Profile: Gord Leclerc

This article was written in October 2010 for my first year journalism class. It was the first time I had ever set foot in a television studio, and I was so nervous to interview CTV senior anchor Gord Leclerc. Well, as you’ll find out, there was nothing at all to be nervous about – thanks Gord, for being a great role model, twitter pal and all-round good guy.

Profile: Gord Leclerc

He opens the main entrance door, locked for the night once reception leaves. The studio is dark, but the background newsroom has lighting enough to notice he is dressed in a suit jacket with a crisp white dress shirt, black tie and blue denim jeans.  He smiles, “yes, I wear these behind the desk.”

Gord Leclerc, the senior news anchor on CTV Winnipeg, walks ahead while showcasing the studio after hours. Some journalists and camera people are still filing out and he personally introduces each one.

“I have a great team. I’m not the best anchor, or the smoothest,” he laughs, before finding a spot on a nearby couch and slumping down casually.

The half-suited anchorman grew up in The Pas, Manitoba, where his parents owned a restaurant and gas station.  Even though the town was what Leclerc describes as “somewhat ignorant,” he enjoyed growing up in a place where “you could run around and be free.”  It didn’t hinder him professionally either: after walking by a booth at a job fair, Leclerc applied and was accepted into Western Academy Broadcasting College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“I never refused an assignment,” says Leclerc, who worked in smaller markets such as Swift Current before joining the CTV Winnipeg news team in 1995. He got a job right out of college in what he calls, repeatedly, an “industry of egos.” But Leclerc’s varying tastes and interests set him apart and keep him grounded; “I like Motörhead and Judas Priest and, because of the girls, Justin Bieber.”

Leclerc’s girls are Rachel, 15, and Celina, 10, and the anchorman smiles when discussing them; “I’m definitely my kids’ dad first.”

Rachel, who just started high school, says that even though her dad seems serious on TV, “at home he is the complete opposite – super funny and jokes around a lot.” The teenager brings friends by the house often and even admits that her dad isn’t that bad of a clothes shopper.

“He took me to get my back-to-school clothes and probably picked out half of them.”

When asked about his fashion knowledge, Leclerc laughs and says, “the problem is, Rachel and I have such expensive taste.”

Many of Leclerc’s former co-anchors and college classmates have left the province or country for industry work. But the anchorman has no interest in doing so, despite a much larger paycheck.

“I live a comfortable life here,” he says. “And nothing beats a bike ride down Waverley Street.”

The father of two says people do recognize him while he’s out, and that it’s a welcome interaction since the community “invites [him] into their living rooms every night.”

Despite being in the public eye, Leclerc manages to maintain a certain level of privacy in regards to his personal life; “I don’t think people really care. Some people notice at events, but that’s all.”

What some have noticed is a newly solo Leclerc and a barren wedding ring finger. “I still get to see my girls though, we share them 50/50.”

Alan Biggar, 48, president of Big Country RV, is one of Leclerc’s new single friends.

“It’s crappy, but it’s another thing we have in common,” says the recent divorcee from a 27-year marriage. “He’s one of those guys, it doesn’t matter who the hell you are, he’ll have fun and get along with you.”

The two met accidentally, when their daughters were video calling through Skype. “I walked in and next thing you know, Gord and I are skyping,” says Biggar. “I’m there eating chips and Gord is drinking wine. We talk about our motorbikes.”

Leclerc discusses his love of bikes to close our interview; which has gone on long enough that the newsroom is almost deserted.  As Leclerc walks me out,  with hours-old make-up still on his face, giving him comically larger-than-life black eyebrows; we part with a solemn handshake.

“Take the job seriously, but never take yourself seriously.”

*

Opting Remembrance: why we pander to the indifferent

Ask me to recount the poem In Flanders Fields, and I will most likely end up singing it. It was the first song I learned in Canada with my grade five choir, and the first time I  heard the words of John McCrae.

MY REMEMBRANCE EDUCATION

Since my arrival in 2000, every November 11th has been marked with a Remembrance Day ceremony. I have to thank Bonnycastle Elementary School for putting on a large-scale tribute each year, and teaching a young immigrant about what this day is all about. Fast forward to my years in high school, when a passionate teacher tells the class “…and Friday, we are going to be talking about Vimy Ridge.”

She teased this class like any broadcaster does a major event – a countdown to the epic, momentous telling of the battle for Vimy Ridge. The day it happened, she displayed proudly a picture that had been stored the whole semester in the corner of the room – the one that gave me chills to look at everyday before knowing, and still brings uneasy feelings after finding out: those ghosts are our boys.

