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Friday, December 19, 2008

Gone

I'm not here, and if all goes as planned, I won't be back.

I am moving to snowcoveredhills.com, and all of my posts will be available over there. Please bookmark the new site and update your links. Feed readers, please subscribe to my new feed.

Many thanks to Amy and Shauna, who are awesome and know much more about web design than I ever will.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best NWT Blogs

We are now taking nominations for the 2008 NWT Blog Awards. For more details, head over to the contest site.

Harrumph, harrumph!

I am about to get on a plane, and I am not particularly happy about it.

I have to go to Edmonton for an uncomfortable medical test called a "sleep-deprived EEG", so I haven't slept since I got up for work yesterday morning. If I am even less coherent than usual, that's why. The test measures the electrical activity in my brain.

Don't worry about me: I am totally fine except that I have epilepsy, a brain disorder that can be controlled with medication. It's not a secret, but I don't blog about it because it's not relevant.

The test is not painful, but it's very uncomfortable. I have to be tired to the point of exhaustion for the test, and it leaves me with electrode gel all through my hair. For extra fun, the technician will flash a strobe light in my eyes and ask me to hyperventilate. The idea is to push the brain beyond its comfort zone: a normal brain (yes, ha ha) will be able to deal with it, but an epileptic brain won't.

I used to have it done here in town, but now I have to go to Edmonton. Because I cannot possibly finish the test and get on a plane six hours later, I am staying overnight and coming back tomorrow evening. I need to shower and sleep when this stupid test is over.

The timing sucks, and the logistics suck, and the test sucks.

The point -- and I do have one -- is that I will probably be a bit slower to respond to your e-mails for the next couple of days. If you need to reach me, call my cell.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"I can give you lots of links to prove it"

Reader-submitted complaint: I CANNOT believe how much you defend journalists. They are not honorable, they are DISHONORABLE.

Uh, you know whose blog this is, right?

"I'm not even sure who to blame"

Reader-submitted item: Thought you might find this interesting, albeit incredibly sad. I wonder what will happen to our system of checks and balances. I don't think there will be any.

Yes, I am starting to become alarmed at the state of the news industry.

The future of news is online -- I almost never read a dead-tree version of a newspaper -- but the industry has been so slow to react that I'm afraid it might all come tumbling down.

I get my news from cbc.ca, theglobeandmail.com and washingtonpost.com, along with a bunch of local and specialty websites. You have probably already identified the problem here: These websites are successful because they get most of their content from somewhere else. The Globe and Mail's staff work to publish a newspaper, which used to produce profit to pay those employees. The stories from that newspaper are fed to theglobeandmail.com.

Now, what will happen if people stop buying the newspaper?

News organizations have tried to respond to this shift, but they haven't found a business model. The New York Times put its columnists behind a pay wall, but then took them out. Slate and Salon experimented with charging for access to their stories, but their content is free now. The Globe and Mail charges readers for access to older stories. I'm not sure how well that's working for them.

There is a strong sense that online content should be free, and blogs are partly to blame. However, blogs can never take the place of newspapers. Most of us don't do original reporting; we simply provide commentary or personal anecdotes. This isn't bad, but it doesn't give readers the kind of information they can get from newspapers. Even the best local blog can't replace a newspaper.

The infrastructure required to keep a newspaper running is staggering. Costs must be kept to a minimum, so journalists are generally paid next to nothing. I made $250 a week at my first reporting job in 1997. I no longer have a personal stake in the matter, but I still think this is a huge problem. As long as salaries remain low, the newspaper industry will continue to churn through young, inexperienced staff, continually losing them to other professions as they lose their idealism.

This is a problem for all of us: everyone's got to start somewhere, but I think most people can agree that a person who's been on the job for a while is generally more valuable to an employer than a person who has no experience. In the case of journalism, our society is the main beneficiary when we have a vigorous, talented free press. If you have your eye on the bottom line, though, a green reporter costs much less than someone who's been around for a while, and can probably produce the same amount of copy.

You can see how this is a business model that was at least partly founded on a belief that the work serves a public good. So when advertising revenues fall and readers abandon the only version of the product that was ever profitable, where does that leave the industry? I'm afraid of the answer.

Thanks for sharing this link. Now I'm depressed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sadly, this probably WAS one of my better moments

This arrived by e-mail this morning. It's from the Christmas party I attended Saturday night.

I think of it as photojournalism: it's not the sort of picture I would plan to have of myself, but it DOES accurately capture a moment.

Best NWT Blogs

OK, so Clare is well ahead of me, as usual. The Nunavut bloggers seem much more coordinated than we are. (Or maybe it's just that Clare is more coordinated than *I* am.)

Who's up for the 2008 NWT Blog Awards?

I propose the following rules:

  • To be eligible, a blog must be about the NWT or written by a person in the NWT.
  • Anyone can nominate a blog for the contest.
  • Winners will be chosen by judges, who will also provide the prizes for their categories and can be non-bloggers or from outside the NWT.
  • To be eligible, individual blog entries must have been published in 2008.
Please let me know:
  • What you think of these rules: I'm open to other ideas.
  • If you are interested in judging one of the categories.
  • Which categories we should include (check out the Canadian Blog Awards for some ideas).
You can either leave a comment or e-mail me privately: dryas at theedge dot ca.

I will ask judges not to judge categories they will be entered in, and to put real effort into choosing between the blogs that are nominated: I would love it if this contest could draw attention to the undiscovered gems of the NWT blogging world rather than just confirming who has the most readers.

If there's no interest in running a contest this year, we won't do one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Trolls

I've been thinking about trolls lately.

Trolls are the jerks of the Internet: they show up only to bother people and derail conversations. They take advantage of the good will of people in online communities.

In general, I believe that people should be heard, and that the proper reaction to speech we don't like is to encourage MORE speech, not to silence the original speakers. But where does that leave us when the trolls arrive?

I watched with interest as the PETA folks re-discovered Darcy at Way Way Up last week. I've had threats before, but Darcy wins for the sheer number of angry anti-hunting comments.

Townie Bastard makes the point that these guys make a lot of noise, but rational people don't pay attention. I wonder if that's the case. I've certainly heard them on the radio lately, which is not necessarily proof that people listen to them: it could just show that the CBC feels that people need to know what they're saying.

But I do have to agree with his main point: when jerks show up on my favourite blogs, I don't really pay much attention to them. If anything, I become less sympathetic to their goals. In PETA's case, I'd be the first to agree that killing animals is bloody and horrible and should never be done lightly, but the way they present themselves wrecks any credibility they might have gained.

I'm not sure that other people feel the same way, though. What do you guys think?

"If I had money falling out of my butt, I would totally buy one."

Reader-submitted item: Okay, there's nothing naked or even DEAR GOD, I CAN'T STOP LOOKING AT HIS CROTCH involved in this link. At all. I swear. It is kind of awesome, tho.

You're right: this website DOES have obvious drawbacks. However, in this holiday season, I think we can all agree that this would be the perfect gift.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

Last night, Tina and I put two and two together.

Well, sort of.

We put this:

together with this:
and then with this:
That is my dear friend LeeAnn (Alison's behind the camera: the three of us were roommates at King's). Above that photo, you can see LeeAnn with Dan, who was her "gentleman caller" at the time. And above that, you can see Rob, Tina and Dan.

Tina and I appear to have been missing each other by days since the middle of the 1990s. I'm sure to be wherever she just left. The coincidences are freaking us out.

Everyone will suffer the fire we've made



Reader-submitted item: A journalist told me it's not his fault if there are mistakes in his stories as long as it's because people didn't call him back.

Uh...

Geez.

I'm not even sure where to start with that. I had to pull Tusk out just to calm myself down. I embedded a video in this post so it'll be available if I start to hyperventilate.

Journalism is an HONOURABLE profession. It requires work and dedication and constant vigilance. "They didn't call me back" is not any of those things. This is not something you say out loud. It's something you think inside your head after you get fired.

Here's the problem with that excuse: It devalues your entire news organization. People who know anything at all about the issue will know you've made stupid mistakes, and they'll assume that you are just as sloppy with your other stories, too. Now, that's the very last thing you want. Your credibility is more important than any individual news story. (Remember Mary Mapes?) Depending on the situation, there can be ripple effects across your newsroom or even your news organization. Yep, you've just made all of your co-workers look like morons. They'll thank you the next time they need to call the person who has all of the answers.

If you can't get the information you need, you can't go to air. It's as simple as that. Let's not pretend this isn't the standard. We ALL know it's the standard.

Journalists have an obligation to the public, not to a deadline. I have always hated it when half-researched stories are rushed to air or to print. It makes you look stupid. Really, really stupid. And you only make it worse when you blame someone else for your mistakes. If you can't do a story unless someone calls you back, you can't do the story until he or she calls you back.

When you destroy your own credibility with shoddy research, nobody will want to talk to you. Imagine how hard it'll be to get people to call you back when that happens. And then it's going to be hard to get a new job. And you're definitely going to need a new job.

Seriously, be selfish and hold the story until you can verify it. Isn't your credibility worth that much?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hello, Mr. President



Reader-submitted question: Didja know the Hoff became President of the US in an alternative future?

Okay, I can't beat this. You win.

"I report, you decide"

Reader-submitted question: In your post-journalistic life, do you ever find yourself dealing with people who would have been your colleagues (not necessarily your work friends, but one of those people who you don't necessarily know well, but work with), and thought to yourself, 'my god, THAT is why I left journalism'?

Well, this is an interesting question. You see, I didn't exactly shake the dust off my sandals when I left the MotherCorp. I like almost all of the reporters I know. I bear no grudges against the industry, and I often think about going back. A former "cops 'n' courts" reporter once described me as a gal on the dark side who has her heart firmly stapled to journalism. I am pretty sure that if I hadn't had a baby, I would still be with the CBC.

So even though I can identify problems, I don't usually see them as reasons to leave. Quite the opposite, in fact: I usually see them as reasons I should go back.

Most of my closest friends are former reporters. One of them visited recently, and we eventually got to talking about the frustration we sometimes feel as news consumers rather than producers. I will listen to the radio or read the paper and think that the news could have been reported much better. I often see developing trends that are never reported. I can see how one incident raises a number of questions, none of them answered in the story. There can be enough material for an entire series, but the story ends up as a one-off because the reporter hasn't identified the real issue.

It's frustrating. And it's depressing when journalists pretend that none of this matters. It does matter, and they are responsible for helping us to understand our world.

I do think about going back; I think about it all the time. I've been told that you can never go back, but I'm not sure that's true. I write about journalism because I really do believe that the industry can improve. I don't think I'd be able to bear it if I believed otherwise.

Thanks for your question.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy birthday, Sally

"I love the questions you get sometimes."

Reader-submitted question: If you could reach through the computer and slap people who leave you stupid questions, would you exercise that privilege? And would it be a privilege or a right?

One of my favourite things about the Internet is that I really feel like I know people. The other day, I caught myself speaking about "Jackie in Rankin" as if she's a trusted friend, when in fact we've never met or even talked on the phone.

I know that my readers feel the same way about me. I get a lot of e-mail and comments from readers, and they almost all address me as if we know each other. I would be neglecting my duty as a blogger if I did not point out that most of the complaints are from people who are not actually jerks at all, just sarcastic folks who really understand what my blog is all about. They're not complaining so much as playing along. I love my readers, but I lurrrve these guys. I'm flattered that they like the complaints feature and want to be part of it. I'm friends with some of them in real life.

But I also get messages that make me wonder what the heck the person was thinking. Some readers truly seem to believe that I am only what they see on their screens each morning, as if I don't have an entire life that's much, much larger than the few things you'll see here.

It's easy to be a jerk on the Internet, but it's also easy to be an idiot. I've been told many times that I have a dry sense of humour, and I think that some people don't realise that if it seems like I can't be serious, I'm probably not being serious.

