Thursday, April 30, 2009

Head scratcher moment

My dad was driving me back to Oakville with all my stuff today. I'm going to be here for the next six weeks doing an internship with before heading to Malaysia.

We were listening to a report on a private radio station where the reporter was badgering a woman at the Tamil protest on University Avenue to explain why her cause was important enough to reroute traffic. I made some comment about it being annoyingly one-sided.

Then my dad made an interesting point. 

He asked if I ever listen to news on private radio - I said no, my radio dial is pretty much permanently stuck on CBC Radio One. He pointed out that more people listen to private radio than the CBC. Sometimes, private radio covers local news-type things better than the CBC. 

If I only listen to the CBC, how would I know what competing news other people are listening to, how their reporting measures up, and why a lot of people choose it over Radio One?

This was one of those so obvious I can't believe I missed it moments. We were effectively told in our radio class not to bother with other Canadian radio news - that the CBC is the only source of "serious" radio journalism in Canada. Whether or not that's true, it's a viewpoint that effectively gives the finger to the people who choose to get their news from private radio. It's sort of the snobby journalist equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "John Jacob Jingelheimer Schmidt" instead of listening to what's going on around you.

No one in this business can afford to do that right now. If somebody's pulling in more listeners/viewers/readers, everyone else had better figure out how and why. That doesn't necessarily mean throwing your standards out the window and copying them, but it does mean making an open minded, informed decision.

Maybe I'll write down the numbers of some local talk stations to flip back and forth. On the hilariously huge and old fashioned walkman I'll be taking to work on the GO train because you can't listen to the radio on an iPod.

Edit after reflection: I guess I should start reading the Sun for the same reason. And watching CityTV. Jeez.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Discovered: Penelope Trunk

Sometimes it feels like all I do is read blogs, write posts, click on Twitter links, write Twitter updates, and add all the interesting stuff I find to Google reader. I've become so immersed in Web 2.0 that it's become my Life 2.0.

Anyway. One internet phenomenon that I've come across through all this webernetting is Penelope Trunk and her blog Brazen Careerist. It's extremely possible you have, too, because she says she has 30,000 subscribers. I've become increasingly fascinated by her for a number of reasons:

1) She likes young people. She has a company that helps employers find new hires, and she talks up Gen Y all the time. This is a refreshing change from the stuff I'm used to reading, written by certain baby boomers with large salaries, about how my generation is lazy, whiny, self-entitled, and spoiled.

2) She takes the theory that writing about your personal life online is unprofessional, steps on it with a stiletto, and grinds it into the ground. I have long complained that this theory is outdated. Older people should accept that people from my generation are going to mix our personal and professional lives online, and embrace its potential instead of freaking out about it and firing/not hiring us. 

One of the reasons that Trunk's blog is so popular is because it dispenses good career advice. The other reason is she backs up her arguments with juicy references to her personal life. Go to the "About this blog" section and you'll be greeted with links to the posts where she describes the breakdown of her marriage and the start of her dating life. She recently wrote about screaming at a date for refusing to perform a certain sex act.

These details make people keep reading her blog, and by extension make them more likely to remember and use her recruiting company, and by extension help, not hinder, her professional success. Whatever you think of the process, the outcome delivers.

1) I'm having an absolutely wonderful time trying to figure out what I think about her particular brand of feminism. I've never actually seen her write the F-word, and it's likely she wouldn't use it to describe herself. She's what my profs and classmates in my undergraduate women's studies classes would have eye-rollingly described as a post-feminist, and what she describes as being realistic. 

For example, she recommends that women educate themselves about methods for looking younger, because, as she writes: "Aging is not equal in the workplace. Women are penalized much more heavily than men." She counsels women not to take sexual harassment cases to court because they'll become pariahs and be blacklisted in their industry, and writes: "Each time in my career that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. "

This is normally where I would hurl curses at my computer, close the window, and never read the blog again. But her take on these issues is a lot more nuanced than the end result of her advice (get a facelift and ignore your boss's butt squeeze) would suggest.

Trunk didn't just "ignore" her boss's sexual harassment. She cagily went to management, told them about the situation, and asked to be transferred to a department she preferred to work in but had no openings. In her view, it would have been crazy to take the harassment to court and potentially harm her career when instead she could use it as an ace in the hole to get a better job.

She's also written awesome posts about sexism at the G-20 summit and the myth that every moment you spend with your children should be a bundle of precious joy and only a terrible parent would occasionally find it boring and unfulfilling.

