Ah, new journalists – what do they know?

Despite what it seems like, I haven’t been slacking off. In fact, I’ve been intensely working on a blog … just not this one. This screen shot is pretty self-explanatory:

If you haven’t been following my mini-saga, here’s the short version: my first-year undergrad students want to learn about the most promising young journalists. For the past week, I’ve been collecting nominees and soliciting their advice.

Honestly, it’s been more of a time commitment than I expected, but it’s really been worth it. All the nominees were asked a very general question: “What advice would you give a first-year undergrad who’s thinking of getting into journalism?”

The responses have ranged from general encouragement to specific strategies. Many entries manage to be hopeful despite realistic assessments of the challenges we face.

What has surprised me most, though, is how humble so many of these up-and-comers are. When asked to offer their insight, some began with paragraph-long qualifiers. This would make sense if their journalism looked, sounded, and read like the work of rookies, but it really doesn’t! In fact, I’m more excited than ever about the number of smart and talented people getting into the industry right now. Despite the non-stop parade of gloomy predictions, they’re rolling up their sleeves and saying “let’s do this thing.”

To answer the question for which this post is named: new journalists know a heck of a lot, and anyone interested in the future of news should pay attention to what they’ve learned so far.

The site isn’t really live yet because my students haven’t seen it, and it won’t be “googlable” until they do. For now, here’s a sample entry if you’re wondering what to expect.

As you can see, I start by showcasing the pointers, and then tell you a bit about the author. I’m also including links to their work or embedding multimedia wherever possible. It’s a simple formula, but hopefully a useful starting point.

I’ll definitely follow up when the site is ready to be read. For now, back to marveling at my peers.

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!

Learning to Listen

“A wise old owl sat in an oak. The longer he sat, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?” – anon.


Radio’s charm has changed. It used to be both intimate and fleeting–and while it’s still the former, we can now skip forward, select segments, go back, replay, tune in when we like and, importantly, we can easily share.

For a moment, I’d like to pretend we’re in a cozy living room and I’m inviting you in to sit with me by the radio, in an old rocking chair, and enjoy some milk and cookies.

There’s something special about closing our eyes and taking in a beautiful story, or allowing our minds to focus on the language of an incisive and stimulating debate.

For me, it started with audiobooks. I loved the way authors read their own stories. Over the years, as they’ve become increasingly accessible, I’ve fallen in love with a few really great podcasts.

As a seasoned listener, I’ve made attempts to lay out my best sample for skeptics.

If you’re starting to explain why it’s not worth it (you’re too busy, you always listen to music, you think radio is boring)…shhhh. Turn your speakers to a comfortable level.

Here’s a fantastic piece with which to start:

Recently, the team at This American Life produced an episode called Island Time, which took on several very difficult questions about relief efforts in Haiti.

Months after the earthquake–and months after stories about reviving fading interest have themselves faded–this story grabbed me by the ears and affected me profoundly.

Among other things, they ask: why, after so many years and so much money, is this country getting poorer? What does it matter that so much Haitian artwork was destroyed? Why should anyone care if their mangos are bruised? How many would-be-heroes have left Haiti without finishing what they came to do?

It’s so well done, and so important to pass on. This is the kind of journalism that really matters, and that we really need to support.

Photo credit: “African Owl” By Bill Hails on Flickr.

The CBC–It’s Kind of a BIG DEAL

The CBC building in Toronto

The CBC building in Toronto

The ratings pretty much deny my existence. Broadcasters assume that I will skip over lively political debates in order to shriek about the latest hissy fit on The Hills. Is it so hard to believe that I’m interested in the richness and complexity of my cultural landscape? I just don’t care as much about celebrities, scandals and shopping. Sorry.

To the bafflement of pollsters, I am a young person who happens to value the content provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. My devotion may even be baffling to many of you readers out there. How often do you hear, “Did you listen to CBC radio last night? You missed some very clever dark humour—Gregor Samsa wakes up to realize that he has turned into a cockroach, so he writes to Dr. Seuss for advice. . .” (No, I’m not making this up. Kafka and Seuss are a brilliant blend!).

Yes, I happen to enjoy commercial-free radio programming; it provides sanctuary from the watered-down infotainment on every other dial. I am regularly stunned by the musical brilliance of Canadian artists that are virtually ignored on commercial channels. I’m a huge fan of The Hour—George Stroumboulopoulos’ youth-oriented news show—because it actually gives young people the benefit of the doubt. I’m telling you, the CBC provides the goods!

Canada is a huge country with a long list of needs. According to the Mandate Review Committee, an independent body tasked with assessing the value of the CBC, it is “the only medium of information, education, enlightenment, culture and entertainment, which operates all day from coast to coast, on radio and on television, in our two official languages.” They go on to remind us that, over the decades, the CBC has provided everything from children’s programs and indigenous television drama to comedy programming and forums for debate. All of this, crucially, has been provided without “geographical or financial barriers to listening”.

