Reporting back on rising stars (it ain’t easy)

Oh, the subjectivity of taste! Image by Arty Guerillas on Flickr

Forget comparing apples and oranges, I’ve been trying to rank fruits of all flavours – and it’s not going so well.

Last week I took a very unscientific approach to answering (what seemed like) a simple question from my first year undergrad students.

They wanted to know the names of emerging journalists to watch, and perhaps emulate. And I wanted to do something other than list off the young superstars I, personally, have come across. I decided to ask my peers to submit their suggestions — you know, to broaden the sample — and assumed it would be nooo problem to highlight deserving candidates from there.

Well, to begin with, I received many more suggestions than I had expected. Then, after checking so many links to their great work I thought, “Seriously? How am I ever going to select from here? They’re all so delicious!” (Sorry, I’ll drop the fruit metaphor now.)

While pondering, I got a topical email from Sun Media’s William Wylie who rightly suggested that comparing the careers of individual young journalists may be a little misleading.

“It’s a competitive and changing industry, but there is room for everyone who works hard,” he wrote. Even though he put forward a few favourites, he was careful to qualify:

Everyone’s path to success is unique, depending on their drive, passions and
particular areas of interest. On your site right now are friends of mine
(Erin Millar, Sarah Millar, Nick Taylor Vaisey) and colleagues (Chloe Fedio,
Eric Szeto). But each of them are successful in their own particular way.

.. Those who succeed are those who are willing to pursue their passions, take chances and pursue opportunities where they present themselves.

I think William is right. Perhaps it would be more fruitful (ack – sorry) to continue forward in a different way.

So, we know all the people I highlighted last post are highly regarded by their peers, and are very likely to make their mark in this industry. What we don’t know is how they would answer the following question:

“What advice would you give to a first-year undergrad who’s thinking of getting into journalism?”

Over the course of this week I will attempt to collect answers from the very successful (and very busy!) reporters who were recommended. I think this filter will be much more meaningful than any arbitrary attempt I can make at further narrowing the nominees.

The beautiful thing is the array of perspectives we’re likely to gather.

Some of the nominees discovered their love of journalism through the student press, others sought master’s degrees in the profession, and still others sort of wandered into this thing after waking up in a newsroom holding an empty bottle of scotch. (Not so unbelievable, is it?)

Fret not – I’ll still post what I come up with. For now, enjoy what follows.

Image by theseanster93

The fruits of their labour: exemplary work by emerging journalists
(Sorry! I couldn’t help it! Okay, seriously, no more fruit jokes ...)

These are some sample works by young journalists, which were sent to me by their peers.

Truth be told: I got a little overwhelmed when putting together the photo gallery in the previous post, so some of these journalists are not yet pictured. Also, this is not the full list of samples I received. I’m going to keep adding to both posts in my spare time. For now, enjoy what I have managed to post!

Oh, and THANK YOU to everyone for taking the time to help me with this insane little project. Enjoy!

  1. Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground PBS Frontline (video)
    By: Team from UBC journalism, including Jodie Martinson and Allison Cross
  2. Suicide Notes Ryerson Review of Journalism (print feature)
    By: Liam Casey
  3. Downtown shoppers paying a premium for groceries OpenFile (print + interactive map & scribd document)
    By: Leslie Young
  4. A relentless hunt for elusive clues in 1973 slaying The Toronto Star (print)
    By: Robyn Doolittle
  5. Ontario athletic scholarship gender gap probed CBC Ottawa (print + interactive map)
    By: Lucas Timmons
  6. G20: Police given extra powers OpenFile (print)
    By: Bethany Horne
  7. Brouillette lays down the law for Als (print)
    By: Arden Zwelling
  8. The HST Monster Pique News Magazine (feature, pdf)
    By:Jesse Ferreras
  9. In This Class, Everyone Gets an A+ Maclean’s on Campus (print)
    By: Karen Pinchin
  10. Human trafficking and Hamilton’s Hungarian connection The Hamilton Spectator (print + slideshow + family tree)
    By: Nicole O’Reilly
  11. Mr. Tree Alberta Views (multi-part magazine feature)
    By: Jeremy Klaszus

How sensitive can a journalist be?

Why don’t the newscasters cry when they read about people who die?
At least they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eyes.

– lyrics from “The News” by Jack Johnson

Photo by TimOve on Flickr

Journalists are often celebrated for being thick-skinned, tenacious, clever, intrepid — but, sensitive? When did you last hear praise bestowed upon a sensitive journalist?

The quotation above, charming though it may be, would probably startle viewers if it were to actually happen. Can you imagine your news anchor tearing up at every sad story? How would you react to a reporter delivering news with quivering lips?

