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

I don’t, and I will never, know enough

How can one little worm get through all the books? (Photo credit: lawrence_baulch on Flickr)

I’ve stared at this phrase for the last 10 minutes:

“Substantial and demonstrable knowledge of regional, national and international issues.”

I’m applying for a more permanent job at the CBC, and this requirement initially sent me into a bit of an epistemic tailspin.

I automatically read it this way:

Substantial (in terms of importance? breadth? expertise? And by what metric? As compared to the average person or the seasoned journalist? ) and demonstrable (does this mean showing an awareness of topics selected at random? Being able to speak to any number of complex issues intelligently? Writing a multiple choice test?) knowledge (regurgitation of what I’ve read? analysis and criticism? facts and figures? All of it?) of regional, national and international issues (local blogs, front page news, foreign media — all of the above? All of the above on every story? What about cultural frameworks, privileged narratives, power relations?

Grad school: I think you did this to me.

While completing my master’s degree, I started many sentences with: “what do you mean by … ?” and “what’s your definition of …?”

The weird thing is that I was always a somewhat reluctant academic. While sitting in the so-called ivory tower, I wondered if most people could appreciate the things that go on at that altitude. Too often it felt like the scholars were less interested in exchanging meaning and more interested in making audiences nod and say “aaah, brilliant.”

I was also very aware that the opposite of dumbing it down was the equally ridiculous act of puffing it up.

By Bill Watterson

But there’s no denying this: my worldview has been forever changed by all those lectures, books and mind-boggling debates. I developed more intellectual stamina, in spite of the pain of attention. I also learned to appreciate the value of being a self-critical and well-read reporter.

Mid-career journalists like Tim Porter warn that it’s too easy to fall into the daily grind, allowing journalism to simply be whatever journalists do. As he wrote in a 2003 post:

“I practiced journalism, but I knew almost nothing about it …while working in a role dedicated to informing the public, I had precious little information about my own profession, about its best practitioners (or greatest charlatans), about its history and role in the development and preservation of democracy, about its standards or even about the people I intended to inform – the community around me.”

Statements like these make me want to hold on to my Michael Schudson and Stephen Ward books — but at the same time I know that I can’t just name-drop media scholars if I want to do well on a day-to-day basis.

As a fresh graduate, I now face the world beyond academia and must imagine an audience that doesn’t consist of university students and professors. As I list hard skills on my resume — hint: deconstructing normative paradigms didn’t make the cut — I once again find myself searching for balance.

Where is the solid ground between contempt for the “ignorant masses” and contempt for the “snobby elites”? Between shallow generalization and pinpoint specialization? Between the strictly practical and the hopelessly philosophical?

It’s important to me that I do this thing both skillfully and thoughtfully. I’ve loaded this blog with questions: Is it crazy to choose journalism in the first place? How can I bring kindness and nuance to my work? How sensitive can a journalist be? How can we have conversations about ethics that don’t seem stuffy?

I still have too few answers, but maybe that’s okay.

Part of what drives me is my dissatisfaction with what I know and my genuine desire to always do better. For this reason, I’ve concluded that “substantial and demonstrable knowledge” must be a process, and never a pinnacle.

The best I can do is keep learning, and keep humble.

TWITTER FEEDBACK

Clay Shirky, Tom Hanks, and doppleganger fun

If you’ve ever made a joke about how much Clay Shirky looks like Tom Hanks, you’re not alone. It seems even he knows this much is true.

When I’m arranging to meet somewhere I can say: “I look like Tom Hanks with big ears and no hair.” -Clay Shirky, 2009.

Still, the uncanny resemblance between the actor and the journalism professor isn’t that easy to google. When I looked for a side-by-side in image search, I came up short.

So, bowing to the pressure of “pics or it didn’t happen” logic, I thought the Fab Files could do this simple service for the Internet. Voila:

“Tay Hanky” may not be as popular as Helen Hunt/Jodie Foster, or Katy Perry/Zooey Deschanel but if celebrities ever seek out their geeky academic dopplegangers, I can say my blog was part of the movement.

Also, while we’re on the topic of look-alikes, here is Clay as canine:

Clay Shirky's doggleganger

That’s right — the Internet can do anything … even match you up with a dog from New Zealand. The doggleganger app was developed by the Pedigree Adoption Drive and NEC, and its purpose is to creatively connect dogs that need homes to humans that have them.

So, how ’bout it Clay? Could you swing by Auckland for a new best friend?
Just make sure you get there before Tom Hanks does.

While you ponder that, I leave you with a topical clip:

An intern’s-eye-view of CBC headquarters

2011 Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients. From left to right: Adam Avrashi, Najat Abdalhadi, Giselle Dookhie, Sol Israel, Alana Bergstrom, Lily Boisson, Fabiola Carletti, Sachin Seth

Okay, we’re not technically interns. We’re Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients on contract for the summer – but who has time to say all that?

Either way: I’m freshly-graduated, and I have a lot riding on this summer stint. Who knows – maybe I’ll find my own nook in this cross-country, bilingual, multimedia institution.