What we cannot get from anywhere other than CBC Radio is intelligent programming of a national flavour (and that’s flavour with the ‘u’).–Dave McCormick, CBC radio fan

Still, in what seems like a billion-channel universe, it’s easy to forget about local legends like Peter Mansbridge and Mr. Dressup. But despite the fierce competition, the CBC has a public responsibility to try and represent poorly understood groups. Take Little Mosque on the Prairie for example, a controversial sit-com that stars a Muslim family living in small-town Saskatchewan, post 9-11. As CBC executive director of network programming, Kirstine Layfield, states, “Just doing the series is a risk in itself, but one the public broadcaster should take on if we’re to help communicate [the] authenticity of living in Canada.” Though this authenticity varies between CBC TV and CBC Radio (the former has adopted more commercial tactics in order to compete), the struggle remains an important one. In the words of CBC fan Dave McCormick, “What we cannot get from anywhere other than CBC Radio is intelligent programming of a national flavour (and that’s [flavour] with the ‘u’).”

So why is Canadian-content such a rare bird? Let’s be frank: Canadian programming, particularly on television, is a lot less profitable than the well-established shows produced by American broadcasters. During prime time, Canadian commercial broadcasters—like CTV, Global and CHUM—are simply flocking to where the money is. Richard Stursberg, vice-president of CBC television thus asserts that the CBC is the only big broadcaster that actually has ‘shelf space’ for Canadian programs at a time when Canadians are actually watching. Creating a show like Little Mosque may be far less economically appealing than purchasing a safe and formulaic program, but it may be one of the only places where Muslim-Canadians can actually see themselves reflected. Still, you may be wondering, in a capitalist country, just how important are these non-commercial ideals?

There is no set answer to this question; rather, there is a familiar debate. This debate is much more complex than I can get into, but I can’t help but quote the MRC again on this one: “In this highly competitive environment . . . we believe that there will be an even greater need for a significant part of the broadcasting landscape to be clearly dedicated to public service (emphasis in original).” Plus, our neighbour to the South happens to be one of the most culturally influential nations in the world. Changes in the international media landscape have been so recent, rapid and radical that, taken together, they amount to an entirely new environment of unprecedented challenges—challenges that are global in scope.

The CBC is the only big broadcaster that actually has ‘shelf space’ for Canadian programs at a time when Canadians are actually watching.–Richard Stursberg, vice-president of CBC television

Call me crazy, but in light of this backdrop I think Canada must guarantee a place for a media organization that isn’t solely profit-driven. Remember democracy? Pretty sure it requires, minimally, a publicly funded forum where the diverse peoples of Canada may come together. I sincerely care about what’s happening in Nanaimo, Nunavut and Newfoundland! Broadcast content is extensive, but not necessarily inclusive.

It comes down to the fact that I distinguish between selection and choice—if we cannot choose to access information that is locally-based and reflective of the nation we live in, what can be said about shared imagination? Now, I’m not saying that we should completely change our media diets. I know we’ve developed a taste for imports. I’m merely suggesting that we balance that diet by throwing in some wheaty Canadian goodness (remember the ‘u’ in flavour?). Personally, I don’t want to depend on cultural hand-me-downs from mostly-American sources—especially now that I realize how much creative and intellectual power we have right here at home.

If we as Canadians don’t pay any attention, we are basically depreciating the value of our own voices. And if we continue down this path, we’ll only reinforce the rather depressing observation of our borrowed hero, Homer Simpson: “Canada? Why would I want to leave America just to visit America, Jr.?”

Is that all we think we are?
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Get to Know “The Ceeb”: A Guide to CBC Radio One (99.1 FM)

I met Jonathan Goldstein at the Canadian University Press conference!

I met Jonathan Goldstein at the Canadian University Press conference!

WireTap w/Jonathan Goldstein—Eavesdrop on Jonathan’s telephone conversations with brilliant, bold and bizarre personalities. From hilarious monologues to misguided meanderings, WireTap is an auditory indulgence.

The Current w/Ana Maria Tremonti—No idea what’s going on in the world? Jump into the Current and watch it live up to its name. More informative than sound-bites and more critical than common, this program takes an in-depth look at the important questions of our time.

Definitely not the Opera w/Sook-Yin-Lee—You may remember Sook-Yin from her days as a MuchMusic VJ. This seasoned personality now invites you to sign up for her crash course in both Canadian and international arts, culture and entertainment.

The Debaters w/ Steve Patterson—Featuring the best talents in Canadian Comedy, this program brings a whole new meaning to the idea of a stand-up debate. Enjoy your visit to a place where puns are intended and everyone must learn to laugh at themselves.

**Please note: a simple Google search of the (Program name + CBC) should bring up its up-to-date schedule. If you don’t live in Toronto, check out the podcasts. Happy listening!**

A version of this article was published the April 2008 issue of MacMedia Magazine,