We wield a crayon before a pen

This not the game of life – but it’s a visualization of someone’s life. And while a picture might say a thousand words – what does an image made up of a thousand statistics say?

We see them, we read them but we often have a tough time understanding their magnitude – numbers, the backbone of research and credibility (and the bane of a writer’s existence). Luckily, we live in a multimedia Mecca, with access to all forms of statistical visualization.   

And yet for some reason all we see are easy-to-build Google maps all over local news sites. Sure they’re easy to make, and quite effective, but how else can we tell a story? And is it possible for a graphic to work effectively in both a print and interactive format? Well, it depends on your data.

Today I found some information regarding elderly drivers. Love ’em or hate ’em, there sure are a lot of them – according to a 2009 Stats Can report, uh I’ll just let you enjoy the juiciest part of the report here:

“In 20093.25 million people aged 65 and over, or three-quarters of all seniors, had a driver’s licence. Of that number, about 200,000 were aged 85 and over.

 There was a substantial gap between men and women with respect to having a driver’s licence, particularly in those aged 85 and over. In 200967% of men aged 85 and over living in private households had a driver’s licence, compared with 26% of women.

In 2009, more than two-thirds (68%) of seniors aged 65 to 74 reported that their main form of transportation was driving their own vehicle. Less than 6% used public transit and 3% walked or used a bicycle.

Among seniors aged 85 and over, 56% of men and 18% of women reported that their main form of transportation was driving their own vehicle.” (Statistics Canada)

I specifically bolded the numbers and percentages to show you what journalists have to sieve through for a good story; although, I assure you I’m a big fan of stats( B+). Obviously an interactive map is not appropriate to show this data; but the numbers are important as they’re the blood pumping the heart of the story, which would include a Pulitzer-worthy interview with Opal about her experience driving as an elderly lady

Since the data involves many variables, there are multiple info graphics that would work in this case. A 3D bar graph, or a 3D bar graph with pink and blue cars at the end of the lines, indicating male and female drivers. Inspired by advertising, you could use a photograph of a female elderly driver on one side of (say) a magazine fold, a male on the other (both behind wheels) and have the main statistic information graphed below them like a speedometer, writing the rest out beside them. Now you have a human face by your graphic (or a designed image).

We can step aways from maps and pie charts (using them when it works), and an effective way to show the numbers can be through (a series of) drawings or a new wave of graphics known as “real world” (such as the head scarf one below) something I was trying to mimic above.  You can see what I like in information graphics at Information is Beautiful, they do really kooky creative visualizations of data. I’ve also added a few more information graphics I found effective – even though I have no clue what the last one means…

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Making every fail a ‘learning lesson’

When things go wrong in journalism school, it’s actually a good thing.

I’ve been learning this lesson throughout my time in CreComm, but it finally settled in Thursday when some technical difficulties in a news cast led to great teamwork and overall, an amazing (fun) show.

It all comes down to how you deal – and no, I’m not a zen master so it’s hit and miss on how I’ll react. But the more time I spend practising my craft, I realize making mistakes is inevitable and the more you try not to, the worse it burns.

Take the autofail, where an assignment is branded with an F is one name is spelled incorrectly. Yes it’s about not making the same mistake twice, but it’s also working through what could be perceived as a disappointment. Trust me, after four of these it’s like a bee sting.

And while it’s not always the easiest way to learn, I believe it’s the best damn way. So I’ve decided to lay it out: my “five important lessons learned the hard way” in journalism school.

Spelling matters, even on Twitter

Sometimes an honest mistake can cause enough curiosity on Twitter to drive more traffic to your blog. I was still green to the micro-blogging site when I (mean to) tweet out “It’s Halloween, and the Feed has for you a scary love story: Blood Clock.”

For some reason, I was getting quite a bit of hits on this poetry post. The next day a classmate of mine  says “I was curious when I saw the title on Twitter, spelling mistakes are a bitch.” Turns out it was a scary mistake: I forgot to add the L in clock.

Remove “stalker” from your vocabulary

One challenging aspects of being a student reporter is having the time to play phone tag and e-mail snake with your contacts. Sometimes you have to put the gadgets aside and go in head first.

For one broadcast story, my shooter and I decided we would find our interview subject by quite literally stalking the halls of the University of Manitoba. We knocked on doors, we sounded official and magically we walked in to the lobby at the right time to find him. And of course, we politely asked him for an interview.

Canada 411 is a crucial resource.

Yes, that tripod is supposed to have a plate

Because I’m not a media production student, I sometimes push my intuition aside because well, it’s easier to simply place blind trust in the camera bag i.e. assuming all your equipment is there and in order.

I have so many tales of the broadcast shoot gone wrong: no tape/SD card in the camera, no white balance, no audio and one time, my shooter didn’t hit record.

But my most recent ‘encounter-with-technology’ happened on my trip to Hecla, Manitoba. Every tripod needs a plate – even if your camera is little and a veteran shooter tells you it doesn’t.  So I shot handheld for everything (my preference anyway), but when it came down to doing my stand-up (my little bit on the screen) I had to think of how to level a camera that is balancing  45 degrees between a hope and a prayer.

