Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dear sir or madam, we regret to inform you that you are cut.

"Dear Claire Brownell, Thank you for applying to work at The Prestigious Post as an intern in 2008."

Oh right, I'd forgotten I applied to that.

"We have made our decisions, and I am sorry that we will not be offering you an internship for this year."

Rats. Oh well. Better luck next time.

"I know that may disappoint you. There are several people we would love to have working here and whom I know would do a great job. All of us regret the loss of that opportunity and the message we send when we decline applications from good people."

Yes, well, c'est la vie. It was a long shot. Also, that "whom" should be "who." Maybe they will hire me as a copy editor.

"Our decisions may say a lot more about the size of our intern class than they do about your talents and abilities, but it is natural to take rejection personally."

Wait... what? I didn't take it personally. Why would I take it personally? Who would take it personally? Should I take it personally?

"Please hang tough. If journalism is what you love to do, you will find a way. If the Prestigious Post is where you want to work, you can still get here. Today’s decision in no way forecloses future opportunities."

Some people think that? Why would they think that? I'm not going to drop out of J-school over this. Do some people drop out of J-school over this? What do you mean, "hang tough?"

"Stay smart, keep working hard and be flexible in journalism’s transformation. There will be untold avenues to achieve your career goals. I look forward to seeing that happen."

What was it? The clippings? It's not my fault the only published articles I had when I applied for that internship were about partying in Southeast Asia. The resume? The tone of the cover letter? Did I come on too strong? Should I have put more effort into the piano playing and tapdancing? Was it the swimsuit competition? What was it? WHAT WAS IT???

"Sincerely, Anne Important Editor."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dear mom: TV is going great.

Today was day 1 of learning to be a TV reporter. I had my reservations about TV from the get go, because I dislike the following things:

1) Carrying heavy stuff
2) Worrying about how I look
3) Being legally liable for $12 000 dollars worth of equipment

But it's part of the program, and apparently we all have to be able to shoot video, edit audio, play the piano and tap dance for the web these days if we want to be employable. So I gamely put on my best Reporter Barbie outfit, complete with pearls and make up, and arrived ready to learn.

Step one: Take the battery out of the charger, put it in the camera, and take it back out again. I successfully get the battery into the camera, and gently push it out again.

Whiz-BANG! The battery shoots out of the camera like a cannon ball and hits Peach squarely in the uterus. Peach is torn between clutching her stomach in pain and laughing hysterically. Off to a great start already.

Step two: Framing a shot and focussing it. "Let's pick a student at random for an example," says the tech guy teaching the lesson.

One nanosecond later, a broadcast quality close up of my face was on two very large television screens at the front of the class.

99% of the time, I take being low maintenance to extremes. It takes me 45 minutes to get ready in the mornings, including breakfast. I have gotten one manicure and zero pedicures in my life. I wear my hair in a ponytail almost every day, and the only reason there's anything in my wardrobe besides hoodies, jeans, and t-shirts is because my December internship forced me to go shopping.

But there are a few scenarios that bring out my repressed beauty anxieties. One is getting my hair cut (the lighting is very bright, you have to look at yourself in a mirror the whole time, and everyone who works there is wearing 90 pounds of makeup and is dressed like they're going clubbing). Another is being on video. Bad pictures? Whatever, you can blame the shot. There's no hiding from video. That is what you look like. Puffy cheeks, bloodshot eyes, staticky hair, and all. In broadcast quality close up. On a very large screen. In front of my entire class.

Step 3: Put the camera and tripod together and do some practice interviews with classmates. 

My group and I walk in from break to find our camera missing. "Someone must have mixed them up and taken ours by accident," we reason out loud.

Tech Guy goes white. "Could you please... go check... and find it... now?"

Did I mention these cameras are worth $12 000, and we signed a form saying we're responsible for paying for them if it's our own fault they go missing or broken?

Dear mom: TV is going great. Today was our first day and I rendered my friend infertile. Also, someone took our camera and now I owe Carleton twelve grand. I'm sure I can pay that back in ten years or so. Tim Hortons has had a help wanted sign since September.

We found the camera. We even set the tripod up, turned it on, and took a sequence of shots.

But it took us about two hours. That's going to be real impressive when we're interviewing real people with better things to do.

Friday, February 20, 2009

John Hodgman is amazing.