I hadn't thought about slapping people: I prefer to mock them. But that would certainly be an interesting option, wouldn't it? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't technically have a right to do this, though.

I do like the way you think. Thanks for your question.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Especially for Townie Bastard

Reader-submitted item: I saw this and thought of you.

What a masterpiece. We all thank you for sharing this with us.

A challenge!

Reader-submitted item: I was thinking of doing a Night before Christmas ripoff but I can't think of a good parody.

What a great idea!

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the Arctic
Blog readers were looking for something cathartic.
They showed up at Snow-Covered Hills, not to share
But just to complain about what they read there.

Folks with bad grammar were filled with great dread
While visions of periods danced in their head. (HA!)
Harper-ites with their placards, and liberals with their crap
Had just settled down: we've had a cold snap.

When out on the tundra arose such a chatter
I felt it must be the crux of the matter.
And so to my editor's pen I did dash
There can be no excuses for printing this trash.

Bad columns, bad headlines, and news that's not news
So many great options, and still I must choose.
But one guy writes garbage so fast and so quick
I knew in a moment it must be his schtick.

More rapid than eagles his columns they came
And I howled and I shouted, and called him by name:
"Russell, stop! We can't bear it! Our anger just clicks in!
We don't care if YOU like it: we're getting our kicks in!"

Then I spoke not a word, and went back to my work
Although I admit that I did have a smirk
And felt that I ought to produce some more prose
For all of my readers who don't know who blows.

And so I wrote poems that made readers bristle
And send me rude e-mails and call for my dismissal.
But I heard SOME exclaim as I started to write:
"Merry Christmas, dear Megan. Don't be TOO polite."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Once a year

Everyone in my family likes Christmas a lot
But you know, I'm a grinch, and I surely do NOT
It's true! I hate Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
And go ahead - ask why! 'Cause I'll tell you the reason.

It's not about the snow and its blankets of white
It's not even that all the songs are so trite
So I'll tell you the truth, and don't be too appalled
I just hate the pressures I get in the mall.

You see, whatever your budget, I'll give you some news
It won't be enough to buy what my friends choose
And it's not just my friends! It's my family, this year!
And next week is Christmas! It's practically here!

I grab the Sears catalog, start nervously thumbing -
I MUST find a way to stop Christmas from coming!
But I've got an idea - an awful idea!
And I've got a wonderful, awful idea!

I'll call all the family, put it down to a vote
Let's buy our OWN presents, even Nan, the old goat!
I like this idea, now I'm one smart chick
I could do it online with just one mouse click.

I just need to convince them - no matter the frown
Don't buy gifts for me, go the other way round!
Does that interest the family? NO! They've simply said
"If you can't find a gift, give us money instead!"

Shall I name some of the gifts I've received since I wed?
The giant knick-knack, for one, that'll make you stop dead!
If my son gets more presents, or even more slacks
Something else has to go - there's no room on the racks!

I can't buy more gifts for uncles and aunts
Like books they don't read, or yet some more plants
It's time to stop draining our bank accounts down
To zero, just 'cause there are Santas around!

I'd like to see Christmas as old-fashioned cheer
Instead of a gift-buying frenzy this year
I don't need more stockings, or hairpins, or pets
I just want to have Christmas without any debts.

Monday, December 08, 2008

You've got your ball; you've got your chain



Reader-submitted question: I don't understand why you like Stevie Nicks.

Well, I don't like YOUR taste in music, either.

I've always liked gutsy older female singers. I love Cher and Annie Lennox and Madonna. I am not a huge fan of too-cool or too-cute younger singers in tight tops. I don't care if you kissed a girl and liked it; I prefer the Philosopher King's version of that song: I Kissed A Squirrel. (Sorry, Katy Perry, but interspecies relationships are MUCH more interesting than wanna-be lesbians, at least when you don't provide any context.)

I don't write about my secret hopes and fears: I'm not nearly strong enough to put those things out there for you to read. Yes, this would probably be a better blog if I put more of myself into it; still, I can only hint at those things. I'll probably never tell you that I'm wild-eyed in my misery or that no one looked as I walked by. I admire writers who are tough enough to say that.

If you don't like Stevie but still like Fleetwood Mac, you're probably a Lindsey Buckingham fan, and who could blame you?



If you ever visit me at work, there is a better-than-average chance that this song will be playing on my iPod.

When I renamed my blog I immediately attracted a group of readers who are hard-core Fleetwood Mac fans, although this wasn't my original intention. They don't usually show themselves in the comments section -- they keep their visions to themselves -- but I know they're here and I'm glad they've decided to stay.

Thanks for your question.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The season of giving

It's December, which means that I am grouchily pretending that Christmas is not coming up within the next few weeks. I am trying to find the perfect gift for a family member who was (un)lucky enough to be randomly assigned to me back in November.

There are now seven of us in my generation of the immediate family, so we have been picking names for a few years. This cuts my stress: instead of finding something meaningful and significant for six people, I only have to find something meaningful and significant for one person. Well, to be more precise, I should say "two people", seeing as how I am in charge of buying for whoever Steve is assigned. But still, this is a better system than the one we had before.

I am never sure what to buy. I have a few tabs open in my browser right now so I can consider the merits of various options. So far, I have ruled out the "Ten Plagues Bowling Set", but it is so awesome that I have to show it to you:
Just imagine the look on my family member's face if he or she saw THAT under the tree. (I especially like the depiction of Plague #6: Boils.) I might buy it anyway so it can be available for parties.

The other one I have ruled out is the package of watermelon-flavoured Sigmund Freud lollipops:
Hmmm. Now that I think about it, this particular family member might like these, because they would give him or her an excuse to yell Suck on it, Freud! at random intervals. Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to close the tab on this one.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Post-Mortem (ha!)

OK, I'm a loser. I'm chuckling over my own bad pun, and I hate puns. Let's just move past this and get on to business, shall we?

I think it's time to talk about post-mortems.

