Gisella Massa; Toronto;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I’m a journalist, I’m a reporter, but a better way to describe that is I tell stories. Every day I come to with a story idea. We talk about what the news of the day is, what people are going to be interested in. I get assigned, and work on that story for the rest of the day.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to York University and studied communication and sociology. I then went to Seneca and studied broadcast journalism.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I had an internship at CTV Toronto and that led to my first job at their assignment desk.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I worked in broadcast news for about three years as an assignment editor, writer and chase producer but I really wanted to be on air. My first on-air gig was as a video journalist for CTV in Kitchener, a city I had no connection to. It was a big learning experience.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
For me, it was the very first day I was on air in Kitchener. I was legitimately scared, not only because it was the first time I was on air, but also because the audience was going to see a woman in a hijab. I was surprised by the reaction from the community and the audience. I remember getting an email from a woman who told me she really loved watching me on TV and that [in that moment] Kitchener went from a small town to a big city. I knew then that people were willing to accept me and see my work for what it is and not see the hijab and be distracted by that.
I feel really proud to have been able to accomplish what I did in Canada and to be able to show the world that a woman with hijab can be on TV and the sky won’t fall, and to be able to show young girls that no one can dictate what you can or cannot do. No one should be able to tell you what to do, whether it’s your father or the government. It should be your choice.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
I try not see to see failure as failure; I see it as a learning experience. I quit a job—one that wasn’t taking me in the right direction—without having another job lined up. But I had to do what I knew in my heart was right even though for eight months I didn’t have a gig. It turned out to be very freeing and gave me a moment to reset. Sometimes you have to take big risks that feel like a failure, so that you have time to figure out what you want and how to get there.
I also spent those eight months volunteering at a community station, building up my experience.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
It’s not always the most talented people that make it. It’s the ones who are most persistent. In any job, it’s about building relationships and standing out. You learn to be persistent so much that you become annoying. I applied three times before I got the job in Kitchener.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
To give up. I was told by a colleague, who didn’t know I had aspirations to be on air, that no one would put a woman with a hijab on TV because it’s so distracting.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
The thing about Canadians is that we’re political about our racism and sexism so we know better to say something to someone’s face. But it comes in a tone or attitude, and it exists in the comment sections of the stories I do.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
It’s good. It’s fair.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
Just that we’re lazy and we want things easy. It’s not true and unfair because the job market just isn’t what it was 10 or even 20 years ago. Most of us are having to hustle and take on the gig economy. We don’t have full time jobs, we have contracts, and part-time work and that requires more work than having a full-time position.