Gay is not a synonym for stupid

Last night, a trending topic on twitter* really annoyed me.

The offending tag was #stopthatthatsgay, and people (who may or may not realize how public and permanent their tweets are) were making inane comments like:

Recently, the media has reported on a string of suicides by gay youth and youth perceived to be gay. Many of these kids were routinely mocked or beaten up at school, and these tragedies have prompted a very public conversation about ending homophobic bullying. When I saw the trending topic last night, I thought about the banality of torment.

This morning I woke up to see that my words were being re-tweeted by many other concerned twitter users:

I also received a link to a petition to stop the tag and a link to a more general awareness-raising site “Think Before You Speak” that is trying to discourage the derogatory use of phrases like “that’s so gay.”

I also saw counter-tags like #loveislouder, #itgetsbetter, and #carryonthatscute. I hope that anyone struggling with bullying sees the support, and not just the insensitivity.

And, if you really want to use the word “gay” as an adjective, at least use it correctly.


gay – bright and pleasant; promoting a feeling of cheer; “a cheery hello”; “a gay sunny room”; “a sunny smile”
cheerful – being full of or promoting cheer; having or showing good spirits; “her cheerful nature”; “a cheerful greeting”; “a cheerful room”; “as cheerful as anyone confined to a hospital bed could be”
gay – full of or showing high-spirited merriment; “when hearts were young and gay”; “a poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company”- Wordsworth; “the jolly crowd at the reunion”; “jolly old Saint Nick”; “a jovial old gentleman”; “have a merry Christmas”; “peals of merry laughter”; “a mirthful laugh”
joyous – full of or characterized by joy; “felt a joyous abandon”; “joyous laughter”
gay – given to social pleasures often including dissipation; “led a gay Bohemian life”; “a gay old rogue with an eye for the ladies”
indulgent – characterized by or given to yielding to the wishes of someone ; “indulgent grandparents”
gay – brightly colored and showy; “girls decked out in brave new dresses”; “brave banners flying”; “`braw’ is a Scottish word”; “a dress a bit too gay for her years”; “birds with gay plumage”
colourfulcolorful – striking in variety and interest; “a colorful period of history”; “a colorful character”; “colorful language”
gay – offering fun and gaiety; “a festive (or festal) occasion”; “gay and exciting night life”; “a merry evening”
joyous – full of or characterized by joy; “felt a joyous abandon”; “joyous laughter”
gay – homosexual or arousing homosexual desires
homosexual – sexually attracted to members of your own sex


Again, thanks to everyone who re-tweeted my response — you’ve made today much more bright and gay than yesterday! And, since I started with a little humour, I’ll end with a musical number created back when proposition 8 sought to restrict the definition of marriage in California to opposite-sex couples — a situation that got better.

(By the way, I should say that many religious groups opposed proposition 8. For instance, the California Council of Churches stated that Proposition 8 would infringe on the freedom of religion for churches who wish to bless same-sex unions.)


*In case you don’t use twitter: trending topics (or TT) come up on the sidebar to list what people are tweeting about. Often times, these topics are preceded by a “#” (or hash tag) to make it easier to mark the phrase off as a topic of conversation.)

So, you want to work at the Toronto Star radio room?

Today I combed my hair and sat on a panel of savvy second year students at the UBC School of Journalism. Our area of expertise: summer internships.

I’m not going to lie — it was pretty wonderful to see the look of muted terror on the first year students’ faces.

I’m not a sadist, folks. Let me explain: I remember sitting in their spot last year and wondering if I should just ditch J-school and run away with the circus. And, from unscientific polling, I know that most people in my class have felt the same way at some point.

This is how I felt about internships last year. Comic credit: Natalie Dee

(It’s also worth mentioning that Kathryn Gretsinger, our awesome prof and internship coordinator, noticed that a disproportionate amount of insecurity was coming from the ladies. “Why are all these brilliant women coming into my office with all of these doubts?!” she exclaimed. So, to my female colleagues: you got this!)