I don't know most of my readers, but I'm guessing that at least half of you have never worked as journalists and have never been through a post-mortem. This is one of the ways to improve the quality of a publication or show. There are lots of ways to do them: through a meeting or a written report, daily or weekly or even less often, with all of the staff or just certain people. The only constant is that a post-mortem is a candid discussion of what went wrong.

Yeah, they can be tough.

Post-mortems provide constructive criticism. The point is not to insult other people or their work ("YOU SUCK! And you have NO IDEA how to interview city councillors! I should have that beat!"), but to make the publication better by pointing out problems that can be fixed. Sometimes it's hard to be there. You really don't want to hear someone criticise the story you worked so hard on. It's even worse when you know their criticism is valid: your attempt at humour came off as pretentiousness, or you buried the lede, or the headline someone else put on your story was completely inaccurate.

I occasionally receive e-mails from people who think I hate the news media or just want to take shots at my former industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Journalism is an honourable profession that is critical to maintaining a free society. That's why we need to make sure that job is done well. I do media critiques out of a sincere appreciation for the role of the media in our society and out of the affection I feel for reporters. I know we can all do better, but we can't criticise out of anger, entitlement or snobbery. We need to criticise because we really want the industry to improve.

Let's do a post-mortem on the last thing I published. I'll get us started.

Dear Megan,

I have no idea why you thought this was interesting enough to publish. And it appears that you didn't, either: I don't care much for posts that begin by warning readers to expect something boring. Why bother? Seriously, why did you put in the effort if you thought it was going to be boring? Why didn't you try to make it interesting?

You don't NEED three reasons in this post, but I think a third reason would have strengthened it a bit. Every extra argument helps when you're starting from a position of weakness.

The paragraphs are unbalanced. I don't usually pick at paragraph length, but this post struck me as odd. It's weird that you say your son is the most important reason for staying, and then you go on three times longer about your job. I'm not saying the first bit should have been longer: I'm saying you should have cut some of the stuff about being a writer. Let's get this over with quickly. I could be reading another blog that actually IS interesting.

Finally, I know that reader-submitted items are your schtick, but I'd like to see more background in them. Obviously, these questions come from somewhere. If you're simply going to publish a one-line question, can you at least link to whatever made the person want to know the answer? I'd like to see more depth to these posts. Context is everything, and that's exactly what's missing in so many of your posts that answer reader-submitted questions: Everything.

Thanks for trying. But please don't try this sort of thing again.

Yours truly in blogdom,
Megan, Reflections in the Snow-Covered Hills

Friday, December 05, 2008

It's the great northwest for me

Reader-submitted question: Why did you stay in the north?

I wish I had a really exciting story to tell you about this, but I don't.

The main reason is that I don't want to uproot my son. I even refuse to move out of this neighbourhood, because his best friend lives across the street. When you're a parent, your child is the most important consideration. His happiness is worth more than mine.

I have a really great job, so I don't need to go anywhere. I'm a writer, and I chose my job very carefully: I wanted a job that would give me the opportunity to write about the issues that affect the north. I also wanted to be part of the solutions in my own small way. The things I write are in books, in brochures and booklets, in ad copy, and in speeches and the things people say to reporters and the people who are sometimes called "stakeholders" (I hate that word). I often meet people who tell me that something I wrote helped them through a particularly difficult time. These people are usually dealing with terrible situations beyond their control. They often can't make plans too far in advance: they need to know what their first step should be. I can only imagine what their lives must be like. I'm honoured to be able to help them in any way I can.

I've been living here almost a decade, and I do sometimes think about moving on. One day, I probably will.

Thanks for your question.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dear CBC,

Remember when I said that you speak for the governing party? That was just a joke, and not even a very good one. I was taking an easy shot at Fox News. I didn't mean for you to take it seriously.

The political craziness is driving me nuts, and you're not helping. I don't need to hear reports about Tory "messaging" or "communications plans". Please, spare me.

It is becoming incredibly obvious, even to stupid people, that almost all of politics is just theatre. That's how much you're screwing up. The issues are real, and the differences of opinion are real, but the crap you show us on TV exists only for the cameras. And the parties only do it because you lap it up every time. We know that the real work happens in committees and closed-door meetings. When the MPs are singing "O Canada" lustily in the hallways, it's not REAL. Question Period's not real. These are stunts, and you keep falling for them. The last thing we all need is for the media to start reporting on the party's "messaging". You only get a pass on this if you're funny or ironic. You are neither.

There's plenty of real news this week: you don't need to choose to report on the stupid stuff that doesn't matter. We might have a new prime minister soon: isn't that interesting enough? Doesn't it make the "No To The Coup" buttons seem ridiculous in comparison?

Oh, and it appears that the comment sections of your website have been hijacked by people who work for the parties. I thought I should let you know, just as a courtesy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Prepare to pee your pants."

A couple of readers have contacted me to make sure I didn't miss today's Fleetwood Mac news. Who's up for a concert in March? Anyone?

FLEETWOOD MAC 'UNLEASHED' TOUR DATES 2009 (so far)

Sunday, March 1st Pittsburgh, PAMellon Arena
Tuesday, March 3rdSt. Paul, MN Xcel Energy Center
Thursday, March 5th Chicago, IL Allstate Arena
Sunday, March 8th Detroit, MI Palace of Auburn Hills
Tuesday, March 10th Washington, DCVerizon Center
Wednesday, March 11th Boston, MATD Banknorth Arena
Friday, March 13thUniondale, NY Nassau Coliseum
Saturday, March 14th Uncasville, CTMohegan Sun Arena
Monday, March 16thRochester, NY Blue Cross Arena
Tuesday, March 17th Albany, NYTimes Union Center
Thursday, March 19th New York, NY Madison Square Garden
Saturday, March 21st East Rutherford, NJ Izod Center
Tuesday, March 24th Ottawa, ONScotiabank Place
Wednesday, March 25th Montreal, QC Bell Centre
Thursday, March 26th Toronto, ON Air Canada Centre

More information is available at Heroes Are Hard To Find. Yes, Rumours is being re-released. Suddenly the financial crisis and political shenanigans look a lot less important, don't they?

