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“Get a master’s” was the advice the late,
great Sue Gawlak, then editor of the St. Albert
Gazette, gave Kevin Ma when he first applied for
a reporter’s job in 1999.
So he applied to get into Grant MacEwan’s
new journalism program and was told he wasn’t
aggressive enough to be a reporter. (He notes that
the program’s first graduating class later sued the
college because their program was so bad.)
Seven years later, after a roundabout journey
through a political science degree at the University
of Alberta, he finally achieved that masters and an
internship at the St. Albert Gazette where he put
together his first noteworthy piece of journalism
a series on the health of the Sturgeon River –
for his master’s project. That series garnered
distinctive honors - a top prize for environmental
writing from the Local Media Association (then
called Suburban Newspapers of America) and
continuing recognition as an academic source still
Not so coincidentally, Kevin Ma has again been
recognized by Local Media Association – this time
as its Journalist of the Year, as judged by the faculty
at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern
Asked how he finally got the job at The Gazette,
Ma shared a rough transcript of his follow up call to
Sue Gawlak all those years later.
Ma: So, I got that master’s, and the Edmonton
Journal just offered me a one year internship. Can
you beat that?
Sue: Gimmie a minute. *time passes* Want a job?
He has been at the Gazette ever since.
A couple of significant stories – one involving local
waste management and another involving obsessive
compulsive disorder – distinguished Ma as the
selection for LMA’s Journalist of the Year honor.
In the latter story, Ma revealed his own OCD
and dug into the gripping first-person account of
his own experience. The story provided a rare look
inside the minds of peopled affected by OCD and
generated considerable feedback from readers.
Judges in the LMA Editorial Contest described
the story as ‘dramatic, touching, provocative,
Editor Maser called it ground-breaking and
describes Ma’s approach to reporting as thorough,
inquisitive and sharp; his writing as vibrant and
Ma also has the distinction of being the first
member of the media to receive an Rs of Excellence
Award from The Recycling Council of Alberta.
Executive Director Christina Seidel credited Ma for
continuing to go after the local waste management
story with “his unique, focused and objective style.”
What put him over the top was his effort to subject
his own family to a household waste audit for the
sake of research and a story.
Next on Ma’s list of undertakings is a new series
entitled Wild St. Albert. Ma has long enchanted
readers with his insightful, playful yet scientifically
relevant coverage of local wildlife issues, whether
it be the annual Christmas bird count or a study of
the local coyote population. Published every other
week, Wild St. Albert profiles a difference local
wildlife species with every installment.
According to Maser, the stories blend personal
commentary with scientific insight and the result
has been ‘a delightful blend of insight and whimsy’.
Q&A with Ma
Any pearls of wisdom you can share with other
Always pay attention to your surroundings. To see
why, hit up The Mercer Report’s 2011 segment on the
Concrete Toboggan race in Edmonton and watch for
the guys who blow through the hay bales at the end
while riding a 300-pound slab of rock. See that guy
in the green diving out of the way at the last second?
Thoughts on the win?
I should probably be happy about this but am
pathologically unable to accept praise or accolades.
Huge props to my editors, Cory Hare and Peter Maser,
for their support, and for the late great Sue Gawlak for
giving me this shot. Am wondering if it comes with a
How to distinguish yourself journalistically?
Have a sense of humour and wonder. The world is
a fascinating place where new, exciting and often
hilarious incidents happen every day, yet far too many
of our stories are dull, drab or depressing.
I approach every story with the mindset of a curious
five-year-old, looking for the silly or shiny bits and
holding them up high. If we want to engage readers as
reporters, we need to bring back that sense of wonder
and discovery to our stories and give them a reason to
look beyond their everyday lives.
Experimenting with any new projections or
Not really experimenting with new projects, but I do
have the habit of setting up summer research projects.
Am hoping to do a more comprehensive look at water
or air quality in the region.
This photo of Kevin
Ma ran with his
report on living
of The Year:
CELEBRATING LOCAL JOURNALISM
Company, event and
people news can be sent
to editor Deb Shaw at
wants to hear
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