a lot about things that concern Indigenous communities and I learn something new every time. During the Wet’suwet’en conflict earlier this year, it was the first time I’d been at the centre of a breaking event of that magnitude, and I learned a lot about how to cover it and how to respond to pressure from police. It really highlighted for me that the police version of events should not be treated as the official one and was, in fact, often quite different from what was actually happening on the ground. That gave me a lot of insight into the frustration that Indigenous people experience in these situations that often isn’t widely understood.

Police were twisting the version of events. The province was talking out of both sides of its mouth. I felt like, “Oh, right — this is what you guys have been talking about.” People may not agree with civil disobedience or may feel inconvenienced by the protests that took place across the country, but there’s a really legitimate sense of frustration and not being heard that leads to these drastic measures. Until you’ve been at the centre of one of these conflicts, I don’t think you can fully appreciate that.

Why is it important that The Tyee report on stories in northern B.C.?

Northern B.C. has its own very unique challenges and concerns. When I moved from a small mountain town in Alberta to a small mountain town in B.C., I didn’t expect a big culture shift. I was so wrong. There are things happening in this region that are relevant not just provincially but internationally. We provide much of the resources that our economy depends upon, yet the stories of the people who live here often get lost in a conversation that focuses on economics.

Northern First Nations in general, and the Wet’suwet’en in particular, are leading an international conversation around Indigenous rights and title — from Delgamuukw more than 20 years ago to the confrontations earlier this year — so that’s a really exciting thing that deserves more attention and discussion. The north has a lot to add to the conversation about who we are as a province and a nation, and I think that voice is often overlooked in the mainstream and urban media.

It’s been six months since the first pandemic measures were put in place. How has this period felt in northern B.C. and how has it intensified or complicated your work?

I have to say I feel pretty lucky to live where I do, given everything going on in the world. When the pandemic first hit and we barely left home for those first couple of months, I still had trails right outside our door, a garden where I can get my hands dirty, and a community that supports one another. There was also no shortage of work. While I know the pandemic has hurt a lot of media outlets, I’ve felt really grateful to Tyee readers who value and support the work we do, because now is a time when we need reliable news coverage more than ever. Really, our family’s only challenge has been juggling childcare. This week marks two big new beginnings for us as I start full-time work and my five-year-old starts kindergarten, so hopefully things move ahead smoothly for both of us.

What kinds of stories are you hoping to dig into in this role?

I love the idea of solutions-based journalism and I would like to report more good-news stories, more about inspiring people, more common challenges being approached differently. I love quirky human-interest stories. My ideal story weaves a fascinating narrative with in-depth research.

Talk to me about the straw bale house.

Um. How much time do you have? Shortly after moving to B.C., I bought seven acres of raw land just outside Smithers. I started by building a garage with a tiny suite above, where I lived alone with my two huskies until meeting my husband a couple years later. I’d always planned to build a proper house and when we met, it turned out we both had a dream of building a straw bale house. The timing was perfect because we got to pursue that dream together, building something that worked for the two of us.

StrawBaleHomeBeforeAfter.jpg
Before and after. Amanda Follett Hosgood and her husband built a straw bale masterpiece.

Because my husband was waiting for his permanent residency and couldn’t work, he became our builder, teaching himself timber-framing and researching natural and straw-bale building techniques. It was a true community effort — we held lots of working bees and served burgers and beer to our friends while they got their hands dirty stacking bales and slathering clay plaster on them. It took us two and a half years to finish, and while I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do it again, I would recommend the adventure of building an unconventional home to anyone.

You started in Toronto and now you’re here (hopefully to stay). You’ve been on a multi-year westward journey for a large part of your life and career. What were you looking for, and have you found it?

Hmm. Excellent question. When I was in university, a friend gave me the book Magazine Writing from the Boonies — which was written by two B.C. authors — as a birthday gift. Apparently, I’d told her I wanted to write from a cabin in the woods.

Lots has changed in media since that book was published, and aspects of it are hopelessly outdated (it describes how to snail-mail query letters). But it gave some great tips and set me on a path to where I am now. The “cabin” is a little less rustic than I’d pictured and the household quite a bit noisier, but I’m more or less doing exactly what I imagined nearly 25 years ago. I do have a dream of living on the ocean. So maybe one day I’ll move farther west. But for the time being, Smithers is definitely home.

What are you currently obsessed about?

I had to go to my husband with this question because, you know, he’s the one to let me know what I drone on about. Recently it’s been the emerging narrative on social media that mainstream news media are not to be trusted, and that there’s some giant conspiracy to misinform and withhold information from the public. There are lots of failings within the mainstream media but aligning to dupe the public isn’t one of them. It’s just a bunch of people with diverse backgrounds and interests doing their best, with mixed results. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got and undermining its credibility isn’t going to get us out of this hole of disinformation we’re falling into.

Also, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Taylor Swift’s new album. I’m pretty close to figuring out what exactly happened between James and Betty.

What are you looking forward to the most in this role?

I’m excited to be part of a team again. While I love where I live, the one sacrifice has been the isolation of not knowing a lot of people who do work similar to mine. I’ve missed the opportunity to learn from my colleagues, throw ideas around, challenge one another. The Tyee is such an experienced and interesting crew, and it’s been a privilege to immerse myself in those conversations and that collective knowledge. (Really. I’m not just saying this as the new girl to suck up.)  [Tyee]

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