I bet that even if you don't like Fleetwood Mac (freaks and weirdos, the lot of you), you'll like this video of Lindsey Buckingham correcting Stevie Nicks's grammar:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Democracy. Right.

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Wouldn't it be great if people used their real names, even though we encourage them to be anonymous and take no responsibility for the things they post on our website?

I really, really hate "reader comments" on newspaper articles. It's hard for me to say that, because comments are the best thing about some blogs. For some reason, comment sections on mainstream media sites are a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The Paper of Record's technology columnist, Matthew Ingram, mentions this briefly in yesterday's -- well, I guess it's a blog post. (The Paper of Record is totally "with it" and "groovy", so they have blogs now.) He says it would be nice if people used their real names. Then he quotes the idiot commenters, whether they use their real names or not, and whether they have anything to say or not. I guess that doesn't matter. The point is that they said it on the Paper of Record's website. Got it? The Paper of Record is TOTALLY COOL. You can write any stupid thing you want on their site. It's all about democracy, or so Mr. Ingram says.

To be honest, I don't know why anyone would use his real name on the Paper of Record's site. Why bother, when you can say what you're REALLY thinking and never be held accountable? These comment sections are full of bile. They almost never provide any extra information that would help me to function in a free society. You'll recall that that is the purpose of journalism.

The other day, someone who works for a national Canadian news organization told me that her employer allows uncensored comments because people want to have a voice. (Kids today!) While I certainly applaud their efforts, I cannot help but think that it is a failed experiment.

No reporter at the Paper of Record would interview someone who insisted on being identified as Great Southwest or Some Guy. It wouldn't even occur to the reporter to suggest it to his editor.

Reporters put a lot of effort into getting good quotes and checking on sources. That's because they are responsible for the things they publish or broadcast. Anonymous comments are usually stupid, and they're impossible to verify. They don't suddenly become news just because they're posted on the Internet.

In fact, I'm not aware of many news organizations that publish anonymous letters to the editor. CBC doesn't broadcast anonymous TalkBack or put anyone on air who won't give his name. Why would the standards be any different for cbc.ca?

I'd like it if news sites made it easier to track who is blogging about the news. CNN is already doing this, and it seems to be working well. Blogs are often anonymous and even more often stupid, but they have a few things going for them:

  1. They're not hosted on the Paper of Record's site: idiots don't get the satisfaction of having their offensive ideas published without editing on a website that should be respectable and respected.

  2. They require some -- not much, but some -- responsibility from the people who write them. Usually, a blog is maintained over time, and the writer takes some pride in it.

  3. They're easy to follow. In fact, people might be more likely to blog about issues in the news if they knew they would get traffic through the Paper of Record or the CBC. Some bloggers might even want to write about the paper every day.

  4. They're easy to ignore if they're stupid: you just don't visit them.

  5. They usually provide links, which news sites often covet.

It seems to me that this would be a better way to "track the conversation" about news stories, without opening the newspaper's publisher to libel and copyright issues. It wouldn't just be one conversation; it would be many. We could track entire threads instead of seeing all comments in the order they were posted to the site.

Perhaps I should suggest this to Mr. Ingram. I wonder if the Technology columnists Google themselves as often as the Arts columnists do.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Stacey's visit








Stacey left this morning, and we already miss her.

I am the last of my crop of CBC girls: the young women who came to the Arctic in 1999 and 2000 to work for the MotherCorp after graduating from King's or Carleton. If Stacey hadn't been working there, I probably wouldn't have applied for the job at CBC North. We've been friends forever: we met in 1995, in our first year of journalism school. After we graduated, she moved to Inuvik, and our friend Jaime moved to Rankin Inlet. I worked my way around the east coast for a while, taking short-term contract after short-term contract. Eventually, I found permanent work at the station in Inuvik. I started on the same day Cindy did: she'd been working for the paper here in town, but wanted to try radio. A few others started within the next couple of months, including Sally.

There's always a new crop of CBC girls.

Everyone else has now left the north. Stacey, Jaime, Cindy and Sally all moved away. Josee moved away, and Vanessa moved away, and the other Megan moved away, and even Mack the Hack moved away (although he's not a CBC girl: he's more of a NOPW queen).

I'm the only one left.

I miss my girlfriends.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cinnamon Girl

Reader-submitted question: Are you allergic to gluten?

No, but someone else in my household has celiac disease, which is a gluten sensitivity.

Gluten-free baking is a huge headache. No other flour bakes the way wheat flour does. The first few times I tried to make cookies with rice flour, they shattered as I took them off the cookie sheet. I almost cried. I thought I was messing up the recipe, but it turns out that wheat flour holds together much, much better than any other flour when baked.

So far, I have found exactly two gluten-free recipes that are really good: a cinnamon loaf made with rice and corn flours and oatmeal cookies made with sorghum flour. Everything else is just terrible. I hardly ever bake now: I'm not a fantastic baker, but I'm not bad, and it pains me to spend lots of time creating something that just ends up in the trash.

A few specialty shops sell gluten-free breads and pizza crusts, but they're not very good. I don't like any of the substitutes you can buy in stores; instead, we eat rice and potatoes. I've found one brand of rice lasagna that's not half bad, but it's really more stress than it's worth. You can't just drain the noodles after boiling: you actually have to dry each one individually with a paper towel. Yes, it's weird. No, it's not tasty enough to be worth all of the time you'll spend drying noodles.

If you have celiac disease and like to bake, I highly recommend sorghum flour, which you can buy in your local health-food store (or order from the south, if you live north of 60). It is an acceptable substitute if you have a recipe that doesn't call for much flour.

I also highly recommend Ricki's blog for lots of recipes that don't require gluten.

Thanks for your question.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Murrow turning over in his grave

Reader-submitted question: Do you currently work in journalism?

I'm not really sure what to make of this question, because this reader knows that I am no longer working as a news reporter.

