From the sidelines to the big leagues

Concordia’s journalism program opened new doors for a graduate student seeking a passion-driven career

  • Ahmad’s career has taken her to different corners of Montreal’s media landscape. Photo Courtesy Safia Ahmad

In modern day journalism, job opportunities are few and far between. Swing and miss once and you might get lucky; but fan on a second fastball and you’ve dug yourself a deep hole.

That was the mindset that Safia Ahmad honoured as she enrolled in Concordia’s journalism graduate program in June of 2016.  

Fast forward three years and she got called to the big leagues, scoring a job as the coordinator of communications and community relations with the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League. 

But now, with her job status unknown, she stands in the on-deck circle waiting for play to resume in a game delayed by COVID-19. 

“It’s one of those things that’s like a weird waiting game. You know there’s an opportunity, pretty confident that you’re the person that would go back, but again it's the same thing that we've been saying for months, [there’s] so much uncertainty and you don't know what's going to happen,” said Ahmad.  

While the pandemic acts as the opponent in a long-lasting standoff, Ahmad is using her spirited charisma to shine light on the positives that have derived from this grueling battle. 

“I found Zen in all of this,” she said. “I think I've just filled my days with things that make me happy. I'm working out a lot, I feel good. I'm going for walks and I have my podcast that has really been helping me a lot.”  

Before matters took shape in journalism, Ahmad fancied a career as a sports psychologist. After completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, however, she realized the profession didn’t satisfy her passion driven personality. 

“I worked in a lab very briefly and I didn’t like the vibe, and I just don’t think it was for me,” said Ahmad. “I don’t want just any job—I’m just trying to look for jobs that can stimulate me.” 

So that’s when Ahmad decided to flip the switch, and it was here, at The Link, where she established that devoted connection to journalism. Once she got a feel for what the field had to offer, she knew she had found her spot as a student journalist. At that point, her goal was simple: get as much experience as you can. And so, she did.  

Ahmad featured on CJLO radio, did colour commentary for the Stingers hockey games, and interned at The Eastern Door and the CBC, all while still contributing to The Link.   

“Now I look back on it and I'm like, ‘I was insane,’ but I was super driven, and I loved it.”  

Fortunately for the now 27-year-old, her relentless efforts paid off as she earned a position as an intern at The Montreal Gazette. The four-month period allowed Ahmad to experience the daily operations of a professional newsroom, but also served as a learning curve for the emerging graduate.  

“I don’t want just any job—I’m just trying to look for jobs that can stimulate me.” – Safia Ahmad

“I still wanted to be in journalism, I just knew I definitely didn’t want to write news,” she said, regarding her time at the Gazette. “Everyone was like, ‘well you have to start in news, and you’ll make your way into the sports department.’ But I was like, ‘there must be another way.’” 

And, of course, there was. When Ahmad learnt about an opening in media relations at Les Canadiennes de Montreal—a professional women’s ice hockey team at the time—she was quick to fill the void. It was there that she discovered a keen desire to pursue a role in communications, and therefore retiring any futuristic hopes in sports journalism. 

“Being in that team environment is just so much better. When you’re a journalist you’re on your own,” Ahmad insisted. “I like working with people, I like interacting with people, I like doing different things all the time.”  

Financially, things weren’t all that stable for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League at the time, but it was an association that Ahmad cared about. Given the economic concerns, the hockey operations services were limited, forcing her to work remotely for the most part. Couple that with her youth, and a difficult challenge was staring her in the eyes. But still, Ahmad was willing to rise to the occasion.   

“It was just the reality of the situation,” she said. “It wasn’t just journalism, but the other side. There’s a lot more that goes into it, you gotta build trust with the players, so how do you do that when there’s no space for you all to see each other every day?” 

“It was just one of those things where you kind of go with the flow—the more games you got in, the better it got.”

A job which emerged so suddenly, ended just as abruptly. In May of 2019, the CWHL folded; consequently, that was the end of the road for Ahmad with Les Canadiennes. But around that same time, another opportunity came knocking at the door. What seemed like a meaningless LinkedIn connection turned into a full-time job for Ahmad. 

“If I didn’t add him, I don’t know if he ever would have reached out,” she said, referring to the manager of communications and community relations at the Laval Rocket. “It was a very slow summer, because I knew it was the job for me—it was everything I wanted, but I had to wait.” 

You know what they say, though: good things come to those who wait. Later that summer, Ahmad got the call.  

“I remember everything, you know like I remember where I was, what time it was, I remember the date—I remember everything,” said Ahmad. 

When you work tirelessly for an opportunity as such, it certainly isn’t one you are going to forget when the time comes.  

With Les Canadiennes, Ahmad worked independently—she called the shots. In Laval, however, things were different. She was working under the wing of the communications and community relations manager, who acted as her mentor. Still young and relatively new to the industry, that’s exactly what she wanted. She felt she needed someone to show her the ropes. 

“Honestly, I think that was the biggest thing for me. Once I graduated, I was always on my own. [At] the Canadiennes, I became the head media relations person and I was like, ‘yeah, I can figure it out,’ but then you start doing it and you’re like, ‘wait, am I doing the right thing?’” she asked herself.

“I wanted to see someone in action to learn how to go about things, or maybe not do it in the exact same way, but just have an idea of how other people do it,” said Ahmad. 

Ask any journalist or related professional, and they’ll tell you the same thing: you need to be willing to sacrifice if you want to advance in this industry. Ahmad understood that message and proceeded with it. 

Since writing her first article at The Link, she has sacrificed through and through to conquer her goals, and it all stems from her bravery of accepting every opportunity that’s presented itself en route to finding her seat in the communications office at Place Bell. 

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