Taking a page from comics

Hi, my name is Daniella – and I love comic books. (That’s me wearing my awesome Walking Dead shirt)

It started this past spring, when I was introduced to Brian K. Vaughn’s Pride of Baghdad. Based on the real life story of escaped lions in Baghdad, Pride is written from the animal’s perspective with stunning visuals. I immediately fell in love with the genre (which I will call graphic fiction to avoid a heated debate on comic vs. graphic novel); although, it didn’t start that way.

 I wasn’t too taken by graphic fiction when I first studied it in creative writing. I didn’t really understand the merit, but things have changed – to date I’ve read close to 40 graphic fiction works, varying in length.

As a journalist, I just took this new addiction to be a necessary escape from reading the same material daily. When I started broadcast journalism, working on shot composition and sequence, I began to see connections between what we were learning and the fantastical world of graphic fiction. It all comes down to storytelling and using visuals to propel a story forward.

So here I am, making a claim that there are real things to be learned from the panels of a comic book. These are the five things broadcast journalists can take away from graphic fiction.

Basic Storytelling                    

Journalists are storytellers. Reading works from a different medium opens up creative doors, so try to decipher what elements translate best into the medium you’re using. It’s important to remember that adding visual elements should not distract from the heart of the story – they should aim to enhance it. One thing I like to consider when looking at footage (and usually this starts when you’re out shooting) is if someone only sees the visuals, will there be a common thread connecting them? Artist Matthew Forsythe experimented with this notion in his no-word graphic novel Ojingogo.

Of course, as broadcast journalists we have to add a voice to the story.                                       

Writing to your visuals

 Consider what a graphic novel would be like if the panels didn’t add to what was being discussed by characters or described by the narrator. Or what about if the artwork was ignored entirely? Well, you’d be hard pressed to find any professional work like that because it wouldn’t be published. While graphic fiction writers have to consider every single panel, because essentially it is the story, a broadcast journalist has to work with the reality captured on film.

When using shots to tell your story, make sure you write to your visuals. Bring out the colour in the shot by mentioning (e.g) how the vibrant park you see on-screen being enjoyed by youth, was once a drug-infested crime area.  Because graphic fiction uses a print medium, reader’s invest more time looking for nuances in  the surrounding, and playing on subtleties. This may not translate as well on a television medium, but it is something to think about.

The biggest mistake, however, can be overdoing it.

When to use dialogue

I don’t like when a writer has crammed too much into one panel – it is cluttered and hard to follow (below) and can mean lingering forever on (quite often) a boring visual of one character.

And while graphic fiction is limited by the size of a frame, we are limited by the length of a video. So when you have an interview in both a radio and television broadcast piece, don’t go overboard on the clip. The asterisk to that would be if the person is doing something interesting while talking or what he/she says on the radio is worth the 20 seconds of glory. If you’re using a visual for television, don’t linger on a still shot too long – it’s boring and people will think you don’t have any other footage.

Remember, people indulging in a visual medium like movement and easy-to-follow pacing.

Shot composition

Shot composition and sequencing are related, but I felt they deserved separate mention. One of the greatest things about graphic novels is all the different compositions they come up with in order to create some variety. This can be difficult to consider when you’re out in the field, in a time crunch, and sometimes having to work with “nothing.” If you need inspiration on how to get some interesting angles, take a look at Pride of Baghdad. This is an example of a great shot composition – with a variety of wide, medium, and tight shots.

Shot sequencing

This is definitely where I have difficulty as a shooter because I don’t get to practise sequencing often. Knowing how to use well-composed shots in a sequential manner is like understanding where to properly place a comma in writing. Things become beautiful, easy to follow – and no one is left wondering wtf? Sequencing in graphic novels comes from a collaboration between writer and artist (reporter and editor); understanding where close-ups are needed to gauge character reaction and knowing what the next logical panel (frame) will look like.

Here’s a great example from Fables: animal farm


See all you cre.atures in broadcast J!


Byline Timeline

A little over a year ago I had my first journalism story published in The Projector – Red River College’s newspaper.

I was so excited I took a bunch of copies home and clipped out my first article for my scrapbook-come-portfolio. It was a relief to see that my little story survived.

Now, I finally took the time to do a Portfolio page on my blog (click here to view). I’ve done a number of articles on varying topics; which is pretty cool because I got to know some interesting people. And all about school transportation in Georgia, for example.

The page is just a stepping stone to my website, which is currently under construction (and may take a while, looking at my upcoming schedule…)

The coolest part about it all is that I overcame some pretty silly (but what felt like monumental) fears. The thing that terrified me more than anything about handing in my first story was the comments I would get back from the editor. Can you believe it? Now, I’m lucky if I receive feedback – editors are so busy.  Most of the learning is done on my own, seeing where they’ve made changes to flow and style from comparisons between rough work and final. I don’t see it as “bad” if they make more changes, it simply reminds me that words can be easily transformed to sound better (and sometimes worse).

Most of all, it reminds me where I’ve come from, and to embrace that lies ahead.

Daniella will be updating her portfolio regularly, so check back whenever you stop by!

No Deadline without a Lifeline

For reporters and the editors that love (or hate) them.

Just as Cinderella has her fairy Godmother, Rocky has his Mickey Goldmill, and Snooki has her JWOW – a reporter has her editor.

I thought this week about what makes second year journalism feel different from first, and for me – it’s the number of editors I work with. Be it industry professionals or fellow students, the editors I’ve encountered have all taught me valuable lessons – but some are more effective at helping me understand my errors than others.

So I’ve compiled a list – a reporter-editor guide if you will – on what helps relations between the two most important people in the universe. Well, the journalism universe anyway.

Get o’er yourself

You’re not an invincible writer and you’re not a fool-proof editor.

Reporters, you will receive negative comments and come face to face with criticism. You will meet people who think they can do your job (some can) and you will sometimes see your published work that doesn’t really resemble the original article. Don’t pout, see what changes are made, ask questions, and move forward a better writer.

Editors – you are not given a full opportunity to rewrite. You are also not exempt from error. Don’t think that a piece is only ready once you’ve put your mark all over it. Share your insights, make necessary changes, and understand that pieces will never be exactly the way you imagined.

If either of you can’t get over these hurdles, you probably won’t ever get a job.  And your self-esteem, mental capacity, and work will suffer.

Respect each other’s time

You’re both important and you’re both busy. There, it’s settled.

A reporter has a job to do full of collecting information, fact checking, writing, self-editing and meeting deadline. An editor is on the go reading and checking copy, contacting people, metting their deadlines, and dealing with a hundred other newspaper related issues. So make sure you respect each other’s time.

Reporters, don’t waste your editor’s time by throwing a fit because you couldn’t get over yourself. If a story isn’t panning out, call your editor. Because at the end of the day,  you have a story to file.

Editors, don’t waste your reporters time by failing to respond to important questions regarding the story. If things change – details, people, events – communicate with your reporter. Make sure you let you let him or her know that stories have been collected, articles reviewed, and if time permits; what can be improved next time.

Note: suggest improvements in a manner that the writer can actually do them. Saying “your article stunk” may be valid, but certainly not helpful.

No deadline without a lifeline

Editors and reporters can be each other’s lifelines. If an editor needs something covered fast – a reporter is out there getting the news. If a reporter has failed to adhere to an embargo or written something factually incorrect (or worse, libel) an editor can actually save their life.

Or at least prevent their pretty writing hands from clutching jail bars.

And while this sounds noble, and some editors may think this is just something nice to do, there are harsh consequences for not working as a team. Editors are just as responsible for publishing information that comes under legal fire as the reporter is for writing it. You are the reporter’s line of defence – and if you want to throw them under the bus, prepare to get some nasty skid burns.

But take heed – just because you reply on each other for certain things, at no point must the relationship become an excuse to shift responsibility.

As a reporter, you should always do the job with integrity and to the best of your ability. Use your resources – pull that coffee stained Caps and Spelling out of your bag, dust off that recorder and fix your press pass. If there are errors in a published article, don’t just blame the editor – look at your work and see where the errors are in the original.

Editors, make sure to keep a reporter up to speed when dealing with sensitive topics. Don’t depend on a reporter to be perfect – because chances are, that’s when bad errors become worse. Ahem, Jayson Blair anyone?

Friendship can be tricky

Don’t expect an editor to be your friend.

It’s a relationship that involves mutual respect and an understanding that each role is important, but you don’t need to know each other’s weekend habits. One editor, whom I’ve worked with for over a year on many assignments, is someone I only really know by e-mail (we have met once). I really enjoy working with her as we communicate well, she’s easy to talk to, and we respect each other. She gives me the right amount of info and background with the appropriate amount of space to do the work. In turn, I work hard and have all my articles and pictures in on time.

The point: a good editor is more important to you as a reporter, than a friendly one.  Hopefully, if you follow the “mutual respect” model, the relationship will be the perfect mixture of professional and pleasant. And certainly friendship is never frowned upon, just use it wisely.

To see how I edited this post for Cre.ature Feed, see my latest on the editing blog Editdip.

Election Race

It’s election night; I’m lost in a dark area just outside of Winnipeg. The time says 8:15 – polls closed at 8:00. I have to call results in ten minutes

I make it to the candidate’s party at Cowboys nightclub, do my live hit – interview the loser – and sign off. Afterwards I tell the producer I’ll have the winner on in ten.

It’s a race against unsynchronized traffic lights in Winnipeg – but I make it to winner Bidhu Jha’s party at the New Cavalier Inn.  Better yet, I make it there quick enough to catch him on his way into the celebration area.

“This is my granddaughter, from Toronto,” says Jha, while a wide-eyed little girl holding a teddy bear stares back. “She’s nine.”

I’m rushing to get the producer back on the phone – “I’ve got him, he’s ready to go.”

All the while, we enter together, me with Jha and members of his family. People hug him and congratulations all around, while I stay glued to the phone.

A few gentlemen come up, individually and shake my hand. My heart is racing – I have to finish this off, get the interview – I have no clue what they’re doing. Then I get the message – “we don’t need the interview.” Click, I’m done for the night. Another gentleman shakes my hand, and I finally introduce myself.

“Oh, I thought you were Bidhu’s daughter,” says the man.  I just shake my head, laugh it off.

Proud Father

I thought about this exchange as I drove home. I’m not offended by the mishap, I’ve had this happen many times while working – people think I’m related to so-and-so or that “it’s great to see an East Indian girl going to school.”

I’m Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Irish – Born in South Africa and share citizenship with Canada. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a journalist working for a media outlet, doing nothing but my job – my ethnicity always comes into play.

Is this not the same for people like Jha, an NDP candidate, whom some people have said is a player in the game of ethnic politics?

Whatever you want me to be

I’d heard about ethnic politics before – anyone remember when Obama was running for president? But what ethnic politics means in the case of the Manitoba election, is having candidates of a certain ethnicity run in a riding where others from similar background reside.

For example, the NDP, PC, and Liberal party were thought to have played into this notion in the Tyndall Park constituency; where all three candidates are of Filipino origin.  But for those who desperately want a familiar white face – the Green party provided.

That’s the problem; white people seem to be void of race when it comes to ethnic politics. Meanwhile, it’s been a race between white men all these years.

Another interesting observation are the NDP and Liberal candidates that were up against PC leader Hugh McFadyen in the Fort Whyte constituency. It would be a tough race for anyone against the man with a ton of press – living in the suburbia wonderland that is the Fort Whyte area.  Whether or not it was intended to be a breath of diverse fresh air; Sunny Dhaliwal ran for the NDP and Chae Tsai for the Liberals.

Here’s the thing about ethnic politics: people ask “are parties hoping that people who identity with Dhaliwal or Tsai will vote because of the ethnic connection?” When the real question should be:

Why do we even have to ask these questions?

We have depoliticized the white race to the point where it seems to be “neutral” – that anyone other, diversifies the political landscape. For good, or ulterior motives.

Instead, one should question: does it not make sense for someone from the community to run in an area where he or she has supporters – and a stake in the constituency?

Be him or her white, East Indian, Chinese, Filipino, etc.

If that person knows the people well, understands the issues, and thinks of innovative ideas– why the hell not. Calgarians must have seen the importance of  Naheed Nenshi when they voted him mayor: sorry, “their first Muslim mayor.”  Or more recently, when Alberta elected their new premier – a female! – Alison Redford.

The fact that there are these “new” faces in the political landscape shouldn’t be a pat on the back – but a reminder that gender and ethnicity are still highly political.

According to Wikipedia, Jha was born in the Indian state of Jharkhand. According to his constituents, he is the best person for the job.

According to me, he would have been a great interview.

By Student Journalist

For the past two weeks, me and three fellow Crecomms have been covering election news for CJOB news radio. For one assignment, I had to do a live hit from an advanced polling station. When I showed up there, I started chatting to two workers, making sure not to disturb anyone voting.

Then introduced myself to the lady staring me down.

“Who you with?”
“I’m working with CJOB”

She immediately pulled out her phone to call who she called “her media guy.” One of the workers then said “she’s a student – right? You’re a student?” I paused; the lady on the phone was waiting for my answer. I explained I’m a student intern at CJOB.

“See, she’s with CJOB.” I was immediately asked to vacate the area.

I honestly believe, had I said “I’m a student” from the get-go, I would have been able to stay.

For the most part, people in the industry do their jobs well and treat me and my colleagues the way they do other media personnel.

For example, I had to write about an event downtown for The Projector – the Red River College newspaper. I called my contacts and the guy organizing it put me on the media list and treated me just like every other reporter in attendance. He did his job as a PR person and I was able to do mine.

When I was digging around for candidates to talk to for a school assignment and then for a community newspaper piece, I was always treated like other media. The big difference: as a community newspaper writer I was given more priority than the “student” me.

I’m in an interesting position as a journalism student. For each assignment, whether it is for school, freelance or internship, I have to feel out whether or not to use the word “student.” Sometimes, however, I don’t have the choice of leaving that out. There are a few key factors that make being a student journalist challenging:

1. Busy during daytime hours: in the creative communications program, there aren’t very many “free” days. There might be an hour or two here and there during regular business hours – but on the whole, trying to set up an interview can be tough. People expect it to happen during business hours. Most of the time, it has to be done over the phone – but you have to make sure it happens when you’re not in class.

2. Writing isn’t my only commitment: seriously, I’m doing about seven different projects at any given time in order to get material covered for school. As far as I know, full-time reporters focus on their job. Sure it can be busy, however, I highly doubt they take home nine hours of homework. But I digress.

3. How credible am I?: It can be hit or miss on this point. Of course, I’m building my credibility and working towards having a great portfolio. But for some, the student word means they don’t need to give me the time of day.

So am I getting the real experience?

I realized this is an unfair question. The only way I’m ever going to get that “I’m-an-employed-journalist-with-a-media-outlet” experience is by actually being an employed journalist with a media outlet. Or when we have a chance to do our work placement.

But being a student journalist has its perks. It’s exciting, it’s fun – and it’s what I love to do. Oh, and I get to do cool things like this:

1. Creating internships: I called up a newspaper I was interested in working for, and they gladly welcomed the help. It was unpaid, and all the editors I worked with took time to mentor my writing. I have a feeling that sort of attention wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t a student.    

2. Getting valuable lessons: Right now, the Crecomm journalism students are working as community newspaper reporters. Our editors are taking the time to go through our writing, and they understand that it’s all a learning process. At CJOB, everyone in the newsroom takes time to acquaint us with equipment, writing style, and any of our many questions. Boom – being a student rocks.

Gaining access and trust: I’ve experienced a few times, that being a student can gain you access into events. I had the chance to see the state of the city address last year, along with working as a journalist embed with the military. Soldiers felt comfortable talking to me because as a student, well I don’t seem like such a threat.

I’m only going to have the title of “student” once, may as well enjoy this experience – and its challenges – while it lasts.

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