Sunday, March 25, 2012

licensed journalism

In my journalism course, we often talk about the fine line. It's the line you're apprehensive to cross when writing a story that involves someone close to you.

So what do you do? Do you write the story so that if the person reads it, it meets their approval? Or do you write it as objectively as you can, spilling all the gritty details if they exist?

It's so important for journalists to be objective and factual. Journalists are our sources of information, the only way we hear what really happened in the fire, or what's really going on in the court room.  When I read a news story, I don't want any spin on it.

There's also the idea that no matter how objective a journalist tries to be, can they ever be truly objective? When they go to the scene of the fire, do they unknowingly chose to see the crowd of people crying, or do they chose to notice the firemen running into the raging building?  Which one do you report on?

It's not always possible to fit all these sides of the story into a 450 word journalism story. Television stations, at the least, should have reporters at different parts of a scene, reporting on different aspects of it (for example, one reporter talking to a crying neighbour, one reporter talking to one of the fireman, etc.)

There is a code of ethics to follow in Public Relations, but you don't technically need any formal education to be a public relations practitioner. There's even talk of licensing PR practitioners.

The same goes for journalism- there's no formal education required. There's no code of ethics and there's not even an oath that journalists go by. Anyone can be a journalist these days because of social media and anyone can chose to freelance and submit stories to credible news outlets. So my question is, in order to learn the importance of objectivity in journalism storytelling, should journalists be required to have licenses? 

My answer is yes. What do you think?

Journey for Justice

As part of a school assignment, I read crime reporter Mike McIntyre’s book Journey for Justice: How ‘Project Angel’ Cracked the Candace Derksen Case. For those who don’t know, this was a case that arguably shook up the entire city of Winnipeg.

Candace Derksen was 13 years old when she was abducted by a stranger on her way home from school. She was taken Nov. 30, 1984 and her body was found, frozen and tied up, in a shed only mere kilometres from her home Jan. 17, 1985. It took 26 years to find and convict her killer, Mark Grant.

Candace’s mother, Wilma, spoke to my classmates and I in a seminar last Thursday. She said that after 26 years she “had learned to live with the mystery” of what actually happened to Candace.

Learning. This is what I’ve been doing a lot of in my Journalism course this year. For starters, learning how to properly write a journalism story. Learning how to write a story in a way that will make people care. Learning how to be objective and factual in my storytelling. And with that, learning how to know whether it’s okay to cross the line when writing about someone you know.

McIntyre knows the Derksens very well. He makes this clear in Journey for Justice’s introduction. Candace’s body was found on McIntyre’s 10th birthday and he said the case has always stuck with him. McIntyre also spoke at the seminar.

“News of Candace’s disappearance was something I remember vividly. I felt a strong personal connection to this story,” he said.

McIntyre’s writing was clear in Journey for Justice, and as a reader and journalism student I appreciate that kind of writing. However, I’ve always been a critical thinker when it comes to non-fiction. With this, I can say my overall reaction to McIntyre’s book was disappointment.

Journalists should always be objective. There were way too many instances in the book where I felt McIntyre was losing his objectivity because he knew the Derksens so well. 

At our school seminar, McIntyre said he was unsure if he had the patience to write books. It would be a project that would take months, a stark contrast from the quick pace of being a daily journalist. But, after writing his first one, he said he caught the bug. McIntyre has written three books and said the ones he’s written have pitched themselves because the cases were so well known. But, he said “I don’t want to capitalize on the infamy of the case. I want it to be something the family can look at and be proud of.” I suppose that’s fine if the family is truly ok with it, which Wilma agreed she was.

In the book, there was a lot of talk about the Derskens’ faith in God and how God was helping them cope with Candace’s disappearance. Although the Derksens couldn’t understand why their daughter had to be stolen from them, they said they couldn't lose faith.

I found this religious undertone very intrusive with the story while reading Journey for Justice. It was like religion was beating me over the head and I wasn't comfortable with it. But then Wilma told us something at the seminar. She said we didn’t need to share the same faith, but everyone should have “a comprehensive world view of why we’re here”. I liked this thought and I think the book would have been a lot stronger if the Derksen's idea of faith was explained in this less oppressive way. 

