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

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There’s still some bite in journalism

By theilr on Flickr

“Journalists are society’s watchdogs.” The phrase seems so clichéd … and yet powerful investigative journalism is so important (and maybe even on the up and up!).

Given that it’s so expensive, time-consuming, and — frankly — quite risky, I am always happy to see in-depth and critical reporting.

In case you haven’t heard, the Star is currently publishing a series that is taking a closer look at  a rather sacred cow: the Special Investigations Unit. The SIU is a law enforcement agency, independent of the police, that investigates instances of serious injury, sexual assault, and/or death that involve police and civilians.

Michele Henry and David Bruser have highlighted some troubling cases (see list below) in which allegations against police have not been satisfactorily investigated. Predictably, this critical series has raised the ire of the Toronto Police Association and that of many readers.

But, aren’t we supposed to be holding power to account and asking these uncomfortable questions? Isn’t the opposing idiom (journalists as lapdogs) much more disconcerting?

I think so, despite my many pleasant encounters with both police officers and representatives from the SIU. Kathy English, the Star’s Public Editor, also thinks so.

English makes a compelling argument for exploring this inflammatory issue.
Her reflection is an absolute must-read for those interested in public service journalism, and all the turbulence it entails.

The Star’s watchdog mandate

By Kathy English, Public Editor

Excerpt:

…Is the Toronto Star “anti-police”? Is this hard-hitting investigative series “a cop-bashing vendetta” and “junk journalism” as the Toronto Police Association charged in a press release responding to the Star’s investigation?

As I told readers this week, the Star has long been “pro-justice,” not “anti-police.” In reporting such strong evidence of a lack of results and little accountability from the SIU, the Star’s series exposes and holds to further account some officers who were investigated by the SIU. It is not an indictment of all police…

As one of the most powerful institutions in our midst, police should face scrutiny by the media acting as surrogates for citizens. Probing the SIU, which was created in 1990 after a series of police shootings of black civilians, is well in line with the media’s watchdog mandate.

“A review after 20 years of an organization like the SIU is completely appropriate and exactly the sort of thing newspapers need to do, should do and in the case of the Star, do all the time,” Kevin Donovan the Star’s Investigations editor said. “Sadly, many police have taken the position that we do not have the right to review their actions or the actions of the SIU.

Continue reading…

More from the series:


Toronto newspapers on their choice for mayor

Image by Fabiola Carletti

As a displaced Torontonian in Vancouver, I’ve been watching my city’s election coverage from afar.

Although polls are far from perfect, it’s been interesting to follow the numbers and try to guess at what the final tally will look like. For some time now, it’s been two-choice chatter in the T-dot: Will the next mayor be Rob Ford or George Smitherman? (Joe Pantalone being the only other highly-visible contender to have kept his name in the hat.)

I, for one, am not a betting woman. Suspense gives me the spins, so someone please tell me when it’s safe to look.

Anyway, since voting day is only one sleep away, I thought I’d round up the endorsement editorials of the four mainstream Toronto newspapers to save you a few google searches.

I’ve only included the beginning of the articles, and encourage you to click through for the full editorial.

Another day, another mayor.

George Smitherman. Photo by Shaun Merritt on Flickr.

The Toronto Star: George Smitherman

With eight days left in the municipal election campaign, three main candidates remain standing in the race for the Toronto mayoralty: Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman. Each has endured the rigours of a gruelling, months-long campaign in a bid to serve Toronto’s 2.6 million people. Each deserves respect for his effort. But only one candidate has the proven political skill, government experience, commitment to change, negotiating ability, compassion, drive, determination and charisma that — taken together — would amount to an effective mayor. George Smitherman is that candidate. (Continue reading…)

The Globe and Mail: George Smitherman

Toronto is a city suffering from structural problems that need to be overcome over the next mayor’s four-year term. The voters now have a choice between two flawed candidates, neither of whom has a convincing account of how he will bring about these changes; a third does not accept the fact that the city is in any trouble.

