The magic of Mars on social media

Hello friends, sorry I’ve been rather silent lately. The summer is a busy time for young writers at It seems all the folks with families make sure they get their summer vacations, and we newbies get to chill our coffee and warm their seats.

To tell you the truth, I was a bit bleary-eyed at work today. You see, I stayed up late last night doing this.

Luckily, my fascination with all things martian ended up helping me at work, where I rounded up some stellar social media content about the highly anticipated Mars landing — which I’d like to share here, as well.

These two aren’t my most popular Storify curations of all time (this one about the Higgs boson particle, in Comic Sans font, probably is) but I’m so enamored with my latest geeky topic that I want to post about it as many times as I can get away with in one day.

Hope you enjoy, fellow space cadets! Click on either preview to read the full story:


6 Father’s Day gifts for unconventional dads

If your father — or papi, baba, tatay, pai, abba — doesn’t really wear ties, hates fishing, and couldn’t care less about “the game” (whatever the sport may be), he’s not alone.

Here’s a roundup of Father’s Day ideas for a different kind of dad.

NOTE: For some reason, WordPress is not letting me embed my Storify, so please click here or on the image above to see the full list. Many apologies for the extra step!

Media roundup: attempted arson at St. Joseph’s College School

The basement of St. Joseph’s College School in 2003.

St. Joseph’s College School — an all-girls Catholic School in Toronto — was the focus of national headlines after the head janitor was charged with several offenses, including attempted murder and attempted arson with disregard for human life.

(Full disclosure: I used to go to SJCS — located at 74 Wellesley St. W., near Bay Street — so I’ve read every news story available on the accusations with great concern. I also write for, but I am not handling this story.)

Several current and former students and staff are trying to process the fact that a trusted janitor, who served the school for 15 years, could face serious jail time if convicted.

I should state in no uncertain terms that the presumption of innocence is paramount, but I also think it’s important to review the allegations.

Here’s what I’ve learned from several media reports: 

Vincent Perna (known to students as Mr. Perna and to staff as Vince) faces the following charges:

  • Attempted murder
  • Breaking and entering with intent
  • Mischief endangering life
  • Attempted arson with disregard for human life
  • Common nuisance

It is alleged that at roughly 7 a.m. on Thursday, Perna:

  • Broke into one of the school’s mechanical rooms in the basement
  • Cut the main gas line with the intention of causing an explosion
  • Responded to a complaint from kitchen staff, who said they couldn’t light their stoves
  • Was attempting to help light the stove when staff smelled gas and rang the fire alarm at around 7:50 a.m.

The school was evacuated prior to the official start of the school day.  Students and staff already in the building were asked to wait at nearby Queen’s Park, while students arriving to school were sent to join them.

No one was injured and the school was not damaged. The students were unaware of accusations against their long-time custodian until the details were released to the media on Friday — the same day Perna appeared in court at Old City Court.

Here are some other things that were said about Perna:

  • Vincent Perna, as pictured in SJCS’s 2003 yearbook

    Has no previous record of any abnormal behaviour and has worked for SJCS for 15 years (Jon Yan, TCDSB spokesman)

  • Worked for the Catholic board for 30 years and was nearing retirement (School trustee Jo-Ann Davis)
  • Was described by the TCDSB as a “model employee” with which they had never had a dispute.
  • Has been suspended pending the outcome of the legal process.

And these are some key facts about SJCS:

  • It’s Catholic all-girls school that is part of the Toronto Catholic District School Board
  • It is not a private school or a boarding school, as some media have reported
  • The school population is about 800 people, roughly 750 of which are students.
  • It’s a very old school with a reputation for academic excellence, established by the sisters of St. Joseph in 1854 as St. Joseph’s Academy for Young Ladies


Const. Tony Vella, Toronto police spokesperson

  • “The intention was obviously to cause the flame to go in the air for some sort of explosion,” he said. “[Police] noticed the gas line was cut and looked into it further and it’s alleged he did it.” (Toronto Sun)
  • “It was to cause danger to the students and to the staff members … But that never happened. The situation could have been much worse.” (Toronto Sun)
  • “The odor of the school made some of the staff as well as some of the students ill. One of the staffer’s, excellent work, pulled the fire alarm, activated it. As a result emergency personnel go to the school.” (CBC News)
  • “It’s a rarity. Fortunately, it doesn’t occur all the time, but obviously it has occurred one time. So, it’s obviously concerning to us.” (National Post)
  • “He was attempting to kill people.” (CNN)
  • “The intention was obviously to cause the flame to go in the air for some sort of explosion.” (NewsCore)