For better or worse, reporters are generally expected to keep a professional distance from their subjects, to perform under pressure, and to keep it together despite their emotions. They may be at the scene of a devastating car crash, or they may be interviewing the victims of a natural disaster, or they may be covering a gruesome murder trial, but they have to maintain a certain level of composure in order to do their job.

I appreciate this, and I understand how quickly we would burn out if we allowed ourselves to feel the full emotional impact of every difficult situation. We remind ourselves that our first responsibility is to the public, and that they need us to stomach it and tell the story.

But all that being said, reporters are people too — and, to be honest, I feel relieved when they speak of their emotions.

I remember asking Adrian Morrow, a young reporter I met at the Toronto Star, how he got used to calling the grieving families of the deceased. It was one of the things I dreaded about the job – being “that damn reporter” on the other end of the phone as people suffered through the worst day of their life.

Adrian didn’t tell me how he got used to it, because he didn’t.

“It doesn’t get easier,” he said, his voice slow and steady. I later found a blog post he’d written on the subject – The Toughest Call a Reporter Has to Make.

Oddly enough, this made me feel better. It’s okay to have our hearts pounding in our chests. It’s possible to remain calm and focus on the other person. The Globe’s Stephanie Nolen has said of covering tragedy: “I have no right to feel shitty.”

Although I admire Nolen’s bravery, I try to imagine her crying. Maybe it’s so I’ll feel better as she brings me to tears with her work.

And a few seasoned reporters have chronicled their dark nights of the soul.

A while back, I blogged about CBC reporter Dave Seglins, who said he was left a “blubbering mess” after covering the Russell Williams trial.

“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,” confessed Seglins in a J-source article. His reporting showed no traces of his struggle, as he “pushed away all the horrors, and instead focused on the next deadline.”

Seglins broke down in the privacy of his home, and needed counseling in the aftermath of the assignment. He now cautions others not to “succumb to newsroom bravado” when they need help processing traumatic events.

And then there’s Liam Casey, another former colleague of mine at the Toronto Star. His latest piece, Suicide Notes, begins with this short explanation:

I contemplated killing myself five years ago. Now, to help others, I call on all journalists to break the silence on our final taboo.

Not only does Casey let us see him at his worst, he calls on our entire profession to brave the depths of human suffering and cover suicide — something we “just don’t do” under normal circumstances. I realize that this is about more than sensitivity, but Casey’s story is a testament to how much we can move people when we step out from behind the curtain.

I’ve only mentioned my emotions a few times, but to be honest the newsroom moves so quickly that sometimes I just work through it and come out the other side. I don’t allow myself to process it as often as I should, and I’m often startled when I do get choked up.  That’s why it’s useful to remember the following:

Reporters are people. They are not disembodied eyes. They  struggle with complex inner lives. And when they share this struggle, despite professional norms, it’s not necessarily a weakness.

If these reporters are any indication, it takes a lot of strength to be sensitive.


Waking up to find myself “freshly pressed”

(Warning: this blog post is unusually  self-referential and includes high levels of enthusiasm. We’ll be back to regular programming next time.)

"Wake up, Fabiola! A little bit more of the world is watching!" -- Image by bobaliciouslondon on Flickr


On Thursday morning, I zombie-walked down the stairs and headed for the bathroom.

After washing my face with cold water — which did nothing to perk me up — I stuck my toothbrush in my mouth and left the room. (See, I have this weird habit: I like to walk around brushing for a while – usually stretching, looking out windows, or just wandering through rooms.) Yesterday, I decided to check my email.

My toothbrush almost fell out of my mouth when I saw my inbox:

Wha ah eell?” I said in garbled English. Now, I was awake. I dashed back to the bathroom to rinse, and then ran back to the computer, all the while wondering if I’d posted some inflammatory slur in my sleep.

Turns out, WordPress had featured me on their homepage, and I was simply experiencing the bump in traffic that goes along with the distinction.

Bottom-right corner: that's me! (Well, that's my dog, but I wrote the blog post.)

Twitter was taking note:

And, at time of writing, my stats have shot up like a hockey coach’s blood pressure in third period. My previous record (in orange) was obliterated!

Freshly (im)pressed!

Then, came the subscriptions. Now, this is the important bit. The following people have freshly committed to checking this blog out on the regular. In a world of inbox overload, they’ve said “Sure, I’d be okay with hearing from the Fab Files again.”

So, I’d like to say “Hello!” “Thank you!” and “Welcome!” to fellow bloggers who’ve just subscribed:

cbejjani, Ricky Staines, Tinadot, Lorna, JourneyExplorer, NightOwlToddDanforth, Annamaryas, Bobhelfst, CelesteMichele, KD M, Bryannaphillips (a new blogger!), Mikeing, ndangerously, Shumack, Dadailydrudgerydayzzzalexxelizabeth, mcreekalynnmyers, Ilsa Razzak, Melbzz, Sedera of the Island

Hello, as well, to the new readers without public blogs!

I’ve hyperlinked the names above because I’m committed to going through and reading their stuff more carefully, and I invite anyone else visiting the Fab Files to do likewise.

To me, the increased ability to connect is one of the most incredible things about this new media landscape.

Journalists have, for a very long time, had a one-way and top-down relationship with their readers. Bloggers, however, have been much more likely to connect with one another in a more peer-to-peer fashion. Since I am a journalist and a blogger, I’m very interested in navigating the space between — or, the “green lines,” as Clay Shirky puts it. (This will only make sense if you watch the following TED talk.)

But if you don’t have the time  to see the video through, here’s the quotation that stood out to me. (Since it’s out of context, the “they” he refers to are members of the former audience.)

The point: I’m excited that you’re interested in me. I’m interested in you, too! And, since it’s such an incredible boost for any blogger, I encourage you to check out the “Five Ways to Get Featured on Freshly Pressed.” The following is an excerpt accompanied by their top five criteria. (See the original article for an explanation of each item.)

Happy blogging!

Each weekday, we select about ten new blog posts for the Freshly Pressed section of the homepage. These posts represent how WordPress can be used to entertain, enlighten, or inspire.

Getting promoted to Freshly Pressed is a major traffic win because receives a high volume of page views. And, we have a feed set up so people can subscribe to Freshly Pressed. Why do we do all this? It’s our way of saying we like you. We really like you.

So, by now you might be wondering how to get featured. It’s all about the content. Here are five bits o’ advice that will increase your chances of landing on the homepage:

1. Write unique content that’s free of bad stuff.

2. Include images or other visuals.

3. Add tags.

4. Aim for typo-free content.

5. Cap off your post with a compelling headline.

Journalism? Are you crazy?

What do you mean watchdog? I'm obviously a parrot! (Many thanks to my dog for modeling)

I recently began my job as a teaching assistant, and I’ve already had to clarify that I’m not a madwoman.

I’ll explain momentarily, but here’s some background: I’m assisting in the UBC School of Journalism’s only undergraduate course. The subject is New Media, and the class has proven to be a magnet for students who want to figure out if this field is right for them.

One such student interjected during the most recent lecture. We were looking at the Newspaper Death Watch website quite generally, but a specific poll caught the student’s eye.

“How would you answer that question?” she said to the instructor, Candis Callison.

The question: What would you tell a college student considering a journalism career?

The options:

  1. What, are you nuts?
  2. It’s a noble profession, but be prepared for a life of poverty
  3. You can make a decent living, kid, but you’d better specialize
  4. Go for it! This is a great time to get in on the ground floor.

Candis smiled and turned to me. (I am, after all, a student who decided to get into journalism despite the terror in my grandmother’s eyes.)

“What do you think, Fabiola?”

Well, I denied being “nuts” (though I did joke about embracing my status as a child of chaos) and wrote a follow-up forum post for the class. I started by saying that there is no short answer. Instead there’s a fascinating and ongoing debate. In fact, smart and experienced people hold a wide spectrum of views.

Although this is clearly dodging the question, I’m glad a student raised it so early in the semester. We’re going to revisit it often and, as we navigate the variables, I’d wager that opinions will change several times throughout the course.

In the meantime, I mentioned one point I’ve found interesting: CBC journalist Ira Basen believes that the “crisis in journalism” is not just economic but also existential. In fact, his two-part podcast on “News 2.0.” is a great entry point into the debate.

Part One

Part Two

I encouraged them (and you!) to take a break from the books and check it out. It’s a great overview of a complex landscape.

Some friends on twitter also weighed in:

It’s too early to give away my thoughts on the matter, but clearly I was not deterred – even after attending many harrowing lectures and conferences, and reading tons of doomsday material.

Jesse Brown, for instance, started a speech for a room full of student journalists called “The Future of News.” He laughed at us as we leaned forward in our chairs and then told us the real title of his presentation, captured in the following photo:

Jesse Brown dashes dreams, but makes it damn funny.

(Spoiler alert!) Fabiola Carletti went to J-school anyway and, nearing graduation, still really wants to do this thing. She also thinks a lot of the journalists she admires are, well, just a little crazy — and she’s okay with that.

Note: Fabiola also lapses into the third person, from time to time.

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

Heat, but no light: What to do with incendiary articles?

by Flickr user kate.gardiner

I’ve had this dilemma before.

When someone has a viewpoint very different from my own, I don’t instinctively put up my dukes. For the most part, I want to engage. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to see where they’re coming from.

And it’s not because I want to be on some kind of moral high ground–I’m opinionated and I get pissed off sometimes–but rather, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to waste energy sparring for the sake of sparring.

So here’s an example. In one of my comment threads, I had to make the following statement

“Before I go any further, however, I have to insist that you stop clouding this discussion with

1) Ad hominem attacks, like calling me pathetic.
2) Crude instructions to do things like “check my head”
3) Assumption-based “questions,” like “you don’t care about that, do you?”
4) Arrogant statements like “I’m schooling people on other blogs.”

Anyway, after giving the commenter ample opportunity to engage without the condescension and vitriol, I discontinued the dialogue (if, indeed, that’s what it was).

But that was a personal example, and now I’m embarking on media research that includes points of view that, to me, seem outrageously mean-spirited.

Basically, I’m writing a paper about the meta-conversation on climate change–discussing the discussion, if you will–and if you’ve been following the news on this topic, I’m sure you’ve heard some yelling and name-calling. Continue reading

How to think about Climate change: discussing the discussion

It’s no surprise to hear all-encompassing statements about the press, as if it were a monolithic blob of “media.” One such claim is as follows: when it comes to climate change, journalists “aren’t doing anything to / are doing a poor job of” making sense of this contentious conversation.

So, is this true? Are meta-conversations about our very understanding of climate change actually absent or useless? To explore the situation, I’ve been collecting headlines since mid-March. Below, you’ll find recent attempts by many reporters, from publications big and small, to frame the discussion.

An important caveat: I have not read the stories at the bottom of this post, nor I am not actively endorsing all the stories I have read. I’m collecting these stories for a project I’m currently working on, and I just thought it’d be useful to bring a sample to the fore for the rest of you.

As I make my way down this growing list, I’ll try to provide the gist of, or  interesting points from, each media text.

Climate Change in the Headlines

Photo by Flickr user Rusty Stewart

“If the things we report and the way we report them serve only to confuse people or frighten them or anger them, we diminish their understanding of the great issues of the day.”--Michael Enright, CBC journalist

How well have journalists covered climate change? (TVO, The Agenda with Steve Paikin)

Gist: I watched this hour-long panel and I think it does provide a decent enough pan of the landscape.  Its strength is that it brings together academically-anchored as well as practicing journalists, a blogger, a scientist, a foreign policy advisor, etc, so it’s not navel-gazing. Its limitation is that it’s typical of many televised discussions. They are, by format, somewhat stilted and privileging of  breadth over depth. Still, host Steve Paikin does raise some interesting questions, and this is a good starting off point for further conversation.

Nearly half of Americans believe climate change threat is exaggerated (

[article] Excerpt: “He said the scientists who worked on the IPCC report were woefully outmanoeuvred in PR by business groups which have the funds to employ legions of lobbyists and communications experts. “It’s not a fair fight,” he said. “The IPCC is just a tiny secretariat next to this giant denier machine.”

Climate change science more certain than ever (The Turlock Journal)

[Short article] Gist: Anthony L. Westerling, an associate professor of environmental engineering and geography at UC, contrasts the decrease in American concern over climate change with the increase in certainty within the scientific community. The centerpiece of his text is the recently released report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.” He concludes with a bulleted list of the report’s findings.

Scientists take another run at climate change (USA Today)

[News brief] Excerpt: “Eight Nobel-prize winning economists and scientists have joined more than 2,000 others in signing a letter today that urges the Senate to take swift action on climate change…”

Political ads: new weapon in US climate change war? (Reuters)

[Article] Excerpt: “Big business is now free to blitz the airwaves to attack politicians who support action against climate change, which could smother messages from environmentalists…”

“Environmental groups used to be able to get free media coverage by pitching stories to reporters. Now many journalists who wrote about those issues are gone, and the space available for coverage of the environment is shrinking…”

What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate (Huffington Post)

[article] Excerpt: “…despite the fact that these decisions are made by firms and individuals, government action is clearly key, because climate change is an externality, and it is rarely, if ever, in the self-interest of firms or individuals to take unilateral actions. That’s why the climate problem exists, in the first place. Voluntary initiatives — no matter how well-intended — will not only be insufficient, but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the problem…Whether conventional standards or market-based instruments are used, meaningful government regulation will be required.”

Continue reading