Rob Ford’s standing in the polls is a loud and clear message from the citizens that all is not well – in particular that they are at the limit of their toleration for new taxes and tax increases. More than any other candidate, he has captured the mood of voters, who are frustrated, even angry. (Continue reading…)

Rob Ford. Photo by Shaun Merritt on Flickr.

The National Post: Rob Ford

Toronto desperately needs change at City Hall. Spending has increased 43% since outgoing mayor David Miller took office — salaries and benefits by 47%. Over that same time, revenue from user fees and permits rose nearly 30% and property tax revenue by nearly a quarter — far outstripping the city’s population growth. The city has anywhere from 15% to 25% more employees than it did in 1998, depending on whose numbers you go by, and very little to show for it. All candidates in this campaign agree the city faces a $503-million budget shortfall for 2011. (Continue reading…)

The Toronto Sun: Rob Ford

The current political regime in charge of City Hall needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new era where taxpayers come first. In this election, there is only one candidate running for mayor who is both promising that kind of profound change and who has a credible record indicating he’ll deliver it. That’s Rob Ford. He’s the only person running for mayor who can get this enormous job done. (Continue reading…)

So, who will be able to print the “we-told-you-so” headlines? In such a tight race, it’s hard to say.

Worth noting, though: when discussing the widespread “guesstimating” with a Calgarian friend, she reminded me of a simple point: Pollsters tend to call residential house phones and, as she asked matter-of-factly, “how many people under 30 do you know who have land lines?”

But does this mean the cell-phone-touting teens and twenty-somethings will show up in droves and confound the pollsters as they seem to have done (at least partially) for Nenshi in Calgary? Or will they vote for “x-men”?

(I know one 19-year-old who seriously plans to do just that.)

As much as I hate ending posts this way: only time will tell.

So, you want to work at the Toronto Star radio room?

Today I combed my hair and sat on a panel of savvy second year students at the UBC School of Journalism. Our area of expertise: summer internships.

I’m not going to lie — it was pretty wonderful to see the look of muted terror on the first year students’ faces.

I’m not a sadist, folks. Let me explain: I remember sitting in their spot last year and wondering if I should just ditch J-school and run away with the circus. And, from unscientific polling, I know that most people in my class have felt the same way at some point.

This is how I felt about internships last year. Comic credit: Natalie Dee

(It’s also worth mentioning that Kathryn Gretsinger, our awesome prof and internship coordinator, noticed that a disproportionate amount of insecurity was coming from the ladies. “Why are all these brilliant women coming into my office with all of these doubts?!” she exclaimed. So, to my female colleagues: you got this!)

Not only were all the worrywarts in my year bright and capable, they can now tell stories about the interesting and variegated positions they secured in Canada and abroad. This year’s highly capable crew will do the same.

Ok, now to the goods.

After a summer at the Toronto Star, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about what the folks at 1 Yonge St. look for in a radio room intern. So, without further ado, I’m going to lay out some general advice for those interested in the particular position I obtained.

My only qualifier: this is my opinion based on my personal experience. Please take it for what it’s worth.

Landing a job at the Toronto Star Radio Room

My first day at the Star. Photo stealthily snapped by Roger Gillespie (iPhone enthusiast).

