Dear future teens: I really wish we could have kept Katimavik for you

My rural, urban, liberal, conservative, radical, loud, quiet, atheist, Christian, anglophone, francophone, gay, straight, Canadian-born, immigrant, anarchist, rule-abiding, jock, feminist, AWESOME Katimavik group.

Today one of Canada’s oldest and largest youth volunteer programs, Katimavik, was officially axed by the Federal government.

This program changed my life, but I absolutely dread the day I have to tell my kids about it.

First of all, I don’t think they’ll believe me. They’ll say it sounds too good to be true, and I will agree.

I mean  . . . how did I, as a penniless, directionless 18-year-old, simply get up one day and travel across this vast and beautiful country to: do good work, meet interesting people, learn important life-affirming lessons, find my passion and confidence, build vital friendships, and take control of my own coming-of-age story?

How could I have possibly learned to cook, build, budget, shovel, drill, bake, ride a horse, fundraise, feed pigs, snowshoe, keep house, speak French, plant seeds, love difference, travel smart and persevere (among many, many other things) all in the span of nine months? Nine grueling yet magical months.

I guess I’ll have to explain that there was a time when Katimavik was deemed important enough to fund through Federal monies — and, luckily,  it was a priority for some very important people. (Senator Jacques Hebert,  for instance, did a 21-day hunger strike in the 1980s to protect this very program.)

Perhaps I’ll also point them to the things I wrote out of passion, and for posterity:

  1. What is Katimavik? Click Here
  2. My Reasons for Choosing Katimavik. Click Here
  3. Oh the places I would go: My three communities and beyond. Click Here
  4. My Katimavik Group: Randomly-selected brothers and sisters. Click here.
  5. But what did we do all day? My three wonderful work placements Click Here

And after all that they’ll likely believe me — but then I fear they will be angry. They’ll want to know what made me and my peers so goddamn special. They’ll wonder why this carefully-engineered investment in the nation’s youth was enjoyed by generations of Canadians — and then simply let go.

I’m not quite sure I’ll know what to say to them then.

This is what Katimavik said today:

“For the past 35 years, Katimavik has helped shape a civically responsible Canada by harnessing the power of our young volunteers to help those in need in communities across Canada. In that time, over 30 000 Canadian youth have made a difference in communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast. They participated in our program gaining valuable work, life and leadership skills all the while fostering community development and civic engagement . . . At a time when civic-engagement and voter turnout are at an all-time low, when youth unemployment rates are double the national average, this is clearly the worst time to cut Katimavik.”

In this case, I simply must throw up my hands and say my lived experience makes it impossible for me to stay neutral. I am going to have to say, without reservation, that it’s a shame this program won’t be around for our kids.

There’s no sense denying it: I am profoundly sad about this cut. And I don’t think we fully understand what we’re losing today.

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I admit, it’s cliched, but I have to include this song for my group members. We once wrote our own lyrics to it — in both official languages.
I know I had the time of my life.


Who’s afraid of the big, bad belly?

By Brittney Sabo

Yesterday I admired 75 different women’s bellies. They were plump, lean, scarred, furry, wrinkled, smooth, freckled and all photoshop-free.

As I went through the gallery, it struck me that I could only think of one positive image of bare stomach fat in mainstream media. Lizzie Miller’s photo shoot for Glamour magazine, which accompanied an article about body confidence, generated the kind of stunned fascination that a Sasquatch riding a unicorn might. (If you know others, please share them!)

The magazine editor received a barrage of emails reacting to the image, and as Miller herself remarked in the Guardian, “the overwhelming reaction to the tiny photograph, buried on page 194 of Glamour magazine ‘shows that the world is hungry to see pictures of normal women.'”

I certainly was. My 75-belly experience began when I saw the following image on, then clicked through to see photos and captions that celebrated women’s bellies — regardless of whether or not they would be considered attractive by mainstream standards — on xojane’s real girl belly project.

"I love my little 'pooch' that is my belly. So cute, I named it sunshine." -- Sabrina, Age 19 (

It was refreshing to see something like this on Pinterest, which sometimes feels like a bastion of “thinspiration” and body-shaming.

Pinterest, in case you’ve never heard of it, is an online pinboard that allows users (“pinners”) to organize and share things that they like. Relative to the general internet population, women are greatly over-represented at, and the vast majority are 18 – 34 years old, according to Alexa stats. All pinners have their own boards, but there are also community boards that aggregate everyone’s pins into public galleries.

It’s a very visual platform, and it’s easy to see that whether people are pinning photographs or quotations, crafts or cars, they’re most often showcasing what they consider beautiful.

Perhaps predictably then, women’s bodies have become something of a battleground, with some posting quotations like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” while others fire back “b*tch please, have you ever tasted nutella?”

In this context, some pinners reacted to the above photo of Sabrina’s tummy like this:

But others responded this way:

If you’re interested in the whole thread and the range of reactions, you can read it here, but suffice it to say some people were thoughtful while others responded by skinny-bashing or implying that one type of body is better than the rest — and the latter didn’t sit well with me.

As I remarked in the thread, I think it’s important that we see the beauty in diversity, and stop being so patronizing toward other women.

I, for one, felt happy and grateful after viewing the gallery. I was especially grateful to the women that wrote things that are sometimes hard to admit (like saying they’d never had a good look at their own bellies, or that they found it really hard to take a picture without automatically sucking it in, or that it took time to embrace their saggy skin and scars.) I don’t think anyone mentioned male approval. The experience was refreshing and more unvarnished than any advertiser-mediated Dove ad could ever be.

Although I hope we all strive to be healthy, this may or may not mean we’re skinny and blemish-free. And health is not just physical — we must constantly work on having healthy psyches and recognizing that junk images are bad for us, just as we know junk food is.


AFTER (click through to see more images)

The tummy thread was a reminder that we all need to strive for and promote a more well-rounded appreciation of all the things that make women beautiful, and much more than that!

There’s more to life than wanting to be wanted. (That last link was to a great book on the topic.) Why don’t we spend more time discussing what makes us interesting, intelligent, influential, courageous, funny, kind, quirky, or unique?

In this spirit, here are a few words and images that help combat all the ugly things that are shared on Pinterest under the guise of promoting beauty.

I hope to endorse the radical notion that we should spend more time celebrating — and no time shaming — ourselves and others.

Source: via Mona on Pinterest

(Please, forgive the typos in that one! Also, I wish we saw more faces.)

Source: via Nicole on Pinterest

Joan Donaldson scholarship: addendum

The CBC's Toronto headquarters. (Fabiola Carletti)

Dear readers: My apologies to those of you who aren’t applying for the Joan Donaldson scholarship at the CBC. This post won’t be very interesting to you, so here are cute things falling asleep instead. (Now that has popular appeal!)

So, moving right along: This post started out as a reply to a question beneath my recent post: Thoughts on the Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship.

Maybe it’s the extra large coffee I just had, or the self-indulgent joys of unedited writing, but my answer to Luciana’s question has ballooned into a blog post in its own right. For those of you who like painstaking detail, see below. If you’d rather pass, here are those cute things again.


Luciana asked what medium I worked in most at CBC Toronto. The short answer is television. The long answer is that the CBC is undergoing a sea change toward a more integrated approach to reporting. The walls have literally come down between people working in different mediums. For instance, “radio reporters” are now asked to do live hits for television, or write blog posts, or live tweet at events.

In these times of transition, Donaldsons have a wider range of opportunities. If you’re assertive about what you want to learn, you don’t have to limit yourself to any one platform.

Before me, CBC Toronto had never had a Donaldson intern (because they used to work on news network and other nationally-focused shows. See previous post.) So when I arrived, I was asked what I wanted to do. Here’s what resulted:

