Vintage interviews with youthful Gen X sound awfully familiar

Faces of Gen X

The faces of Gen X (CBC Archives)

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

Here’s how the archive keepers describe them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Why: issue 1

Gen Why: issue 1

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

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

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

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


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.


Big reporters do cry

Dave Seglin's polished photo on the CBC's website

I’m used to way he signs off on his radio stories — the expected: “Dave Seglins, CBC news.”

During the Russell William‘s trial, he remained composed, at least on air, as he covered the horrific details.

Before today, I couldn’t have imagine Seglins, a seasoned reporter and radio show host, coming out of the experience “a blubbering mess.” But in a cautionary tale that he wrote for J-source, Seglins makes no claim to newsroom bravado and admits to his own trials and tribulations.

“To my own surprise, and terror, I melted down, incapacitated by several bouts of anxiety, panic and uncontrollable dread that I’ve never felt before — and hope never to again,” confesses Seglins.

“There was no real rest. No decompression. The depravity in the story kept escalating.”

Seglins describes pushing through the physical and emotional exhaustion, working well into the night only to awaken in time to line up outside the courthouse starting at 4:45 a.m. the next day, for several days.

“I’m finding it hard to talk with anyone about this,” he explains, now that the trial has ended. “The only ones who can really appreciate the torture of those long days are the others who were there in the court.”

As a young journalist, I appreciate knowing that even seasoned professionals sometimes need help, whether it’s back-up during the reporting or counseling after the fact. It was brave of him to share his struggle, and I think all  journalists would do well to read the story behind the statements I’ve picked out: One reporter’s trial.

Remember, we are people first.

Dr. Peter’s Diary: “I am a doctor, but I’m also a patient.”

Twenty years ago, a handsome young physician looked into a camera and spoke words he was not sure all Canadians were ready to hear.

“We’re going to be approaching this from a different point of view — a more human point of view,” Dr. Peter Jepson-Young said of HIV/AIDS.

“I’m going to be introducing you to someone with AIDS to help provide a name, a face, and an identity to this disease,” the Vancouver-based doctor famously explained.

“The person I’m going to introduce you to…is myself.”

Despite the initial fears and disapproval of his loved ones, Dr. Peter told audiences that he was struggling with HIV/AIDS at a time when many thought everyday interactions – like shaking hands – could lead to infection.

He also told them he was gay at a time when gay men were widely feared and demonized.

Far before the dawn of youtube confessionals, he showed Canadians that it was possible to talk about a poorly-understood disease openly and honestly.

“I am a doctor, but I’m also a patient.”

Filming the young doctor was David Paperny, who will be leading my advanced television course at the UBC School of Journalism this semester. He still remembers the project as one of the most important of his career.

In class yesterday, David told us that some viewers told Peter to “rot in hell” and cried out for the CBC to take him off the air.  But, at the same time, something more powerful happened.

Many Canadians were educated and inspired by the young man’s courage.

Although he was only supposed to tape a handful of shows, the Dr. Peter Diaries ended up chronicling about two years of the man’s life in 111 episodes. People grew familiar with him, and bore witness to his worsening condition. Many felt as though they knew him, or even loved him.

Before his death in 1992, the doctor set up the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, a non-profit organization that continues to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. His diary series was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994.

Twenty years later, the mayor of Vancouver has declared Sept. 3 – 10 Dr. Peter week, and the diarist is being remembered as a national hero. David is currently working on a new series of diaries that will allow a new generation to talk about how the disease affects their lives today.

But as we remember Dr. Peter, let’s not forget how much further we have to go.

Photo from the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation website


• UBC Alumni screening of The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter, Thursday Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. at the CBC Studios, 700 Hamilton St.

• 20th anniversary screening of The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter, Friday Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. at the CBC Studios, 700 Hamilton St.

• Passions: A Benefit for the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, Sunday Sept. 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Dr. Peter Centre, 1110 Comox St.

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!

Don’t just sit there! Do something

This post was originally published in the Toronto Star’s intern blog.


"I was sitting, waiting, wishing..." by JoshSemans on Flickr.

We radio roomers have a dangerous job.

While other journalists physically chase stories, we sit on our rumps making phone calls and staring at screens.

Although our minds are working hard, our bodies only see action when we zip over to the bathroom. And remember, we work eight-hour shifts.

So, why isn’t this sitting well with me? (Sorry, I love bad puns)

Well, a new field of study — lead by Canadian researchers — is focusing on what’s actually happening in the body during these sluggish sessions.

And it’s not looking good.

We’re not completely “off,” as it were, and we’re straining ourselves in ways that are not yet well understood.

To learn more about our physiology in these sedentary states, scientists in Ottawa have been hooking kids up to all kinds of monitoring devices as the youngsters do, well, nothing. While the subjects watch Sponge bob (or whatever the cool cartoon is these days), the researchers watch how their bodies respond to their lack of activity.

The CBC reports that, so far, they’ve found evidence of the following: two to seven hours of uninterrupted sitting is enough to increase their blood sugar, decrease their good cholesterol and to have a real impact on their health. I’d imagine we adult-types are not much more robust.

I hate to admit this but, at time of writing, I’ve been sitting firmly on my tush for about six hours. What’s more, I’m polishing off some coffee in a can and eating cold pizza. (Yeah, my body hates me.)

So, in an effort to guilt myself healthier, I’ll post some of the more interesting points I found in the CBC story:

  • Each two-hour-per-day increase in sitting at work was linked with a 5 per cent increased risk of obesity. (So, besides extra cash, think carefully about what you gain from those overtime shifts.)
  • Women who spent seven hours or more per day sitting had an increased risk of endometrial cancer compared to those who sit less than three hours per day. (Egad! I hate when bad things apply to me)
  • In 2008, Spanish researchers found the odds of having a mental disorder were 31 per cent higher for subjects who spent more than 42 hours a week watching TV than for those who watched fewer than 10.5 hours a week. (Surely, youtube doesn’t count…)

The good news is that even simple activities may help mitigate the damage. Just getting up and shaking it off creates those little interruptions to which the body positively responds.

So, now we know that people are doing science to try and convince us stuff we should probably be able to figure out on our own.

I’m not trying to be snarky. In fact, I say we give ‘um a standing ovation.