#Storymonday

It’s Monday J(ournalism) day, and today we mixed a little traditional with some modern twitterisms. That is, we went out and got some story scoops – posting our progress to Twitter through #storymonday. It’s been a fun day of gallivanting through the streets of Winnipeg, and here I am with a final story on the new community renovation grant program up for review by city council.

More fun with more funds

Mayor Sam Katz hopes to make good this week on a long-standing campaign promise.

The community renovation grant program, a $1.2 million initiative to provide more funding to Winnipeg’s community centres, will be up for consideration by his peers next month.

“A lot of our community centres are old and they definitely need a lot of upgrading,” said Marlene Amell, executive director for the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres.

The general council includes 64 volunteer-run community centres, and administers all city funding to grant applicants who meet the criteria.

Fifteen per cent of city land sales will be dedicated to the new program, with an additional $470,000 provided by the land operating reserve.

“The criteria is based on need, that’s the No. 1,” said Amell, adding that community centres in high risk neighbourhoods are higher on the list and that the general council does “run out of dollars.”

Coun. Thomas Steen, who is responsible for youth and recreation services, also feels the pinch when it comes to funding community centres.

“We’ve been working hard with community centres to get them busier, it’s important for youth to be busy – and busy with modern things,” said Steen, who wants to see upgrades to older centres and acknowledges that city funding is “very limited.”

“We have more ideas than we have money,” said Steen.

Each program application is capped at $50,000; but for some, that may not be enough to bring substantial change.

“A million dollar fund is not at the level it needs to be,” said Scott Donald, vice president of sports at Park City West Community Centre, adding that the increased funding will help cover basic maintenance costs.

Park City West applied for an unrelated grant to cover expenses for a new floor and kitchen cabinets – the total bill coming to approximately $30,000. This is only a portion of the budget for a proposed expansion at the community centre, in the ballpark of eight to ten million dollars.

“The city of Winnipeg either needs to fund community centres or shut them down – but don’t starve them,” said Donald.

A report on the community renovation grant program will be reviewed and decided on Wednesday, February 1 by the executive policy committee, and taken to a final council vote on Wednesday, February 22.

Fluff stuff and the ‘cuteness bump’

It’s another early morning flight. Mr. Daniel makes his way to the baggage area of Kandahar airport, where access is restricted. He doesn’t understand the Afghani guards; they mutter angrily and stare at him – confused and afraid. Mr. Daniel is not alone, he has a right hand man leading him exactly where he needs to be; he has a job to do.

The bags are tossed roughly toward him, and he feels a slight tug from the man he’s with. Mr. Daniel walks forward, Afghani eyes watching his every move, knowing he’ll find something in the vast pile of human clothes, shoes and toiletries. Everyone waits for Mr. Daniel to do his job, what he was born to do, and after taking a sniff of a torn brown tweed bag, his tail wags.

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Storytelling is the basis of journalism. It’s the power of connecting people through the real-life dramas of amazing and ordinary people – and animals.

Mr. Daniel

I know a man who is a contract dog handler currently stationed at Kandahar airport. Mr. Daniel is his narcotics dog, a hyperactive yet skilled springer spaniel, catching multiple bags with hidden compartments filled with the equivalent of marijuana. Mr. Daniel works alongside Lisa, a bomb sniffing German Shepard, who saves lives everyday.

Telling an animal’s story has its challenges – some people don’t feel the same sense of connection with these creatures as others. My friend has told me that many of the Afghani guards just don’t have the same respect for these dogs, even though they are so important and a human could never do their job.

There’s also what I’ve dubbed the “cuteness bump:” the idea that a cute animal story is somehow not as valid – or as newsworthy – as real hard news. But these are powerful and important stories to tell.

A classmate of mine, Krystalle Ramlakhan, did an excellent TV story about the Winnipeg Humane Society’s spay and neuter program. At the beginning, there are great visuals of the three most adorable puppies. Then one is taken into the surgery room and later, put under for her fixing.


When I first watched it I had to look away, I couldn’t watch this cute, adorable, little animal in surgery. It was the first time I had been exposed to something like this, but then I thought about how powerful it is – this story made me feel something. And that’s good journalism.

