Finding her voice at VICE
By Isabelle Corriveau
Brigitte Noël has a voracious appetite for information and knowledge.
“I’m a super-curious person who’s always asking too many questions,” she says.
But asking questions certainly isn’t a problem in the position she’s held since 2015 as Quebec correspondent for VICE, a new media titan.
The native of Sturgeon Falls in northern Ontario credits her love of journalism and desire to study in French as the reasons she pursued a bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of Ottawa, from which she graduated with a BA in 2008.
“Media, communications, journalism: I’ve never really considered doing anything else. I’ve always been a newshound,” she says.
It’s a field she entered immediately after graduation when she started working with the Toronto-based children’s television channel Teletoon, in public relations.
She then enrolled in the master of journalism program at Ryerson University before being hired by CBC’s flagship news program, The National. She also worked as a reporter and as a producer in CBC’s offices in St John’s, Fredericton and Montreal. Four years later, she was recruited by VICE to work in Montreal as the network’s Quebec correspondent.
The VICE phenomenon
The breakneck rise of VICE Media is remarkable at a time when many traditional media organizations are struggling or restructuring. VICE is the offspring of a culture magazine, Voice of Montreal, which was launched in 1994 as part of a government welfare program.
Today, VICE Media has become a global empire with a multimedia presence in 36 countries. The company, whose value is estimated at more than $4B, recently launched its own cable TV channel, Viceland.
What is equally remarkable is that, according to The Washington Post, VICE’s various platforms attract nearly 60 million young information-seeking Gen-Y millennials every month. These viewers are drawn to the web-based platform’s focus on topics that interest young adults, but are often ignored by traditional media.
And it’s in VICE’s unconventional environment that Brigitte found space to be free and creative, in sharp contrast to the more conformist traditional media.
What makes her job so enjoyable?
“I feel that they trust me – they give me journalistic freedom and a chance to be creative,” she says. “And I work with an amazing team. It’s great to be constantly surrounded by highly motivated young people and super-original ideas. It makes for a really, really creative atmosphere.”
The topics she has covered recently are diverse, ranging from sociology to the arts scene: how the Oka Crisis affected children caught in the middle of it; feminist protesters storming Quebec’s National Assembly in 2015; a review of Radio-Radio’s latest album, and so on.
She writes in English, and her French reports, which appear in Vice du jour – the French version of Daily Vice, the network’s mobile news and culture show – are sometimes picked up by VICE’s international platforms.
“It’s never the same thing twice, which is what I love about journalism,” she says. “No two days are the same. You’re a little scattered, you have to improvise a bit, you’re always running around.”
Journalism in the digital age
Even though VICE is a new media giant, the Francophone section of the company and the VICE du jour segment that she hosts are relatively new, so VICE isn’t a household name … yet. As a result, this journalist sometimes encounters media relations officers who’ve never heard of the network, while her previous employer, the CBC, needed no introduction.
Noël recently returned to her alma mater to transmit her infectious enthusiasm for her craft to students enrolled in a digital media course. That program has recently been reworked to adapt to the rapidly evolving news industry.
What advice would she give to those breaking into the field? She told the students to take in as much news and information as possible from a wide variety of platforms and sources, to gain the flexibility needed to thrive in today’s changing media landscape. To find their niche, today’s journalists need to be fair, honest and objective, but also creative and interesting, she advised.
Noël acquired this flexibility during her journalism career, but also thanks to her academic experiences and her engagement in campus life. As a member of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, she was involved in a wide range of projects, including the creation of a food bank for students.
And she has never regretted her choice of faculty, program or career.
“Journalism allows me to be always following the arts scene, always learning, always on the go,” she says. “To earn a BA, you need to adapt to a constantly changing field, which gives you the tools to be more creative, more ambitious, more fearless and more open.”
Brigitte Noël, University of Ottawa alumna and VICE Media journalist. Photo: David Curleigh