John Yan, Toronto Catholic District School Board spokesperson

  • “Students and staff were never in danger at any point … Once gas was smelled in the air, police and [Enbridge] came very quickly and the gas was shut off.” (Toronto Sun)
  • “Students were evacuated as a precautionary measure and emergency services, including Enbridge and the fire department, arrived on scene and shut off the gas.” (Toronto Star)
  • “By all accounts, he was a model employee … He has no previous record of problems with the school.” (National Post)

School trustee Jo-Ann Davis and SJCS alumna

  • “It’s obviously shocking … We’re very close quarters to a condominium high rise that’s next door as well as St. Michael’s Residence next door and the university behind. It’s a high density area of the city. Thank God, it was discovered. My prayers are with everyone involved, including Mr. Perna. I can’t imagine what could have happened to make this occur.” (Toronto Sun)
  • “Obviously the assumption was there was a faulty gas line, not that it was perpetrated and done on purpose.” (Toronto Star)

Yasmeen Mounir, student

  • “We were thrilled we were getting out of first period but no one really knew what was going on so we didn’t have much of a reason to get super stressed.” “We didn’t even hear anything until we saw it on the news.” (CBC News)
  • “He was very demure, he didn’t really talk that much.” “It’s not like he made conversation with the students, he just sort of did his job.” (CBC News)
  • “I’m not quite sure whether I believe that he did it or not. Just because he doesn’t seem like the type of person to do it.” (CBC News)

Sabrinna Kulnys-Douglas, grade 11 student

  • “I don’t know janitors by name … I have no clue what would have caused him to do that. It wasn’t so scary at the time when it happened, but knowing my school could have exploded, it’s scarier.” “It smelled so bad…like rotten eggs.” (Toronto Sun)

Natasha and Anna Tyzler, grade 12 student and parent

  • “We never entered into the school … It was all over Twitter that there was a gas leak at the school and there were teachers outside sending us to Queen’s Park.” “Everyone’s shocked … [Perna] supported us on our journey,” said Natasha Tyzler, a basketball team player who added that Perna attended all the games and made the players lunch when the team made city-wide finals in 2011. (Toronto Star)
  • “[Perna] was very pleasant and nice. He volunteered his time on the weekends … The nicest person I could speak to and hence the reason I was in complete shock.” – Anna Tyzler (Toronto Star)

Other interesting points

  • The owner of General Gas Service in Toronto told the Sun that the intensity of the explosion depends on how long the room was filling up with the substance and the size of the room. But any open flame could have set off the blast, including flicking on light switches.
  • Yan told the Post the school runs a daily breakfast program for that girls that begins just before 8 a.m., and that the kitchen staff may have asked Perna for his help lighting the unresponsive stove.
  • The Post reported that school officials sent a letter to students stressing that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and to offer counselling to those rattled by the incident.

What is journalism? An overview for the uninitiated

This post was written for my 16-year-old cousin Lola, who recently told me that she wants to be a journalist.

So, let’s start by making sure she knows what she’s getting into, shall we?

Town-crier announcing the latest news on the island of Terschelling, the Netherlands, 1938.

Throughout time and across societies, human beings have had a basic need for knowledge beyond their own experiences.

Long before the internet, the newspaper and the 6 o’clock news, certain community members dedicated themselves to gathering and sharing information about the events and issues of the day. (Think: messengers, town criers, minstrels or coffee house nouvellistes.)

And for the past few decades, the term “journalist” has referred to a person — usually a man, often without formal qualifications —who earns a living by writing for a newspaper or periodical. This educational video from the 1940s sums it up well.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, many journalists began to think of their craft as a profession, with writers and editors forming organizations, and university departments offering formal education in journalism.