On Sunday March 18, my classmates and I are putting on a nine-hour telethon for the Winnipeg Humane Society airing on Shaw TV Winnipeg. Even though it’s not a six o clock evening news report, I will be doing the same job as a hard news reporter: putting together evocative packaged stories and hosting on-air.

I myself will be heading into the surgery room with a cat and dog to report on some of the amazing work the Humane Society vets do to relieve animals of their pain and keep them safe.

Telling their stories is crucial, especially in a country where people love them like family, and still so many are abused and hurting. There are good people out there helping them everyday. This is not fluff for television, just because kittens and puppies are adorable and cuddly. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given lately is that a reporter uses the same skills to tell a story about a three-legged dog as he or she would to report on a recent murder.

A story is a story, soft fur or not. And for these animals, sharing their struggles with the humans who care for them, will ultimately keep them alive.

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Arctic beginnings: false ice and false perceptions

If you hear a crack, go faster.

Push on the gas hard or else you’ll end up down below, more cold than your fingers and toes at the moment. It’s called false ice – the kind that looks thick and sturdy, but creaks eerily as your snowmobile glides over it. The kind of ice I went over more times than I’d like to think about.

Sleep whenever, and wherever

On the weekend of January 13-15, 2012, I went along with the Arctic Response Company Group to Gimli, Manitoba to start a weekend in training for the Arctic. My main job was to film the exercise for both the army and as a story for Shaw TV Winnipeg. Oh, and of course to learn how to live in the cold.

I can’t say it was an easy crash course, it wasn’t. I learned about working in cold conditions and how to function with less than adequate sleep. Basically, I thought I’d be more prepared for it than I really was.

So because I now have a vast wealth of knowledge, I’ve decided to highlight my top five moments/ lessons on how to be a journalist in the cold weather.

1. Do your research, and then do it again.

This was my first misstep. I went on this excursion having done some research on cold weather comfort, but mainly relied on my kit to keep me warm. And while my parka and deliciously attractive suspender strapped ski pants kept my body warm, the boots and gloves didn’t quite fit the bill – and how could I forget snacks! I will be doing a Costco shop before heading north.

2. Make friends.

The men and women I spent my weekend with are all travelling with me in the Arctic – so I made sure I got to know them. By the end of the weekend I was friends with the medic (good call because they can keep you warm); many of the headquarters guys (good call because they carry all the supplies) and of course, the soldiers who are driving the snowmobiles (good call because I’ll be chauffeured across the tundra).

3. Keep your camera close – and cozy.

I knew I would be carrying my small (but not that small) camera to shoot my story, and I also knew the temperatures with winds would be teetering around the -27 to -30 range. So I decided to bring my cozy lime green fleece blanket (that thing goes everywhere with me) and wrap up the Sony 150. It lasted the weekend and while the camera was still cool to the touch, it operated perfectly.

4. Carry everything yourself.

I showed up at the base and someone asked me if I was carrying a sniper rifle bag – it was just my tripod case. Making sure my equipment was close and always with me was a challenge because the army prefers it if you pack light. I had three separate bags for my camera, audio gear and tripod (not to mention my pack of clothes). In cold weather especially, people don’t like to do extra tasks – like carry the embedded journalist’s gear, and they’ll probably hate you.  Also, by carrying it myself, I kept things organized; a big plus in the cold.

5. Don’t complain.

Or at least save your complaining for a blog post. I woke up after my first night of sleeping in the winter tent and the captain asked how it was. I said “great,” he replied “really?” so I added “in these conditions.” The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter all that much if the ground hurts – that’s what we have to sleep on. And I know what I signed up for — and it’s less than a month until the big event.

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I will be posting imagery my Shaw TV story once they’ve been uploaded from respective websites.

 

Freedom at a price

2012 Journalism Majors. Photo by Wayne Glowacki, Winnipeg Free Press.

Freedom of Information isn’t free.

At the start of second year – September 2011 – my journalism class was given the Freedom of Information assignment. We’d have to find a topic to inquire about through the Freedom of Information act, whereby we can access documents through a formal application process. And make a story out of it. Our instructor, Duncan McMonagle, wrote an introductory article to what has been called “Open Secrets.”