I currently work as a writer and editor. I am not employed by any news agency. (Not long ago, a reader suggested that CBC might want to fire me because I have criticised their management in the past. This might be true, but as I haven't worked for them in years, they are out of luck.)

It's debatable whether my columns on this site could be considered journalism. I do not do original reporting or research for this blog, but I do provide commentary on issues of public concern. I probably wouldn't call this "journalism", but I suppose you could make that argument. There is no licensing body: anyone can call himself a journalist.

It used to be obvious who was a journalist and who wasn't. If you worked for a news agency, you were a journalist. If you didn't, well, you weren't. Thanks to the Internet, those distinctions have disappeared.

The medium is not important when determining whether a person is a journalist: many bloggers qualify. To figure out if a person is a journalist, you need to evaluate the way he assembles material and his purpose in presenting it.

Many people assemble material and intend to make their findings public in the public interest: investigators, researchers, ombudsmen, etc. However, a journalist is usually an amateur rather than an expert in the subject matter. (He might think of himself as something of a "professional amateur", though.) He researches things that he is interested in researching, and he is expected to present material from a variety of sources. "Balance" is important: there are usually at least two sides to a story, and both of them should be included. Some news organizations strive for balance in each individual story; others provide balance over time.

A journalist's purpose in presenting material is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. This makes reporting one of the most honourable jobs in our society, and it's the reason we need to keep an eye on the way this job is done. I often hear about how so-and-so is much too critical of some agency: that's usually part of a journalist's job. They are watchdogs in our society: they do the research you and I don't have time to do. But abuse of this role can hurt the entire profession. The Project for Excellence in Journalism calls this the journalist's "obligation to protect this watchdog freedom by not demeaning it in frivolous use or exploiting it for commercial gain."

"Journalist" is a general word that can be used to describe dozens (maybe hundreds) of separate jobs: photographers, editors, producers, reporters, columnists, critics. Some of my work on this site might make me a columnist or a critic, and I will occasionally publish something that is strictly about editing. Other entries are really in something closer to a diarist style, which is not journalism.

Thanks for your question.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Canadian Blog Awards

Voting ends tomorrow, so I'll be voting today in the Canadian Blog Awards. But first, I'm going to go to Darcy's to see who won the northern voting bloc.

If you want to vote for me no matter who won the northern run-off, you can use both of these links:


If you want to join our voting bloc, please go over to Darcy's first. I'm totally serious. As much as I'd like to be recognised, I don't want you to throw your vote away if another northerner can use it to get into the finals.

After the Best NWT Blogs contest ended, a reporter asked me about the purpose of the contest. Saskboy can correct me if I'm way off, but I don't think these contests actually tell anyone who has the best blog in Canada (or the NWT, in the case of our smaller version). You couldn't decide that, anyway. They tell you who has the most readers who are willing to vote. However, I think they're worthwhile because they draw attention to blogs in general. Every time I take part in one of these contests, I find a new blog I've never heard of before but continue to enjoy. For example, I was certain I knew who had the best photo blog in the north until Darcy pulled the northern nominees together: I'd never been to Kluganoch Corner before. (That photo of the eye is amazing.)

I love it when northerners get recognition for a job well done, and that's why I'm participating in the northern voting bloc. Please consider voting today: it will only take a few minutes and the link is at the top of this post.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy birthday, Laura

Pieces of me you've never seen well

Reader-submitted question: Can you please write about media bias?

Sure.

But before I start, I think it's important to be clear about what media bias is not. Media bias is not criticism, even repeated criticism. And it's not crushes on Obama.

Although repeated criticism can sometimes be a sign of bias, it is not the same thing. For example, a beat reporter might cover environmental issues. She would certainly write stories from time to time that were critical of environmental groups. That does not necessarily make her biased; more likely, it makes her thorough. Of course, she might still be biased (more on this below).

Political reporters are often accused of bias. The people who claim this are usually upset that a candidate or political party they do not like is being made to look much too good. This is the flip side of the situation I've described above: instead of repeated criticism, a reporter is accused of asking too many "softball questions".

Neither of these things are true bias in and of themselves. They can be signs of laziness or sloppiness, and they can even be indications of bias, but you can't just assume that a reporter is biased because he or she didn't press the prime minister hard enough on your pet issue. If the local food critic doesn't like your restaurant's beef stew, that doesn't mean he's biased.

I do not like either sort of accusation of bias. I see most of this in the American political world, but we do get some of it here in Canada. You ought to have real evidence before you claim that a reporter is biased, and it's better if you're not doing it just because you're angry that he published the recipe for your secret blend of herbs and spices. In fact, I am not aware of many situations that I felt showed a true bias on the reporter's part. More often, it is just angry ranting from someone who feels he or she has been treated unfairly.

True bias is much more insidious, and most people don't even notice it.

The true bias in the news industry is laziness. Reporters are people; they sometimes don't realise that the world is much bigger than the tiny part of it they see every day. Stuff White People Like has a series called White People In The News that spoofs this myopia. My father points out that major media organisations report on evangelical Christians as if they were something new, when in reality they are a huge percentage of the American population. But as a reporter, if you don't see evangelical Christians every day, you don't even think about showing them on the news. You might look for a real wacko for a story about, say, Elizabeth Dole's ads about "godless Americans", but you're seeing them as a special-interest group or as an interesting specimen, not as an important part of society. That's bias.

This happens in other ways, too. The tried-and-true expert will always give great sound bites and is always available, so a reporter's going to call him instead of someone else who might have a different perspective but be less accessible. That's bias.

The reporter might see one agency as being a "fringe" group, and another as representing reasonable opinions that she just happens to share completely by coincidence, not because she's pushing her own agenda on the news. Sometimes that's true. But other times, that's bias. I bet the people at Women For Faith & Family have some great opinions on gender parity, but you'll never see them on the news unless it's to talk about a religious issue.

