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.”

*

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.

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.”

 

 

A culture of pride

“I saw the sniffers on Main Street and asked ‘are these my people?’”

Colleen Simard is speaking to a class of journalists about finding herself and her Aboriginal culture. She had trouble understanding where she was going when she didn’t know where she’d come from.

“There isn’t enough Aboriginal stories out there,” says Simard, who is herself a graduate of the Creative Communications program at Red River College and pens an “Ask an Indian” column.

What Simard suggests is a disconnect between the Aboriginal representations we see in the media – mainly focused on crime and various abuses – and the actual culture. In a circle of students, she shared a beautiful smudge ritual with the group and we each poured the sage smoke over our bodies and thanked our creator.

I’ve never had the honour of experiencing such an amazing ritual, and it’s something most of the class hadn’t even heard of before.

The reason it was so beautiful is how organic it felt, not some stuffy made-for-TV spectacle, and Simard agrees: “these rituals come out for special events, but why not everyday?”

In many ways, this was exemplified by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: in the video below, journalist Tim Lawrence talks about the Olympics’ use of the Inukshuk in its logo. It’s a symbol of welcoming and peace, and paired with the Aboriginal dancers in the opening ceremonies, promotes an image that all is balanced and inclusive in Canadian society. But accordingly to the video, none of Canada’s athletes are Aboriginal.


What I struggle with is why it is so hard for Canadian culture to provide room for Aboriginal culture. In many ways, this still stems from Residential Schools. While Aboriginal people are still healing from the legacy of trauma these institutions left on many, those behind the schools (for lack of a better word we’ll say Europeans) are also dealing with a legacy that needs to be accounted for.

The legacy of racism and ignorance.

The ignorance part is an easy one to skip over. Perceptions of Aboriginal culture are often formed in very black and white terms. For example, I always assumed most reserves are horrible and that indigenous communities don’t like it there. Why I thought this, I’m not sure – all the CBC specials and newspaper reports on squalid conditions perhaps; but then Simard told me this:

“Reserves aren’t all bad – it gives a place for our community, and it insulates us from racism.”

I couldn’t understand the last part; are we just supposed on rest on our laurels and say racism toward the indigenous can’t be fixed, let’s all stay apart? Or is it that these communities are enriching because it’s a collection of people rejoicing in their culture, a culture torn at the seams by mandated assimilation.

It was not until I went up to the Northwest Territories to the town of Gameti – a place of 300 indigenous people, I noticed a difference between the Aboriginal people of the north, and those I see in Winnipeg. These are proud people, whose culture hangs on their sleeve and they are so happy to share with you experiences and stories without hesitation.

In this town, people share a balance of westernized lifestyle, driving large trucks and wearing non-traditional clothing. But they still share a distinct connection to their roots, and none more so than the Canadian Rangers, who trap animals, cut wood and cook animals the way people living on the land have been doing for centuries.

Joe Black, Elder Canadian Ranger

One Elder Ranger I met, Joe Black, is 78 and his joy was passing on his teaching to young males and females in the community. He was living – “very happy” he told me – on the land just like he had from the time he was born in 1935 to when he bought a house in the 80’s.

The children I met have the same hopes and dreams as any child, and no one there to undercut these dreams. I spoke with people at the health clinic and the stereotypical “Aboriginal problems” experienced in the south aren’t pervasive: alcoholism, suicide, unemployment. People work in industry or by selling furs.

In so many ways Gameti is an untouched gem, and that’s why it works.

This is not a usual blog post, I don’t have some conclusion I feel strongly about. As an immigrant Canadian, I love seeing all cultures more than applauded, accepted. And not just making room for, but including this in the country we share. If Gameti is any indication, cultural pride promotes healthy people in spirit and mind, it promotes opportunities – the kind where children of any origin can have dreams of being in the Olympics – and it promotes understanding: something one blog post can only begin to chip at.

 

Media in the Military

While it may seem I’ve been an inactive blogger, I am here today to prove just the opposite.

This here budding reporter has been blogging everyday on my Independent Professional Project website: mediainthemilitary.wordpress.com.

It all started when I spent my spring break in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories with the soldiers from the Arctic Response Company Group. For ten days I went on the snowy and icy roads from Yellowknife to Gameti, involved in their daily duties as soldiers.

Some of my favourite moments came when doing a walking patrol in Gameti, a town of 300 people. Everyone drives trucks, taking pictures through their windshields, and they smile and wave – even cheering “we’re your number one fans.” Those of course are the ones excited to see us there.

Others watch silently, forming their own thoughts of our troops behind their weathered eyes.

We also learned how to hunt and fish from elders who have lived on the lands for more than 75 years, and understand true wilderness survival.

Lft Donna Riguidel and I after my IPP Presentation March 9, 2012

These experiences are all chronicled on my IPP blog, along with my biography and links to the 38 Canadian Brigade Group newsletter I write for and design.

I also posted my video, slideshow and speech I presented at the Convention Centre on March 9, 2012 in front of my peers, instructors, family and clients.

The progression of this project has truly been worth the very positive responses I’ve received on Facebook, Twitter and the blog itself.  With over 1,100 views since it launched Friday, during my IPP presentation speech, my blog is being seen across Canada and the United States.

Recently The Western Sentinel, the Army newspaper for Western Canada, has contacted me to say it’s interested in publishing my work.

The outcome of this work was far from my mind when I had to actually experience the exercise; often I was cold, tired and in pain. But I feel so much stronger for it.

So if you’re thinking I don’t blog, try following Media in the Military – I’m posting daily articles from my time up north until they’re all posted. In total, I wrote 13 articles and put together 4 photo essays.

But I will continue releasing blog posts of other events featured in the March issue of The Brigade. 

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…

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.

#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.

                                                                  ***

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.

*

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: