Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two success stories -- Centennial Journalism grads make good

Skills you learn in journalism school can take you to places you probably hadn't expected.

Graduate Mike Crisolago sent a lovely email last week to tell us he is working full time (with benefits!)  at Hostopia managing their photography and imaging needs, using skills he learned in photojournalism class.
Mike Crisolago (l), Michelle Nash, Meghan Housely at Centennial College.

A versatile student (that's him on the left during orientation at Centennial with Michelle Nash and Meghan Housley) with a background in theatre, Mike's piece about 20 books every tween and teen should read, was mentioned in the  New Yorker. Now that story he wrote, while on internship with Canadian Family, has been nominated for the Canadian Online  Publishing Awards.

His story is category 8 in the finalists. The award is announced October 20th. 
Go Mike!
In his spare time, Mike is freelancing for Canadian Family, and Quill and Quire, making slideshows, plus maintaining his own personal portfolio page, and he is doing his thing one year out of j-school.

Mike writes:

I just wanted to write to let you all know because none of the above would ever have come to pass without the education, guidance and support of the Centennial staff. So a huge THANK YOU to all of you! All the best for this school year! I hope the students at the school now appreciate the opportunities that are about to open to them.

Another email came this week from graduate Stephen Humphrey.

Stephen Humphrey

Sarah Peebles
Stephen graduated two years ago,  also from the Centennial post-graduate journalism program. A poet, writer and radio host, Stephen is now producing photography work and videos about bees-- not honey bees but solitary bees and wasps. Some of this work is being done in collaboration with a Toronto performance artist Sarah Peebles, who is making music using the sounds of bees and wasps. He's been watching and learning about bees at the Toronto Zoo as well as in the artist's studio, and Steve was a writer in residence at Guelph.

He also got stung in the face while photographing a beehive this summer!

Sarah Peebles' bee recording computer

 He writes:   I'm stretching what you taught me as far as I can right now. Thanks for opening my mind to possibilities. 

Check out his work at:

Leafcutter bee (Megachile relativa) builds a brood cell August 14, 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjsZ419lmMY&feature=related
Leafcutter bee (Megachile relativa) cleans house: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDM64FnDJK8
Preening Agepostemon bee: the sequel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xE0XkzAwwo
A tale of two resin bees in Toronto July 18, 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWqEvyKjsyw
Solitary bee June 17, 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiXW6PCARoA

You guys made my week!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rob Ford visit to National Post helps my students learn about journalism

Click Here to see the entire Live Tweet of Rob Ford's visit to the National Post

The visit of mayoralty candidate Rob Ford to the editorial board of the National Post today provided me with a real time demonstration for my journalism students. I was set to do a unit on quotes and attribution, and had prepared a power point and a bunch of handouts on the different kinds of quotes, and when you should use them.

Direct. Indirect. Partial.

But when I learned from my Twitter account last night that the Post would be live tweeting Ford's chat with the editorial board, I decided to risk an experiment with the class.

We would all follow the session as it happened, on our classroom Macs, and see how the journalist who was doing the Tweeting, would handle quotes. Everyone logged on at 1:45 and we waited and read the updates as Ford's session was supposed to start at 2. pm.

As a teacher, this was a risky exercise, and I admitted to the class up front that we would try it, and see how it went, but if it didn't work the way I'd hoped, then it was just an experiment, since I'd never tried this before. I don't think Twitter played such a vital role in the previous municipal election in Toronto in 2006, and so this opportunity to teach live as the Tweets happened, was a first for me as a teacher.
As it turned out, the students really liked it.
We started getting the tweets coming fast and furious, and because you only have 140 characters, we were getting short, juicy quotes from Ford.

Direct quotes like this one:
These nice short succinct quotes add flavour to the story, and keep the reader's interest to read the next part of the story. (Like skipping to the sex parts in a romance novel, after skimming over all the boring description and landscape views!) And if they are outrageous, or controversial, like Kanye West's outburst last year at the music awards "Immo let you finish, but first..." then you hang the quote on the person who said it and let them deal with the consequences.

But what do you do if the quote is convoluted or badly phrased or using bad grammar?

We discussed the different rules for this: ethically you can clean up a quote if it makes the speaker look better. But politicians - especially former US president George W Bush, had so many gaffes, that reporters didn't clean his mistakes up. Public figures are usually coached and have speech training and so the rules for making them look better, are different, then for ordinary interviewees. Here's what the Tweet said that Ford said.

Some students suggested that perhaps the Tweeter herself had made a mistake, just because of speed. We agreed that unless you were there, in person, and heard the way Ford said it out loud with your own ears, it wasn't fair to assume he had misspoken. Also, anyone who tries to transcribe an oral interview knows that people ramble orally they way they never would if it was a written email interview.

At some points, we got the reporter Mary Vallis deciding to paraphrase some of Ford's campaign messsage, rather then put in his speechifying. I suggested to the students that having to Tweet forces the journalist to focus, to only use the best and most important details and quotes, and is a very good exercise in using judgment and whittling out the unnecessary stuff from an hour long interview.

We got partial quotes with only a word or two in quotation marks:
This opened a discussion on whether putting a partial quote in, meant your tape recorder was broken, and you couldn't remember the whole quote, which sometimes happens. And also that sometimes, putting one word in quotes means the reporter insinuates they are skeptical of the source's claims. Sort of like "air quotes".

And finally, we discussed the Tweet about BlackBerrys. It is good colour and observation and shows a reporter's keen eye for detail, which all reporters should be on the lookout for. It adds colour and imagery to the eventual story and is a good habit to have.

Did the exercise work? After 40 minutes, I gave the class a break, but said they could stay and keep watching the Live Tweeting session if they wanted to. Except for a handful (including some who played HangMan or went to the washroom) most stayed at their computers to watch the Tweet session.

And some said it was really interesting, and fun.

Thank you Rob Ford, and The National Post, for coming into my classroom and spicing up my lesson on quotes! You made the class interactive and engaging! I even Tweeted to the National Post that we were following this session right in class. Kudos to Mary Vallis!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How the Canadian media covered (poorly?) the Vatican sex scandal

I'm quoted as one of the experts in the piece, which was just published today in the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Being a former Vatican correspondent for CBC and CP, and former Vatican Radio stringer here in Canada.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dead Birds and story ideas

We did a unit in journalism school today on where news comes from...and story ideas.
It was for the U T S C joint journalism program with Centennial College and this was week 2 of school for our new freshman (fresh person?) class.
Where does news come from, I asked them.
Everywhere, they replied.
And they are correct.

Case in point: on my way into school today, I noticed a bunch of tiny brown birds twittering and chirping at the bridge from the Centennial parking lot to the building's 4th floor.
When I went down into the security office, the guard was chatting with a building maintenance guy about this small brown box behind the counter.
There was an injured bird in it, and they'd called the Humane Society to come and take it away. Apparently, they find little dead birds on a frequent basis outside the campus cafeteria of the building at 755 Morningside because these little birds fly in a flock and hit the glass and crash.
The Morningside campus is built with lots of glass windows. They may be great to let students study with lots of natural light, but not so good for the wildlife in the area.
I think:  STORY!   STORY!   STORY!  STORY ! STORY!!!
I asked the security guard if I could see the bird, and take a picture with my Iphone since I thought perhaps one of the students in the senior year might do a story about this.
I went up stairs and excitedly revealed my findings to the senior students in the newsroom. Maybe they thought it was lame. But I persevered in my pitch: certainly it is worth a story in the Courier, the campus newspaper of Centennial College.
Birds + glass building = dead. Why?
Was the building built in a wildlife corridor? Did the architects not put stickers of scary crows or other predators on the windows, like they do at Toronto City hall and other downtown Bay Street buildings, to protect the birds, and scare them away? What about lights? Do the Centennial people turn the lights off at night, or lower the lights, in order not to attact birds? There is an agency in the city that works to help save birds from skyscrapers...perhaps our students should contact them.
In the end, some students went to get better pictures. Another said they could do a wider story about this issue in the next edition, about how it affects Scarborough as a whole.
So, from a bird in a box and an overheard conversation, comes a decent story idea.
I presented this whole chain of events to my freshman class today. Tomorrow, we go on a "story walk" where they will have to watch and see the neighbourhood around the school, and look for story ideas.
Why is this a good skill to have?
Because many journalists sit in the office and don't get out much to just "see with fresh eyes" and come up with story ideas. Editors are always looking for self starters--journalists who come up with new and different stories, so they, the editors, don't have to assign you all the time. And you, as a journalist, get to work on stuff that you are personally excited about. So everyone wins.

Now for the really wierd thing.
When I got home tonight, and looked on my back porch, there was a small black and yellow bird, dead, lying near my barbeque.
Maybe I am actually the cause of a rash of bird deaths occuring in Toronto today. They say journalists actually make up the news.....instead of reporting it. And no, I didn't bring the Centennial college bird home to show my kids. It really was a different, second fatality. I don't know if it hit our windows, or was left there by a cat.

Thanks to Angela Rotundo for the birdie pix.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The politics of Food - CHOMP Magazine...

Much satisfaction today reading a blog by a former student, Tevy Pilc, who's magazine won the Independent Publishers Association of Ontario award this spring of 2010 for the best student magazine -- produced and conceived and published by four students in my course at the University of Toronto's joint program in journalism with Centennial College.
It's called CHOMP magazine. I have written about it before.
But finding Tevy's blog about how proud he was of this magazine, was heartening, as we begin a new semester tomorrow with this magazine course at 8:30 a.m. It's deeply satisfying to know that as a teacher, I did have some small part to play in helping my journalism students develop and grow and create amazing stories. Way to go CHOMP!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yes there are Journalism jobs in Canada 2010

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece for this blog about the recession and how it was affecting employment in the journalism industry. We had just seen CBC lay off 800 employees, cuts at the National Post (Monday's edition in the summer only online), and either centralizing or outsourcing by the Toronto Star and others of some layout and page design functions.

As we head into a new fall 2010 semester in journalism school, with new students coming in, and some  senior students beginning the final semester before going on an internship, my colleague Ted Fairhurst suggested we tackle the issue of jobs right on DAY 1.

So in researching for my presentation, (watch it here:) I searched on the usual media job websites, which all journalism students or prospective journalists should bookmark: Jeff Gaulin's job board, MediajobsearchCanada.com, milkman unlimited, workopolis, Rogers, monster.ca, CBC, CTVGLobemedia, Canwest, Metroland, The Sunmedia chain of papers, Canoe.ca and The university of Western Ontario's faculty of information, plus tvspy, j-source.ca and journalismnet.

I found about 450 job postings...before I stopped counting! So there are media jobs both in and around Toronto, as well as in the rest of Canada.