In the book, I think the Winnipeg police service was put in a negative light. In 1984, the police interrogated the family soon after Candace’s disappearance. McIntyre's writing framed the interrogation in a way that seemed like the police weren’t understanding the seriousness of the situation (they kept saying Candace was just another teen runaway, unhappy with her parents’ religious practices). McIntyre didn’t explain how this type of questioning is the usual police protocol and, more importantly, how most children who go missing are stolen at the hands of family members or people close to them. The book made this police attitude seem appalling and what's worse is there was no police perspective included.

So when is it ok to cross the line and tell what really happened without worrying about what someone close to you will say? I’ve read McIntyre’s crime stories in the Winnipeg Free Press. For the most part I can't complain because he seems to almost always write the stories objectively. I think the impact of Journey for Justice suffered because, while reading it, it was so obvious McIntyre had gotten too close to the Derksens. Being so immersed in a story would make it hard for him to remain unbiased and objective while telling it. 

One thing journalists can learn from this story is the importance of objectivity. The back of the book says "true crime". With a healthy balance of the victim’s story, the guilty’s story and the community’s story, I think a “true” and objective story could have been told. A journalist should be able to approach any story objectively because they play a huge role in shaping public opinion. If you can’t separate yourself from a story, then you shouldn’t write it.

This is not to say the accounts from Wilma and Cliff were fabricated or unnecessary to include. Candace’s death was tragic and I think the Derksens are brave because they continue to tell her story and keep her memory alive through efforts like Journey for Justice.

I wasn't overly impressed with the seminar. McIntyre seemed very nonchalant for such a serious story and seemed to go on and on about his trials and tribulations when writing the story. He seemed very surprised when a student asked if he approached the book as an objective journalism story. My classmates and I had a discussion about the book before the seminar and a large majority of us agreed he didn't approach the story completely objective. Wilma thanked McIntyre for writing the book, but is understandably so immersed in the story herself that, as a journalist, she didn't pick up on the lack of objectivity either. However, I appreciated her taking the time to talk to us. It was very brave.  

I’ve often wondered about crime stories and books like Journey for Justice. What’s the point of telling crime stories? They’re a guaranteed downer whenever you read them and they show all the horrible things human beings are capable of. So why do we need them anyway? I think Wilma answered this best.

“Crime stories are the learning of life. They’re where we differentiate between good and evil,’ she said.

That's the most important thing I've learned through this story.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tilted magazine launch party

Ever wondered...

- what it was like to do Adam Sandler's makeup in Happy Gilmore?
- what it was like to work on big name productions like Jumanji, Haunting in Connecticut and Goon?
- what it was like to help famous director Guy Maddin film a movie?
- how, as an actor, you can jump from stage theatre to movies?
- if you have what it takes to be part of a cast or crew?

I might have your answers...

Tilted is a magazine publication that spotlights local talent working in Winnipeg's film industry. Whether you're an industry professional or just someone who wants the scoop on behind-the-scenes activity of filmmaking and production, Tilted is for you! 

Our first issue features a local makeup artist, experimental filmmaker, stuntman, sketch comedy group and various actors with tips and stories of their experience- all of which might answer the above questions!

Red River College Exchange District Campus is hosting it's annual Magazine Fair on Mar. 30 from noon to 4 p.m. Tilted will have a booth set up with a whole bunch of interesting gimmicks that are too good to give away here (hint: do you like free stuff?). The fair is free and everyone is invited!

We're also giving away fun hints about our upcoming issue on Twitter @tiltedmagazine and So follow us an learn more!

You can also follow the creators on Twitter: @daynarobbie   @Mr_McAvoy   @BrendynBialek    @mariealliesky

Tilted is a fun, design-oriented publication that combines exclusive info with a touch of edginess. Magazines will be on display for everyone to read and PDFs can be purchased for only $1.00!

Hope to see you there!

hashtags going out?

We all have pet peeves when it comes to other people's communication techniques.

