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TVO Host And Field Producer Jeyan Jeganathan On Changing Narratives, The Journalist Grind And His Love Of Basketball
"I was born and raised in Toronto’s west-end in the Jane and Falstaff neighbourhood. Much of what shaped my decision to go into journalism stemmed from my childhood there as well as my Tamil roots. For all the good that came from living in that community, many outsiders only knew it for the bad: the drugs, the crime, the shootings. And why not? It felt like news organizations ventured north of the 401 only when there was a murder or a shooting."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator")
Canada
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How did you think your childhood or your formative teenage years play a part in you developing a passion for journalism?

I was born and raised in Toronto’s west-end in the Jane and Falstaff neighbourhood. Much of what shaped my decision to go into journalism stemmed from my childhood there as well as my Tamil roots. For all the good that came from living in that community, many outsiders only knew it for the bad: the drugs, the crime, the shootings. And why not? It felt like news organizations ventured north of the 401 only when there was a murder or a shooting. They would knock on doors and get sound bites from neighbours who did not want to talk. Crime was one narrative, but not the only one.

As a young Tamil-Canadian, I didn’t hear much about the Sri Lankan civil war in Canadian media. A lot of that has to do with the Sri Lankan government’s hostile stance toward journalists.

As a young journalist, I was motivated to change narratives, to tell stories that were being missed. I think that’s really where my passion took hold. 

What are some misconceptions that you often hear people have about your chosen career path as a journalist?

A lot of people might think broadcast journalism is glamorous. When I first started out in Hamilton and Niagara region as a video journalist for CHCH, I was working night shifts from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. I was covering stories in rural Ontario with no washroom breaks, working alone most shifts. But I think the most difficult part of a journalist’s job is seeing people on the worst days of their lives. 

How come there are so many notable folks in the Toronto (& beyond) media scene that come out of the Ryerson program for journalism?

One thing that stands out for me when I think about the journalism program at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson): location, location, location. For a student journalist, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. There are so many stories just outside our campus doors. 

Another thing is that the Canadian media landscape is quite small. The journalism program at TMU can be like a family, with alumni and faculty always willing to share their experiences in the industry.

How did you get the role as host/field producer for The Agenda with Steve Paikin and The Thread with Nam Kiwanuka?  What kind of things did you do to prepare yourself to jump into the role successfully?

Working for CHCH really prepared me for my current job. As a video journalist you are doing everything to get your story on air – from cold calls, driving to location, filming, interviewing, editing, and setting up the technology to go live. That daily grind helped me make quicker decisions, know when to persist and when to move on, and most importantly gave me the confidence.

I was looking for a change after working at CHCH for nearly 5 years and applied for a reporter position at TVO. The job was travelling the province and telling stories in underrepresented communities while also co-hosting on The Agenda. When TVO launched a new program called The Thread last season, my role was expanded to include producing and co-hosting monthly episodes and curating content for digital media.

What would be your dream job outside of being a journalist if money wasn’t a factor?

If money AND height were not a factor – I would be trying to break into the NBA as a player or a general manager. Just love the game of basketball.

What’s been a failure (or “learning lesson”) you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years and what did you learn from it?

Earlier on, I wanted to impress my bosses and found myself running around trying to “get the shot.” You’re in constant competition with yourself, your colleagues, and other news organizations. It’s easy to forget what your mission really is as a journalist when faced with deadlines. There were times when I made mistakes and rushed the story. But there are real-life repercussions to how stories get reported. I’ve learned to have more empathy, to take my time, and to see the humans behind the headline.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3 years?

Doing what I am doing. I have a one-of-a-kind job. I get to travel Ontario and learn from people’s stories. 

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What do you do outside of work for fun?

I play as much basketball as my knees will allow. During the pandemic, I binged watched the entire RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise. Can’t get enough! When I’m not sitting in front of the TV, I like to get outdoors, especially near the water. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with aquariums and over the past couple years have really got into aquascaping. I am hoping to set up a large fish tank in the near future.

What is an insecurity you have?

I think anyone who holds a public facing job suffers from some form of imposter syndrome. I question whether I am smart enough for the interview or if I’m qualified enough. Working with such well-respected and established journalists as Steve Paikin and Nam Kiwanuka – who I’ve admired throughout my career – can be intimidating. But I’m grateful for the support of an amazing team who push me to succeed.

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I hope to be remembered as a good listener, someone who is empathetic and who makes people laugh.

What do you think you would tell 16-year-old Jeyan looking back?

When you grow up in community housing in North York, you’re in survival mode and there’s a pressure to get yourself and your family out of that situation. It’s hard to see what the possibilities are. I’d tell teenaged Jeyan to keep pushing but to be kind to yourself. Things manage to work themselves out in the end with some hard work.

What is your favourite book(s) you’ve read recently and why?

Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From by Kamal Al-Solaylee. I interviewed him for The Agenda. The book is about people trying to reconnect with their homeland and the longing to return home. As someone who is removed from my parents’ birthplace, I liked hearing the stories of people seeking answers to the same kinds of questions I’ve always asked – what would it be like to return to my family’s roots?

I also just finished The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, which was an enjoyable departure from what I usually read for work. It tells the story of the magical children who inhabit an orphanage and also explores the theme of what home really is.

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

I turned 30 over the pandemic and found that my body just doesn’t feel the same as when I was younger. I took up yoga and have been practising regularly. Not only has it made me stronger and more flexible, but it also provides structure and self-care which I’ve found really important – especially while working at home during Covid. Shout out to Kassandra in Ottawa, my YouTube yogi.

What is something that you've splurged on recently in the last year that you have zero regret about?

I don’t know if it qualifies as a splurge, but I bought a condo in Toronto last December and moved back from Hamilton. It lets me be closer to my mom, work, friends and family.

How has the Canadian-Tamil community impacted you both personally and professionally? 

It is a community I am still getting to know. Through my job at TVO, I’ve been able to connect with Tamils who are doing great things to make positive change. A couple of years ago, I produced a panel for The Agenda discussing what Tamil identity means. That interview was a personal opportunity to hear stories from the diaspora. Funnily enough, it was shared on WhatsApp on the “uncles’ network” before they realized I produced it.

I recently attended an event organized by the Queer Tamil Collective and have seen a lot of love in the community. I find that we often don’t talk about issues such as identity, mental health, or trauma. But a lot of younger Tamils are pushing the boundaries and opening up the conversation.

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

Watalappan 🙌🏾

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

Tamil culture is the spiciest food you’ll ever eat, gossiping aunties, and colourful saris. It is bearing the effects of colonization, civil war, and displacement. I’m still learning what it means, but I know that it’s about community, family, and resilience.

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator") | TamilCulture.com
Canada
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