“Ghosts of Vimy Ridge” William Longstaff, 1931

This same teacher took a class of 40 students across the ocean for a tour of WWI and WWII battlegrounds. These trips aren’t uncommon nowadays and for good reason. Fast forward to 2012: I interview a Saskatoon high school teacher about why it’s important for him to do this same trip for his students.

“…because until you stand in Flanders Fields, smell and see these places you just… it’s just – its life changing.”

 I understand how hard it is to recount the exact emotion. The day I took in the memorial at Vimy Ridge, it was raining the worst it had during our spring time visit in Europe. In the pelting rain, that same passionate teacher stood at the foot of the memorial and recounted her lecture. I never thought I would cry as much as I did that day – I actually ached for these people, and most of all for our young country.

Do I feel this intensity every time I pin on my poppy? No. But I do think “I am wearing this to show I remember. To show I am undertaking the act of remembrance.”

I know there are some who share these sentiments, and others who don’t. For some, the poppy holds as much weight as the great feeling of  having the day off. So I’m here to get back to the basics, back to what I learned at my first school ceremony: the best – and least – we can do today is remember.

Simply cut out all other noise, and think of all those we lost, those who sacrificed and gave themselves for our moment today.

BUT IT CAN’T BE THAT SIMPLE

Apparently times are a’changing and we just can’t let Remembrance Day go unscathed: we have to make it political. In Edmonton, some schools are allowing students to “opt out” of the ceremony. In a CTV Edmonton report, Jane Sterling with Edmonton Public Schools said:

“It’s always an option for parents…Typically it’s a really rare request, but in certain situations there are parents that would prefer their children not to be part of the Remembrance Day ceremony.

Sterling said students usually don’t take part in the ceremonies for religious reasons, and only applied in what she called ‘demographic areas’.”

I am going to parrot the view of another mentioned in the story, and many others in arms about this issue: Remembrance Day is not about religion. It’s not about whether it is right or wrong to fight. It is not about anything other than honouring our fallen, and those still alive today, for their service.

Why is that so hard to do?

The amazing thing about this day is it can be presented in so many ways – and is decided by each person in how they remember. So many of my school ceremonies stuck to the basics and encouraged us to think of our own ways to remember:

“We remember because we want to live in a world of peace… We remember because grandpa came back while his best friends didn’t… We remember because these men and women fought for a country where all creeds and races can live together and learn to accept each other.”

And yet some of these people, who would otherwise not be able to live freely with their beliefs, suddenly don’t want in on thanking those who shaped this very country. Therein lies the muddied water of this debate:

Our brave men and women also fought for the freedom of religion and freedom to express beliefs.

Okay, so let’s move on if you are adamant to make it political and religious and you don’t want to bend. Because it’s so far to stoop to offer some gratitude.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE INDIFFERENT?

Yes, let’s hear from this motley crew. These people who just want to “opt out” without the guilt of being called out as ungrateful and perhaps just a little – spoiled.

“I think it should be a choice with the parents, whether they should celebrate Remembrance Day or just do other activities,” Parent Pam Fillion said.”

Just let that disregard for fellow-man and country dance around in your head for a second. Yeah, it still doesn’t quite keep up with the counts.

I think back now to that first ceremony and wonder what it would have been like to be excused from it all. Every moment thereafter would have been for naught: the Vimy Ridge talk, the trip. I wouldn’t feel the same love for my country; I wouldn’t be able to connect with my surroundings in the same way, with the same respect and regard for all I have; because so many of our interactions are based on the freedoms for which these men and women fought.

I wouldn’t have an ounce of the understanding of just how fortunate we all are to live in Canada. To have the freedom to remember publicly, and peacefully.

LEST WE FORGET – NOT ALL IS LOST

The silver lining? Apparently the “importance of Remembrance Day” is still being taught.

Well then consider it an already failed lesson, as these parents and now their children make it clear Remembrance Day isn’t nearly as important as “other activities.”

So this Remembrance Day I will stand even straighter, with even more pride along with my fellow Canadians:

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them

We will remember them.

**

For those who don’t know where the last passage is from, ask your teacher.

Going live and the living dead

When I was a student, I used to think the work load made me akin to a mindless zombie – get through this and then you can get some BRAAAAAIIIINNNNNNSSSS.

That was until I joined the real world and found out the demands of producing a product you are both happy with and within your capacity to create. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, working in a community station in a quote “smaller market” opens up many roles – and just as many opportunities to do something new and scary.

In October alone, I was fortunate enough to join the on-air team to cover the Saskatoon civic election. This would be my fourth election that I’ve covered in some regard (October 2010 – Winnipeg Civic election, May 2011 – Federal Election, October 2011 – Manitoba provincial election).