My father knows me well. He's responsible for my affection for Tom Wolfe, nerdy '60s and '70s prog rock, and of course, Battlestar Galactica.

So when he tells me I'll like something, I listen. I went home for a couple of days over reading week, and was told I would like John Hodgman's blog. John Hodgman is the PC guy from the Mac v. PC commercials and a regular on The Daily Show. Upon lurking through his blog, I also discovered that he used to be Bruce Campbell's literary agent.

Who's Bruce Campbell, you may say? Take your blazer and get out.

In conclusion, John Hodgman's blog is a collection of the obscure, weird and vaguely unsettling. Three of my favourite things. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Martha Gellhorn is amazing.

Seriously. The Face of War is the newest addition to my list of books that changed the way I think about the world, writing, and life in general.

Martha Gellhorn was a war correspondent who reported on conflicts from the Spanish civil war to the war in Vietnam. If she wasn't allowed into a conflict zone, she stowed away on a ship or truck to get in. She had no patience for the official version of events and insisted on seeing everything with her own eyes. Her trademark was telling stories about regular people that exposed something uncomfortable just by being true.

The journalism blogs I read are a constant stream of flap about how journalists can revive the media. Their prescription usually has something to do with multimedia journalism, social media, and killing newspapers in favour of web news.

Let me throw a crazy idea out there: Maybe the internet has nothing, or very little, to do with why people aren't reading newspapers. Maybe it's because no one's writing anything that inspires them to read. All my heroes of journalism - Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and now Martha Gellhorn - are from another age. They're also all rule breakers. They didn't play it safe. They chewed up journalism text books and spat them out. And the end result was riveting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Take Your Blazer and Get Out extends a warm welcome.

I just discovered how to get at my blog statistics through Google Webmaster tools.

In the past two weeks, 25% of my blog's appearance in searches was from people googling "medieval torture devices."

To all you S&M fans who now read my blog: Welcome and enjoy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reporter Barbie misses the obvious

In today's newscast it was my job to cover Question Period in the house of commons.

I've never been to QP. I've been in centre block once, when I was interviewing the House of Commons Curator during my internship. But I figured it wouldn't be too hard. Listen to politicians yell at each other, elbow some people in a scrum, grab a clip or two, get out, look like a big shot.

There were a few things I did not take into account:

1) Parliament is BIG. Really big. And complicated. There are lots of security checks and "do not enter signs" and security guards who get nervous when you look like you don't know what you're doing. Which I did not. I wandered into the press room and looked around like a deer in headlights. Two security guards asked if I needed help. "I'm a journalism student. I'm covering Question Period." Awkward silence. "... So... I guess I'll go do that now." I left quickly so I didn't have to hear the muffled laughter.

2) Parliament is noisy. The rumours are true: MPs are rude. Very rude. They talk through each other's speeches if it bores them, they yell insults at each other across the floor, they try to drown each other out with heckling. Besides being obnoxious, this makes it very hard to figure out what's going on. I only realized there's a little radio phone thing you can hold up to your ear that amplifies what's being said when it was almost over. And even with that, you still have to strain.

3) MPs don't wear name tags. Even news junkies and political nerds like me don't know more than a few MPs by sight. This means that if you miss who's talking, you're SOL: "Some MP in the back left corner who I'm pretty sure is from the NDP said..." doesn't cut it in a news cast. The little map of who sits where doesn't help.

So I spent most of QP sweating about all of the above, plus the fact that the house was half empty because it was a Friday and not much was being said. I left for the scrum with the vague plan of standing in the biggest crowd of reporters, shoving my mic in front of whoever they were interviewing, and somehow spinning that clip into a story. This plan was foiled when only two MPs stopped to talk to reporters, and one of them was speaking French. Did you know that there's actually a literal back door in the House that MPs who don't want to talk to the press can leave by? Neither did I.

So I came back to campus rattled and downtrodden, told my editor there was no story, and turned a press briefing on a court case that I'd gone to earlier that morning into a short, crappy story.

It's not my fault, I consoled myself. There was nothing going on. No one said anything that hadn't been said 900 times.

Then I read this in The Globe and Mail online.

Crap. Only a new development in a GIANT POLITICAL SCANDAL that I totally missed because I was too busy panicking there was no story.

At least this was an in-class newscast and not a real assignment. Right?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How cool is the internet?

I saw that that journalism professor whose blog I read had been to Malaysia a few years ago doing journalism research.

