Monday, 19 November 2012

CBC - Cindy, be courageous!

In less than a week, I'll be doing a work placement at CBC. Words cannot express how simultaneously excited and nervous I am for this opportunity.

When applying for my first work placement earlier this fall, I had specifically requested to be placed at a print journalism job, such as at the Winnipeg Free Press and the Metro. I felt print was the area in which I thrived and did really well.

So when one of my instructors informed me that I would be working at CBC, I was floored. I didn't know whether to feel happy or let down. On one hand, the idea that my instructors think me worthy enough to be placed there is quite an honour. On the other hand, CBC is broadcast journalism - television and radio - and I don't feel quite skilled enough to go there. Most of the time, I still don't.

So what do I do when I feel scared? I prepare. I prepare like crazy.

I've gone shopping several times during the past few months for some work appropriate attire.

I've started going on the CBC website more often to learn more about it.

I'm doing almost anything I possibly can to not embarrass myself.

Oh, who am I kidding. I'm going to embarrass myself regardless. But at least the amount of embarrassment will be slightly reduced. Slightly.

All I can do now is show up and be confident in my skills. I received an email from a reporter there that made me feel better. She said, "[blank] thinks you have a tonne of potential. So keep up the good work!"

If my instructors see the potential in me, there's no reason why I shouldn't.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Choosing to not remember

A couple of days ago, I read an article from the Huffington Post stating Edmonton public schools are now allowing students to opt out on attending Remembrance Day services.

It was a decision made by the Edmonton public school board. Reasons cited include personal, family reasons and religious beliefs. An example of such an exemption happened last year, according to another article from the same source, in which a mother had pleaded for her son to skip the Remembrance Day service because his dad was killed in Afghanistan.

As a child, Remembrance Day services did not strongly affect me. I just knew that on the 11th day of November at 11:00, all students were ushered into the school gymnasium where it was transformed from an area of play to a bleak room of rows and rows of chairs. We were warned beforehand by teachers to not clap, laugh, or speak during the entire assembly. Taking our seats, we silently murmured to each other of the mundane tasks that awaited us. We knew what to expect. Soldiers in full uniform, elderly people taking the podium, the predetermined moment of silence, the student choir singing In Flanders Field, and, of course, the Last Post to signal the end of the ceremony. It was just another annual routine to follow. If the same decision had passed in Winnipeg schools when I was still a school age girl, I don't think I would have cared.

I attended my first Remembrance Day service outside of school last year on the corner of Valour Road and Sargent Avenue. I have to say it was a different experience than attending a service in an elementary school. Many things about the service was similar to the ones I've witnessed. However, the most significant and frightening thing that happened that day was something that was not written in the programs handed out.

During the moment of silence, someone fainted.

I had expected everyone to cause a scene and shout for help. That wasn't the case. Bystanders quietly helped the woman up. At the most, they spoke in hushed whispers. They respected and abided by the moment of silence in a situation where I would have deemed it appropriate to screech for help.

Which proves even though I was at a "real" service, I still didn't fully grasp the intensity of this day.

It became real to me that people still relive memories of war and of injustice. Remembrance Day comes to me once a year. To these people, it's never-ending.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Be a sponge

To be an effective journalist and storyteller, you need to liken yourself a sponge.

Absorb everything your interviewee says. Soak in all the knowledge you can. Have as much give and flexibility as possible. In other words, be very openminded and openhearted.

This was a lesson I had learned this past weekend while filming more footage for my Independent Professional Project, a documentary called Stories from Cambodia.

Here's a trailer I put together recently to hint at what's to come.

It has been a slow filming process, something I had not anticipated. In fact, I thought quite the opposite. I had thought the project would go nicely and smoothly since my interview subjects live under the same roof as me, therefore I would have them all to myself for the next two-three months of filming. Boy, was I wrong.

Visiting relatives, unforeseen household chores, and urgent errands got in the way of my progress (or lack thereof). I had prided myself these past few months on being patient and understanding of these situations. But then, I had a lot of time.

Now it's the beginning of November. I am a little farther behind than where I'd like to be.

This weekend, the sponge turned into a fragile piece of plastic in which even the slightest tug would cause it to snap into two.

My dad admitted to me that he was uncomfortable talking on camera, which surprised me because he has quite a flair for drama. (When you see the end result, you'll know what I mean.) He's the one at our family gatherings telling absurd jokes and sharing ridiculous anecdotes, so it didn't make sense to me that he would clam up in the presence of a camera. Turns out he and I are more alike than I had thought.

His camera shyness alone was frustrating, leading to many takes and retakes, to his stopping mid-sentence and waving, "no, no" at the camera while shaking his head. I kept telling him that he doesn't need to be well-versed and scripted because it's just a documentary. Talk like you're talking to a good friend, I said about a thousand times.

"No, I need to do it this way, or I can't do it at all," he replied a thousand and one times.

I was getting angry. Why was he trying to sabotage my documentary, making it more difficult that it was supposed to be? There were times I had to fight back tears of frustration while filming.

But that's the job. No one said being a sponge was easy.

Your interview subjects may wring your neck and wipe you around in their mess and leave you out to dry until you're brittle and weak, but remember the sponge always regains composure and strength through time and rehydration.

Monday, 29 October 2012

What interview subject?

I've been told that people are the guts of journalism. Journalists should insert a humanistic angle in almost every news article they write, because what do other people care about? People.

This is true. When I read the news I always want to know who's involved, sometimes even more than what is happening. I grew up reading celebrity gossip articles so maybe that's why I have an innate curiosity about other people.

People want to read about other people for several reasons. Catharticism is one. People like to relate to others and feel like they aren't alone. I think people feel alleviated from particular pain when they read in the news of people who have been through similar experiences.

I said people way too much there. I'll try to refrain from further excessive use.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much journalism relies on people . Interview subjects are a large part of the story, so when they don't get back to you within your preferred time frame, it's frustrating and chaotic. Over a short period of time, my life has become a series of unanswered phone calls and mechanical, rehearsed voicemail messages. Call it selfish, but I don't understand how difficult it is to respond to a message within a reasonable time frame. In this modern world, I think many have their phones near by at all times.

My progressive disdain for the people-chasing portion of journalism is overshadowing my love for the writing process.

I don't like it one bit.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Happy News

Amidst the car crashes, robberies, and manslaughters, someone - a bunch of someones, actually - are actively working to bring us some good news.

Happy News is a news website whose content is mainly distributed by citizen journalists but also extracted from other sources such as The Daily Mail. The website's byline reads, "Real news. Compelling stories. Always positive." This sums up what they're all about.

Categories of news include international and national stories, sports, and heroes. Columnists post on the website as well.

After hearing about the bus driver who donated his shoes to a homeless man, it made me think that not all news stories have to be hard-hitting and investigative. A lovely tale of a simple act of kindness can also be considered as journalism. The fact that someone was there to witness such an act and be able to share the story is incredible.

I used to think that to be a journalist, you needed some sort of credentials, a certificate, a degree. Something physical to show that you had the skills and qualities to report the news. I needed some sort of validation to show I was the right person for the job.

So when the idea that regular, everyday people were able to consider themselves as journalists while I was in school, working towards a journalism major, slaving away over piles and piles of assignments, I will admit to have sneered at the idea . . . at first.

A great story is a great story, no matter who tells it. I know that now.

Visit Happy News and read an article about how a dog saved a child's life or get some advice on how to decrease your risk of heart stroke.

We could all use some good news for a change.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

One book, a thousand farewells

My journalism class and I have recently read Nahlah Ayed's highly acclaimed nonfiction book, A Thousand Farewells, detailing her journey from Canada as a young girl to the Middle East. As a girl, she was whisked away to her parents' native land in Amman, Jordan to live in a refugee camp with her family. The reason behind this move was to introduce Ayed and her siblings to their Palestinian heritage and culture. Eventually, Ayed develops a fascination with Middle Eastern culture and politics and becomes a correspondent for that area while working at CBC with a focus on the war with America. There she experiences a plethora of unimaginable feats, one seemingly more dramatic than the one before.

I'm not going to spoil the book for those who haven't read it, so that's as far as I'll go.