Getting ready in the truck – I guess an election is like a sport

Having done live hits for radio and web work in the past, this time it was the whole nine yards – going live on television.  I was set up in the council chamber with a computer, smart phone and a desk doing intermittent live hits as needed by the host providing feedback from twitter. I would also be tracking live results and the progress of other Saskatchewan cities.

Smiles before going live

In the midst of making sure I was prepared with my ward maps and my phonetics cards (which I threw out the window at one point, sorry Pat Lorje) I didn’t have time to get nearly as freaked out as during the infamous CreComm “Live Hit Derby’s.”

Despite almost losing power to my laptop (my whole raison d’etre as social media reporter) due to a damaged power cord, and almost having no contact with my director – ears are too small for even the smallest ear packs (custom buds for the win!) we did it: 2.5 hours of live television, with many live hits and tweets in between.

I can’t say it was flawless, but that is the beauty of live television – it’s moving forward, being confident and having some back-ups. After reviewing, I’ve decided my phrase of the night was “of course” (better than “um,” I suppose *shudder*) but most importantly, I learned a few key lessons I want to share with others (feel free to add more in the comment section!):

1)      Breathe and slow down: It’s so easy to start speaking fast to hurry everything up, but when you have to fill 2-3 minutes at a time, just you at a desk with nothing but some notes and tweets, slowing down is key.

2)      Have a number of extra points to discuss: and then double that number. Especially in a situation where you can’t banter with other on-air people and you have to fill time, talking about something like the new ways to vote in Saskatchewan offers some additional information to the cast.

3)      Know what you are going to cover: sounds simple enough, but I knew going in that as social media reporter, I wanted to supplement my cast and not just parrot it. I tweeted out results for the mayor, and discussed some tight races in the wards – but it was about starting a conversation I could bring to viewers at home.

Trying to compete with other media to “get results out first” seemed futile, as I was monitoring many different hashtags, responding to tweets and preparing graphics for my next live hit. Plus, my audience online was already following the results from the city website or on Shaw TV – so they didn’t need another reminder. Creating the conversation, asking what people thought of the turn-out, etc. proved to be a far more engaging tactic and made for good discussion on television.

We were also the only television crew doing live election results – so we were working together to present that the best way possible.

4)      Use your surroundings: Being the only one in the council chamber for the first while was eerily quiet, but then came candidates waiting for results, fellow reporters, members of the public, etc. Always a good way to start and continue the on-air conversation is bringing up what you see – “wow, candidate John Doe in ward 5 just shook hands with fellow candidate Jimmy Dean to concede his seat.” Sharing anecdotes about being there offers moments perfectly suited for live television.

5)      Do the best you can: it sounds trite, but as the second time I have ever done live tv and it being a mini-marathon of sorts – doing all you can and executing it the best way possible is all you can ask. Reviewing work and thinking about all the things to improve is the path to bettering “your best.” Oh and remembering all the things from Live TV Production with Joanne Kelly is also important.

As for the living dead part – Halloween came and went, but not without some fun! Having to produce a full Halloween-only show was a great challenge of being creative, and not so frugal with the overtime hours. We will be posting some of our spooky content soon, but I have to say the highlight was getting the opportunity to do some good!

Some of the media people in Saskatoon made it out to carve pumpkins for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. And while my kitty-kat didn’t win any prizes, she was the first scooped up by a happy donor to take the spot on their front porch.

The highly technical carving

Happy Halloween!

When we met at the Ale House

All I can say: true story.

When we met at the Ale House
by Daniella Ponticelli

I met you again for the first time
last night
same light brown hair
matching the light brown ale
held so comfortably in your big hands

You’re bespectacled, and tall
Giant might be a stretch;
but your warm smile brings you down
to my level
And across from the table
all is equal.

Kind of like when we met
In the park the first time
Across from each other on a picnic table
just talking; four hours

but tonight it’s only two,
and we’re at an Ale House
Much like our second date
At the brewery
Where I met your friends.
Much like tonight
when we meet again
for the first time.

You and your sarcastic shirt,
matching your silly manner
Not quite a ninja turtles hat
with a matching tee
but tonight you’re wearing my favourite colour
How did you remember?

I guess you didn’t know

And no surprise you’re not alone,
with your well-used
socially abused
iPhone (which used to act up)
with your tweets –

That’s how we met, isn’t it?

You grumble about the crap comic
say you can do better
I joke about you being a snob
especially about your beer.
You laugh and order another
craft brewed delicacy.
Then mention how you’re a writer
and a soul-searching travesty

Who found his way to the Ale House.

It’s you – completely and exquisitely you
And my heart stopped,
And had I not started anew,
there’d have been an
inquest.

I figured seven hours was enough
distance between us
You (time) travelling (handsome) devil.