  • Shadowed Stephanie Matteis on the Jordan Manners trial. Stayed late at the courts on verdict watch and sent updates to the assignment desk via iPhone.
  • Spent one week writing television scripts for the anchors under the direction of Alex Sienkiewicz. Also learned to create the text banners and other added value elements you see on your screen (like bullet-point lists, maps, etc).
  • Attended all 9:30 a.m. editorial meetings and, most days, stayed until the show was over. I came in early to do this so that I would have a sense of how they chose stories.
  • Watched the show from the control room on two occasions.
  • Printed and ran scripts to the anchors.
  • Listened to police scanners and made calls to push for details on breaking news. Also made calls to fact check and to set up interviews for reporters.
  • Learned how to look up items on the internal video vault, DTV. Sometimes we had to get older items “restored.”
  • Wrote one radio piece and edited it on Dalet. Also recorded a phone call in studio.
  • Shadowed Muhammed Lila on a story about organ donation.
  • Stopped people for street interviews re: the Vancouver riot reaction, Air Canada back to work legislation, subway branding, GO bus refunds, etc.
  • Conducted an interview for Steven D’Souza’s item on the Book of Negroes
  • Gathered clips (short interviews) for the show – including the Scarborough daycare shut down, the McCain funeral, West Nile prevention and the shots heard outside a high school. Also went with camera people to obtain miscellaneous b-roll.
  • Went to do an after-hours interview for the Bollywood dance class item with a camera person.
  • Provided miscellaneous help to reporters and writers. Ex: transcribing interviews for Genevieve Tomney and Mike Crawley, and tracking down tapes for Nil Köksal.
  • Learned to send things through “ingest” (get them on the video editing/viewing system). These visuals came from the internet, FTP sites, cassettes from the visual resources library, etc.
  • Compiled a list of lesser-known Toronto attractions for Kimberly Gale.
  • On my last day, went to New Market to take notes for John Lancaster. Directed the cameraperson to get shots of the accused’s supporters and gathered clips from the defense lawyer and several students of the accused. Sent John detailed notes after the trial. (And made my way back to Toronto on my own, haha.)

That was all in my first month of the program! Again, I had never done any broadcast journalism before so it was baptism by fire. I didn’t ask to do more radio work or shadow the online reporters because I wanted to experience TV writing/reporting. I felt that I needed to focus on that since I had given it short shrift in j-school.


I spent most of my time with the arts unit doing one of two things:

  • I wrote for the arts webpage (both blog posts and news stories), made photo galleries, wrote sidebars, added useful links, and did some reporting over the phone. I must say we newbies should count our lucky stars that we’re learning about after the massive redesign of the website. More senior online writers have had to ‘unlearn’ a lot of older habits, so it’s a big bonus that we’re starting fresh with the new site.
  • I also did “tape production” – which means I worked in an edit suite with a video editor while coordinating with a producer downstairs. My job was to collect visuals on tight deadlines and select clips from pre-taped interviews. I would also do banners and write questions.

In short, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make the magic happen. Luciana asked me about these two placements, so I didn’t get into my placement or my time with news network. They would be, as they say, a whole other story.

For now, suffice it to say that I learned to be a jack of all trades at the CBC, and it’s part of the reason I was offered work in three different departments after my internship ended.

Best of luck to all of you applying. I can see you’re already stepping it up for 2012! Thanks for reading.

Thoughts on the Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship

Joan Donaldson scholarship recipients 2011, with program co-ordinator Mark Mietkiewicz (center)

Hello September, I didn’t see you come in! Now that you’re here, I guess my first adventure in public broadcasting is really over.

I can go ahead and say it, then: I am now an alumna of the Joan Donaldson Scholarship program, an intensive four-month paid internship with CBC News.

I’ve had the chance to reflect on this moment. Our supervisor Mark Mietkiewicz (the jovial fellow holding a book in the picture above) recently asked us to write down our feedback for the benefit of future participants. Every year, roughly eight eligible students are selected, and now that I’m in the position to know what they’re getting into, I thought I’d share my insights with the interwebs.

PLEASE NOTE: Donaldsons used to do two rotations over the summer, both focused on television news production, but the CBC tried something different this year. My group is the first to do four separate month-long stints across a wider range of departments — including online and radio placements.

My rotations were:

  • CBC Toronto – regional news placement: May 18-June 17
  • – online placement (some people chose radio instead): June 20-July 8
  • CBC News Network – television placement: July 11-Aug 5
  • Arts content unit – content unit placement: Aug 8-Sep 2

What are your overall thoughts on the program?

I am astonished at the range of experiences I’ve had at the CBC – from feature writing and chase producing to video editing and clip gathering. The revamped Joan Donaldson program is a smorgasbord of opportunity and, once I got used to all the moving around, I was able to connect each new skill to the others. In one summer, I’ve experienced more departments at the CBC than some staff members do over decades. Given the changing nature of our profession, I was happy to put my adaptability to the test.

There are far too many internships that do not provide young people with meaningful work, fair compensation, or high-level mentorship. This program does the polar opposite: it begins by acknowledging our potential and then actively invests in our development.