The reporter's also usually trying to get all of the characters in the story to fit a handful of stereotypes. This is not because he's a terrible person, but because he knows the story will be better if it follows a set pattern. He probably doesn't even know he's doing this. And that's bias.

Now, repeated criticism or softballs could be a sign of bias. It's more likely that they're a sign that problems happen again and again (the restaurant's stew AND bread AND steak AND apple crisp are all TERRIBLE! Off with the chef's head!) or that the reporter didn't prepare enough for what should have been a much tougher interview (if you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be?). But it's certainly possible that the reporter actually is biased. I have Bernie Goldberg's book BIAS, which explains some of these things. Now, Bernie himself has been accused of bias, and some of his research for the book was definitely sloppy. But I think his main point is sound: true bias is not intentional, and most journalists would be horrified to discover that their own unexplored biases have crept into their work.

Now, this is all in the context of news reporting. Columnists are paid to have opinions, even biased opinions. A good newspaper will publish a range of opinions on many issues. Don't ask me to condemn Keith Olbermann's biases: they are well known and he's not working as a journalist.

Thanks for your question.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"I don't have time to read through your past blogs."

Reader-submitted question: I'd like to know what the deal is with your Hasselhoff fetish.

Geez, do I not get enough hits from Germany? Now I'm going to get Hasselhoff fetishists, too. Thanks a LOT.

This is really a more specific version of the most common complaint I get: that my sense of humour is far too dry. The people who say this are usually quick to reassure me that they personally are smart enough to get the joke; they are just concerned that OTHER people won't understand.

I do have a very dry sense of humour, I guess. This never occurred to me until I started blogging, but I'm pretty sure that it must be true: dozens of people have independently come to the same conclusion. Here's a good rule of thumb: If you think I might be joking, I'm probably joking.

Explaining a joke usually ruins the humour in it. I don't really like doing this, but you DID ask, and I feel a certain obligation to respond to questions from readers. You can look away if you want to. This feels very man-behind-the-curtain-y.

David Hasselhoff is a running joke, as I think most of you figured out long ago. It started as a one-time joke that I didn't really intend to take any further. Somehow, I had stumbled upon what is probably the world's worst and yet most AWESOME music video:



I challenge you to pick the best part. You won't be able to do it. Every time you think you've found the tackiest scene, you'll change your mind because you'll see him in front of a green screen with a video of HIMSELF or something equally ridiculous.

I started to post about David Hasselhoff as his biggest fan. Although I didn't realise it at the time, this is basically the same thing the Knight Foundation does. My readers responded in a way they hadn't responded to my boring posts about journalism ethics: I think it was just weird enough to draw strangers' attention, although I hadn't thought of that when I started. It was silly enough to make people want to contact me, and I really liked that. I got the idea for the Being David Hasselhoff Contest one afternoon when I was working on something else, and I loved the response. People send me things in the mail, or e-mail me to say they've found a new website that is so bad it's good.

I really do like David Hasselhoff, at least some things about him. I love the awfulness of campy videos like the one above. I love that he somehow ended up doing all sorts of ridiculous and tacky things, like really bad movies and terrible (but AWESOME) posters. I love that he apparently poses for photographs with full-sized cutouts of himself. I am not a fan of America's Got Talent, which is awful in an entirely different way.

Thanks for your question.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Did nothing spark enough thought in you to maybe write about it?"

Reader-submitted item: Sparking public debate is, for me, the most important thing journalists do. I just wish to see more of that debate talked about on your blog.

This really resonated with me. I'm writing this post in the middle of the night -- I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about what to say. It's very true. As a reporter, you know you've got a great story when you hear people talking about your coverage.

(Forces of Evil: This is not the same thing as reporting it well. You know that. Go away.)

There are quite a few NWT bloggers now, but I think only three of us blog about northern media. The other two are far harsher than I am: they are not nearly as tolerant of errors, nor do they explain journalism issues. As a group, we do not tend to write about things in the news. I notice this same trend in Nunavut and Yukon: the non-journalist bloggers don't usually write about things they've heard on CBC or read in the paper. We tend to write about our own lives and personal interests.

As a journalist, this has got to suck. When you're a reporter, you always have a nasty little voice in the back of your head telling you you're not good enough. (In some newsrooms, the editor fills this role; in others, it's up to the journalist to tear herself apart.) To be putting content out day after day, hoping to get a response, and continually getting NOTHING back from readers -- well, that has to be disheartening.

I really like reading other blogs about current events, but I don't usually do that sort of writing myself. I agree with this reader: it would be nice to have more of it.

As a good-faith gesture, I am offering to do a post on a topic chosen by this reader. E-mail me to set it up: dryas at theedge dot ca. It can be any issue that doesn't involve my employer: I stay away from those issues completely because I do not want it to appear that this blog has anything to do with work. (No good can come of that.)

Thanks for your question.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"What's your deal?"

Reader-submitted complaint: You talk journalism, yet, you don't seem to ever discuss the issues of the day in the north.

You're partly right in two ways, but I'm not sure which you intended.

The first possibility is that you would like me to write about northern issues more often. I do some of that, but I don't consider this a "northern" blog.

It's not that I don't have opinions: I definitely do, but sometimes I don't feel like spending my evenings writing about them. Sometimes I do, and when that happens, I write about whatever the issue is. But I think this is the same blog I'd write if I lived in Red Deer or Halifax. Sure, some of the details would change -- for starters, I'd have to redefine Name of Town Withheld -- but I don't think the content would change much. I would still make fun of the Globe & Mail's columnists, defend the seal hunt and write about my son.

The second possibility is that you are pointing out that I don't report news. If that's the case, you are correct. Although I sometimes think of myself as a columnist, I don't consider myself a news reporter. That would be a fundamental shift in this blog's format. It's not a bad idea, but I don't have any plans to do that.