At least your names aren’t close
That’s a plus, I suppose
And now we gather for an IPA
Just like old times

Even though you pretend there was never a time.

So I finally start again,
and we meet again
where we drink again
Even though we’ll never speak again.
And there’s laughter,
And bad music and fellow happy people
And we revel in each other’s company
And I think back to us
Even though we just met
that night, now last night
and I agree it’s time for you to go.

And so I remain in the Ale House
with the man I came to see again
And he settles the tab
as I playfully quip that his friend,
with his light brown hair
and awkward, cute, nerdy aura
and passionate love of beer
and fervent flair for writing
(and batman screensaver)

reminds me of somebody I used to know.

*

Roadside musings

It’s coming up on my three-month anniversary here in Saskatoon. There are many stories I could share, but most I don’t want to waste too much breath on – although I’m sure my harrowing tales on intra-city moves will come out with a glass of wine or two (mark your calendars Winnipeg, I’ll be in town November!)

I love it here though, now living five minutes away from a river trail that is never under water – because it is built on very high ground – and meeting new people now that I have new room mates. Who are more friends than roomies.

Anyhow, I’ve been meaning to share a quirky piece of writing with you, because for those who know my brand of poetry, you know it always stems from a bizarre thought or what would happen if jumping point.

This one began with … “So what should I do to stay awake [on a 7 hour road trip to Winnipeg]?”  I had a few suggestions thrown my way, but this one was quirky and (definitely perfect) as poetry fodder. Bon Appetit!

Roadside Heist
by Daniella Ponticelli

The radio signals cuts in
and out.

The road ahead never winds around
or about.

The tummy rumbles, and grumbles and moans.
An almost depleted mobile is mute
without tones.

It’s just over half way,
where the road , ahem, stays straight and uptight.
The same feeling in your back, and the bum cheek that fell asleep

Yes, the one on the right.

Out of nowhere (if such a place exists)
emerges a sign post with directions, and text and very few
twists.

It’s a little daring, mind me – a little bold
to do as a sign says, without being told.

Follow along to a loose gravel lot
where a corner store beeps and meeps and wheezes
as a flower dies lonely in its pot.

This is the place, prime for the picking
Out on recce, as the clock keeps on ticking.

A back door, a front, with a little quaint awning
with a cashier, a vendor and a fat tabby yawning.

A Saskatchewan town if one ever did see,
but a Manitoba licence plate out for
a free spending spree.

No one suspects, it’s far out of character,
back up, butt awake and brave demeanor

Stroll in, look for jerky, milk and maybe some condoms
Act normal, be polite and then state the conundrum:

While I would love to purchase
these things here so fine,
I’d much prefer to take them as is,
as a thief would transact, you understand?
to be mine. 


Yes, I can afford it, but what good a heist would this be?
Shall I offer you some prose in exchange, or simply bid my leave?
I have no weapon, just my sharp wit.

Oh let’s call it a day and be done with it.

A blank stare, and a small wicked grin
The cashier bites the joke,
as one would poke another’s ribs.

Leave with the goods and just don’t pay
a textbook heist, the papers shall say.

 The radio signals cuts in
and out.

The road ahead never winds around
or about.

How to stay awake, stay alert, for more
to lull out of the boredom, and withhold a snore?

A heist is one way; another, caffeine
to break up the flat, and the yellow and
the unending, overbearing, just plain glaring

Saskatchewan green.

*

Green pastures: my take on the journey to an elusive J job.

On Thursday, I had the honour of speaking to this year’s fresh intake of Creative Communications students at Red River College. Not only was it a pleasure to be back in Winnipeg and back at the campus where my career first developed, it was also great to be in the company of other esteemed CreComm grads from 2012: Albertine Watson, Hayley Brigg and Sean Campbell.

While we all found jobs that were a) in our professional field and 2) fulfilling and terrific, I was the only representative who left the Winnipeg nest.  I am not, however, the only journalism major from the 2012 class to pack up and head to greener (pun intended) pastures. We saw classmates off to Fort McMurry, AB; Brandon, MB; Thompson, MB; Swan River, MB; Dryden, ONT; and of course – Saskatoon, SK.

I wasn’t surprised many of us headed off, since I remember quite vividly hearing this sentiment throughout first year: Journalism is dying. There are no J jobs. But there are, and in the ways I will soon discuss – there will also be some for next year’s grads too.

There were many factors leading me to my new home in Saskatoon – the perfect job, great timing, and my ability to do so without breaking the bank.  I had never been to Saskatoon before, but I remembered a former grad talking about her experience working there, and  then this tweet popped up a few weeks later:

The article, published by J Source, is titled “Why Saskatchewan is a good place to be a journalist” and all bolded quotes are taken from there. The first half epitomizes all that J students know and love about “smaller markets”: you get well-rounded professional experience quickly…

“I think it’s a great place for new grads looking to get started,” says To. “You can become a reporter here quicker simply because it’s a smaller centre and you can get valuable experience.” 

And, as in my own case, a lot of responsibility to tackle many jobs; you’re no longer the one-trick pony. You’re the pony who can gallop, trot, shoot stories, switch, create graphics, and work the magic on-air. While the obvious benefit to working in a smaller market is a gold mine for giddy J grads, Saskatchewan has become a perfect storm for those pursuing a career in an industry some think is dying…

 “The job possibilities for journalists aren’t as bad as they have been made out to be —  at least not in Saskatchewan. The economy is booming, advertising dollars are flowing and new outlets are popping up like spring flowers.” 

This is really why Saskatchewan is the place to be, journalist or not. The boom directly contributes to overall growth and betterment of the province. Not to mention the creation of new journalism jobs, so one doesn’t have to wait for other employees to retire or depart…

“There are a number of reasons why journalism jobs are more abundant in Saskatchewan, one being that half of Saskatchewan’s population lives in small communities, many with local newspapers that need journalists.” 

“The resource boom is another reason, and as Eric Howe, an economics professor at the University of Saskatchewan explains, the province has a resource boom about every 25 years.”

This resource boom is a huge part of why I love Saskatoon – there are young people, new infrastructure projects and an excitement about what’s next. Of course with all that, comes a scrambling for housing. I shopped on Kijiji for roommates and places to live, lucking out with a brand new home shared among four people. Rent is affordable for the most part, and so is gas – since a ride on Circle Drive (which requires almost no stopping) gets you to work quickly and efficiently.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed: Saskatoon has its act together because it accepts that while it’s not the biggest market – it’s also not the smallest. Coming from Brandon, this place is the perfect size and temperament for a budding (or even fully blossomed) journalist. All the media folk are friendly, with a healthy dose of competitive bite, and compelling stories.

Oh and did I mention there’s some damn good journalism happening here?

“There’s more competition in the media right now than I’ve seen in quite a while and hopefully that’s going to be generating more jobs,” says Elliot. “So, I think Saskatchewan is a great place for any young journalist to start their career.”

The article then moves on to explore the University of Regina journalism program, in particular how grads are getting jobs. The metaphorical hairs on my back usually stand up when J schools are mentioned, because I’m a Creative Communications grad – a J grad – even though it’s not solely a  J program. Call me a dreamer, but I like rooting for the underdog, and it’s so rewarding to see my classmates grabbing up industry jobs (our stats on grad hire rates are higher than those in the article, but I digress).

One thing that helps our program – and all J programs for that matter – are work placements or internships. Ours are quite different, however, from the U of R. Where we are guaranteed 3 weeks, unpaid (unless otherwise negotiated) – theirs are 13 weeks, paid…

“It is a 100 per cent requirement of the employer that we get paid because you get what you pay for,” says Heroux [ U of R student]. “To be frank, something like six weeks is not enough to establish yourself and an unpaid internship is not enough to establish yourself.” 

It’s interesting because I both agree and disagree with this U of R student. Firstly, I agree that payment ought to be given for the work, on the argument the student makes in the first half of the quote. It’s the argument you will get from any Regina J student. Also, I’d be damn well pissed if I had to work 13 weeks full-time without making something for it. Or I’d just starve, silently.

Here’s my slight disagreement: both of my two “not enough to establish yourself” internships led to jobs. I interned at the Brandon Sun (of my own accord, not related to school) and the Winnipeg Free Press, which aided me in landing the full-time military beat reporter position at the Sun.

I also spent three weeks at Shaw TV Winnipeg, where I established myself enough to be strongly supported by those working there for the position I currently have at Shaw TV Saskatoon.

And I worked my ass off for it. Those six weeks – which turned into roughly 13 when adding on additional freelance work I did following the placements – were exhausting. But that’s the card we’re dealt in the Creative Communications Program and I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

Just like any deadline – 13 weeks or three – you get it done, and you get it done well with what you’re given. Arrange meetings with the directors before starting, come prepared with story ideas – ones that will actually make it to air or print – and better yet, be a decent individual.

That’s a damn good way to establish yourself.

So why did I leave for Saskatchewan? Timing, the company, and most importantly – it’s the job I wanted.  It’s not an easy decision to make, it just worked out that most of my family was no longer in Winnipeg and that the most difficult piece of any puzzle – the heart – was already decided since my boyfriend and I split months before I landed the Saskatoon job.

Having my current experience, and reading the article – there are even more merits to starting a J career in Saskatchewan. If all you take out from it is that small markets are great places to work, you’re ahead; because frankly, if you love what you do, it won’t matter where you do it.