Not only were all the worrywarts in my year bright and capable, they can now tell stories about the interesting and variegated positions they secured in Canada and abroad. This year’s highly capable crew will do the same.

Ok, now to the goods.

After a summer at the Toronto Star, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about what the folks at 1 Yonge St. look for in a radio room intern. So, without further ado, I’m going to lay out some general advice for those interested in the particular position I obtained.

My only qualifier: this is my opinion based on my personal experience. Please take it for what it’s worth.

Landing a job at the Toronto Star Radio Room

My first day at the Star. Photo stealthily snapped by Roger Gillespie (iPhone enthusiast).

  1. Read the Toronto Star in general, and the GTA section in particular. You should be aware of all the developing stories going on in the city, and be able to intelligently comment on the most prominent issues of the day. Don’t be afraid of the print edition. I’m sure they’ll find it heartening to hear about you literally flipping through their paper.
  2. Understand the particulars of the job. I’ve written about it tons — just search “radio room” on this blog — and so has the guy that gives you the job, Roger Gillespie. His description of the position and the latest round of hires here.
  3. Keep your finger on the pulse of the radio room. Follow their tweets on twitter (@starradiobox) and read the intern blog. Be able to pick out radio roomers that shine, and (if true) explain how your style resembles theirs. Also tell them about something new you can offer. Maybe a story was blowing up in the blogosphere far before the Star caught on and you would have been an early warning system.
  4. Read up on and respect the Atkinson principles. The Star’s commitment to social justice, and the money they put into investigative work, is rooted in a set of principles named after the Star’s first publisher, Joseph Atkinson. In short: “a progressive newspaper should contribute to the advancement of society through pursuit of social, economic and political reforms.” He was particularly concerned about injustice, be it social, economic, political, legal or racial.
  5. Acknowledge the uniqueness of the internship. The fact that the Star actually pays and nurtures its interns is not something to take for granted. Radio roomers participate in a series of workshops, start with shadow shifts under the watch of veteran interns and editors, receive information packages — like the famous box bible — and are encouraged to be as prepared as possible for a completely unpredictable job. Interns are also referred to as “Staff Reporters” in their bylines, but with great honour comes great responsibility. No hiding behind qualifiers like “student” this time.
  6. Highlight moments in which the Star did great work and also offer constructive criticism. This shows that you didn’t start reading the paper the day before your interview. Reference good coverage that dates back a few months (ex: the G20 live blog) or any of the Star’s more recent awards. You should also politely point out a few areas in which you think the Star could improve.
  7. Know and mention good bylines you follow. I mentioned Rob Cribb’s investigative pieces, Chris Hume’s incisive opinion pieces, and Cathal Kelly’s humour writing, but I also mentioned the work of other young interns doing great work (Jesse McLean, Madeleine White and Jennifer Yang, for instance). Yes, this means reading and reading and reading. You should know how the Star did on a few major stories and perhaps compare it to how the other major papers covered the same issues.
  8. Be genuine. You know the Star often looks at uncomfortable topics (Do the police profile people of colour? Are seniors being well treated in nursing homes? How do young women express their feminism today?) So, figure out what you think of the Star’s slant and be self-reflexive about your role in all this. Why do you really want to write for this paper? If you believe in what it does, that’ll come through. If you don’t, that will too.
  9. Dress to impress. Some people showed up on the first day of the job in t-shirts and jeans, while others wore suit jackets and collared shirts. In the words of my Prof. Joe Cutbirth, how you dress may be the difference between seeming like some kid who’s just doing a gig and an ambitious young professional. Look the part you want to play, not just for the interview but for every day you arrive at work.
  10. Once in, make it count! Getting the job is just the beginning. You should really begin with the end in mind, imagining what it will take to have editors notice you and keep their eye on you even after your internship is over. Good luck, young ninjas. The fact that you read through this whole post and are actively seeking advice is a very good sign. When anxiety strikes, remember the motto from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic! 

Doing journalism the June Callwood way

Naming of June Callwood Way. June pulls the cord to unveil the sign. CREDIT: Ron Bull Toronto Star

Janet Malcolm was wrong.

In a famously cynical quotation, she decries journalists as people who prey on the vanity, loneliness or ignorance of others, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Every journalist knows this, she asserted, provided they aren’t too stupid or full of themselves to notice what is going on.

And although Malcolm is herself a reporter, she calls the profession ” morally indefensible” in her 1990 book The Journalist and the Murder.

Enter June Callwood: a decidedly empathetic and socially active journalist who lived her philosophy of kindness until her last days.

This was a woman who actually did all the things that sometimes sound contrived and trite in ethics classes: writing to change the world, speaking up for the vulnerable, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

She was interesting and humble, refusing performance makeup in her CBC television days, learning how to fly a plane as a side project, founding charitable and change-oriented organizations, bringing compassion to her work.

She was a professional human being.

I’m not saying Malcolm isn’t talented and insightful. I devoured her book with great interest last summer and often felt convinced by her severe depiction of journalism.

Neither am I saying Callwood is the only exception.

The point, I think, is that there comes a time when a young journalist must ask herself what she really wants to achieve in this often amorphous profession and what kind of an agent she imagines herself to be.

Personally, I think it’s far more rewarding to follow the June Callwood way.

Instead of the negative navel-gazing, why not focus on how to practice solutions-focused journalism? Malcolm’s book is about the damage a writer can do … but what about the difference a writer can make?

I leave you with a more positive quotation that Callwood spoke while receiving the Writers’ Trust Award for Distinguished Contribution in the last year of her life:

If any of you happens to see an injustice, you are no longer a spectator. You are a participant. And you have an obligation to do something.

June in her own words
The last interview of her life

People like me: reporting on “at risk” youth

The Humber River, where the boy was found. Photo by Gary J. Wood

My throat felt dry when I first heard about the teenage boy who had been found dead in the Humber River.

The proximity was startling. My family lives only minutes from the river. And, as I soon discovered, the boy had gone to the same high school that my sister now attends. He later transfered to my cousin’s school.

Reporting on the story was difficult. It literally hit home.

I was about 14-years-old when I moved to Rexdale. Although I was scared of the neighbourhood at first, I have come to appreciate it — despite its stigma as a troubled community rife with crime and despite some of my own encounters with its grittier side.

The terrible things that have happened in the area do not define it as a community.

Now, this 17-year-old boy has been shot and pushed into waters I know well.

My inner skeptic reminds me of how much I hated the way these stories were covered in the media before I, too, was part of the media. He’s young and he’s black and he’s from Rexdale. Let’s just say I was doubtful that he’d get the attention Jane Creba did.

This, too, is a tragedy.

No one should be attending a funeral for such a young kid. No boys should be on trial for killing their peer. As one of the boy’s classmates said, “No one knows what happened. People shouldn’t assume.”

It’s true. We don’t know what happened. The Sun has reported that the suspects were best friends with the victim, and an unnamed witness said they were all playing ball the last time he saw them. Everything seemed fine.

At the end of the day, it’s just heart-breaking.

In a post called ‘Rexdale, the beautiful‘ I wrote: …every time a story of hope is dropped in favour of yet another fear-inducing slogan; every time a young person is looked upon with tenuous suspicion; every time moral crusaders cheer when society gives up on a young offender. . . Rexdale endures another shot to its ever pulsating heart.”

I had to negotiate all these thoughts when assigned the task of covering homicide number 33 for the paper. One of my editors searched my eyes and said, “Are you emotionally attached to this story?” I think it’s more accurate to say I am invested in this all-too familiar narrative. When I wrote about it for the Toronto Star, I tried to avoid the frame of fear and blame. This is how I ended my article:

Although the investigation is ongoing, his friends hope the public won’t pigeonhole the teen.