Journalists also identified with a particular medium. The Oxford English Dictionary still offers a platform-centric definition of journalism, describing it as “the activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television.”  (No mention of and/ors and the internet!)

Journalists’ identities have traditionally been tied to their newsrooms — or their respective “fortresses” as the BBC’s Peter Horrocks would say. Their daily task was simple: “to battle journalists from other fortresses.” (Think: scooping the competition on a hot story, scoring a high-profile interview, or being able to say “you heard it here first” after big news breaks.)

So, what has changed?

If we fast-forward to the state of the news media today,  we find that journalism as our parents and grandparents knew it has morphed into something very different.

Understanding journalism is now a much more complicated task,  as platforms converge and media-making tools become more widely available to the general public.

Long-established patterns of news production and consumption are being challenged by several forces, including:

  • Improvements in mobile and networking technology.
  • The digitization of content.
  • The convergence of platforms.
  • The reorganization of social relationships (from top-down to networked)
  • Changes in business models and structures of ownership.
  • The rise of participatory or citizen journalism.

Mainstream news organizations can no longer count on the control that comes with the scarcity of printing presses, airwaves and broadcast licenses, nor can they bank on the stable flow of advertising dollars, nor are they guaranteed the steadfast attention of increasingly disloyal audiences.

And so, as the media landscape changes, some thinkers have preferred to focus on journalism’s function above its form or platform. Here are a few useful definitions:

  • Veteran journalists and authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel argue that we need news “to live our lives, to protect ourselves, bond with each other, identify friends and enemies. Journalism is simply the system societies generate to supply this news”.
  • Michael Schudson, an award-winning historian of journalism, defines it as “the business and practice of producing and disseminating information about contemporary affairs of general public interest and importance.”
  • Similarly, influential communications theorist James Carey noted that “news is a historic reality,” or an invented cultural form that both comprises and reflects a particular “hunger for experience” that has tended to be historically grounded in the “changing style and fortunes of the middle class”.
  • Sociology professor Gaye Tuchman says that a news report is a story, which is not to say that it is fictitious, but rather to remind us that news is a “constructed reality with its own internal validity”.

Journalism has been called a craft, a field, a job, a business, an art form … and a few less pleasant things I’m sure. Indeed, it is all of these things for different people, and thus an object of debate in and of itself.

Where are we heading?

As this shift occurs, it is no longer enough to identify journalists by employer or platform alone. Few rookie reporters expect to work for one employer their whole lives, and many are developing a personal brand instead of depending on their newsroom’s reputation.

Many journalists can now write print stories, and make videos, and live-tweet the news as it happens, etc.

My 16-year-old cousin Lola — the future face of journalism?

They sort of had to up the ante, as new players are increasingly getting involved in the stages of news production long controlled by trained professionals – whether they are bloggers challenging the established 24-hour news cycle to put “old news” back on the agenda , or citizens committing “acts of journalism” before the mainstream media can get there.

Horrocks notes that the fortresses are crumbling, and “courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds.”

I wrote my thesis on this, and let me tell you: the recent literature is a sea of ideas to re-think, re-vamp, re-position, re-envision, and re-structure the definition of journalism.

Outside pressures are now forcing conversations that have not been popular for years — but some argue that this period of reflection may also be an opportunity. Schudson notes that journalism’s public nature and vulnerability is precisely what keeps it alive, changing and growing.

Perhaps by necessity, more reporters are taking the time to think about what defines their work, and why it matters.

As internet visionary Clay Shirky writes:

“Because social effects lag behind technological ones by decades, real revolutions don’t involve an orderly transition from point A to point B – Rather, they go from A through a long period of chaos and only then reach B. In that chaotic period, the old systems get broken long before new ones become stable.”

So that, Lola, is a brief overview of this crazy thing called journalism. If you’re still interested, plug in your headphones and let CBC’s Ira Basen explain why your parents are much more surprised by all of this than you are.

Part One

Part Two

And when you’re done with all that, check out this blog I built for young people looking for practical advice: So, you want to be a journalist?

It features the advice from some of Canada’s most promising young reporters who call tell you all about the dilemmas, pains and absolute joys of these new circumstances.

Related posts from the Fab Files:

The enigmatic genius of Vivian Maier, street photographer

I’d never heard of Vivian Maier before yesterday, but now I can’t stop thinking about her.