I worked with my partner, Garrick Kozier, on a project inquiring about injuries on city play structures. We didn’t know if we would come out with any telling information, but we set about on our application to the City – via fax. The first application didn’t end up in the appropriate department. The second was answered on day 29 of the allowed 30. And the estimated bill to recover all the documents was $26,000.

This assignment taught me that nothing is cut and dry – especially information. Even if my partner and I could afford the $26,000 bill, it would have taken them over a month to collect it (assuming that was the only job the document collecting guys would have). And as some of my other classmates found out, getting a straight answer out of some PR people can be a projet unto itself.

For better or worse, we all got our stories out. Five days before the deadline, I had finally negotiated and paid for a portion of the documents – the 311 call reports. With that, we tied together the other parts of our story, and this past Saturday – January 7,2012 – the Winnipeg Free Press published our story for their Saturday feature.

Our story is titled Parks and Wreck. There are comments galore, they provide an interesting read too.

Here are some of my classmate’s stories (more to come):

Hey pal, got an answer? Project uncovers problem of aggressive panhandling 
by Alyssa McDonald and Erica Johnson

The life of a transit bus driver is no ride in the park
by Ashley Wiebe and Anrea Zaslov

MS sufferers losing hope for Manitoba Trials
by Dani Finch and Terryn Shiells

Zoo’s inspection reports stay under wraps: Director
by Jordan Thompson and Lindsey Enns

Car thieves try to break leash
by Krystalle Ramlakan and Lindsey Peterson

Papers reveal flow of taxi complaints
by Alison Marinelli and Sara Harrison

Documents reveal 52 cases of abuse over 2 years at Manitoba agencies
by Emily Wessel and Laura Kunzelman

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What do you think about Access to Information? Comment below!

Drawing on some down time

Does a journalist ever rest?

It’s the new year – and after wrapping up my last semester with some great work experiences for Canstar Community Newspapers and The Winnipeg Free Press, I immediately went into working full-time as a portrait photographer over the very busy (and frightening rude) month that is December.

But it’s always worth it – change of pace, spending good times with friends and finally working on a creative project. Yes, that’s right: on my time off all I wanted to do was dive into more work!

I’ve always loved sketching, and probably the last time I took some alone time to work with pencil and pencil crayon was for my cartoon blog image.

Since I’ve become a HUGE graphic novel fan – in almost all parts due to Colin Enquist persuading me to be open-minded about the genre, I decided to think 2D. We often compare our favourite panels, and his favourite was the inspiration of the project.

Have I mentioned I LOVE pencil crayons? They are a gorgeous medium to manipulate; although, finding the right colour and texture requires layering multiple pencil colours – but they’re so cheap, my pack of 50 varieties of colours was only $4.25.

So here’s what I did – I created an enlarged recreation of a two page spread from Fathom by Michael Turner (#12).

1. Gather my materials: I picked up two poster boards and a large frame (later reduced to just the white poster board and a smaller frame sized 22 X 16 in). One pencil, one sharpener, scissors, ruler, kleenex,  two fine sharpies and my no-name brand pencil crayons.

2. Make Your Grids: Whenever you enlarge an original image, you must scale. To make this easier (and less frustrating since I’m a detail freak), I made a grid scale of 1 to 2 inches per square (in light pencil, to be erased after). Then commenced with a pencil outline.

3. Fill in the pencil details: What I love about this image in particular, are all the rich nuances and details in the character. I pencilled in all my details first.

4. Start ink and colour: Some believe one must ink entirely first, and such is the case for comics where there are separate inkers. However, I wanted to clearly show my progression, and decided to ink and colour as I went along.

5. Nearing the finish line: My last push to complete this work was tough, the background was just as nuanced as the character. Colin told me  he didn’t care too much for the dialogue bubble (it says “yeahhh Baby!”). So I focused on capturing the shadows and fine details of the background.

6. The sign off: I did a soft shaving rub technique for the sky colour. While in the original it was a lot darker, I really wanted my details to pop, and be an even soft colour up top. Added my signature and gave it to Colin for Christmas.

Here is a slide show of the process:

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