CBC Radio had been a constant companion for Colm Cobb Howes during quiet, bitter-cold commutes to work as a teacher in Indigenous communities in northern Canada. Little did he know he would one day be working to tell those stories he enjoyed listening to since he was a child.
A recent Master of Media in Journalism and Communication (MMJC) graduate, Cobb Howes is now associate producer at CBC News Toronto’s Metro Morning radio show.
Cobb Howes is among Western students graduating this fall and will join 328,000 Western alumni from more than 160 countries during virtual Convocation celebrations on Oct 25.
“It’s the reason I came to MMJC, to get into CBC and share the stories of the people I met during my time working in Indigenous communities,” said Cobb Howes.
Although Cobb Howes joined the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and missed many of the in-person learning experiences, he was able to participate in a six-week internship that opened the door for him to work at the CBC – first as an intern and eventually as a full-time associate producer.
“I never assumed or thought that I would be able to work at CBC Toronto, right out of school,” he said. “I thought that perhaps I would get a good reference (from the CBC internship) and then it would help me get in somewhere like in a smaller market. And so I feel incredibly lucky to have that opportunity right now.”
Before joining Western’s MMJC program, Cobb Howes worked for an educational not-for-profit organization as a teacher for Indigenous students, mostly in the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in Northern Quebec. His work entailed travelling through nine Cree communities as well as the Kuujuarapik Inuit community on Hudson Bay in Quebec. He also had the opportunity to work in a Maliseet Community in New Brunswick, and in an Anishinabek Community in Northern Ontario.
It was during this two-year stint that Cobb Howes developed an interest in storytelling that led him to pursue a postgraduate program in journalism.
“I did teach high school science and math, but at the same time, we also ran programming that was delivered outside of schools. One of the programs is called the cultural mapping program, that’s done in partnership with the community, where it’s like an internship for youth in the community.
This program offered several workshops for the interns on things like camera operation and storytelling.
“I really enjoyed being able to help facilitate it, being out in the community and talking to people and telling stories,” said Cobb Howes. “It was amazing to see how it empowered these kids as they realized they were doing all of this work. And so that’s partly why I wanted to go into storytelling.”
Writing is not a new-found passion for Cobb Howes, however, who completed his undergraduate degree in English literature at the University of Guelph. When considering his postgraduate program in journalism, Western was the only choice for him.
“I really wanted to choose something I would enjoy and not just do it for the sake of getting a degree. I knew this is where I wanted to be. And that was how I chose Western,” said Cobb Howes, whose brother also attended Western for his undergraduate studies.
Work of storytelling
Working as an associate producer for CBC Toronto gives Cobb Howes the opportunity to talk to different people and share their “amazing stories.”
“We had someone on who was an astrophysicist and he was getting ready to retire,” he recalled. “We were asking him things like, ‘Is the universe going to be swallowed by a black hole? What do we need to be worried about? Or, should we be worried about, you know, asteroid hitting earth?’ And it was incredible that I, as a citizen, get to interact with this person who is a leading academic in their field, and have these kinds of conversations. I find it amazing that I get to do that every day for work.”
Asked if he was given the opportunity to choose one story, any story, that can make an impact on listeners, what would it be – and his answer took him back to his experience working with Indigenous communities.
“There’s a lot of stories that happen in the north, that people don’t know about, and oftentimes, they get segmented into categories… and it gets put in the Indigenous category of the news desk,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that those stories don’t just get told because they’re valid. Sometimes, something will happen in the north, and it doesn’t get told in Toronto, because it didn’t happen in Toronto. But people in Toronto need to know about that.
“If we’re serious about making meaningful change in the way that we tell stories, then we need to start thinking outside of the box, because so often stories like that go under reported because they don’t fit into the way that we think they should appear in the news.”
Western is celebrating graduating students through a virtual fall convocation beginning at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, Oct. 22. Three degree-specific, pre-recorded ceremonies will be posted online on Western’s fall convocation 2021 page, allowing graduates, their families and loved ones to watch the ceremony that applies to them, whenever they like. Each ceremony will include celebratory music by Convocation Brass, with administration and faculty on stage, and remarks from this year’s honorary degree recipients.
An orator will read out each graduating student’s name, which will also be featured on individually displayed slides throughout the ceremony. Approximately 3,000 graduating students will then join 328,000 Western alumni from more than 160 countries. Graduates will receive their parchments by mail.