Maier’s street photography is probably the best I’ve ever seen — but the reclusive Chicago nanny never intended for anyone to see it.

Her choice of subjects, her use of light, her impeccable timing … it’s just incredible to think she wasn’t a professional. But she was a genius.

I saw Maier’s images for the first time during This American Life live, a visual adaptation of one of my favourite podcasts, which was beamed in real time to movie theaters across the U.S. and Canada.

John Maloof, the young man who purchased thousands of Maier’s unattributed negatives at an antique auction, is now on a mission to share her work with a new generation. He admits the intensely private woman probably would have hated the attention, but was never able to ask her permission directly.

Maloof writes:

Out of the more than 100,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 20-30,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960s-1970s. I have been successfully developing these rolls. I must say, it’s very exciting for me. Most of her negatives that were developed in sleeves have the date and location penciled in French (she had poor penmanship).

I found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to ‘Google’ her about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before that inquiry on her.

Maier caught fleeting moments like bubbles on the tip of her finger, and I’m not sure who could keep such talent to themselves.

In a world full of photoshopped renditions of posed subjects, these images are intoxicating in their authenticity.

With apologies – thank you, Ms. Maier.

October 14, 1968, Chicago. Vivian Maier. Maloof Collection 2012.

October 14, 1968, Chicago. Vivian Maier. Maloof Collection 2012.

Tiny school, big ideas

Welcome to High Park Day School, where grades are nixed, ages are mixed, and classroom sizes are capped at a dozen.

By Fabiola Carletti
Previously published by The Grid TO

Quinn arrived at High Park Day School (HPDS) with a strategy. The energetic eight-year-old, who had received many time-outs for failing to focus, had learned that sitting under a table and cradling a book would keep him out of trouble.

“He wasn’t really looking at the words,” said Aaron Downey, teacher and curriculum coordinator at HPDS, adding that the boy initially refused to read out loud—especially in front of his peers.

But last Thursday Quinn kneeled on his chair and, for the first time, sounded words out in front of a classroom full of older students.

“Your clo-th-ing i-dea,” he began, as Downey walked him through each syllable during a lesson on innovation in fashion design.

The class applauded its youngest member who, only months earlier, had insisted he couldn’t read.

The staff at Toronto’s High Park Day School, a small alternative school that does not divide its 8- to 13-year-old students by age, rejects the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” students, tailors homework to each child, and sends parents progress reports—partly written by the kids—instead of grades.

“[Students] understand that it’s not about being perfect—it’s about progress,” said Downey, who has taught in conventional school systems in Canada, Italy and Switzerland.

“It’s my job to figure out how a child learns best,” he added, admitting that the task has been easier with only eight students, who are so far all boys.

In designing their curriculum, Downey wove math and literacy skills throughout themed units. He teaches his students to ask open-ended questions, see the connections between lessons, and explore the topics that really switch them on.

“Traditional curriculum is so disjointed,” said Downey, adding that he felt a lot of pressure to compartmentalize and tick off boxes when teaching at other schools. “In a nutshell, we teach them how to learn, not what to learn.”

… continue reading

One woman’s blind date with the city of Toronto

Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present inspires local theatre student

By Fabiola Carletti
Originally published by the Toronto Star

Allison Leadley spent a day sitting with strangers in a public art experiment she called “exhausting, intense, intimate, funny, touching and totally overwhelming.” (Courtesy Allison Leadley)

Allison Leadley, 25, dragged two folding chairs to a busy Toronto intersection — then sat down, swallowed her terror, and waited.

The often-shy university student was stationed at the corner of Spadina Ave. and Queen St. W., in early March. The plan was to carve a space for intimacy in a notoriously uninviting city.

Leadley, a Halifax native who normally works backstage, had committed to nearly eight hours of sitting without eating, drinking or speaking at four different intersections. Her inspiration came from the prolific performance artist Marina Abramovic, who had done the same at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

“At first people were going out of their way not to notice me,” said Leadley, a first-year PhD student of theatre and performance at the University of Toronto.

“I started to worry that no one would sit down and that this was going to be a long and really lonely day.”

… continue reading