I'm suspicious of anyone who describes themselves as a political/philosophical "realist." It generally seems like a moral cop-out to do whatever is in your own interests instead of trying to work for change. "We'll never achieve nuclear disarmament/end patriarchy/end our dependency on fossil fuels, so we might as well make sure we can outnuke our neighbours/get a boob job/control resources in oil-rich countries by military occupation," the line of reasoning goes.

And while I clearly call BS on that line of reasoning, that doesn't mean I think everyone should go out and martyr themselves for various causes, either. I think what Trunk did in the sexual harassment scenario was smart. If every women who experienced sexual harassment took their case to court, would the practice end? Maybe. Is it practical for every woman to do this, and should we fault them if they don't? No.

So in conclusion, this woman is fascinating. Read her blog. Not that she needs any promotion from me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Boring housekeeping post

It was brought to my attention (by my mom) that a lot of the links on my clippings sidebar weren't working. I fixed them. So check out my awesome CP stuff!

Yeah, the cat's out of the bag, The Newsly Newswire is CP. Whatever. Someone call CNN.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why won't anyone think of the bunnies?

As Ottawans know unless they've been living under a rock, yesterday was the biggest protest on Parliament Hill in years. In case you have been living under a rock, you can read my story about it here.

The day before that, I got sent to Question Period. There were two things that made me wish I had a camera.

One was the juxtaposition of Tamil protesters and people smoking up on the lawn of Parliament in celebration of the stoner national holiday, 4:20. Stepped up police presence and a competing demonstration, and these dudes and dudettes still come out by the hundreds to fight for their right to party. Brazen.

The other was pointed out to me by a security guard as I was about to walk through the entrance. She was kneeling down by the grass. 

"Want to see something neat?" she asked. I said sure. 

She lifted up a patch of grass to reveal a hole full of tiny, squirming, newborn bunnies.

I squealed.

Fast forward to 35,000 people tramping around the Hill yesterday. It was a peaceful protest, yes, but I am concerned for the safety of the baby bunnies. No one was protecting their rights. Their well-being was overlooked.

I guess when you build your home in the shadow of Parliament, you risk becoming a casualty of democracy.

Poor bunnies.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Can I be an intern forever?

When I got an email offering me an internship position with The Newsly Newswire last January, I freaked out a little bit. 

The newswire (which I'm not naming in case my editor has a Google alert set up for it - not that I'm saying anything bad about it, I just figure he doesn't need it delivered to his inbox as soon as I hit "publish") is the most important one in Canada. Almost every major newspaper, magazine, broadcast outlet and website in the country subscribes to it, which means they can pick up and broadcast or reprint any of its content. 

The whole point of a newswire is to get things out faster than everybody else. This is roughly how I imagined an average day would go:

"Brownell, we need you to cover the press conference on the circus clown strike. Here's a video camera, microphone, still camera, and laptop. We need you to file a report with video, audio and pictures in an hour. The conference starts in five minutes - run!"

In fact, it's been exactly the opposite. It's sort of like freelancing, except I get a desk and a phone. I walked in on day one, they asked me if I had any story ideas, I pitched two, and they said "sounds great - work on that."

I start at 10, I'm done at 5, I get a lunch break. I wrote three stories last week, which to me feels like a life of leisure, but according to them is better than the average intern.

They put my first story on the wire today. I'm ashamed to say that I'm feeding the media obsession with Twitter, but it's a pretty good story, in my opinion. Googling my name under "pages from Canada" has revealed that it's already been picked up by several websites - including! Hopefully it will make it into some newspapers tomorrow too.

The other story I pitched, about youth unemployment, is going on the wire tomorrow to be picked up by papers on Monday. I'm not sure when the third one I wrote is going up, but it's about how small towns in Eastern Ontario are trying to attract tourists who don't want to spend money vacationing abroad because of the recession.

Look, ma - I'm a real journalist.

I'll update with more links as they come up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interview FAIL.

"Hello, I'm a reporter from the Newsly Newswire. I'm working on a story about how small towns in Eastern Ontario are trying to attract tourists to boost the economy during the recession."

"Uh huh."

"I was looking online, and I discovered that Smalltown, Ontario just had its second annual goat run."

"Oh, yes."

"Were you involved in the goat run?"

"Yes, I was one of the organizers."

"Can you tell me more about it? How does a goat run work?"

"Well, there were about 200 participants. The winner is picked based on how close you come to predicting the finish time."

"I see. And do participants come from outside of Smalltown? Does it attract tourists?"

"Yes, we get quite a few participants from out of town."

"Are you intentionally marketing it towards tourists?"

"Actually, I was talking to someone from the county about that the other day. We're thinking of making up pamphlets."

"Oh, really! That's great. When's the next goat run?"

"Actually, we're having another one at the end of the month. It's going to be a relay race."

