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October 24, 2002 Student parlays assignment into Gazette column



Michael Citrome

Photo by Ali Shaker

by Brad Hunter

Third-year journalism student Michael Citrome has parlayed a class assignment into a weekly financial strategy column in the Montreal Gazette.

The column grew from a course Citrome took last fall taught by Gazette editor in chief Peter Stockland. As part of the course, Citrome wrote a piece on mortgages and how, for young people, buying a house can be a viable alternative to renting.

“He [Stockland] gave me a very good mark on this assignment and had very positive comments,” recalled Citrome. “So I asked him, ‘Can we turn this into something for The Gazette?’”

What Citrome had in mind was writing a financial column aimed at younger people, an idea he believed The Gazette would be attracted to because of the paper’s well-publicized efforts to lure younger readers.

He also felt the paper would be interested in his column because it targeted an audience many financial writers overlook.

“For example, when discussing RRSPs, columnists aren’t really talking to people in their twenties,” he said. “They’re talking to people in their forties who are looking for the best value in the RRSP market. They’re not spurring people on to start an RRSP for the first time.”

Stockland liked Citrome’s idea and gave the column the go-ahead. It began running in business section in late February.

To date, four of Citrome’s columns have been published in the paper, offering advice on RRSPs, saving money on credit cards and Internet service, and home office tax deductions.

His articles have also been picked up by CanWest News Service and have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver Province.

One reason Citrome thinks younger readers might not find personal finance exciting is that many other writers don’t speak to their needs.

For example, he pointed out that explaining retirement options at age 55 is probably of little interest to someone who’s 23 or 24.

“However, if you talk about how you can get air miles when you pay your tuition, that’s interesting to them,” he said.

Citrome added that his target audience — those in their twenties and early thirties — is usually in a much different financial situation from people in their forties or fifties.

“They don’t have kids, they’re starting out in their careers, and they generally have lower incomes than people in their forties,” he said. “They have different goals.

“They also have different expenses,” he continued. “Because they don’t have kids, they’re not putting kids through school. They’re living in apartments rather than buying houses. It’s a very different financial sphere. So this is a column that addresses these financial concerns, which are very under-represented I find.”

Enn Raudsepp, director of Concordia’s journalism department, said how Citrome’s column developed from Stockland’s course is an illustration of the “very fruitful” relationship with The Gazette over the years.

Raudsepp estimated that during his time at Concordia over two dozen Gazette employees have taught journalism courses at the school.

“We’ve been very successful in bringing in people from the Gazette who have excellent teaching skills,” said Raudsepp. “We offer a career-oriented program, so it’s essential to have instructors like Peter Stockland who are working in the field come here to teach,” he added. “These people are in a position to act as mentors and contacts, and can also recommend hiring talented students.”

Michael Citrome’s New Money column appears on Mondays in The Gazette.