You may even find yourself in very green (…white and black…) pastures.

Back to the beginning

One of truest sentiments regarding blogging was shared in less than 140 characters: “I don’t care why you haven’t blogged, just do it.”

That’s easier said than done, because once you let life take over with its long work days and evenings finally free from homework – blogging becomes a permanent tenant on the to-do list.

Well, no more excuses as I’m curled up on the lazy-boy in the house I share with three boys who I didn`t know a couple of weeks ago. Time to write.

Since my last post about interning at the Winnipeg Free Press – which now feels like an eternity ago – things moved quickly.I freelanced for the Canadian Forces at CFB Shilo for the last time, leaving the contract work behind when I became the full-time military reporter at the Brandon Sun.

It was a phenomenal job – covering all types of news for a daily deadline and even having the opportunity to photograph. My main beat was Shilo, and I’m honoured to say I met some incredible people working in the small community.  That lasted, however, for all of a month and a half and I am now the anchor/producer at Shaw TV Saskatoon. (That’s where the picture below is from!)

All in the span of less than a regular semester at university.

It’s not so much the lightning fast speed at which my burgeoning career has taken off, it’s more the startling reality that in a short period of time I went from worrying about work to finding myself in a very stimulating and fulfilling job. More than that, I straight up packed up my car (yes, I bought one of those) and drove to a city I have never visited before – to live with people who I met online.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The people I live with are fantastic, honestly. They had waited to find a roommate for months, and they said I sounded like a good fit. So far things are great as we’re all so busy leading our lives, yet we can gather for some Breaking Bad time when we have the chance.

If there’s one thing I can say about the experience so far, maintaining a positive attitude has helped – and continues to help – navigate the waters of a new career. Each day is brand new, and I learn about 20,000 things about myself, others, this industry, how we use writing/sound/visuals to create a feeling.

It’s pretty surreal. The feeling is similar to what I felt when I first started CreComm – except back then I was riddled with self-doubt. The idea of getting my dream job was, well two years away. Now that it’s here, and I’m completely at peace with it; and that’s awesome.

Taking it one day at a time has helped tremendously, along with hearing Joanne’s voice in my head saying “sound-ups, write to your visuals!”

So now I’m going to close this post, and feel good that despite the schedule, and the Breaking Bad episode on pause in front of me – I did it. I wrote for the hell of it.

*

 

A body in my backyard

It’s my first breaking news shift as an intern for the Winnipeg Free Press.

I wake up at 5:30 am, put on the coffee and have a long shower. Up next is writing a few stories for the web and then keeping my eyes and ears ready for news. My phone rings.

“Where do you live?” asks my editor.
“South side of Winnipeg, on Wilkes Avenue.”
“Are you kidding me? – there are reports of a body floating in a retention pond off Wilkes.”

The same retention pond I could see as I looked out the window.

I get in my car and drive east a few buildings down. Only one police cruiser and an ambulance are at the scene. I arrived to see the non-descript body being placed on the stretcher with a white blanket over top. More police arrive and they pay no attention to the girl who looks like an uninformed neighbourhood resident.

No one’s saying anything so I head into the building that borders on the scene where the body was found, live tweeting as the event unfolds. I poke my head around a few more corners then “how did you slip by here?”  The area was secured inside and out, so I waited in my car for someone – anyone – to leave the locked building. Finally someone does: a veteran reporter from Nova Scotia on holiday to visit her aunt. She had poked around herself and filled me in: police are canvassing the building, asking if anyone’s seen anything. And it was the care taker who called in the floating body.

For all the intensity of a body in my backyard, the last word I received was the possibility of suicide – a story to go unreported in the media.

***

I’ve always said nothing beats being there and, as I’ve discovered recently, nothing beats the rush of getting to news first.

When I started my internship at the Free Press last week, the building itself was a little daunting; cubicles galore occupied by writers whose work I’ve followed for a long time.

But things get better and first day jitters calm down quickly. I’ve done three internships before and the great thing about them is you’re going to have some “tough love” lessons on the job – if you’re lucky. Some just don’t work out, while others have surprise endings:

Technical difficulty

It was the very first day in the newsroom and it’s painfully slow – Easter Monday and city hall, the legislature and the law courts are all closed. No streeters there, Duncan McMonagle. So instead I start perusing my social media networks while keeping in touch with other sources and writing web stories.

I land on an event happening at UW: a talk-back discussion with members from Invisible Children, the organization behind KONY 2012. The editors liked the idea and after filing some short pieces I head home to prep for the night. I go to the lecture, interview many intriguing people and get to writing. My deadline is 9:00 pm, I’m done at 8:30. Only problem: I have no internet.