"A relay... huh? How do goats run a relay race?"


"Well, how would they hand off the baton?"

"I don't.... oh.... *stifled laughter*"

"Excuse me?"

"You think... the race... is run by goats."

"It's not?"

"No. 'Goat run' is just a nickname. It's run by people."

"I see."

The Newsly Newswire, by the way, has an open concept newsroom. This interview was heard by every reporter at the desk.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Liveblog experiment: 50 exams, 48 hours.

What did I say about blogging lending itself to the worst of times rather than the best of times?

I have 50 exams to mark. The exams were in the format of four essay questions that students were given in advance and had three hours to write. Four essays + three hours = a lot of panicked scribbling. Some students filled four exam books.

I am going to try to finish them in two days, because I have a dream. A dream of a day off. A dream of waking up on Sunday, going for a bike ride through scenic Centretown, cooking a week's worth of delicious and nutritious meals, reading a book, and going to bed at a reasonable hour in order to be well rested for my internship starting Monday. A dream that does not involve finishing my marking in a panic at 2 a.m.

If you can dream it, you can do it, is what I'm telling myself. If it takes me half an hour to mark each exam, that's 25 hours. That's two 12.5 hour days. That even gives me time to sleep.

But it will require discipline. Strict time limits for how long it takes me to grade each answer. Moratoriums on staring into space and hitting refresh on Google reader.

On the other hand, it's the perfect liveblogging scenario. Read with me as I descend into madness, dear friends.

Check for updates throughout the next two days.


10:20 a.m.: About to spread exams on bed. I finished question one on about 10 of them yesterday. Strict 10-minute time limit per answer, with the goal of reducing it to seven as I get into the swing of things.

Anyone else a recovering livejournal-er? Then you'll get the reference:
Mood: Optimistic
Music: Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde

1:20 p.m.: It's going faster than I thought... I'm averaging five minutes per answer. Still sane. Just consumed delicious tuna melt on a bagel. This is all fascinating to you, I'm sure. Maybe liveblogging is as stupid and mundane as critics say it is. About to make cup of coffee #4.
Mood: Full.
Music: David Bowie (I'm multitasking: getting to know classic discographies better as I mark. Dylan, as usual, was great for a few hours, but then I wanted to never hear a harmonica again).

2:54 p.m.: I'm officially done marking question 1 on all 50 exams, which means I'm 1/4 done. Have started muttering to myself as I mark. Going to the grocery store for a break.
Mood: Excited for sunshine.
Music: Still Bowie.

3:41 p.m.: The grocery store was closed. I forgot that it's Good Friday, and that normal people are home with their families cooking ham and eating cream eggs.
Attempted to bike to the store in Lulus, which kept getting caught in the gears. Had to wrap my right pant leg in an elastic band. Very recession chic; nouveau hobo, if you will. I can see the headlines now: "Lulu Lemon yoga pants cause traffic accident: 'I'm going back to skinny jeans,' vows cyclist."
Mood: Angry I have to go back to marking so soon.
Music: CBC Radio 3.

5:36 p.m.: There's one student who underlines key words as she writes. This makes it super easy to read and mark, because I can see really easily if she's making the points she's supposed to make according to the grading rubric. Also she writes in big, round, neat print. I want to hug her. People I do not want to hug include students who write in cursive and students who write in very light mechanical pencil.
Mood: A little concerned that I'm not maintaining my earlier pace.
Music: CBC Radio 3
Cups of coffee: 5

8:54 p.m.: You know how when you say the same word over and over you forget what it means? The following words have blended into meaningless pablum in my brain from reading them 500 times (whether they meant anything in the first place is a whole other matter). I have to concentrate really hard to focus my eyes on them. They dart away when I see them, like accidentally touching a hot stove:
- Patriarchy
- Construction
- Prostitution
- Capitalism
- Media images
By the way, this is a women's studies class.
Six exams away from the halftime show.
Mood: Stiff.

10:09 p.m.: Forget this, I'm going to Megababe's.
Mood: Thirsty.


10:06 a.m.: The two answers that are left to mark have the most potential for long-windedness. This is going to be fun.
Mood: Bring it on.
Music: Lisa's housewife mix (mostly Belle and Sebastian, The Shins, Cat Power and Elliott Smith. Very non-grating).

12:47 p.m.: Got cabin fever and decided to take a walk and pick up lunch. My neighbourhood's a smorgasbord of cheap and tasty treats, and I decided to try something new: a cheese and mint pie from the middle eastern bakery a couple of blocks down the road.
Oh. My. God. "Pie" is misleading: it's a cheese/mint filling stuffed in a greasy flatbread and toasted like a Quizno's sub to make it melty. Huge and delicious... and $2.25. Why do I buy groceries?
Focus, Claire. Focus.
Mood: Unfocused.
Music: Belle and Sebastian.

