Straight Talk with CTV’s Zuraidah Alman
By Rachelle Cruz
A 7 a.m. call is inevitable. When that phone rings, the coordinates of local news reporter can change day to day, even minute by minute. There is no such thing as a typical day save your morning calls, and a truck equipped with the ‘mess’ that might just come in handy- – extra clothes, jackets, winter stuff, even rain boots if there’s a downpour in case you have to be wading through a ditch.
So when the Ice storm froze over Toronto this past year and cancelled flights at the airport, she was juggling between getting interviews of stranded passengers, and booking a lineup of officials, all the while formulating the narrative in her head, to file the story for noon. Between edits working with the double-duty camera person/editor in the live truck, she learned how to quickly dabble on makeup, and call news desk producers to bang out the story fast. Then she jumps in front of the camera and goes live! That’s as typical as it can get.
“Every day is different. There’s always something left to learn. And in this job you usually do. Chances are, you’ve learned something new that you didn’t know before. It’s like that never-ending curiosity,” CTV’s Zuraidah Alman said.
Alman has worked as a journalist in Toronto for more than a decade. Since 2008, she has been with CTV as reporter. Prior to CTV, she anchored on Global TV and CP24, and also filed stories for CityTV. Stories Alman has covered include the 2005 Boxing Day shootings, the Caledonia blockades and the Air France crash. She graduated from Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, and further pursued political science at York University, all that time volunteering for Rogers Television where she got her first real taste of the newsroom environment.
“The great thing about cable TV, is that you can do everything. So it’s a nice way to figure out exactly your way around the newsroom. You really get to see what all the different roles are and how to put a show together. So, I was doing everything. I was on TV, I was in the control room, I was producing shows, I was writing shows,” Alman recalled.
She volunteered for Rogers TV for seven years, throughout her academic career when she wasn’t flipping through textbooks or working part-time,
“For me, I wanted to spend all my time there. I wasn’t feeling like this was work,” she confessed.
And it paid off. She got a cold call from the head of The Weather Network, giving her a shot at weather presenting,
“It was terrifying but it was actually a good thing because I grew from that experience, and it helped me become a better reporter. It taught me a whole skill set that I still use today. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, there’s no script, you’re working off the knowledge that’s in your head and I use that skill everyday that has nothing to do with the weather,” she explained.
And her style is quite methodical. If there was a technique in broadcast journalism, hers is synonymous to a filter working overtime processing, as it distills information, breaks it down to the bare facts and simpler concepts that she spits out in short, concise sentences an audience can easily digest. Still, she puts perspective in a story.
“You have to step outside and ask, ‘Who cares? Why do we care about this? It’s 6 o’clock this time your viewer is getting dinner to the table, trying to feed the kids, people are coming in and out of the house, food’s burning on the stove, why are they going to stop and take a break and watch you?’” she expressed.
Alman admits that it’s a challenge to shut out all the noise, especially when covering political stories where there are many players involved lobbying their own agenda.
”It can be tough. It can be intimidating. But the bigger it gets, I try to boil it down to simpler facts. So the more complicated an issue is or the bigger or more intimidating a person like Rob Ford, the more I just boil it down to the simple simple facts. What happened? He said this. This happened. He is Mayor. That’s it,” she said matter-of-factly.
“It’ s not my job to tell people how to feel about it. It’s not my job to make him feel better for what he did. Nor is it my job to chastise him or punish him. It’s my job to just tell you what happened,” she said simply.
But it’s not the big stories that stay with her, rather the characters that make up the everyday stories that she shares with her audience,
“Last year, I did a story on a little girl who was being bullied at school because she cut her hair. She was bullied at school for it, calling her a boy. They had a school assembly where she walked at the front and spoke that she’s donating it to an organization that makes wigs for children with cancer. It’s an everyday story – it probably happens a lot. But here was a brave little girl,” Alman recalled fondly.
This story hit a soft spot. She admits that motherhood has changed her – in the way she experiences a story, and how she tells it. But like all hard-working moms, it’s always a balancing act, a juggle, since she had Mackenzie Elizabeth who is now four years old.
“You’re torn between wanting near your child and loving your career. So I always do the math in my head. Like, if I had to work late, when I get home I try to make up for it. In spending my weekends, I just dedicate it to my daughter,” she said.
Alman was five months pregnant when she rode the helicopter to deliver news once. Who says she can’t have the excitement of both?
“I like local news. There’s something about knowing that the stories I’m doing are relevant to my neighbours, relevant to the people I live with, and the community that I live in,” she said.