I make the quick drive to the college. Start the computer and transfer my file over with a stick. It’s corrupt and won’t open. I have five minutes to deadline. I try different ways of pulling my file off the computer to no avail. With ten minutes past the deadline, I submit my file without being able to open it on the computer I’m sending from. Editor couldn’t open it and things were way behind- another one for the tough luck books.

Verbal interaction

Personality is what I want editors to get from me. At the end of the internship, I’m another student floating in and out; knowing who I am, how I interact with people in the newsroom is key to figuring out if this is the place for me – and vice versa.

One day the writers were preparing pieces for a feature on the Provincial Nominee Program reorganization (so to speak). I overheard my editor and a writer talking about finding people – so I mentioned my family used the program. Before the day was out, I wrote a personal piece about my family’s use of the PNP, and why it’s an asset for immigrants in all standings: Community kept us here.

It turned out to be a great way to share a story I’m proud to tell and try a different voice. Editors saw a different side to me and many people I knew responded positively to the story. The piece ran again in print this past Monday in the Brandon Sun.

 “I wish I could say have a good day, but I cannot find the words”

You’re not a journalist until you receive a letter of discontent.

Thankfully my first letter was, in my humble opinion, not too grave. A dignitary who attended the Transcona 100 sent me words of venom (ALL IN CAPS) for not specifically mentioning his name in the article. He was one of more than 10 dignitaries at the event, and while he is no less important than other dignitaries, I only mentioned the few key people who spoke early on in the presentation.

I responded to him respectively and hope that when I encounter him in person, there will be a mutual agreement to move forward professionally. It’s an important lesson to learn, that of pride. Dealing with your own and others can be a delicate balance.

No story is ever too small

And now I leave you on a positive note.

On my second day I was sent to cover a story about grade four to six students at a Winnipeg school who created original art work to auction off for sick kids.

While the adults and kids I met were terrific, I was worried there wasn’t much of a story. So I opened myself to taking a softer writing approach to a story I personally found touching. The piece didn’t run the next day, as it wasn’t time sensitive and there was enough content.

The next day it ran I had a few emails waiting for me. A local gallery owner sent me a message saying a board member of his cooperative suggested donating an artistry book to the classes as a thank you for their community involvement. It was such a sweet gesture, it made me realize (once more) no story is ever too small.

And reminded me it’s for the community, and its betterment, that we write.

If you’d like to contact me with letters of discontent or happiness, please make my day by emailing them to daniella.ponticelli@freepress.mb.ca.

Aer Time: a cabaret for international dance day

It’s an escape, a passion and a painful art – and I keep on loving aerial dance. It is truly movement in three dimensions and has become a part of who I am.

While I love writing, finding the latest scoop, and singing pop songs with friends (looking at you, Ashley Wiebe); twisting, turning, dropping and rolling from 30 feet in the air using nothing but a piece of fabric is just awesome.

Sunday, April 29 is international dance day and to celebrate, Monica’s Danz Gym is hosting  the Aer Time Cabaret show at its 25 Scurfield Avenue studio. Momentum Aerial and Acrobatic performance troupe will be there – I was fortunate enough to dance with them in Lausanne, Switzerland in the summer of 2011, as well as in Dornbirn, Austria; Ottawa, Canada and Boulder, Colorado years before.

The talented Jennifer Roy, my personal friend and incredible acrobatic artist will perform, as well as senior aerial instructor Liz Cooper. Jordan Dock, who auditioned for Canada’s Got Talent judges, will also showcase his work.

I’m honoured to be a part of this event presenting my work in progress These are my hands performed to the Across the Universe version of  the Beatle’s classic, I want to hold your hand.

These are my hands refers to the opposite of what the song impresses: holding someone else’s hand.  Instead I’ve decided to reclaim and hold my own hand; forgiving myself and reaching out to my own hopes and dreams.

Far too often we reach out to others around us,taxing relationships and falling prey to life’s many demands – often to the detriment of our own health and happiness.

It’s with such generous extension we forget where our hands – where we – are.

So please come by Monica’s Danz Gym, 25 Scurfield Blvd, and celebrate international dance day on Sunday April 29 at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $10 at the door.

The Savage War: inside the untold

“It’s occurred to me more than once that you have to be either slightly touched or insensibly determined to want to put the words “war correspondent” on your CV.”

I guess that makes me insensibly determined.

As someone who just spent more than a year invested in military stories and embedding on three exercises with the Canadian Forces; putting down war correspondent on my resume seems like a natural next step. And after signing a total of 25 waivers and next of kin papers in that same time span, I can related to Murray Brewster, author of The Savage War: The untold battles of Afghanistan, when he writes: “It’s funny how you don’t ‘think’ about ‘it’ when you are signing all of the papers and liability waivers that the government and your employer shove in front of you.” (p.3)

It being death.