So I emailed her and asked if she had any contacts who would be able to help me with my MRP or write me a letter saying they'd act as my supervisor abroad to help me apply for funding.

She forwarded that email to a few people.

They forwarded that email to a few people.

Now I'm in touch with three Malaysian professors and nine Malaysian gay and women's rights activists on Facebook.

To everyone who says young people's use of social networking sites is a big dumb narcissistic waste of time: Take that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Making more effective use of my blogging time

Last semester Mary McGuire gave our print bootcamp class a guest lecture on multimedia journalism. I'm a total dweeb, and I took notes about all the stuff she recommended we do and spent a day over the Christmas break doing it. I made an iGoogle page, which has way too much stuff on it. I subscribed to a lot of blogs and feeds in Google Reader. I started a account. I still don't Twitter because I don't really get it, but I'll probably crack soon.

I probably only read about 20% of the stuff that shows up in my Google reader, and 15% of that is new posts in my classmates' blogs. But one blog that I find myself actually clicking on and reading consistently is American journalism professor Mindy McAdams' blog Teaching Online Journalism. She's on part 2 of a 15 part series of how to become a superstar multimedia reporter.

I decided I would attempt to follow along. Step 1 was to use feed readers and subscribe to blogs. Check! Totally on the wagon. Multimedia reporting superstardom, here I come.

Step two was to start a blog. Check again! But wait. As I read more carefully, it became apparent that my blog isn't the type of blog she's talking about. While I do attempt to make posts that are relevant to broader issues faced by journalism students, it usually falls under the often sneered at "personal" category. What she recommends is making a blog that also serves as your own personal website with links to make it easy for employers to access your clippings. She was a little vague on exactly what it is I'm supposed to be blogging about, but I'm pretty sure it's not my witch doctor experience at the dentist or the love poems my friends wrote me for my birthday. Also, I fear that I often slip out of the relentlessly "professional" tone I'm supposed to take in all my online endeavors. This blog is meant more for friends, family, and anonymous internet stalkers/fans. I wouldn't put the URL on my business card, although I do make sure I keep the fact that anyone can read it in mind, especially after learning said lesson the hard way.

But I kind of feel like if I'm putting all this energy into it, I should probably be able to benefit from it professionally, too. But what else besides my life do I have enough material to blog about on the regular? 

Mindy recommended this blog by an American journalism undergrad. The topic is, basically, being an American journalism undergrad. He blogs only about his journalistic endeavors. There is no mention of his personal life. He's spent a lot of time and effort cultivating a readership. He totally could, and I'm sure he does, put a link to his blog at the end of every email, comment, and cover letter he ever writes to anyone. As Mindy says, it will probably help him get a job when he graduates.

But... no offence, dude, who will probably read this because I linked his blog... it's also, well, pretty dry and technical. I'm not particularly interested in what kind of camera equipment he's bringing to cover the special olympics, for example. He's a prime example of an undergrad who got 100% sucked in to journalism, and now eats, sleeps and breathes it. That's cool, that's his thing. But if I tried to keep a similar blog, I would abandon it in a week out of boredom and frustration.

The reason I maintain this blog is because I need an outlet for writing in a style that isn't just for school. Cynical, dry, boundary-pushing humour is kind of my thing. And contrary to all the advice I keep getting, it's served me pretty well professionally. I put an article about using fire poi to busk for beer money in my Carleton portfolio. My boss's reaction to reading my blog about my internship adventures was "It was funny. You're a good writer." The head of the CP Ottawa bureau said he liked my travel writing, then offered me another internship.

So I'm thinking this blog could use some re-vamping. Less personal, more commentary. One idea that's been bouncing around in my head for a while is to start a fake news blog. It would showcase my writing without forcing me to take things too seriously. I think I could commit to a weekly fake news post. It's not like there's not enough material out there. Ideas for this week include "90% of outrage at Michael Phelps was over misinterpretation of the term "watersports:" Study;" "Mike Duffy to write series of erotic novels based on Canadian politicians;" "Journalists out of story ideas: Articles have already been published on how the economic downturn has affected everything."

This could obviously land me in hot libel water, too, but I think there are ways to do it carefully.

Maybe I'll do some test runs in the current blog to see how they go over.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


If I hear it one more time, I'm going to scream.

"It must be awful being a journalism student in these tough economic times. What with there being no jobs and all. Not that there were any jobs before. But now even people who used to have jobs are losing their jobs. Gee whiz, are you ever in trouble. Bet you wish you'd gone into something recession proof. Like law school."

This is sort of like how strangers sometimes stop me on the street in the summer when I'm wearing sandals to tell me my feet are weird. I know my feet are weird. I have looked at my weird feet every day for the past 24 years. Bringing it up doesn't help make them less weird, or help me deal with my weird-feet anxiety issues. There is pretty much nothing new or useful to be said about my weird feet, so I'd rather not talk about it.

Continuing this metaphor farther than I'd planned to, I also don't really care that my feet are weird. I shamelessly walk around in sandals anyway. Maybe I'm nuts, and maybe this is some sort of sacrilege, but the sum total of my secret thoughts, fears, and anxieties about the horrible journalism job market is... I don't really care. I'm going to shamelessly keep learning about journalism anyway, because I like it. It's fun. I think I'm pretty good at it.

"It's so awful, new journalists have to spend years doing contract work, or freelancing with no job security." Actually, that sounds great. I get to spend a few years trying out different things, finding out what my strengths, weaknesses, and interests are. Then, one day, the economy will resuscitate, and I'll swoop in like a vulture on all the juicy media jobs that are suddenly up for grabs again.

Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll get sick of living in a slanty slum and taking the bus and not being sure whether or not I'll have a paycheck next week, and I'll go into PR, or put together podcasts for some company, or launch my backup plan of writing a bestselling series of trashy romance novels. That's totally fine too. I'm serious about wanting to become a professional journalist, but I'm not going to jump off a bridge if those aren't the cards life deals me.

So this is an open letter to everyone: I know there are no jobs. I don't live under a rock. I didn't pick journalism over law school because I thought it would make me a millionaire. I picked it because living my life to the fullest is more important to me than a guarantee that I can make a down payment on a house in the next five years.

But thanks for your concern.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

You win, radio.

My thoughts on radio have officially gone from blah to skeptically interested to I think I might want to be a producer for a living.

Last week, to my surprise, I became the producer for the week's current affairs show, which "airs" (they don't actually let us on the air yet) right after our class's two newscasts on Fridays. I didn't even know what a radio producer did until last week. I'm still not sure I actually know what a current affairs show is. Pretty much all the instruction I was given was that a show based on some sort of theme that included an interview, a documentary, and a tape talk needed to come into existence in a week, and it was my job to make sure that happened.

I liked it. I like coming up with fun, witty, topical themes (ours was "Ottawa, I love you, but you're bringing me down.") I liked writing funny, cheeky script. I liked coming up with ideas for the various segments... twice, in fact, because all of our original ideas fell through. I liked problem solving, and having to power to decide to run with a segment on a YouTube video called "OC Transpo Strike Ruins Hitler's Plans" despite our prof's reservations. I liked being more concerned with interesting stories than news value. 

And, I'm not going to lie, I liked telling people what to do and not actually having to do it myself. "You met an ex-Nortel employee at the bar last night? Call him up and ask him if he's having relationship problems." "The therapist won't talk to you? Then stand outside a psych professor's office door until he gives you a clip, dammit!"

The only thing I didn't like, in fact, was not getting any of the glory. Mm... sweet, sweet glory. No glory for the radio producer. Someone else gets to read your best lines. No one hears your voice. It's one of those jobs that nobody notices is being done at all unless it's being done badly.

The newscast looked pretty fun too. I was jealous of the reporters who got to rush to city hall to do live hits about the transit talks. It was pretty amazing how fast everything changed and adapted and still came together, for the most part.

Basically, radio seems like it has all the good parts about broadcast (the immediacy, the scene-setting, getting to play with equipment) without the bad (worrying about what you look like on TV, lugging around heavy cameras and lighting, ratings and "infotainment" over serious reflection and analysis). So what if only two elderly ladies sipping tea are listening to Radio 1 at any given time? Those ladies are getting the highest quality journalism tax payer money can buy.

On top of all this, today I was given a sign. I was listening to Radio 1 while I put groceries away, and lo and behold, a short doc came on... about... the rising popularity of university intramural dodgeball. I KID YOU NOT. Dear CBC producers: If you're going to use my ideas, at least give me an internship.

Do you hold my future, radio? Perhaps.