  1. Read the Toronto Star in general, and the GTA section in particular. You should be aware of all the developing stories going on in the city, and be able to intelligently comment on the most prominent issues of the day. Don’t be afraid of the print edition. I’m sure they’ll find it heartening to hear about you literally flipping through their paper.
  2. Understand the particulars of the job. I’ve written about it tons — just search “radio room” on this blog — and so has the guy that gives you the job, Roger Gillespie. His description of the position and the latest round of hires here.
  3. Keep your finger on the pulse of the radio room. Follow their tweets on twitter (@starradiobox) and read the intern blog. Be able to pick out radio roomers that shine, and (if true) explain how your style resembles theirs. Also tell them about something new you can offer. Maybe a story was blowing up in the blogosphere far before the Star caught on and you would have been an early warning system.
  4. Read up on and respect the Atkinson principles. The Star’s commitment to social justice, and the money they put into investigative work, is rooted in a set of principles named after the Star’s first publisher, Joseph Atkinson. In short: “a progressive newspaper should contribute to the advancement of society through pursuit of social, economic and political reforms.” He was particularly concerned about injustice, be it social, economic, political, legal or racial.
  5. Acknowledge the uniqueness of the internship. The fact that the Star actually pays and nurtures its interns is not something to take for granted. Radio roomers participate in a series of workshops, start with shadow shifts under the watch of veteran interns and editors, receive information packages — like the famous box bible — and are encouraged to be as prepared as possible for a completely unpredictable job. Interns are also referred to as “Staff Reporters” in their bylines, but with great honour comes great responsibility. No hiding behind qualifiers like “student” this time.
  6. Highlight moments in which the Star did great work and also offer constructive criticism. This shows that you didn’t start reading the paper the day before your interview. Reference good coverage that dates back a few months (ex: the G20 live blog) or any of the Star’s more recent awards. You should also politely point out a few areas in which you think the Star could improve.
  7. Know and mention good bylines you follow. I mentioned Rob Cribb’s investigative pieces, Chris Hume’s incisive opinion pieces, and Cathal Kelly’s humour writing, but I also mentioned the work of other young interns doing great work (Jesse McLean, Madeleine White and Jennifer Yang, for instance). Yes, this means reading and reading and reading. You should know how the Star did on a few major stories and perhaps compare it to how the other major papers covered the same issues.
  8. Be genuine. You know the Star often looks at uncomfortable topics (Do the police profile people of colour? Are seniors being well treated in nursing homes? How do young women express their feminism today?) So, figure out what you think of the Star’s slant and be self-reflexive about your role in all this. Why do you really want to write for this paper? If you believe in what it does, that’ll come through. If you don’t, that will too.
  9. Dress to impress. Some people showed up on the first day of the job in t-shirts and jeans, while others wore suit jackets and collared shirts. In the words of my Prof. Joe Cutbirth, how you dress may be the difference between seeming like some kid who’s just doing a gig and an ambitious young professional. Look the part you want to play, not just for the interview but for every day you arrive at work.
  10. Once in, make it count! Getting the job is just the beginning. You should really begin with the end in mind, imagining what it will take to have editors notice you and keep their eye on you even after your internship is over. Good luck, young ninjas. The fact that you read through this whole post and are actively seeking advice is a very good sign. When anxiety strikes, remember the motto from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic! 

Canadian-Iranian blogger facing execution

Hossein Derakhshan, file photo from the Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t heard of Hossein Derakhshan, the first thing I should tell you is that we need to save his life.

Derakhshan, also known as “Hoder” and the “blogfather” is a Toronto-based blogger known for facilitating Persian anti-government dissent in the blogosphere and later changing his political slant and alienating some of his readers.

He has an intricate backstory,  one that is well summarized by an alumna of my J-school program, Kate Allen. You can read her synopsis (with embedded video at the end here).

Yes, he’s a controversial figure, but regardless of what he’s written, it is absolutely unacceptable that he is facing execution.

Carmen Chai, who I met in the Toronto Star radio room this summer, has listed several ways in which Canadians can help.

Read up, and please speak out.

From the breaking news desk: Aug 22 & 29

Photo by Alice Swanson

This is it. This is the final list of stories that I worked on in the Toronto Star radio room.

I trained some new interns on the 30th and 31st — forcing them to do real stories instead of practice stories — and it went really well. I’m especially proud of Manny and Noel who dealt with the Orangeville missing woman’s case, working well under pressure and calling neighbours and out-of-town police on the very first day. They ended up sharing a byline with Peter Edwards (Read the story here:  Missing woman may be linked to bloody crime scene) and were featured as top story on the website just hours into their first shift.

