Tyson holds up his Ma Murray award

Alum wins coveted Ma Murray award for feature writing

June 2, 2024

Tyson Whitney’s feature series for the North Island’s ongoing hospital closures picked up the gold medal this year.

Tyson Whitney, Editor of the North Island Gazette and a VIU Creative Writing and Journalism alum, received his greatest honour to date this year when he earned a gold medal at the British Columbia and Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards show.

Whitney was nominated in the feature series category for his extensive coverage of the North Island’s ongoing hospital closures. We caught up with Whitney to learn more about the feature series he was working on and what it means to win this award. 

What does it mean to you to have won a Ma Murray award? 

It was nice just to be nominated, and I appreciated being recognized for going out of my way to tackle tough, thought-provoking content that really matters to the local communities here.

I've been a journalist for close to 10 years now and this was my first time being nominated in a writing category. It felt like all my hard work over the years had paid off when I won gold. Since I became the editor in 2017, the North Island Gazette has won bronze three years in a row in the Newspaper Excellence category (2018 to 2020), and I also won a silver in the Spot News Photo category as well (2018). The Ma Murray Awards are important because they recognize quality journalism every single year from all over BC and the Yukon. The awards are a nice way to show that community journalism is still alive and well, with many talented people working in the industry.

Tell us a bit about the feature series you won for.

I’ve written numerous articles about how the North Island has been going through a health-care crisis for years now with no end in sight. Hospitals in Port Hardy and Alert Bay no longer have 24-7 emergency care, which means patients are being diverted to the Port McNeill hospital as it’s the only one open around the clock. The residents here are clearly fed up, and people I’ve spoken to who work in the industry said they’re feeling burnt out due to the lack of staff and support for our rural and remote area. It was rewarding to be able to shine a light on the North Island and bring some attention to our area, which I feel has generally been overlooked by the provincial and federal governments over the years.

Nothing really surprised me too much about covering the issue. Hospital closures generally happen due to lack of staff and it’s really just an unfortunate situation we can’t keep two of our hospitals open 24-7.

What advice would you give students who want to go into journalism now?

I get asked this question a lot and I always tend to answer it the same way. Nowadays in order to become a journalist you need to be proficient in everything from writing to photography to using editing software and of course social media. While writing is ultimately the most important aspect of the job, if you’re able to build strong skills at everything else I’ve mentioned, it will go a long way towards helping you become successful in the industry. Thick skin helps as well, because you will be tested every single day and you need to be able to react professionally when it happens and not take things personally.

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