Published in the Summer 2006 issue • Woman on the Job
Flashing a press pass to get backstage may seem like a dream job, but it’s not all free swag and celebrity interviews. Journalists face looming deadlines, newsroom pressure and hours hunched over the computer. Yet Ashante Infantry, a 37-year-old entertainment reporter for the Toronto Star, wouldn’t have it any other way.
The job: I started at the Star as a general assignment entertainment reporter. Now I mostly specialize as a jazz and urban music writer, but I still cover other forms of entertainment when I’m needed.
Education: I went to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, for a bachelor of arts degree in English. I also went to Sheridan College in Toronto for my journalism diploma. Not all journalists find it necessary to attend journalism school but I wanted to go. I knew it would give me a good foundation.
Hours: I generally work 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. But since entertainment often happens at night, I’m also out on the town about two nights a week.
Salary: The starting rate for general assignment reporters at big city newspapers is around $50,000. Now, after 11 years at the Star, I make $70,000 to $75,000.
Career break: After journalism school, I gave myself one year to try to make it. That meant I moved back home with my parents and was very poor. I worked for community newspapers and for the McMaster alumni magazine. In my first month, I made $300. In the summer of 1995, a Toronto Star reporter told me about the Star’s summer program. The Star gave me a six-month contract, with a position similar to an internship. I was signed to three consecutive 6-month contracts before being hired full-time. They hired me as a general assignment reporter in the news department and from there I moved to the entertainment section two years ago.
Inspiration: I had an English degree and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to make some money. I knew that I really liked communication and travel. I took an aptitude test that said I would be suited to journalism. I tried it and the first time I saw my name in print, it just felt right. I found that through journalism I could relate to others and have my say.
Pros: Autonomy. The way I attack the story is entirely up to me. I work for a big company but am allowed control over my work ? a big plus. I also love to write, especially about entertainment because I’m allowed to take more risks. Hard news requires just the facts, but with entertainment writing I can use my voice to entertain as well as inform. I also get to travel and meet new people, which exposes me to new points of view and allows me to learn new things. Every day is such an education!
Cons: Writing on deadline. Sometimes I get a few days to write a story, which is great. But sometimes, when I’m reviewing a concert, I have only an hour from the end of the concert to the time when I have to file my article. That can really test your abilities and sometimes I find myself second-guessing my choices. But I just think, “No, I can do this,” and it feels great when I do.
Work environment: In my newsroom, there are few walls; we’re all spread out in front of each other. I like that because I can’t work in silence. It’s frequently buzzing and I can discuss ideas with the creative people that surround me when I get a brain cramp.
A day on the job: In the morning, I sort through a barrage of e-mails and phone calls. I listen to new CDs, write most of the day and sometimes go review concerts or events at night.
Work/life balance: Because entertainment is my work and what I do with my free time, I make a conscious effort to separate them. Things that I have to review that aren’t my style never make it into my house. It can sometimes be a challenge to write about something critically and stay a fan.
On being a woman in the field: I don’t find there to be any gender discrimination but I have noticed that there are few black women in print. I am one of the only black women writers employed by a big Toronto newspaper and I think that’s pretty appalling. I used to be an instructor at Ryerson for journalism diversity and will likely teach again. Three years ago I created my own mentorship program, to help young people discover what they love and get them on their path ASAP. Every six weeks, my lawyer friend Heather Greenwood Davis and I run a book group for (mostly) black high school girls, called Novel Ideas, sponsored by the Star. We discuss books, future career paths, anything really. We also ask other black women from various professions to come in and talk about what they do. We try to expose the girls to things they would otherwise not have access to. I think exposure to information and choice is very important for young people.
Who do you admire? I’m disappointed by the people we consider role models. There often seems to be a disconnect between what they say and what they do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to not have heroes; it keeps us striving.