For now, I’m routinely getting lost in the CBC’s Toronto headquarters – a 10 story, 160,000 square metre behemoth.

If you’re curious about what it’s actually like in Willy Wonka’s media factory, I’ll start you off with a fun list of observations in no particular order.

(Disclaimer: I’m not saying these are the most important things about the inner-workings of the Ceeb, but they are things that rookies write home about)

1) You have to become an expert at the elevator colour scheme

Staff orient themselves by referring to elevator colours. (Ex: “Visual Resources is now on the 8th floor, blue elevators.”) Seems simple enough, right?

Well, sometimes they’re talking about the colour of the elevator doors and sometimes the walls by the elevator. Some elevators don’t go to certain floors, and they’re not all primary colours. God help you if you confuse the red and burgundy elevators. There’s also a gigantic lift affectionately known as “the big green monster.” The largest elevators can hold entire movie sets and enormous animals. (I’m going somewhere with that last one …)

2) When reporters share a building with entertainment media, things can get a little wild. 

Our internship coordinator told us some pretty unbelievable stories while showing us around. He pointed out the heavy-duty red elevators and explained that they’ve lifted, among other things, a lion on its way up to the 10th floor television studios. (Or was it a tiger?)

Anyway, the doors opened prematurely on the 4th floor (which is where the news team works) and the lion/tiger escaped from its handler. Story goes that the beast jumped on top of an unlucky journalist’s desk and proceeded to urinate all over everything.

How’s that for a piss off?

3) You may bump into a mail delivery robot 

Okay, the robot doesn’t have a face or an endearing personality, but it does make its own way through the labyrinthine corridors of the building – which is more than I can do. The droid makes a soft beeping sound and apparently knows where to go because of an invisible path sprayed on the carpets. I heard it stops if you get in its way, but I won’t risk my neck testing that theory.

Here’s video evidence from someone as easily excited:

4) The jokers have made  their mark  

Pay attention and you’ll see evidence of the staff’s sense of humour. Sure, there are the goofy blog posts, funny signs (“No Coffee, No Workee”) and random stickers (the Smoke’s Poutinerie face is everywhere!) … but there are also some craftier jesters among the masses.

On the fourth floor blue elevators, you may notice a shot of Peter Mansbridge looking out into the crowd (See picture below, left side).

Upon closer inspection, you’ll see my favourite guy ever.

Left: wideshot of the Mansbridge elevator. Right: not just another face in the crowd

Whoever inserted this into the crowd took the time to figure out the proportions and go black and white to blend in. I don’t even know how I spotted him!

Some other interns and I were guessing who this guy might be. Perhaps he’s a former employee who vowed to keep an eye on the news team? A CTV reporter who snuck into the building? Peter’s estranged son?

(If you recognize this man, seriously, help me out here.)

We also joked about adding Mansbridge himself into the audience. How meta would that be?

5) Radio people seldom look like they sound, and television personalities are often shorter than they seem. 

These are generalizations I can get behind. Take for instance “the voice” that introduces The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti. He’s an extremely tall Gothic guy with long hair. (He sounded like a stubby older man in suspenders to me!)

“The talent” (on-air radio and television personalities) are everywhere, and they’re easier to spot thanks to flashy in-house marketing. You know you’ve made it at the CBC when they’ve blown you up and put you on the walls, pillars, and — of course — the elevators.

It’s always slightly bewildering to see larger-than-life figures in, well, real life.

So far David Suzuki has walked by me in a huff; I almost collided with Jian Ghomeshi as he powered past me on his cell phone; and I’ve directly experienced Strombo’s “your boyfriend George” smile. I’ve also been in the bathroom with Spark’s Nora Young and in the coffee lineup behind Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway.

It may be lame, but I always get a little giddy about these encounters.

One intern described seeing Peter Mansbridge’s image on an elevator, which then split to reveal the real Peter Mansbridge.

Just another day at the CBC, I suppose!

TWITTER FEEDBACK

Best of #LessInterestingBooks: a twitter trend to bookmark!

The abruptly-ending story #lessinterestingbooks

Sometimes awful things trend on twitter, and I swear that I will quit the Internet – but then something awesome happens and I’m hooked once again.

The best trending topic of late is #lessinterestingbooks (which has apparently trended before and still has some life in it now).

Out of respect for my followers, I decided to stop re-tweeting every single entry that made me chuckle and instead compiled them here for those that missed the meme.