I've written a blog post similar to this before talking about how I "unfollow" someone on Twitter or "unfriend" someone on Facebook if they're cheerleaders for negativity or other annoying tendencies.

A while ago, I deleted people off my Facebook who I know longer talk to and am not actually "friends" with. This was in attempts to turn my Facebook page into more of a snapshot of my life and who I am as a way to brand and market myself - a much more professional attempt than the drunken pictures we often come across on our newsfeed.

On of my FB friends posted the link below about communication pet peeves. And it's spot on. Among my favorites are mentions of people overusing hashtags, posting 20 times a day on FB as if it was Twitter as well as people posting their pet peeves.

Anyway, I recommend you give it a read - especially if you are or are planning to become a communications professional. And #please #stop #overusing #the #hashtags.

15 communication pet peeves from

Friday, March 16, 2012

I think it might actually give you wings

This is an ad for Red Bull and I love it. It gave me goosebumps when I watched it.

I don't drink Red Bull- it takes like frozen paint to me and their silly TV ads with a cartoon character chanting "Red Bull gives you wiiiiiiiings!" doesn't do it for me. So the fact i actually forgot this ad was for Red Bull while watching it (but, not completely of course) has me sold!

Given that it's a step up from the cartoon character ads and it delivers a very different message (I detect inspiration), I'd say this is Red Bull trying to re-brand a bit. I think it works and steps up the company's credibilty a bit.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why care?

Journalists are important. We need news, we need to be informed, and they're how we learn about a lot about local and world issues.

Studying communications in school, I debated going into journalism. It was a close call, but I chose to go into PR instead. I told myself that my passions for journalism would boil down to my felt need to tell people's stories and get readers to appreciate their stories and also understand why they're important. I strongly believe in this stance.

If a horrific story about a person affected by crime deters someone from criminal action, then a story has done it's job. I don't think it's a matter of writing stories for the sake of writing anything you can get- I think stories need to be framed in a way that will make people care. I'm not suggesting that stories should participate in spinning- they should always be factual. But news media needs to start writing stories that need to be shared.

The recent theft of a Justin Bieber cut-out from a Booster Juice in the city was written in the news. (click here to read the story). The cardboard cut-out was stolen Saturday and returned to the store Monday. Radio station Hot 103 also gave the store a cut-out of Bieber's pop singer girlfriend Selena Gomez to initially replace Bieber.

The fact that this was in the Winnipeg Free Press's twitter feed has me slightly disheartened. I don't really consider a stolen Bieber cut-out newsworthy. If I wanted news on Bieber, I'm sure I could find it on TMZ or Entertainment Tonight. You may argue that this was a story on crime, but it was written in such a lighthearted and jolly-good-fun(!) way I can't imagine that argument holding up. If it is a story on crime happening right under our noses, then fine- but it needs to be told as such.

If I read or watch a reputable local news source (which I consider the Winnipeg Free Press to be), I want to read stories that matter to the city. I'm all for reading positive news and I'm not saying every story in the paper or on TV needs to be about crime and violence, I just want to be told stories that are meaningful. And not about pop stars.

p.s. I'm gonna let my PR side out- I know that having a huge pop star such as Bieber is really good PR for Winnipeg. That's fine, but let's leave the promotions to the PR people and let's leave impacting news to the papers.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

what makes you ick?

I read an article posted on Twitter called "Gross ads disgust consumers into action".

The article talks about how advertisements that gross us out are proving to be more effective than ones that try to scare us.

The article mentions the Febreze commerical as an example where people are blindfolded and have to sniff dirty furniture, curtains and other filth. I remember this commercial completely because it totally grossed me out when I first saw it, yet I couldn't help but keep watching!  (I've attached a less-gross version of the commercial at the bottom of this page).

Often, when a TV commerical comes on that I've seen before and find scary, I immediately flip the channel because I'd rather not think about it. I'd like to even post an example here, but honestly it freaks me out too much to have something like that on my blog! Case in point, I suppose.

So if advertisements want to hold a viewer's attention, perhaps the best way to go is to gross them out rather than scare least they're more likely to keep watching.

Ick-ed out yet?