“Don’t stereotype him as just another kid from Rexdale that got gunned down,” said Broglio.

Diana Alves, Dowden’s classmate from Michael Power, agreed.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, just like you can’t judge a child by where he comes from,” she said

I asked these kids to reach out and trust some unknown reporter to tell me about their friend. They said he had an infectious laugh, and that he was someone you could really talk to. He leaves behind families in two homes, including a number of siblings.

He would have been entering his last year of high school had he not died this summer.

(As you may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned the slain teen’s name in this post. This is because he may be the victim of other teens, who cannot be identified under the Young Offenders Act, and I’m uncertain about this point of law. One of my editors told me we can continue to name the victim but some television news organizations have stopped. Just a reminder, though: the three teens who have been charged with first degree murder have not been convicted. And as the Toronto Sun is reporting, they have their own stories.)

I leave you with a beautiful song by one of Rexdale’s own, and the song for which I named this post.

Heaven, is there a chance that you could come down
And open doors to hurting people like me?
People like me, people like me
People like me, people like me

Remember that time I was on CBC radio?

Every news junkie needs an oversized coffee mug

Not that I like how I sound on the radio or anything (real talk: I don’t) but I do need to highlight my first interview on the Ceeb anyway…especially because  I have an overt appreciation for our national broadcaster and because CBC journalist Valérie Morand found me right here in the blogosphere.

Inspired by a recent Washington Post article, I’d previously weighed in and reached out on Ottawa’s evolution here at the Fab Files as well as in the Toronto Star’s intern blog.

Earlier this month, Morand interviewed me about the feedback I’d gathered and allowed me to drop in my own two cents. If you’re interested in the end result, here’s The Link (pun unapologetically intended, as this is the name of the show in which this interview was broadcast.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

“On The Link today..
…A recent article in the Washington Post raving about Canada’s capital, Ottawa, being the unselfconscious cool capital with an easy cosmopolitan nature, has stirred quite a bit of reaction in Canada. The Link’s Valérie Morand brings us the reactions from people living in Ottawa.”

A big THANK YOU to everyone who originally weighed in on both blogs, Facebook and Twitter!

After the G20 smoke clears . . .

Image by Flickr user Commodore Gandalf Cunningham

In the aftermath of the G20 summit in Toronto, the outrage blazes on for longer than any police cruiser could.

Ideology is highly flammable, you see.

Shakespeare famously wrote that all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. Indeed, this weekend, the international audience was introduced to a familiar cast of characters: heartless or noble police officers, peaceful or savage protesters, watchdog or propaganda-spewing journalists, innocent or nosy bystanders.

Why are we so attached to these false dichotomies?

The conversation will not advance as long as divide the world between “punks” and “pigs.”

Examples: Even if you think the community of dissent shouldn’t disown certain activists, it is never okay to hurl a brick at someone because they represent something you disagree with. Even if you think the police were just doing their job and controlling “bad guys,” it is never okay  for officers to threaten female detainees with rape.

If we want to be critical people who navigate within a complex world, we have to acknowledge that people on our “side” can be wrong too.Regardless of where our sympathies lie, we must speak truth to power and to our peers.

Let’s lift the blankets–it’s not just about police maintaining security OR protestors maintaining solidarity. Neither side has a monopoly on virtue or vice.

I’m contrasting sides for effect, but I emphatically believe that we must not forget the spectrum.

It saddens me that more people know exactly how many police cruisers were burned on the street than the number of decisions that were made behind the fences. The political reverberations that come out of this conference are much more difficult and long term than the theatrics that took place in “Fortress Toronto.”

But they’re not either/or important. The streets became a caricature of the power dynamics that were also playing out amongst those inside THE room. It may be easier to have an opinion on the black block than fiscal consolidation, but that doesn’t make it more important.

I think  we need to start by admitting that our world is rapidly changing and in many ways deteriorating. We are facing increasingly complex social, environmental and economic crises, and the decisions made by our world leaders will affect the children of protestors and police alike.

