Sunday, 27 January 2013

No takesies-backsies!

I once interviewed a man for an article in the Seven Oaks community newspaper, The Times. I had heard about him through my aunt who insisted that he was "the nicest man" she's ever met and everyone at her workplace was in agreement over that hyperbolic title. Apparently he is a retiree who spends his day at a shopping centre asking people if they needed help. He asked for nothing in return because all he wanted to do was help out. I thought that was an excellent feel-good, community story.

One day I accompanied my aunt to her part-time job, and she hailed down this man for me. He was a towering, white-haired, ruddy-faced, soft-spoken man. I liked him immediately. He did not speak English very well - he came from a country in Europe - but I tried to communicate my actions to him as simply and clearly as possible. I'm a student, I'm writing an article for The Times, would you be interested in being my interview subject?

"Sure, okay," he told me. Awesome.

I told him I'd meet him here at the mall tomorrow, and he agreed. Unfortunately, my plans had fallen through and we rescheduled for another time. I was disappointed at first, but also relieved that the interview was still happening no matter what date it will fall on.

When we did meet up, the interview lasted maybe ten minutes. I asked him simple questions. Where are you from? What did you do? Why do you come here and offer to help people? And so on. He gave me one- or two-word replies. It was tough trying to pull a story out of this man, but I think I managed.

After the very short interview, I thanked him and we went our separate ways.

Weeks later, I received an angry phone call from my aunt. She said that this man did not want to be in the paper and requested to have the story pulled out.

My first thought was, the story ran? I immediately checked the paper's website - and it had printed. But I didn't understand why the man was so adamant on having the story taken out. I hadn't written anything mean-spirited or wrong - according to the interview we had weeks ago. Confusion slowly melted away to anger. After an angry exchange of words between my aunt and me, I hung up and stewed over this situation for a little while longer.

Why did he not want to be in the news? I thought it would have been an honour to be recognized the way he was. And if he didn't want to be in the paper, he shouldn't have agreed! But wait, he didn't speak English well, so maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn't explain it clearly enough. Anger gave way to self-pity.

What's done is done, I had decided.

He was going to be yesterday's news anyway.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Read me like a book

"When I was at CBC . . ."

"Oh my God, Cindy, SHUT UP ABOUT CBC."

(This is how I imagine how the conversation would go between me and the readers of this blog.)

To respond - no!

This will be my last post talking about CBC, I swear. The internship isn't even a crucial part of this post; it's just my starting point. You've got to admit, there's a wealth of blog topics packed into a three-week internship at TV news station.

Anyway, when I was at CBC, I went to a high school (can't remember, but that's irrelevant) to shoot an event called the Human Library. In this scenario, the students are the readers and the guests they invite are the books. Clever, huh? The librarian I spoke to said this "chapter" (so clever) focused on aboriginal people and culture, so the school invited aboriginal artists and musicians to be read by (interviewed by) the students. Even Wab Kinew, a former CBC reporter, was there. He ended the event by fusing an aboriginal song with rap music.

CBC is hosting Human Library Live Online on January 26 at 11 a.m. The website states that the Human Library movement was created by Danish activists who believe that in-depth conversations "break down barriers, eliminate stereotypes, and fight prejudice."

I believe journalism is a lot like a Human Library. At the event, the students were immersed in their conversations with so many prominent aboriginal people who have a wealth of life experiences to share. They were listening, not judging. Discussing, not competing. Interested, not indifferent.

In journalism, reporters should have the qualities of a reader. Invested in the plot and the characters. Patient and open to twists. Eager to get to the end but also excited to go along on the journey.

I can't say I always follow this ideology. But that's fine. And besides - the librarian did say this was just the first chapter.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Journalists dream of . . .

I recently watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi to get in the mindset of a documentary filmmaker in preparation for my documentary production class. Dean Cooper, the super cool instructor, urged us to watch a documentary as an assignment. Um, watching TV for homework? You don't need to tell me twice.

Here's a trailer for the film. If you have the time, please, please, please watch the full documentary. You won't regret it!