Training new interns reminds me of what it felt like to sit in the hot seat for the first time, wondering if some administrative error had led to my position. I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m so grateful to the Star for the opportunity. I’m going to do a “final thought” in a separate blog post, but for now I’ll note the biggest change in me.

I’m no longer compelled to qualify the word “reporter” by adding “student” or  “aspiring” before it.

This was the real deal.

Heat alert issued for Toronto
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has issued a heat alert as temperatures are expected to reach about 31°C on Sunday.

Officer injured while responding to false call
A police officer was injured while responding to a false 911 call in Wasaga Beach Saturday at around 2:15 a.m.

Firefighter in hospital after Burlington fire
Firefighters battled against a blaze that forced them out of a Burlington home early Sunday morning.

Mississauga cyclist clings to life after crash
A Mississauga man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries following a Sunday morning collision in Burlington.

Two women sexually assaulted hours apart
Police are investigating after two women were sexually assaulted in separate incidents on the weekend

Man shot dead by police
Fatal shooting in east end follows reports about a man with a knife (with files from me)

Dispute ends with man being shot
A young man was taken to hospital after suffering a gunshot wound to the buttocks early Sunday morning.

From the breaking news desk: Aug 13 – 17

Image by Markus Rödder on Flickr

My latest list of news stories from the Toronto Star radio room.


Boy, 4, in hospital after fall from window

A 4-year-old boy is suffering from life-threatening injuries after falling from the second floor of a Brampton home.

Police officer shot during training exercise

A police officer is in hospital after he was accidentally shot in the leg at Toronto Police College in Etobicoke.

Whitby man and boy killed in Iowa crash

A Whitby man and his young passenger are among six people killed in a three-vehicle crash near Colfax, Iowa.

Man, 51, drowns in Lake Simcoe near Innisfil

Police divers pulled the body of a 51-year-old man from Lake Simcoe on Monday night after hours of searching.

Woman killed in crash on Highway 427

Police are investigating after a 22-year-old woman was killed in a rollover on Highway 427 near Dundas St. W.

Tornado, severe thunderstorm warnings roll through Ontario

Residents of several towns were nervously eyeing the skies Sunday for the deadly funnel clouds.

Police identify homicide victims

Police have identified the two Toronto men killed in a pair of unrelated homicides Saturday.

Security scare at prime minister’s house

Man sets liquid aflame outside 24 Sussex Dr. and is arrested.

Severe thunderstorm warnings cleared for Toronto and many GTA neighbours

Severe thunderstorm warnings for Toronto now have been cleared, but remain for parts of Durham and areas to the east.

Hilary Duff weds NHL player Mike Comrie

Actress Hilary Duff tied the knot on Saturday with Mike Comrie, a free agent hockey player who last played for the Edmonton Oilers.

CAW and Union Station staff reach new deal

Union Station railway workers, who had been on the brink of striking on Monday, have ratified a new three-year deal that includes higher wages and improved benefits.

Teens target delivery drivers in series of robberies

Five teens have been charged in connection with a series of robberies targeting fast food delivery drivers.

GTA salmonella cases spike, men in 20s hardest hit

The provincial health ministry is investigating a spike in salmonella cases; most appear to be clustered in the GTA and affecting young men.

Cyclist dies a month after fall

A 40-year-old cyclist has died of his injuries after falling from his bicycle July 15.

Taxi driver robbed, locked in trunk

Police are looking for a suspect who threatened a taxi driver with a knife and locked him in the vehicle’s trunk on Wednesday night.

Man wanted for currency exchange scam

Police are looking for a suspect who may be targeting the Chinese community in an online currency exchange scam.

Police in bumper cars chase on Hwy. 401

A pickup driver is expected to face numerous charges after leading police in a pursuit that stretched from the Oxford county area to Toronto on Friday.