If the Toronto summit was a failure, which I would argue it was,* it has less to do with what was destroyed and more to do with what was not built.

*But that’s a whole other blog post.

The women of the Toronto Star radio room

We’ve introduced ourselves on the Toronto Star intern blog.

According to Roger Gillespie–senior editor, training and development–the post has been attracting lots of traffic from both twitter and facebook.

In a profession that used to be an old boy’s club, this set of fresh faces does indicate that something big is (and has been) changing in journalism. At the face of things, I’m very proud . . . but I do want to make something clear.

All of these amazing female journalists are much more than pretty young faces. We’re coming up through the system, and we’re getting ready to claim more corner offices.

As the following video illustrates, this progress isn’t something to be taken for granted. The narrator mentions news women about 5:00 minutes in, but quickly notes that they basically stick to the women’s pages, writing about household tips and social events: “Women find it difficult to compete with men in general reporting jobs.”

(Although I have no interest in the attractive arrangement of a table, I’d make a stronger case for reporters who work the phones.) Continue reading

No comment: the hidden face of feedback

Photo by Flickr user AJU_photography

There are many names for people who read blog posts but don’t comment on them: internet introverts, digital wallflowers, the silent majority…

The CBC’s Jim Lebans lists all of these nicknames in his short essay “In defense of lurking.” In it, he explains why he doesn’t chime in at the end of articles, despite having reasoned opinions.

Of the few comments following his piece, this was the most telling:

But I’d venture to guess that, unlike Jim, most don’t decide not to comment–they probably just don’t think to. Others just don’t want to: they may have something to say but, all things considered, it’s way easier to scroll down and roll out.

(The opposite of a “lurker”, by the by,  is the infamous troll, who I mention for the sole purpose of plugging this College Humour video.)

The rarest kind of reader, in my experience, is the one who writes something thoughtful, attaches their real name to their statement, fills in their actual email address and maybe even checks back to see if the conversation has moved forward.

But what about the online conversations that happen because of, but outside of, the original blog post?

In my case, most of my feedback comes to me through Facebook. Sometimes the links I post spark long and complex debates. Often, the people participating don’t even know one another and yet manage to engage in very critical yet respectful conversation.

Meanwhile, the original blog post is surrounded by singing crickets.

By way of example, I recently posed a question on this blog as well as the a Toronto Star blogShould reporters be allowed to protect whistleblowers?

If you check out both posts, you’d think only two people had thoughts on the matter. Well, today I am bolstering the numbers by ousting a few of my Facebook friends.

Their responses ranged from the curious to the impassioned, but they all took the time to think through the issue through and engage with others. I think it’s a shame that the resulting discussion should remain locked behind the gates of my Facebook privacy settings. (At least, in theory.)

What follows is a comment thread you were never intended to see. Hopefully, its content will inspire some more of you “eyeballs out there” to activate your fingers and get in on the conversation. Continue reading

UBC student group fails to disrupt Olympic torch relay

A different vantage point. By Flickr user jritch77.

[My vantage point: In front of UBC Bookstore. Note: I was out by 6:00 pm.]

At time of writing, there’s only one word to describe the UBC leg of the torch relay: lame.*

I arrived about 30 minutes before the torch and shuffled in under a ceiling of umbrellas, between more-or-less quiet spectators. Rain glistened on the roads and a handful of people held candles in cups. Across the street, I made out the outline of small children. They looked up at their parents as if asking, “why are we here on this dark, rainy, muddy night?”

Heads were turned westward, searching for the light of the flame.

I, however, was scanning the crowds for UBC Olympics Alert, a UBC-based group who had publicly committed to disrupting the torch today. The Georgia Strait quoted Sarah Stevenson, a student and member of the UBC Student Legal Fund Society, as saying:

…the group will then attempt to intercept the relay, “even if momentarily”.

Continue reading