Turns out Manitoba is flat enough to level the camera without much hassle.

It’s all in the ask

Knowing what you’re looking for in a story is the first step – the next is asking the most clear and concise question humanly possible.

Take into account what exactly you need from this person. My favourite example of a question that was much too broad happened when I was the shooter, and the reporter was doing a story about roof repairs on an old church in Winnipeg.

To begin, we only have 2 hours to shoot, enough time for a 1 minute full story. We’re already in the third quarter and it’s time to interview the reverend. To warm him up, my reporter asks “so, can you give us a brief history on the church?” About 12 minutes later we arrive at the end of his answer and we didn’t use any of it.

All we want to know is how this repair is affecting people. Not the history of a 100 year old church. Bad ask on the reporter’s part and something I myself have done leading to 20 minutes of interview. Yuck.

How do you spell your name again?

Never  assume you know how to spell someone’s name. Not in the age where names are spelled with “unique twists” like Jaremy. I, of course, made this mistake – and failed hard – even after I interviewed the person for more than an hour and even though this person is on TV anchoring the news every night. It’s Leclerc, not LeClerc, who’d have known.

It’s embarrassing, but more importantly it’s lazy. I just thought the C needed some extra attention, boy was I wrong; albeit consistently wrong. So my favourite question is, and will always be, can you say and spell your name? Because in this day and age, you never know what you’ll get.

Can you find the name mistake on the cover below?

*

 

Fake it ’til you make it

“Ten new Canadians are taking their oath right now, here at our Sun News studio here in Toronto.”

We all know now – that’s a load of bull shit.

With its tabloid headlines and vicious (often unfounded) commentary, and let’s not forget some of the most unethical television hosts – Sun News scores another victory. And this time, it’s personal.

The CBC posted an article about the Canadian Press and its Access to Information request:

“Documents released under Access to Information legislation show that just a few weeks before Canada’s Citizenship Week last October,[Immigration Minister Jason] Kenney’s staff directed departmental officials to add a last-minute citizenship ceremony at the network to their list of scheduled events.

Bureaucrats scrambled to work out the logistics, suggesting to the minister’s office that Sun News could cover one of the 13 scheduled ceremonies in Ontario — four of them in Toronto, including one at the Air Canada Centre.”

But even though there were viable options for REAL citizenship ceremonies (you know, because journalists should report on real events), a bureaucrat told Kenney’s office Sun Media only wanted to feature “the oath,”* which would “short-change new Canadians from the full ceremony experience.”

*It should have been at this point when the PR people for Kenney’s office stopped to question their morals. Should we really interfere with new citizens at a time that is so special and important, just for a television spot? Correct answer: no.

So after trying to figure out a way not to ruin the moment for new Canadians, the immigration office decides to have a wonderful “reaffirmation” ceremony at Sun News studio.

Their hopes: even though it’s not their official ceremony, have recent New Canadians reaffirm the oath and be announced as “New Canadians” once more. Now at this point, the ethics line is blurry, but one can (sort of) argue evenly both sides.  

BUT as it turns out: staging the ceremony with new citizens is tough stuff –  they’re too busy working and probably relieved that the arduous process of citizenship is finally over. (great commentary by the National Post here)  

So it’s time to fake it. The Access to Information request found this:

“Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” reads an email from a @sunmedia.ca email address, the name blacked out of the document.

Local department staff in Toronto then set out to find 10 new Canadians who would want to restate their oath at the Sun News studios on Oct. 18, calling people who had dealt with the department in the past.

…In the end, only three of the 10 people the department had lined up to appear at the Sun’s studios actually showed up. But the show went on — featuring at least six federal bureaucrats. Three of those who took the oath wore identical T-shirts with a citizenship logo on it.”

I have to stop to take a moment to vomit. Identical T-shirts? It’s a metaphorical slap in the face. Have these immigration bureaucrats ever met the people they are insulting? But wait –  there’s more.

The show continued, with Sun Media people tweeting about the 10 new Canadians reaffirming citizenship. The hosts sometimes dropped the word “reaffirmation” altogether; host Alex Pierson said she didn’t know about the bureaucrats. Co-host Pat Bolland even asked them what it felt like to sing the national anthem.

As someone who now shares citizenship as a South African Canadian, I am appalled at how far the media has gone. So much is invested into that ceremony: medical exams, paper work stacked on more paper work, money, tests, time – each time you travel it’s that much longer until you’re a Canadian.

Bet those bureaucrats have never dealt with the frustration of the immigration system; a friend of mine just took her oath after ten years of a paper work nightmare (you could’ve filmed her ceremony).

 As a journalist interested in television broadcast, I’ve learned a really important lesson:

[don’t] fake it, because you [won’t] make it.

There are instances in broadcasting where asking someone to repeat an action, so you can capture it, is allowed. But to stage a ceremony on a completely different day, in a studio, and then pretend to care about new Canadians all because it’s PR week for Kenney’s office: disgusting.

The positive from this: there are news organizations out there critical of the media. The Canadian Press did a great job bringing this situation to light, putting in an Access of Information request (not a free endeavour) to bring the truth to Canadians – and those still waiting in line at the Immigration office.

Now that makes me proud to be a Canadian.

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