Forging a New Path
When William Wolfe-Wylie walked into the Argosy office during his first year at Mount Allison, he did not expect that his work with the student newspaper would launch him into the world of journalism, nor that journalism would lead to a career in data.
Working as an Argosy reporter, then editor, and finally as editor-in-chief helped Wolfe-Wylie see the value it brought to campus.
“It provided young journalists the opportunity to learn and make mistakes while telling the stories, and pushing for greater transparency, in a community we cared deeply about,” he says.
The Argosy also had an imminent impact on Wolfe-Wylie’s career.
“It introduced me to the Canadian University Press and was directly responsible for my first two jobs after graduating from Mount Allison.”
The Canadian University Press (CUP), a network of student journalists that brings together more than 50 student newspapers across the country, hired him as the Atlantic Bureau Chief during his third year at Mount Allison.
“That was suddenly a networking job, working with student newspapers across Atlantic Canada to help define regional coverage and writing pieces to appear in all of their papers.”
It was his first foray into a journalistic world beyond Mount Allison but ultimately led him to take a national position with CUP and later to work for the Toronto Sun, Postmedia, and CBC.
It was while at the Sun that Wolfe-Wylie began working with data and testing the possibilities of emerging digital media.
“I was the kid in the room at a time when social media was just getting started, so I was asked to train others on how to use it.”
Social media analytics were still in their infancy, so Wolfe-Wylie learned to code in order to build a platform that would track key social media metrics.
He further developed these skills at Postmedia, where he learned to do more interactive, data-focused work. He admits that a lot of it was experimental, maybe even a little weird, but digital media was still finding its footing. When he joined CBC in 2014, he found a team that was eager to tackle those challenges and develop a new model for online journalism.
“They built tools that challenged what breaking news reporting could look like, tools for data journalists that allowed them to write stories that would have been impossible to write a decade earlier,” he says.
Some of these tools were analytical, allowing journalists to comb through large amounts of data more quickly and efficiently to find patterns. Others were visual, providing new ways to present information to the public. One example of this is CBC’s 2017 article A City Destroyed which recreated the Halifax Explosion in 360-degree animation.
Wolfe-Wylie had carved his niche.
“Where I found a lot of satisfaction was elevating the technology to allow the people who could get in front of elected officials, who could do the undercover work, to ask more pointed questions. To give them a deeper understanding of the world they were entering into and reporting on, so that, collectively, all our work was stronger.”
Now a manager in the Chief Data Office at Employment and Social Development Canada, Wolfe-Wylie acknowledges that his career has not been straightforward.
“Most of the jobs I’ve had didn’t really exist before someone offered it to me and asked me to figure out what the job entailed.”
But his Mount Allison education served him well.
“Knowing how you learn best is ultimately the goal of university,” he says. “We read books, we attended lectures, we wrote exams, but the goal was not to be able to talk about the military career of Alexander the Great at the drop of the hat. The goal was to gain an understanding of how our brains absorb knowledge, how we can build narratives ourselves, and how we can attach our own skill sets and developments to that strategy of self-teaching and learning. The subject matter is a pathway to a broader learning experience,” says Wolfe-Wylie.
Whenever he was met with the challenges of a new role, Wolfe-Wylie asked himself, how do I learn?
“Good thing I figured that one out a while ago,” he says with a chuckle.