(I’ve also googled many that I thought I came up with … only to find that they were already out there. Some exceptions: “A Mid-Summer Night’s Nap”, “Alice’s Adventures in Portland,” “The Little Engine that Gave Up” and “Tuck Temporarily”)

If you think of any others, please feel free to share them in the comments section here, or tweet them to me @fiercefab. Enjoy!

http://twitter.com/#!/markumbers/status/73925287263469568

http://twitter.com/#!/Jennifergoodhue/status/73882107537145856

http://twitter.com/#!/YMsaid/status/73861907848769536

http://twitter.com/#!/markumbers/status/73920470155673600

http://twitter.com/#!/DamonLindelof/status/73846027479810048

http://twitter.com/#!/GeneZahniser/status/73841189761200128

Let’s connect on twitter 🙂

The joy of fiction

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Today I allowed myself to recover from a cold and shirk my responsibilities, if only for a short while. An event lured me in with the following description:

“Join second-year MFA in Creative Writing students Emily Davidson, Natalie Thompson, and Sigal Samuel, and first-year MFA Michelle Turner, in an evening of selected readings. Green College’s resident writers will present a variety of original poetry and prose, and will discuss what goes into constructing a creative work inside the confines of an academic institution. This is your chance to see what writers get up to, and hear pieces from the outgoing Greenies’ thesis manuscripts. Be there, or be a dangling modifier.”

Four talented women, who I am lucky to call friends, shared their works with an engrossed audience. This sniffling journalist sat among the onlookers, pining for the multisyllabic words and creative license that writers of fiction enjoy.

At the risk of romanticizing a difficult craft, I must say I was amazed by how effortless it seemed. These writers carved beauty out of the blocks of everyday experience. It was rejuvenating and not the least bit pretentious.

The event was to last an hour — a block of time that I deemed reasonably brief — but of course it ran longer, and is still running inside me, even now, as I sit in my pajama pants at home.

My sinuses have cleared and I feel like my cold has finally subsided.
I do believe the aesthetic experience expedited my recovery.

These words, however clumsy, are a mild-mannered ode to writers with more colour on their palettes and more time before their deadlines.

Thank you Michelle, Natalie, Sigal, and Emily.

Who are the most promising new journalists?

Former "snowballs" - anonymously submitted student questions, thrown to the front of the lecture hall. As you can see, some students kept it very general.

I have to confess right away: this post will not thoroughly answer the headline’s question —  yet.

Actually, I was hoping to borrow your collective brainpower.  Quick background: I’m the TA for the UBC School of Journalism’s undergraduate New Media course, and many of the students are interested in getting into journalism.

Today we had the students throw “snowballs” (anonymous crumpled up questions) to the front of the lecture hall. It turns out many of them are interested in how new journalists are making their way into the field.

More specifically, they want suggestions on who to watch – emerging journalists that they can see as mentors. (You know, “most likely to succeed” high school yearbook style.)

I have a few names in mind, but I’m really hoping to get peer input on this one. I’d love a good cross-section from various backgrounds and J-schools (although, more than formally studying journalism,  it’s important that they excel at practicing it). I’m also hoping to include many approaches to the craft, and I’m open to suggestions outside of Canada.

If you have anyone in mind, I’d love if you could fire off any/all of the following, where applicable:

  • Name
  • J-school
  • Current/Past employers
  • Publications in which their work has appeared
  • Platforms they work in
  • Blog/twitter feed/website
  • Link to a good sample of their work <–very important!

The only requirements are that they are new to the industry – which may or may not mean they’re twenty-somethings – and that you really think they show great potential. I’ll be sure to post the list I come up with, with priority to those that send me cross-platform samples I can show the students.

Please comment below or email me at ef (dot) carletti (at) gmail (dot) com

Thank you immensely everyone! And congrats to those already recommended by their peers!

-Fab

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JOURNALISTS SUGGESTED SO FAR

So far I’ve including all the names suggested to me by people who have read the criteria above. I’ll include more details about the journalists I highlight in my follow-up blog post, but for now, you can:

Find them on twitter!
@jesse_mclean @buhfy @jtwittah @amp6 @AdrianMorrow @ChrisJai @DakGlobe @metrolens @StuartAtGazette @jayme_poisson @writefullydevon@LaurenAtGazette @tamara_baluja @liemvu @ziannlum @NicoleatTheSpec @robyndoolittle @klaszus@l_stone @cfedio @dylan_robertson@JodieMartinson @ardenzwelling @sarah_millar @ddale8@nonstopnicktv @erinmillar @jesslinzey@Eric_Szeto @jesseferreras @EBDuggan@allisoncross @katecallen @sunnyfreeman @thesunnydhillon

THE NEW FACES OF JOURNALISM

Jesse McLean

Jennifer Yang

Justin Tang

Anna Mehler Paperny

Adrian Morrow

Dakshana Bascaramurty

Beth Hong

Stuart A. Thompson

Chloé Fedio

Jayme Poisson

Amanda Ash

Devon Wong

Lauren Pelley

Tamara Baluja

Dylan C. Robertson

Liem Vu

Robyn Doolittle

Nicole O'Reilly

Jeremy Klaszus

Laura Stone

Jodie Martinson

Jessica Linzey

Zi-Ann Lum

Sarah Millar

Arden Zwelling

Liam Casey

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Erin Millar

Kate Allen

Allison Cross

Jesse Ferreras

Eric Szeto

Rebecca Lindell

Evan Duggan

Daniel Dale

Chris Jai Centeno

Sunny Freeman

Teri Pecoskie

Iain Marlow