It’s closing time for The Fab Files

Let’s not bury the lead: this eclectic little blog has served its purpose, and it’s time to put it to rest.

 

I started The Fab Files as an undergraduate student in March 2009. At the time, I wanted an outlet— a place on the internet where I could be as long winded, and annoyingly earnest, and dash-crazy as I liked.

I continued to write  — regularly at times, but more and more sporadically — while making my way through graduate school, and then during my first few years in the work force. I joked that this site’s only unifying theme was “Fabiola and everything she’s interested in” — implying that the fab files all live under miscellaneous.

To my amazement, people got in touch. People stayed in touch. Over 2000 people subscribed! Although some posts went completely unnoticed, others soared straight out the park. A few trolls stopped by, but even that was kind of cool.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

These days, I must admit, I’m mainly focused on my work for Q with Jian Ghomeshi — an enlightening and entertaining CBC Radio show that has expanded  into international markets and far beyond the airwaves. I am the first associate producer to be solely responsible for the show’s website and larger web presence, and every day I’m privileged to write about fascinating individuals and ideas.  I work with an incredibly lovely and talented team, and for one of the best interviewers in the industry.

Although I’ve been keeping pretty busy, every now and again I remember my personal blog.

I log in to discover pending comments, unaddressed requests, and unexpected spikes in traffic. (This post, for instance, is still killin’ it!)  It’s something like remembering that the plant in the corner of the room needs watering, and feeling a mix of relief that it’s still alive and guilt over its worsening condition. Poor thing.

And, so, I’ve decided that it’s best to be honest about my diverted attention and my desire to draw a clearer line between the writing I did as a student and the projects I’m taking on in the professional world.

As I post this last file, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment on and share my posts over the years. I hope you will check out the strictly professional successor to this site when the time comes.

For now, I’d like to repeat how grateful I have been for your interest and engagement since 2009 (or whenever you googled your way here looking for Fabiola, Queen of Belgium).

The best way to nudge me these days is on Twitter @fiercefab. Stay in touch — or get in touch, as the case may be!

Warmest regards,
- Fabiola

Data privacy: Why should we care?

News that the U.S government has been quietly collecting data from telephone and internet services has upset many of our neighbours to the south.

But the story’s been raising privacy concerns up here, too.

Many Canadians want to know about this country’s surveillance techniques and what kind of information Ottawa might be collecting as we make calls, answer emails, or sign into websites.

This week on CBC Live Online, we explored privacy and data surveillance — and I made my on-camera debut to fill in for regular host Lauren O’Neil.

Our panel included:

  • Daphne Guerrero, the manager of public outreach and education for the Officer of the Privacy Commissioner.
  • Tamir Israel, staff lawyer with the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.
  • Alfred Hermida, an online news pioneer and associate professor at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE CHAT

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 12.10.12 AM

Generation Why: CBC News’ digital digest of must-read news for young Canadians

This week's cover

If you’re a Canadian under the age of 30, odds are you’re not reading a physical newspaper every morning or sitting down each night to watch the six o’clock news — but that doesn’t mean you’re not paying attention to the world around you.

Perhaps the ways you encounter information are a little less predictable, a little more serendipitous, than the ways your parents did when they were your age.

But a lot has changed since then.

Young people today have an unprecedented amount of access to information from around the world. It comes at us constantly from a multitude of sources. In this fast-paced and ever-changing digital landscape, it’s easy to miss stories that are interesting, informative or useful.

Let’s find the best stories, together

Your peers at CBC News (self included!) are news junkies by profession, which means that we’re in a good position to keep watch for what’s new and notable. Like staff at a bookstore, we know our collection well and can help you find the best of it.

But we also know that you bring fresh perspectives to our news coverage, and may have different ideas about what should be at the top of our agenda. We really want to know which stories interest, enrage, excite or engage you.

That’s why we’ve launched Generation Why, a weekly interactive magazine curated by young Canadians for young Canadians.

Each week, readers under the age of 30 and young staffers collaborate to highlight the best content that CBC news and current affairs programming has to offer. 

Here are some example spreads:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our goal is not to talk at you, but with you.

The CBC audience is filled with sharp minds and great taste. It would be a shame not to collaborate and learn about which issues and ideas matter most to you.

How to become a contributor

To contribute follow these three steps.

Step 1: Choose one news or current affairs item from the preceding week that you think would appeal to, affect, or engage students and young adults in Canada.

