Dylan Robertson practiced journalism in his earlier years as a Catholic Register Youth Speak News reporter. Photo courtesy of Dylan Robertson

YSN grad investigates terrorism

By 
  • September 19, 2014

Dylan Robertson has gone from Youth Speak News reporter to homegrown terrorism investigator.

An alumnus of The Catholic Register’s YSN program, Robertson, 23, is the fifth recipient of the 2015 Michelle Lang Fellowship in Journalism. He will investigate “the causes, solutions and implications of homegrown terrorism” while he works two six-month terms, first in the Parliament bureau at The Ottawa Citizen and then at the Calgary Herald.

Robertson received his introduction to journalism as a high school member of The Catholic Register’s youth mentoring program in 2005-2006 and 2007- 2008.

The Register was in our parish growing up, so it was always there. And I kind of had an inkling for journalism,” said Robertson, who did two stints with YSN. He belonged to St. Isaac Jogues parish in Pickering, Ont. “The paper was in the church lobby every weekend and my mom would pick it up.”

When he found out about the YSN program, he says, “It seemed interesting: young people getting published, actually doing something that felt like journalism.” He found it especially interesting that young people from high school and university, with different life experiences and writing capabilities, would become a team.

“It was a really positive experience,” Robertson said. He first worked under then youth editor Gillian Girodat, followed by Sara Francis (née Loftson).

“Everyone in the office knew that Dylan was a special person. He was one of the youngest writers that we had allowed into the program and I think the first we allowed to do the program twice,” said Francis. “He was mature and wise beyond his years. He took the writing program very seriously, always pitching his own ideas, meeting deadlines, reliable, determined, self-motivated. He always gave his best and it’s so nice to see that all his effort and talent is paying off.”

Robertson credits the YSN program with getting him started in the business.

“I do remember getting the paper, having your name in it and being shocked that you have something printed... (and) someone there to help you come up with ideas to helping you edit them,” he said. “The whole, sort of training, felt like a very real experi-ence to be part of."

“It taught me a lot of the basics, actually. Obviously, I went to a journalism program, but I think it was a good way to sort of learn how to tell a story, what questions do you ask, how do you go back if you don’t have the right informa-tion. I’m really thankful that I had that in high school.”

Robertson included his writing samples from The Register when he applied to the University of Toronto, where he earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and French. In addition to The Register, he has written for the University of Toronto campus newspaper, The Varsity, and served stints at the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star and Metro before landing at the Calgary Herald.

He’s bilingual in English and French, speaks conversational Japanese, and is functional in Arabic, Italian and German. Robertson could have applied his talent for languages in a variety of places, but chose journalism.

“I enjoy storytelling and getting to know people. And I think it is a public service. It’s explaining to people the world that they live in. It’s a fascinating job. It’s a job that has a lot of value. It’s validating to do. It’s challenging work. The industry is kind of rocky, but it’s a great job to have,” he said.

The fellowship is named after Michelle Lang, who died in December 2009 as the first Canadian journalist to be killed in the war in Afghanistan.

Robertson calls the topic of Canadians who become terrorists “a fascinating topic.”

“Its surreal that this is happening — that there’s Canadians who grew up here that are doing these things. I think we have to take a look at why people are doing this, what lead them to this and how are we responding,” he said. “Every country is struggling with this.”

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