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.