Your item can be a story, a standout radio or TV interview, a documentary, a photo gallery, an interactive map, etc. As long as it’s CBC content we can link to online, it’s an option! (If it’s not online but should be, you can flag it for us, too. We’ll see what we can do.)

Step 2: Write a couple paragraphs (150 words max) about why this news item caught your attention and why you think other young Canadians might be interested, too.

Please feel free to write in your own voice and be conversational – the way you are when recommending links to your friends on Facebook, for example.

Step 3: Send us your write up and a link to your item, as well as your name, location and a photo of you. You can email your entry to community@cbc.ca with the subject line “Generation Why” or upload your submission to our member pages.

Would you like to design a cover? 

We are also interested in hearing from talented young artists and photographers who would like to have their work featured on the cover of the magazine. Please email community@cbc.ca for more information.

The deadline for written submissions is Friday at 12:00 p.m. ET every week. 

The magazine goes live Friday night, and is featured on the CBCNews.ca landing page every Saturday.

The format isn’t set in stone, either. We’ll be taking your feedback and suggestions on how to make it a reliable digest of the best CBCNews.ca has to offer from a youth perspective. This Monday, in fact, we’re having our very first open editorial meeting!

We thank you in advance for helping us build this resource.

- Fabiola Carletti and Lauren O’Neil
Members of the CBC Community team and ever-curious twenty-somethings

Vintage interviews with youthful Gen X sound awfully familiar

Faces of Gen X

The faces of Gen X (CBC Archives)

While perusing the CBC archives recently, I came across some nifty items about my generation’s older siblings: the supposedly cynical members of Gen X.

Here’s how the archive keepers describe them:

Young people born from the early 1960s to late 1970s believed that the future was theirs. As baby boomers aged, employment and prosperity would be passed along.

Instead, “Generation Xers” complained that they were propelled into a changing, recession-driven workplace that offered little but “McJobs.”

They became the first post-war generation to be worse off than their parents, left with reduced expectations and downsized hope for the future.

Like today’s young adults, Gen Xers were variously described as overeducated, underemployed, and struggling to compete with the generation that came of age during the glory days of flower power.

Archival footage of anxious Gen Xers is oddly relatable, as young people growing up today face many of the same challenges and uncertainties.

Check out some of the great archival material we have on this like-us-but-not-quite generation.

Funky hairstyles aside, we seem to have a lot in common with those that grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, making mix tapes and driving their parents insane with a well-timed ‘whatever.’

NOTE: A version of this write up was published in Generation Why, a weekly multimedia magazine that I co-edit with Lauren O’Neil.

Gen Why: issue 1

Gen Why: issue 1

The project is a collaboration between Canadians under the age of 30 and young CBC staffers.

The point is to surface the best of CBC News and current affairs programming in a conversational way, and from a youth perspective.

Please check out the first two issues, released on March 1 and March 8, and send feedback and ideas our way.

We publish every Friday, and if you’re a young Canadian interested in contributing or illustrating the next cover, let us know!

Time to pay attention to what’s happening in El Salvador

Posing by La Puerta del Diablo in El Salvador. January 2012. (Photo by Beatrice Carletti)

Posing by La Puerta del Diablo in El Salvador. January 2012. (Photo by Beatrice Carletti)

One of my resolutions this year is to learn more about my birthplace and cultural homeland: El Salvador.

I can already tell you that 2013 was the right year to commit.

This is an election year, there’s a remarkable truce happening between rival gangs, it’s been 25 years since my uncle became a national hero … and, oh yeah, my little country is locked in an extremely high-stakes legal battle with a Canadian mining company that could bankrupt the government in one not-so-unlikely scenario.

On that last point: El Salvador wants to become the only country in the world to completely forbid mining. Needless to say, Pacific Rim is not prepared to let them do that.

Listen, and learn more: Pacific Rim Mining Corp vs. the government of El Salvador

Missing David Rakoff

David Rakoff reads before a crowd in 2008. (CC by Pop!Tech)

This past August, we lost David Rakoff — a gifted humorist and storyteller who has been affectionately described as a pointed pessimist and Gen X’s Oscar Wilde.

Like many other fans, I was introduced to David’s work through the hit podcast This American Life and have since put his many books on my to-read list.

His wry humour and keen observational skills, paired with his distinctive voice, helped make TAL the beloved podcast that it is.

(And — lest I go on too long without mentioning it — he’s Canadian.)