At over 300 pages, it is clear that Ayed provides an excruciating amount of detail in the book. Perhaps, dare I say, too much? On one hand, I understand it's a book that's meant to educate readers about the politics of Iraq, and therefore, plenty of detail, facts, names, and dates are essential to the story, but a lot of the time I felt like it was just too much. At the end of the book, I had forgotten all of the facts, names, and dates provided by Ayed. But the good thing is if ever I need to look those nuggets of information up again, I know they're buried somewhere in those pages.

One thing Ayed does really well is capture emotion in her storytelling. In between the hundreds of thousand of facts, I specifically remember the stories about her family and the feeling of dread when she was attacked in Kathimiya.

Consequently, I am willing to admit that I wanted to know more about her family in the book and less about the war. Some testimony from her parents would've been nice. I would have liked to read how they felt about her being away from home for so long in such scary conditions. What are her brother and sister up to now? Sprinkling the story with familial interaction (if any) would have made the tedious task of reading through the heavy, factual material more bearable.

Despite the fact-heavy contents of this book, it is a great piece of journalism. I was impressed by Ayed's unbreakable spirit and constant search for information and truth throughout the book. She included facts which are very important and essential to any news story. She obtained quotes from people from all walks of life. And she provided both sides to the ever complicated story of the Middle East.

But the most valuable information a journalist can take away from this piece of nonfiction is that no matter how long you've been a journalist, the awkward task of talking to people never fully goes away. I nodded fervently to myself when she described the discomforting feeling of talking to someone a second after tragedy strikes. It feels insensitive and wrong, and I'm glad someone of Ayed's stature and expertise brought it up.

Last year, my classmates and I read Journey for Justice by Mike McIntyre which was a non-fiction work. When comparing the two, I can't help but notice that McIntyre's book was much more interesting (and easy) to read. I think it's because it had a human angle complete with plenty of interaction and quotes. It was structured like a novel with short paragraphs. But because Ayed's book was non-fiction, she can't exactly conjure up interaction when there wasn't any. Ayed's book was also about people, but it was just bogged down by so many facts, names, and dates.

When reading this book, I couldn't help thinking of my parents. They, too, came from a refugee camp in a war-stricken country. But they would never do what Ayed's parents have done. I don't think they would want to go back to Cambodia, let alone with their only daughter, to the place that caused them so much pain and anguish. When I read that Ayed and her family went back to Jordan, all I thought was, why? And even though Ayed said she was thankful for that experience, I don't think I would have reacted the same way. I imagine I would be bitter for a good part of my life.

But I'll never know what that's like.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Foster care makes hearts and wallets heavy

"Do you like Dora?" Jerome Rumbaoa, 22, asks his five-year-old foster sibling, L.

"I like Dora," L giggles, not looking up. She fiddles with her purple plastic ring.

"What else?" he presses.

"Batman," she smiles. "And Jerome."

They laugh.

Bloodvein River (
L is one of three Aboriginal foster children living in the Rumbaoa residence. She is also the child who has stayed with the family the longest, since she was two weeks old in 2007. The other two kids currently in the Rumbaoas' care, M and A, are newer additions to the family. L and A came from Hollow Water Reserve while M came from Bloodvein Reserve.

The Rumbaoas have been a foster family since 2007, but they had a different batch of kids at first.

"It started with two sisters and one brother. They were teenagers, maybe about 13-14. The oldest sister was 14," Rumbaoa explains. "That was a different experience because the teenagers were kind of rebellious and they wanted to do what they wanted to do."

Rumbaoa's parents had applied for foster care through the Southeast Child and Family Services. Rumbaoa says this particular branch deals with Aboriginal children from certain reserves. The application process had included good references, household inspections, and personal interviews.

Rumbaoa reveals, "[My parents also] had to attend a workshop that teaches them to communicate and how to handle kids and how to discipline them."

At that workshop, the parents were taught to take care of Aboriginal kids.

"When these kids ask where the parents are or what happened to the parents or if we are their blood families, we would have to respond, 'oh, your parents are trying to get better and you'll be with them,'" Rumbaoa says.

M, the newest foster child, has been separated from his mom since March since he joined the Rumbaoa family. When asked why he switched families, he replied with, "'cause she's drinking."