As I’ve frequently mentioned, I am impressed by how many exceptionally supportive people there are at the CBC. Some names that stand out are:

  • Tashauna Reid
  • Lianne Elliott
  • John Keating
  • Mandy Luk
  • Kimberly Gale
  • Muhammad Lila
  • Jennifer Walter
  • Ian Johnson
  • Redmond Shannon
  • Michael Primo
  • Daniel Schwartz
  • Caroline Gdyczynski
  • Vanessa Conneely
  • Alison Downie
  • Dwight Drummond
  • Jessica Wong
  • Laura Heinbuch
  • Laura Thompson
  • Simon Parubchak
    (To the cub journos reading this, I left these names in so that you know who to look for when you’re dazed and confused. If the list seems long, you have no idea how many people work in the building. This is shorter than a line up for coffee.)

These are people who must remember what it’s like to be rookies, because they made it their business to be instructive and supportive in very specific ways – and if I were to list all those that have been helpful and kind more generally, I’d be here all night!

Did the orientation prepare you for what you’d be facing?

We covered so much ground during orientation – from newsroom tours to technical training. Those initial introductions helped me make a smoother landing in the newsroom. I can’t imagine starting this job without having been told the basics – training spared me from having to ask what vizRT is and why elevator colours are mentioned so frequently.

One thing I would add to the schedule is a visit to visual resources and other tape storage spaces. I would have also liked to meet some camera people and get a sense of where we meet them should we need to gather clips or report.

One thing I would get rid of is the technical explanation of how information travels between regions. Although intercity browsing is important to understand, I think it’s too much to process initially. It may be best to get trained in it a couple weeks after becoming more familiarized with DTV. (Forgive some of this inside baseball talk. Remember, I wrote this for the coach.)

I liked that the lines of communication stayed open after orientation. Our midterm debriefs and meeting with Jennifer McGuire were wonderful opportunities to reflect and see what others were doing in their placements. I appreciated receiving email from people like Kate Pemberton who were genuinely interested in our feedback on the program while we were still in it.

It’s evident that much thought went into designing our training schedule and getting busy people to welcome us to the CBC. This level of consideration is certainly not something I take for granted as an entry-level journalist.

What was the best part of program?

Although I have relished every opportunity, my stint with the online team was the highlight of my contract. Perhaps this is owing to my background in print journalism and blogging, but I really enjoyed writing longer articles and working on multimedia elements. My experience confirmed what I already suspected: online journalism is an exciting growth area at a traditional broadcaster. There is a lot of room to experiment and set precedents.

I also appreciate that, through social networking, the CBC is starting to rethink its role in a new media landscape. I believe we must continue to lower the barriers to public expression and civic engagement, and pass knowledge from the most experienced to the newly interested. It’s the shift from journalism as lecture to journalism as conversation.

What could be improved?

I think we could have the conversation about post-internship opportunities a little bit earlier. I know I stressed out about it quite a bit, and wondered if I would even get an entry-level shot after such an enriching summer. Of course it’s unfair and unrealistic to ask for guarantees, but the feedback process might include dialogue about job prospects. Supervisors could tell us whether or not they would hire us — or how competitive we are compared to the average applicant — and where they might imagine us working post-Donaldson. I think it’s also important to be frank about the state of the industry: most young journalists get offered back-fill and casual work before anything too stable. If we know that going in, we can prepare ourselves for the uncertainty.

What would you say to someone who was thinking of applying?

I would advise anyone thinking about this internship to take a course in television and/or radio production if possible, as there is some platform-specific logic to get used to.
I focused on new media at school, my internships have been in print and online, and my priority over the years has been to sharpen my writing skills. Although I still think that good writing is essential in all mediums, I wish I had spent more time understanding how traditional broadcasting works. For instance, when given the choice at school, I operated the camera instead of doing the stand-ups. In retrospect, I would have done the opposite or at least tried to do both. Some Donaldsons this year were able to do full items as reporters because they had that on-camera confidence.

In short, I’d tell new applicants that even if they don’t plan to be personalities, they should sharpen their performance skills enough to try it out.

What job prospects are you pursuing at the CBC?