David’s first cancer was discovered when he was in his early 20s — and he was only 47 when he died of sarcoma. It’s a terrible thing, and a damned shame.

I’m thinking about him tonight because I recently re-listened to Our Friend David, a TAL episode entirely dedicated to his writing. I feel compelled to share a particularly beautiful excerpt from his autobiographical piece on realizing he liked men.

(I highly recommend listening to it in its original context, though.)

Have you ever had one of those moments when you know that you’re being visited by your own future?

They come so rarely and with so little fanfare, those moments. They’re not particularly photogenic.  There’s no breach in the clouds to reveal the shining city on a hill. No folk dancing children outside your bus. No production values to speak of.

Just a glimpse of such quotidian incontrovertible truth that — after the initial shock of the supreme weirdness of it all — a kind of calm sets in.

“So, this is to be my life.”

Thank you, David, wherever you are. We are worse for all the things we didn’t get to hear you say.

Listen to Our Friend David here.

Notes on Freedman’s Letters to a Young Journalist

Samuel G. Freedman is an American author, journalist and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Samuel G. Freedman’s sage if sentimental book Letters to a Young Journalist is a meditation on what it takes and what it means to be a journalist.

His intention is not to provide the “specific, situational guidance” of a gifted editor, but rather to discuss the habits of mind, the work ethic and the moral ethos necessary for journalistic excellence.

Those looking for a practical how-to guide should look elsewhere. As suggested by the title, the book reads like a series of letters from an old hand to an eager rookie. (Think Sophie’s World for cub reporters.)

Freedman states his intentions early on:

“I want you to believe, as I believe, that you have chosen a profession of consequence and value, a profession that requires no apology, a profession that can make you happy.”

A return to journalism as ‘honest broker’

Make no mistake, Freedman is deeply nostalgic and unwavering in his belief that tradition is a crucial teacher. He is, after all, a product of long-standing institutions like the New York Times and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

He defines journalism as “an honest broker of information” that has been “assiduously reported, verified for accuracy, and written without bias or partisanship” – a definition that emerged over the past century to dislocate its deeply partisan precursors.

“It was a radical step for journalists of the early 1900s to actually conceive of their work as a public service, untainted by personal belief, rather than an act of advocacy,” he writes.

Those who puzzle at journalism pre-Twitter may find Freedman’s anecdotes impossibly quaint, but to dismiss them is to refuse to look in the rearview mirror. (And, yes, objects are closer than they appear.)

He argues that we are witnessing a high-tech resurgence of a cynical, venal journalism that reverberates through “ideological echo chambers,” catering to those who would like to confirm what they already believe, and little else.

Sometimes he names names, blasting Fox News Channel as “a political movement masquerading as a news organization” and defends the fairness doctrine, however limited, as a superior standard to those that have replaced it.

“Journalism must do more than pander to prejudices,” he writes, adding that journalists cannot hope to reverse the trend toward disparagement and distrust of the media without renewing their commitment to excellence and public service.

Gone are the days that journalists, like Woodward and Bernstein, were widely regarded as heroes and news anchors, like Walter Cronkite, were trusted and respected. But the silver lining may be found in those that a battered profession now attracts.

“One thing you can say about the present unpopularity of journalism is that it drives out all the uncommitted,” Freedman points out, adding, “intellectual curiosity, vigorous research, acute analysis, and elegant prose will never go out of style.”

In defense of idealism

The unselfconscious sincerity of this book will not be palatable to everyone. Freedman admits he is not afraid to hold himself to a moral standard, or to sound naïve or sentimental.

He reassures fledgling reporters that their idealism and the clichéd desire to make the world a better place should not be so easily dismissed.

“[A]nyone who doesn’t enter journalism believing it is a moral enterprise might as well move straight on to speculating in foreign currency or manufacturing Agent Orange. There will be disappointments enough over the course of your career; your initial idealism must be a pilot light, flickering at times but never extinguished.”

Perhaps one of the most useful functions of the book is to point to common challenges and the reactions that quixotic young journalists, specifically, are likely to grapple with.

“Guilt is the sign of an active conscience. Undifferentiated compassion is a place to begin,” he says of navigating a world of issues that are knotty, gnarled and not so easily parsed.

“[The] most compelling journalism rarely takes the form of chronicling the battle between good and evil … The trickier and more valuable task is to illuminate the collision between good and good, or at least between competing versions and visions of what is good policy, a good community, a good citizen.”

Freedman encourages cub reporters to retain their humanity, to accept the burden of independent thought, to be wary of loyalty oaths and to realize that mistakes are rites of passage.

“To be witness, observer, and storyteller . . . is to reject the easy comforts of conventional wisdom and popular dogma. It is to welcome the dissonance of human events and to render that dissonance with coherence and style.”

He acknowledges that putting one’s readers, listeners and viewers first is not always easy, for instance when a community claims you as its own and/or expects you to further their interests.

“Many people will confuse an open ear with the promise of friendship, and some journalists, to their discredit, will encourage the misapprehension. The relationship between journalist and source, with both seeking some advantage from the other, is filled with ambiguity,” he says, blasting Janet Malcolm’s famous indictment of her fellow journalists.

(Although I quite enjoyed Malcolm’s book The Journalist and The Murderer, I agree that she was wrong – or at least not entirely right.)

Lessons learned the hard way

Freedman says he hinges his credibility on his failures more so than on his successes.

His cautionary tales and pointers get more specific as the book progresses. For instance: You should rarely use unnamed sources; don’t get addicted to approval; you will get “less stupid” over time; your first job won’t be the place you spend your life; read books as an apprentice, not a spectator; before you start an article, finish the sentence, “the heart of the matter is …”

He also stresses that preparing to be a journalist means preparing to be so much more, and questions the value of a standalone journalism education.

“I despair over every journalism class I took that could have been a class in political science or English literature or virtually anything else,” he admits. “All too few journalism programs, especially at the undergraduate level, strive to build your cultural and historical literacy and to imbue you with intellectual curiosity.”

This romantic regret was a theme throughout the book. Freedman – unlike the hard-nosed, strictly pragmatic editors of comic book newsrooms – encourages young journalists to do much more than read newspapers and pound pavement.

He argues that young people should also develop cultural literacy and an appreciation for the aesthetic experiences; seeking idols and inspiration in literature, film, jazz and “every great art.”

One subchapter that struck me, particularly because I see so many of my peers beating themselves up for struggling after graduation, was In Praise of Gradualism.

In it, Freedman argues that the important thing (especially in your twenties) is to develop your day-to-day skills – even if that means starting out in a smaller market.

“I can say that I have never seen a truly gifted young journalist go unrecognized. Maybe in the short run but never over time. There just isn’t that much excellence loose in the world that news executives can afford to ignore it.”

The P word we usually extol is passion, but Freedman says the key is patience. When you have the chance to work, whittle away your inexperience by honing your craft. And remember that the shine doesn’t last.

“Journalism is a business of proving yourself anew every single story, every single day.”

My overall thoughts about the book

The book isn’t perfectly packaged. For instance, its subtitle – The Art of Mentoring – is unsuitable, even misleading. And sometimes the chapter names and subsections seem arbitrary, as Freedman peppers similar points throughout the book and forces in some passages that probably could have been shortened or cut out entirely.

Buy this can all be forgiven if you think of this text as a correspondence – affectionately written –and of Freedman as a man of letters.

I quite enjoyed many of his literary references. I loved the introduction to his chapter on reporting, which compared two main characters in Manuel Puig’s novel Kiss of the Spider Woman to reporting and writing.

“Valentin is the part of every journalist that wants to be a social reformer, and Molina is the part that longs to be an artist.”

But as much as I liked the metaphor, I can see how others might lose patience with such meandering passages. What is lateral thinking to some may seem pointless detours to others.

And though I was generally absorbed, there were times I doubted our tastes were aligned. For instance, in his chapter On Writing he recommended a “brilliant” description of an explosion from The Temple Bombing (page 121 of Freedman’s text) that I found far too verbose and image-saturated.

Still, despite these criticisms I walk away with positive feelings about this book. I enjoyed it, and I found myself feeling affection for Mr. Freedman, who is so earnest it’s hard not to like him.

I’d especially recommend it to journalists with artistic ambitions, and to those who appreciate not only the lasting relevance but also the dissimilarity of their elder’s experience. (Those who would visit a seasoned writer for a cup of coffee, and not mind if that cup became several.)

Finding meaning in the worldview of another person, especially those of other backgrounds and generations, is one of the cardinal skills of journalism – and there are enough kernels of wisdom in this relatively short text to make it plenty worth your while.

_______________________________________________

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you’re a fellow bookworm, look for me on GoodReads.com (Username: FabReads)