He recalls the day he was taken away. "When I was hiding under the table, she told me to go to my room and I don't know who was carrying me from the living room. [...] I had to go with my CFS worker."

The Rumbaoas haven't had any problems so far with Child and Family services, but some foster care agencies aren't as thorough as CFS when it comes to background checks.

According to an article on CBC entitled "Canadian foster care in crisis, experts say", some children are placed in foster homes without complete safety checks. Some families don't even care about the kids and just do it for the money. The article reads, "Foster-care rates differ by province, but tend to range between $23 and just over $30 a day."

It sickens me to think that someone could be signing up to be a foster parent with ill intentions. These children have been through so much and to imagine them tossed into an equally terrible situation is painful. I've heard of people solely viewing these Aboriginal foster children as petty cheques in their bank accounts, and I don't like it one bit.

I've seen the difference these foster kids have made on Rumbaoa's life. They have opened his eyes and filled his heart with something he's never experienced before. Once oblivious to Aboriginal issues, Rumbaoa is now attending pow wows with his foster siblings so that they don't forget their culture and that he can learn about it.

For more information about foster care, go to the Child and Family Services website.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Turn Sunday into a fun day

I've recently been given the wonderful opportunity to write the 7 things to do column for the Sunday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. My first issue came out yesterday, September 30. Click here to read.

Things I've learned while writing this column:

Compared to every other day of the week, Sunday is pretty uneventful. I mean, September 30 was relatively action-packed due to Culture Days and CIBC Run for the Cure, but it took me three to four hours to find seven different events to write about. Searching definitely tested my patience, because I'm a very impatient person, and I surprisingly found the thrill in the hunt. It was like looking for treasure, as corny as it sounds. Which leads me to my next point. . . .

Writing the column showed me many sides of Winnipeg. I was told to look for events that weren't as well-known or highly advertised. I tried to include as much diversity into that column, discussing a book launch, a dance workshop, and a Motown concert. This week, I already found an Assiniboine Park walk on The group organizer, Stacey Sigurdson, organized this walk for their group called Out and About Winnipeg Social Group. The group's purpose is to organize low-key, usually outdoor events for anyone to come out, be active, and have a good time. This was one of my favourite finds, and it makes me want to write a long-form article about it.

Keep a directory of websites and sources on which to find events. This is a definite time-saver. Instead of spending so many hours looking for events, I turn to websites such as,, and for event listings to make my job easier. They can lead to other great websites with events that may not be as well-known.

Divide events into categories. This helps the column from being too art-heavy, festival-heavy, and so on. Variety is the spice of life. I learned I can't please everyone, but I tried to get as much diversity into the list as possible.

Have fun! I'm having a great time writing this column. It feels good to control what content to withhold or share with the readers (I mean this in the least controlling way possible). For myself, Sundays are family days, so I try to write about events that are meant for families to enjoy. I think this column exists to inspire families to take time from their busy schedules and spend their day dancing or taking a walk in Assiniboine Park instead. At least, that's what I'm going to strive for while I'm there.

Happy Sundays, guys.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Asians and misrepresentations

The stereotypes are true.

From childhood, I've heard "Be a doctor" or "Be a nurse" escape from the mouths of my parents on numerous occasions. But all I wanted to do was write. Why wouldn't they tell me to be a writer? In a roaring sea of loud, angry Chinese, writing was the only voice I had growing up. On a blank piece of paper, I could be as honest and raw and real as I possibly could. But because of this, most of my conversations were by myself.

It seems I wasn't the only immigrant's daughter who felt this way. Enter my rhetoric professor at the University of Winnipeg, Jacqueline McLeod-Rogers, who asked me to participate in a study of hers called Immigrant Parents and Rhetoric Daughters*. To the best of my memory, it was a paper about how immigrant parents deal with their daughters' choice to reject tradition and choose a career in writing. I'm oversimplifying, but that was basically the gist of it.

I was quite pleased this study existed, and I was even more pleased that I wasn't the only daughter of an immigrant couple who chose to write instead of tending to patients.
Photo from
There are plenty of Asian journalists. To name a few, Lisa Ling of the Oprah Winfrey Network, Julie Chen of CBS, and, let's get closer to home, Pay Chen, formerly of Winnipeg's Breakfast Television. I wanted to be next in line in that Asian hall of fame.

Lately, I've been looking at job ads and most of them more or less say the same thing: "[News company] encourages applications from women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities."

I'm a woman. I'm a visible minority.

Because I fulfill two characteristics by default, does it mean it's easier for me to get a job? In a fraction of a second, I immediately assumed it meant the company needed a token Asian woman to fulfill some sort of hiring quota. I suppose that's only a part of it unless someone can prove me wrong.

My sex and my race may be part of my getting the job, but I want my skills and personality to be the reasons I stay at that job.


* May not be the actual name of the study.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

You're kidney-ing me!

Broadcast journalism is one of the toughest classes I've ever had to take in my life. Mixing two of my least favourite things - camera equipment and tight deadlines - this class has proven itself to be incredibly challenging, and it has only been three weeks.

I've had my heart set on print journalism for years, but the world is changing and journalism ain't a one-trick pony anymore. I wouldn't mind diving into online journalism, but broadcast journalism is the one I'm afraid of most.

Photo by Mercy-Anne Guevarra
In my most recent class, we were assigned to shoot, edit, and write a 30-second voiceover. My partner, Tyler, and I interviewed my good friend Mercy-Anne Guevarra who just participated in the Renal Ride Glide and Stride (RRGS) with her team, Hello Kidney.

The RRGS is a marathon in which people walk, run, and cycle in support of the Kidney Foundation and those with kidney disease.

This year, the event aimed to raise $20,000 but instead raised twice that amount of $51,805.64. Guevarra's team raised $3,105, placing them fifth in the Top Teams category.

This marathon is particularly important because kidney disease has affected Guevarra's life. Her 28-year-old sister, Cherry-Ann Guevarra, has kidney disease. And Guevarra is donating one of her kidneys to her sister.

Since Guevarra was working in the area of the campus, Tyler and I picked her up at her workplace and drove to a quiet spot in which to do the interview and shoot the footage. And we shot a lot of footage within an hour.

It wasn't until I sat down at the computer that I thought to myself, "I can't fit all of this great footage in 30 seconds!" In the end, I wrote a script that strung four to five clips together in the hopes that it would tell the amazing story of a sister's undying love. I can't help but feel like it didn't.

30 seconds is not enough for this particular story. Or maybe, if done well, it is enough. With a lot more practice in this class, maybe one day I can put together a heart-tugging tale with only a few clips. The task seems daunting, even impossible, right now.

A long time ago, Guevarra told me, "I wanted to give my sister my kidney so she can have a better life and so she can have children." Even soap opera writers can't come up with stuff like this. During our interview this week, I kept hoping she would say something of this magnitude that I can use for the voiceover, since I can't ask her straightforwardly. I know the rules.

Television is a great medium for this story. In print, I can describe what's going on, but viewers should see with their eyes who Guevarra is, listen to her talk about how important her sister is, and simultaneously feel a sad tightness in their chest and a tug on their heart when she reveals that she is making the huge sacrifice of giving away a piece of her so that her sister can live.

It took me three weeks, but I'm finally understanding why broadcast journalism is a great way to share a story.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Soft women, hard news

A couple of years ago, I took a course called Politics and the Mass Media, taught by Dr. Shannon Sampert, at the University of Winnipeg. One of the topics we discussed in class was the concepts of hard news and soft news.

Hard news refers to stories about politics, crime, and war, while soft news refers to human interest pieces about arts, entertainment, and lifestyles. To be honest, I quite prefer the latter.

But that's the issue.

There is a stereotype in the industry that women are more likely to report soft news and men to report hard news. We later learned that social science plays a part in this dichotomy; women are "more gentle" than men and therefore report on subjects that suit their "personalities", such as stories about family, food, and style.

Anna North, author of the article entitled "Why Women Can't Get Away From 'Soft' News", states that "women may pitch more editorials on 'soft' subjects because 'they're convinced that no one's going to convince their expertise there'".

I personally agree with that claim. I like to report and write stories about things I am already familiar with so I can provide a story filled with enriching detail and knowledge. I automatically redden at the thought of sounding like I don't know what I'm talking about in a story and having someone call me out on it.

However, North also writes that "while women were disproportionately raised to be modest and humble [...] they need to get over that conditioning when it prevents them 'from sharing information that can actually help the world'". Agreed!

Of course, not all women fall under this bias. Katie Couric is a successful, hard-hitting journalist. But we can't all be Katie Courics. One can dream.

Here's a graph from the Op-Ed Project, finding that women's contributions to hard news topics such as the economy, justice, and technology were frighteningly small. More information can be found here.

North writes, "media consumers and producers alike are able to ignore women's thoughts on major, life-or-death issues [...] not because women don't care about these issues - it's because no one is asking them". Well, frankly, I don't think women should be waiting to be asked.

What slightly frustrates me is the misconception that - and this might just be my own opinion - women are not considered "real" journalists unless they report on hard news. That's the feeling I'm getting.

What do you think? Should a female journalist's career be defined by the kind of news she reports?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Fort Whyte Byelection: Pallister won, but I was lost

How does one prepare to Tweet live at a byelection? This was the question circling in my mind for the past few days. My fellow journalism classmates and I were assigned to go to the campaign headquarters of a candidate in the Fort Whyte byelection for the Manitoba legislature on the evening of September 4. Just now, I consulted my handy dandy Caps and Spelling to see if the word "byelection" has a hyphen in it, because my MacBook Air seems to think it does. It does not.

See, that's the kind of paranoia that consumes me on a daily basis.

I have never Tweeted live before. In fact, any situation with the word "live" in it is unsettling to me. If it doesn't require a script or any rehearsal or practice, I'm terrified. I had no idea what to expect that night. As an aspiring journalist, I knew I had to get rid of my fear of uncertainty as soon as possible.

At around 7:30, I got into my uncle's truck because he was driving me to Green Party candidate Donnie Benham's gathering at Triple B's, located at 121 Scurfield Boulevard. It's a far cry from where I live, so I was hoping I would make it on time.

The trip to Triple B's was not an easy one; we were stuck in traffic for almost fifteen minutes. But seeing signs singing praise for Darrell Ackman, otherwise known as Mr. JetzTV, along the way made the journey more entertaining. Can you believe he actually received eighteen votes?

When I finally arrived at Triple B's, I didn't see any of my fellow classmates! I panicked. Did Benham change the location at the last minute? Was I at the wrong place? A million worst-case scenarios haunted me.

Then I saw a Brandy Schmidt sign, which gradually brought me back down to Earth. I slowly walked towards it. It led to a little room filled with more Brandy Schmidt signs. But where were the Donnie Benham signs? I waited outside the room in hopes I would see some familiar faces.

Five minutes passed. It was almost 8:10 p.m. A nice waitress saw the desperate expression on my face and asked me who I was looking for. Eventually I found a group of Benham supporters on the opposite side of the restaurant. Sigh of relief.

Unfortunately not being able to find the spot was only the beginning of my worries. Not much was happening yet, but I began to Tweet anyway. I wished I had written more substantial Tweets, rather than one-liners about what was happening. I aimed for quantity rather than quality. I had a limited knowledge of politics, so I didn't know who to speak to. I mostly just observed and Tweeted, hoping I was doing the assignment right. I felt inexperienced, rushed, and lost.

Half an hour passed and there was still no definite result. My Twitter feed was my preferred source of receiving information about the byelection. While checking and taking notes, something horrible happened. My phone was running out of battery.

This was entirely my fault of course. Knowing I would extensively use my phone for Tweeting, I should have charged my phone prior to heading for Triple B's. Not my best move.

Another part of the assignment was to call in to the college's radio station and report on what was happening. I didn't have much time before my phone completely died on me, so I messily jotted down some notes, secluded myself in the women's bathroom, and called Dan, the radio journalism instructor at RRC, who was managing the rants.

After reading my rant, I felt much better. I had completed my Tweeting and radio assignments.

Brian Pallister won the by-election. Bob Axworthy was in second place while Brandy Schmidt placed third. Donnie Benham was second last. And I think you know how Darrell Ackman did.

Moments later, my phone ran out of battery, and so did I.