I’m fortunate enough to have three opportunities lined up. Renee Pellerin has me signed up for nine days of tape management during the Toronto International Film Festival; Cindy Gould from News Network has offered me some work as an editorial assistant; and Darlene Domagala has hired me as a casual writer after my term ends. I can’t even express how grateful and happy I am! I am eager to continue working here, and grateful to those that made it possible. (I should mention that I spent a lot of time applying to jobs on and suggesting myself to those in the position to hire me.)

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.


Those darn kids and their democratic rights

My lovely "votingent" on the first day of advanced polling

“Are you all students?” said the blond woman with the clipboard, gawking at us as we waited in line.

On April 22nd, my peers and I were among the first citizens to show up outside St. Anselm’s Anglican Church, the advanced polling site for Vancouver Quadra.

“Well,” said the organizer in a huff, “this may take a while. You’re an anomaly.”
We furrowed our brows but nodded politely. The wait, the registration, the whole – uh, you know – democratic process was perfectly fine by us. We didn’t just take a wrong turn on our way to the campus pub.

The woman walked in and out of the church, reminding us a few more times that this voting thing can take a while. She shooed us away from the door so that “the voters” would be able to get in and out. (Don’t mind us obstacles!) She walked alongside us and checked our identification, making small comments that implied there might be a problem with this document or that oath.

I looked around for the hidden camera. Surely, this was some sort of joke. We were a group of young voters, not mutant octopi wearing top hats.

Although the woman eventually settled down and even smiled at us, I couldn’t help but think of Rick Mercer’s now-infamous rant.

“If you’re between the ages of 18 and 25, and you want to scare the hell out of the people who run the country, do the unexpected, take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all over the world are dying to do — Vote!”

Inside the church, another woman looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues when I mentioned the concept of a vote mob – a contingent of young people who get together for a non-partisan celebration of our right and intention to vote. (She pulled a bit of a John Baird on that one.)

Vote mobs have been sprouting up on campuses across Canada. Young people have unfurled banners with messages like: “surprise! we’re voting” or “apathy is too mainstream for me” or “impress us.”

Many of the vote mob videos feature students running through campus with signs that showcase their issues, which include everything from climate change and queer rights to pension plans and arts & culture funding. Oh, yeah, affordable tuition is in there too — but we’re not one trick ponies.

Other voices are joining the conversation, creating videos for just about every disposition. Raffi, a Canadian singer-songwriter many of us grew up listening to, tells us that we are “grown up Belugas” now, and we should vote for the Canada we want to see. Mr. Lahey from the Trailer Park Boys mocks us, saying us “shit weasels” and “dick weeds” will probably stay home (just a bit of reverse psychology, followed by alcoholic bribes). has an excellent website dedicated to engaging an informed and respectful electorate. In their declaration for change, they state:

It’s time to move beyond today’s political division and short-term thinking, and get to work on the shared challenges of our time.

But alongside the playful and positive encouragement, there’s also resistance and condescension.

Michael Taube, columnist and former speech writer for Harper, seems to think it’s appropriate to call us circus clowns and holy terrors. In his article “Vote Mob Mentality” he states:

Voting participation is way down in this country; in 2008, it hit a record low of 58.8 per cent. If more people, and especially more young people, were willing to vote on a more regular basis, the numbers would surely go up. But if vote mobs are ever considered to be a viable method of increasing political participation, I would much rather keep the numbers as low as they are.

Uh – what? What does Mr. Taube have against the joys of collective citizenship?

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but: not all older folk favour the incumbent, and they’re not all well-informed and mature. There are many extremely articulate and thoughtful youth — including the diplomatic Awish Aslam who was booted out of a partisan rally for no good reason — and not all the young voters* go for “fringe parties.”

(*A note on that last link: its conclusion is based on a larger poll of 1000 Canadians, but does not indicate how many of them were young. Seems far too small a sample-within-a-sample to warrant such a bold headline.)

Anyway, despite the condescension at the polls today I had a great time with my peers.

We had respectful discussions about the kind of country we want to live in, and pass on to the “darn kids” of tomorrow.

Personally, I think everyone needs to remember that all Canadians — regardless of age, gender, income, political stripe, etc — are worth more than the sum of their votes. Our destiny as a nation is a shared one. It’s time we started acting like it.

In the meantime, all we young people are asking for is …

To view all the vote mob videos click here!

Here are some of my favourite videos: