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.

Social ME.dia: Strategic Practises

Part 2: Strategic Use of Social Media

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but not under 140 characters.

The best advice I got for using social media as a business or personality: the 9 to 1 rule. For every 1 piece of self-promotion, post 9 engaging and interactive posts.

Basically, if you use social media, make sure that you are ready to have conversations. So follow people with the same interests. Don’t expect people to follow you if your account is smothered with self-promotion. A great example of interactive and engaging tweeting is Bistro 7 ¼.  Chef Alex tweets as a chef doing his day-to-day shopping and cooking and engages his audience by asking “What do you want for dinner?” while at the market.

And who wouldn’t support a business that is friendly enough to ask and take heart to your suggestions.

A great Facebook page is SANDBOX magazine. They use it actively and as the interactive hub for posting pictures and commenting personally on other’s profiles. The creator of Sandbox did almost all of the social media promotion so now I must ask:

How do you feel about corporate tweeters?
These are people who tweet on behalf of people or organizations. Let’s keep it on a local level as it is obvious why CEO’s of major corporations can’t be tweeting. But what about our mayor? He has a Twitter account but it’s not him tweeting (although this is a flawed example because there are hardly any tweets at all).

While at the Direction’s Business Conference this topic came up and some business owners felt strongly that Twitter doesn’t work if it’s not from the person, if its written by “a bunch of PR people.”

Right now we’re putting together our PR strategy proposals and I’m creating a social media campaign. From what I can suggest (in my novice opinion), is that if you’re using a website/blog, Facebook and Twitter – offer something different for each space. And make sure whoever is spearheading the communication feels positively about the organization enough to write about it as you would.

Example:

Use your blog to expand on thoughts and post

Use your Twitter as a means to interact with people with the same interests, and post short interesting thoughts/ comments/ questions. Remember, you want to keep your sheep – they’re “following” you.

Use Facebook to nurture the relationship between you and your audience. Remember, you’re friends now – they “like” you.

And finally, the most important of all – don’t use social media (or certain mediums) just for the hell of it.
During the civic election, a certain council candidate created a Twitter account, garnered followers and then didn’t send out a tweet. Not one.

So make sure you use it! Remember, you’re accountable for your online content (or lack there of). And make sure that your audience’s use of social media matches up with your objectives. Here’s what some of my friends had to say about their social media activities.

Have any thoughts? Comment here or check out the Cre.ature Feed Facebook page here.

See Part 1 here

Social ME.dia: A Cre.ature’s Buffet

Part 1: A look into my Facebook World and Twitterverse

I can’t imagine life before Facebook.

No really, it’s a blur and I vaguely remember sneaking onto MSN to chat with my friends before mom screamed down for the phone line. And at the time it was the coolest thing – the place to discuss the latest Survivor episode and who is going to the St. Paul’s dance.

I also vaguely remember creating my Facebook account over four years ago. I had no clue what it really was and then I was panicked I wouldn’t have enough friends. Now I’m connected to 857 people and the endless connections they have…

I’m so comfortable with Facebook now. Every time I go on the internet I check out my profile and now I have it linked to my phone. All day I’m connected with family in South Africa, contacts for work (yes, I’ve been hired over Facebook), I’ve also fallen in love over Facebook with people I knew through acquaintances.

But Facebook can hurt, after my last relationship status change I received messages of rude inquiring minds, people digging into matters not of their concern. So I made a few rules for myself regarding my account

1.     NO relationship status. I don’t want to be the back-up girlfriend because you “noticed” I was single.

2.     Only update my status with news – i.e. I don’t bother with “OMGGGGG 2 MIDTERMS TOMORROW FML.”

3.     Could my mom see this? Alright.

4.     Don’t use Facebook as a dating site, if it happens cool.

5.     Never add people.

The last one is confusing. Very rarely do I actively add people unless asked or necessary (i.e. school group member). As such, I’m open to accepting friendships, checking out the profile and deciding if I want this person available to view mine. I’ve never added someone because they’re hott or to spy; although, I have been in the situation where an ex created a false account to be my friend – and view my profile (well, I figured it out).

So what do I use it for now?

When I joined CreComm I panicked a little – does the job world forgive misguided uses of Facebook? When I started, I probably wrote the most random stuff so what comments did my smart ass 16-year old self make? Pictures… I have so many, are any unsuitable? Generally my social scene is one I’m comfortable with people seeing, but some are trying to bury their Facebook past.

Two days ago I received this mass message from a friend:

“Hi, so you may or may not know I am applying for the Winnipeg Police Service this year and in doing so I am deleting my Facebook to give myself the best chance.”

The person went on to give their contact information to those who are interested. The problem is, even if you delete an account the information is still online SO BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR ACTIVITIES – because comments and pictures can be found on Google. To test my theory I googled “Daniella Ponticelli” images…

See anything familiar?

So even though I use Facebook as a means of maintaining relationships, it’s still an open relationship with the world-wide web.  This is important to note. Privacy settings can be changed in accordance, but as someone actively working with social media and hoping to create connections, mine are fairly relaxed.

I was so loyal to Facebook that when I was told to make a Twitter account for CreComm, it felt like cheating. But if Facebook is the best friend, Twitter is the go-to friend.

No way is it the same. I follow organizations and people I’m really interested in. I’ve never bothered joining fan pages on Facebook because of all the annoying updates – but on Twitter it’s up to you if you want to pay attention to the person’s updates. I’ve been tweeted at by people who genuinely enjoy the same interests or enjoy my opinions.

While Twitter can be abused, I use it for my quick news headlines – I recently followed the live tweets regarding Egypt.  For school, all the instructors and students have an account. It’s about linking and sharing in 140 characters. And so what if you’re dating Jo from high school.

Twitter allows for glimpses into the lives of people you find interesting. Like how Deepak Chopra feels while waiting in line at security. I’ve had friends who’ve mentioned bands they’d like to see and received tickets. It’s whatever you need it to be – as in if you need to find someone with a specific interest, you’re bound to connect with them through a hashtag.

Next Post: how to effectively communicate strategically using Social Media

Have any thoughts? Comment here or check out the Cre.ature feed Facebook page here.


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