The book is the story of his time as a war correspondent in Afghanistan for the Canadian Press; and the title is far-reaching. The “untold battles” Brewster refers to are fought not only on Afghan soil, but also parliament hill. To understand a war, Brewster not only had to deal with the politics of the media tent – in which there are many, and the military doesn’t like to speak much – but also the issues back home.

Issues handled by people who have no real concept of the Afghan war environment.

Choosing what “works” and what “doesn’t” in this book is difficult because each part lends itself to another. When speaking to other readers, one complaint is the large amount of acronyms.

Yes, military acronyms can make you jaded as a writer – and Brewster himself isn’t a fan: “…Regional Command South – known affectionately in this acronym-laced hell as RC-South.”

LAV, 2IC, NATO, COC, RSM, BS, CFC, FOB, ISAF – at least Brewster was kind enough to explain these at the start of the book, but keeping up with the ABC’s can be struggle if you’re not used to reading them and can understand what they mean.

But now I want to focus on the good; the first of which is the overarching message that nothing beats being there. This book, now another title in the canon of military history, tells a story no journalist sitting at a bureau in Ottawa could ever write.  It comes down to the details, moments in time captured from the field.

“People get torn up in different ways by Kandahar, some obvious, some not so obvious. The dead you can see. You know they’re there, along with the wounded. It’s evident. It’s real, sometimes too real. Talk to any of the guys who washed blood out the back of a LAV or picked up pieces of a friend after a bombing and you encounter a whole different kind of real.” p.210

And it’s this “other” real that makes up the book. The real we as the general public are closed off to – given only snippets of through the eyes of a camera lens.

While reading I noticed similarities to the documentary Desert Lions by Lt – Col. Mike Vernon. He was embedded in Afghanistan as well – but as a soldier with the job of producing a documentary that came to be funded by the Army. It follows the highs and lows of a small platoon of soldiers, stationed at a post far off from Kandahar Air Field (the media haven). See full documentary below.


Vernon came in to speak with our class about the making of this documentary, saying “part of me wants Canadians to see a wounded soldier.” The reality is, what the media gives us is often a watered down version. Refreshingly, Vernon told us, almost all of his hour-long documentary rough cut remained the same ; the Army wanted the story as is, with all the soldiers’ personality and flare (which is often hidden).

The climax of Desert Lions is the explosion of an IED (Improvised Explosion Device) set off while soldiers are on patrol. It’s a road they’ve travelled numerous times and somehow, someone was able to set it up without anyone seeing.

Throughout The Savage War, Brewster touches on the mental toll the randomized explosions took on the soldiers. This sentiment was echoed during an interview with a soldier:

“About two weeks ago, I walked past an anti-personnel mine, like within a foot,” he said, holding up his hands to emphasize the distance. “It’s easy to let your guard down because you’ve seen an area over and over. The area of the mine was one I walked down countless times. These guys are sneaky and you’ve got to stay sharp.” p.128

But it wasn’t just the field moments that made this book – it was the context. Perhaps Brewster was aiming too high to give a perfectly rounded view of the war, but I’m impressed and inspired by how he tried.

Access of information request after request is documented and brought up in relevancy throughout the book. Brewster even uses cables from WikiLeaks to provide context to the book – and add to the “untold” mystique of the Afghan war.

My favourite chapter in the book titled “A Dangerous Life” gives a sneak peek into the life of an embedded journalist. He talks about how the motley crew of journalists all had their reasons for being there, and that “all had unfinished business with that place.” (p.316). Having spent so much time in and out of Afghanistan, Brewster conveys toward the end of the book the feeling of the public, one with which I can certainly relate.

“A sort of collective amnesia took hold, a grey, foggy recollection. People knew the war was coming to an end, they just didn’t know how or when.” p.315

I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to see this war you’ve paid so much attention to, get lost in a country full of blind people. Blind to the actualities of war, and blind to the exhausting toll it’s taken on everyone. And then there’s the idea of purpose – purpose as a journalist: “as journalists, sir, we are supposed to help the people, not get them killed.” (Khan, Brewster’s fixer,p.218).

But how much can we do? Telling stories is within our power, but help is a fickle thing. For example, Kevin Carter was constantly bombarded with the question of “did you help the starving child?” after he snapped his Pultizer-winning photo in Sudan. The guilt of not knowing what to do eventually led him to suicide.

Instead, Brewster makes this sentiment, which is more manageable and speaks to us as readers to engage with what has been shared:

“If this book makes you pause for a moment in the day-to-day hubbub to reflect on the events of the last few years – even for a short moment – then it will truly have been worth the effort.”

 

 

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