3:34 p.m.: This has kind of stopped being funny and lighthearted and become actually depressing. About to make attempt #2 at going to the grocery store.
Mood: Defeated.

6:30 p.m.: Done question three, which means I'm three-quarters finished. Pretty good, yeah, but it basically guarantees I'm going to be at this until at least midnight, and that's if I don't take a bunch of breaks.
Mood: Second wind?

10:48 p.m.: I'm done. I powered through those last exams with laser-like determination. I thought I would feel like cheering, or at least like crying, or getting carted away in a strait jacket. I don't really. I just feel annoyed that I spent two days of my life doing that. Also, I am super up to speed on my Canadian indie music now, after listening to CBC Radio 3 for probably something close to 20 hours in the past 48.
Mood: Hungry... and terrified the prof will make me regrade for having too many As.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Carleton's Master of Journalism Program: Not as Terrifying as I Make it Out to Be

A couple of days ago I had a phone conversation with someone who will be starting the MJ program next fall. She'd been following my blog for a while, apparently, and wanted some insider knowledge about what to expect.

Prospective students reading my blog to learn about the program had never occurred to me. In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense, given my "Carleton's Master of Journalism Program: Kind of Like A..." series of post titles. I just found out that when you google "carleton master of journalism," result #3 is this blog's first post.

Anyway, I can't remember exactly what she said, but she made a comment that was something to this effect:

"Do you even enjoy the program? Because based on your blog, it sounds sort of stressful and terrible."

Yikes, I thought. Stressful and terrible? Stressful, yes. Terrible, no. Was I really giving off the impression that the program was some sort of never-ending hell cycle of sleepless nights and cold calls?

I'm going to say the overall tone of my posts comes out as negative for the same reason the news tends to report the negative. People have an urge to write and read about extremes and things that are out of the ordinary. Nobody wants to hear about the days when I wake up at noon on a Saturday, read the paper, clean my apartment, and maybe do some leisurely marking - for the same reason that nobody wants to read headlines to the effect of People Enjoy Break from Work: Experts Credit the Weekend.

And I don't want to write about them. I get the urge to blog when life is at its craziest, like last Friday.

Anyway, like I said in the last post, I love this program. I really do. In general, I think it has a good balance between the practical and the academic. I've learned so much in the last eight months that it makes my head hurt to think about it.

So please, little prospective MJs, don't get the wrong idea. Don't run away screaming when you get your acceptance letter. The craziness is part of the fun. Mike's Place pints taste best when they're in celebration of a day spent running around the city putting together a same day newscast. I swear.

Also, I don't want to be single-handedly responsible for a decline in applications. Especially when the faculty is reviewing my proposals for funding to go to Malaysia. Eep.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The reflection post.

Last Friday many of my classmates reflected on a time when the last day of class was the easiest day of the year. A day when the only reason you showed up was to receive your report card, a rice krispie square, and a pat on the head.

Those days are no longer. Last Friday we had to produce our final TV newscast. My partner and I had to put together the arts and sports reports. I was filming a high school improv tournament until 10:30 the night before, was back on campus by 8:30 to shoot a standup, found out at 9:00 that I had to include twice as much material as I thought I had and reshoot said standup in a better location, then spent the rest of the day frantically editing, filming the unveiling of a sports car, trying to memorize all the arts listings for the weekend, editing more, getting in trouble for what I thought was the brilliant idea of not bothering to write a script, sitting through two takes of the newscast, writing three course evaluations, and finally being allowed to get out of there and start drinking.


I showed up at my parents' house last night in a zombie-like stupor, looking and probably smelling like the living dead. I'm not even going to tell you what I had due on the other days of last week. I wouldn't want to be responsible for anyone fainting.

And yet I love it. I had a fantastic year. I learned more than I thought it was humanly possible to learn in such a short period of time. I found out I really like a lot of things I didn't expect to like, such as local news and radio producing. I met a lot of awesome people. 

If I could pick a year of my life to repeat over and over a la groundhog day, I think it would be 2008. There would be that unfortunate four month stretch where I hustled heaters and salt chlorinators at Pioneer Family Pools, but it would start with partying in Laos and end with my first term at Carleton. I would be 23 forever. Not bad.

I'm excited about next year. I'm excited about the summer. I'm excited about my life in general, and the career path I've chosen. I am stubbornly optimistic that it will not end with me being evicted from not being able to pay the bills by freelancing and having to move back in with my parents at age 29.

Life is good. The future is bright. Happy April.