The documentary follows an 85-year-old sushi chef named Jiro. His restaurant seats about ten people. He takes reservations one month in advance - that's how successful and in demand his food is. His plates start at 30,000 yen - which translates to $300 a plate in North American speak. Crazy, right? Who would spend that much money on so little sushi?

In Jiro's world, quality trumps quantity every time. That's his philosophy on his craft, his art, his passion. People who eat at his restaurant claim each morsel is worth the money. I don't know about you, but I'm a girl who values quantity just as much as quality. Then again I have yet to try Jiro's sushi.

However, that is one issue which the documentary examines. A central focus in the film is continuing Jiro's legacy when he passes. His oldest son, Yoshikazu, is to expected to carry on the tradition of sushi-making as well as maintain Jiro's restaurant and good name. The documentary explores the intensive training processes Yoshikazu and past and present apprentices go through every day to achieve the top quality of sushi Jiro is known for making. Jiro pushes his son and employees to their very limits every day to ensure they have the best ingredients, the best methods, and the best food they can possibly have. Jiro's reputation as a consistent, tough, passionate sushi chef is known among his competitors, customers, and friends.

This got me thinking. Is there a Jiro standard in journalism? Do we as journalism students have a mild-mannered but hard-assed guru of reporting to admire and aspire to be?

If not, there should be one.

Jiro achieves the best results every day - according to the film - by repeating the same high standards of practice every day. He strives for improvement with each day. He maintains amicable relationships with his shrimp and fish dealers (they're honestly called that) as well as communicating constructively with his son and employees. And he pays attention to little details that matter.

Sounds to me that journalism and sushi-making are not that different after all.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Work placement worked out

I had had my doubts about interning at a TV news station, but it all worked out in the end.

Working at CBC News Winnipeg was my first official internship. I've said before that all I wanted to do was write in a print journalism career, and honestly, I still do. But this experience taught me to stop living my life through tunnel vision and to be open to new things.

One of the things I need to do to succeed in this field is to stop doubting myself. Every time I have to do something different or out of my comfort zone, my initial thought is always, "but what if I'm not good enough?" as opposed to, "this is another opportunity for me to expand my skill set and learn something new." I'm trying my hardest this semester to think of the latter.

During the first week of my internship, I was of course shadowing reporters as most new interns do. That week, the opening of IKEA was a huge story. I had spent a lot of that week within that part of the city. I watched Marjorie Dowhows interview a self-proclaimed IKEA enthusiast in her home. I stood outside in the cold as Ryan Hicks performed a live hit at 6:00 p.m. the night before the furniture warehouse opened. It really showed me the importance of informing the audience of updates on and continuations of stories. The IKEA story led to the discussion of Kenaston traffic which led to the Kapyong Barracks story. It was interesting to see how it was all connected.

The IKEA media party was an exciting event to hear about. Even before it started, the CBC staff had discussed how they weren't allowed to participate because they abided by strict rules to not accept gifts of any kind as to not compromise objectivity. I'm very lucky to have witnessed the controversy; it was an excellent reminder of how to behave while on the job. When I went to a fossil centre in Morden, I was too scared to even take a piece of cake.

During my second and third weeks at CBC, my workload picked up. I was trained by Robert Miyai to use the video editing and script writing software (which were way easier than Final Cut Pro, by the way). I accompanied cameramen to press conferences and community events to film and write 30-second voiceover clips. It was nerve-racking at first, but by my third week, I got the hang of it, going on two or three shoots a day. Before that would have sent me in panic spirals, but one of my favourite mentors there told me that no one wants to work with someone like that. Also very good advice.

My last day of the internship was also the most eventful. In addition to finally being able to write and edit a full story (that wasn't allowed to air, but that's okay) as well as filming a stand-up, my - and every other second-year CreComm student's - last day was also the day of the Connecticut school shooting.

I had never been so confused and scared and . . . energized . . . at the same time. Something big just happened and I wanted to be a part of it. The newsroom was abuzz with purpose; everyone had something to do but me. It was 5:00 p.m. but I wanted to stay and see what was going to unfold. I waited an hour in case they needed me for anything but they didn't. I went home with many questions.

But . . . I also went home with a portfolio piece. See, it all worked out.