Within a few days of starting her summer job at the Mi’kmaq News in Sydney, NS, Maureen Googoo knew she wanted to be a reporter. Born and raised on the Indian Brook First Nations reserve, located an hour outside of Halifax, Googoo says she also knew she wanted to be the kind of storyteller who could reach an Aboriginal audience that had been overlooked by mainstream media.
Today, with 19 years experience as a journalist, reporting for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), CBC Radio and a variety of newspapers, Googoo says her stories often reflect the conversations she once had around the kitchen table with her family.
“I’ve always wanted to cover Aboriginal issues,” she says. “Some stories aren’t very good but they still need to be told.”
From her current position as a video journalist and Halifax correspondent for APTN, Googoo has proven that she can cover difficult Aboriginal stories objectively.
“When I worked in mainstream media, some people were very encouraging but others were resistant…they didn’t think I could cover these issues because of my race,” she says. “Working at APTN has been my dream job because I can do it without the additional scrutiny of people wondering if I can do it objectively…I’ve proven that I can.”
Ironically, today, it is mainstream media that often contacts Googoo looking for background information on a story or sources they can interview.
“I get phone calls from others in the industry and I’m happy to help out…getting the story out is the important thing,” she says. “But I’m also proud that we are usually about a month ahead of mainstream media and that, by the time they call me, we have already covered the story and moved on.”
Over the years, Googoo has reported on both the tragic and the encouraging – from addicted glue-sniffing children in northern Canada to monetary compensation for sufferers of residential school abuse.
Recently, her accomplishments and impressive portfolio helped her win a $37,000 full tuition scholarship to Columbia University in New York, which enables her to complete a Master’s degree in journalism – a goal she had considered for some time.
“I had been at APTN for six years when I decided I wanted to do my Master’s…I have always valued higher education and I needed another challenge,” she explains. With two previous degrees, one in political science from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and another in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto, Googoo was accepted into the elite journalism program at Columbia University.
“Columbia is an Ivy League university with a long tradition of high standards in journalism…they take their role seriously,” she says. “With recent scandals like the one about the New York Times reporter making up sources, they are trying to restore the reputation of journalism…I like that they are strong on ethics and leadership,” she adds.
Although the Columbia Master’s program is only 10 months long, it is intense and hectic with a portion of each week spent actively covering events in local communities.
More than 200 students are enrolled and, as part of the “international group,” Googoo says she’s met journalists from countries all over the world including India, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia.
“I think the program is actually a semester-long experience in time management,” says Googoo, with a laugh. “It’s definitely a great experience…and I see this as a step to eventually becoming a journalism educator.”
Concerned about the lack of Aboriginal representation in journalism, Googoo says she hopes to encourage and teach others to consider it as a profession.
“It’s a tough profession to get into…but if you love to write, love to read and love to tell stories, then journalism is the choice for you,” she says.
But Googoo also notes that being a published writer requires confidence…a trait that is often lacking in Aboriginal youth.
“Part of the reason they don’t choose journalism is that our youth don’t have confidence,” she says. “It becomes a confidence issue because writing is personal but then it’s published and it becomes public and people can critique it,” Googoo adds.
Still, she encourages anyone with a desire to report or write to consider journalism as an option.
“I didn’t get accepted the first time I tried out for journalism school but I didn’t give up,” she says. “Don’t be discouraged…just learn what you need to do to be successful.”
This story first appeared in our Winter 2006 newsletter.