Bloggers often don't report news; they simply repackage it or comment on it. Considering the growth of online journalism, I'm not sure why this is. Bloggers usually restrict themselves to writing about a few topics: this is the format I use. It's not better than news reporting; it's just different. Do you mean that you'd like to see this blog become more like Bloggasm or Inside the CBC? I'm not sure that I could run a news blog in an hour a day before bed. I've never tried to do that, but I suspect it would take sustained effort, including interviews during regular working hours. That would be a problem for me, because I already have a job. Readers, if you have experience doing this, I'd love to hear how it worked out.

Thanks for your complaint.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Desperately Seeking Stacey

One of my dearest friends is coming to visit tomorrow, and I am thrilled. However, it means that yet again, I have to tell you that I may not be as quick to respond to your e-mail as I usually am. I'm not ignoring you; I just have company.

Although I am still cursing the germs that invaded my body a few days ago (the Saddam Husseins of germs), the timing was good: I will not be sick while Stacey is here, and I managed to write extra posts and schedule them throughout the week.

I just looked for photos of myself with Stacey, and pulled this one off Facebook. Honestly, I am not sure what to say:


This is from last year. We are both laughing and crying.

It's not the emotion that surprises me; I'm welling up now just thinking about how happy I am that she is happy. I'm surprised because this picture was taken almost exactly one year later at another friend's wedding:


(Sorry about misappropriating your body, Glen, but Amy has created a work of art here that simply must be shared at every opportunity.)

Even now, it is hard for me to really be sure that I lost so much weight. I honestly don't comprehend it unless I look at old photos. I really don't feel any different.

We will be sure to take more photos during Stacey's visit. I can't wait to see her.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Canadian Blog Awards: The Northern Round

SPECIAL NOTE: Saskboy, look away. :)

OK, remember the Canadian Blog Awards? Yes, as Mongoose would say, that waste of time where people get together to give awards to each other? (Zach Wells would probably compare the CBAs to the Governor General's Award for Poetry.)

Well, we northern bloggers are trying to pool our resources to get one of us into the finals. Last time, we sent one vote one way and another vote another way, and Small Dead Animals, Daveberta and Yarn Harlot drove right over us. Clearly, that's not working.

Here's the process:
1) During the nomination stage, anyone can nominate any Canadian blog in one or more categories (New Blog, Best Post, etc.).
2) All nominations are reviewed to make sure they fit into the category. For example, you can't nominate this blog for Best Feminist Blog: although I am a woman, I don't write about feminism. The nominations that make the cut are put into a poll, and everyone has several days to vote.
3) The top five vote-getters are put into a second poll. The winner of that round wins the category.

Last time, we weren't coordinated at all, and we all lost by a mile. While most of us would probably like to be recognised, we cannot waste our votes on a blog that has no chance of moving forward in the category. (Think of Survivor.) That sounds cold, but I include myself in that. Don't vote for me if Townie Bastard has a better chance of winning.

Darcy at Way Way Up is pulling all of the northern nominees together. If we can decide who to support in each category, we have a better chance of getting some recognition for northern blogs.

Now, you absolutely do not have to be part of this, and you don't have to vote in the CBAs at all. If you really want to vote for Small Dead Animals, please do that. But if you want to support a northern blog, please go over to Darcy's first. We will have more influence as a group. There is no rush to vote: voting closes November 29th, so we have a few days to hash this out.

The Naked Angelina Jolie Self-Portrait Challenge


Of course, I know you are all working on your entries for the Naked Angelina Jolie Self-Portrait Challenge over at Amy's. I entered just before I left for the Capitalist's house last week, and now Michael is part of the contest. His entry is called "I pushed the button and then I jumped".

Send your entries to Amy: ahacala at gmail dot com.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Why, God..."

Reader-submitted item: ...do I keep finding these things and feel compelled to send them to you? But here's the most disturbing part, this is what awaits when you click on one of the pictures.


Personalise your Official Poster

Customise your poster with any message you want - replicated in an exact digital copy of your favourite artist's handwriting and signature.

Yes, that's right, you can write a love note to yourself, using The Hoff's digitally replicated signature, and pretend that he sent it to you himself. Days like this I want to shoot myself in the head. But I suspect you're already hunting for your Visa...


Oh. My. Gawd.

This website has changed my life. I am sharing it with you, dear readers, because I know it will change yours, too.

I ADORE my readers.

I hab a code

I'm sitting at home in my fluffy socks, sipping hot drinks and considering something a reader has pointed out.

I have been sloppy. Yes.

I don't write about Name of Paper Withheld very often, but I've had this blog for a couple of years and I do write about their coverage from time to time. I have always called them Name of Paper Withheld as something of a courtesy, because I figured that they wouldn't want this blog to come up in search results for the name of their publication. I think that's probably not possible now that people have posted a number of comments with the names of the publications the parent company is responsible for.

Yes, "publications". Plural.

The parent company is responsible for territory-wide publications in both the NWT and Nunavut. They also have a number of smaller weeklies throughout the north, with a twice-weekly paper in Name of Town Withheld.

I honestly don't remember whether I was thinking about the weekly or local paper when I started using the nickname Name of Paper Withheld. However, I am quite sure that over time, I have erred in referring to them both by this nickname. As a reader has pointed out, this is unfair and misleading. I owe you more than this sort of sloppy conflation. Many thanks to "Chris" for making this clear.

Some readers have told me that it doesn't matter; that they know "Name of Paper Withheld" is a sort of shorthand for the local newspaper. Although this was certainly my original intention, it has become clear to me that it is unfair and misleading to people who know the difference. I owe you more than that. I refer to both the local and national CBC news teams as "the MotherCorp" or "the national broadcaster", but I am generally more careful to note when I am writing about the local guys as opposed to the national guys. It is unfair for me not to apply the same standard to other news media.

Starting right now, I am going to be clear about whether I am writing about the local paper or the territorial paper. This will not change anything else about the blog, and I don't think most people will notice a difference. It has not been relevant to the majority of my readers, but I do have readers in Name of Town Withheld, and it is a matter of accuracy.

Further, I need to apologise for a conflation within the last few days. I wrote about a story in the local paper, and mentioned that it was promoted on the front page. Then I included an image of the territorial paper's front page, which showed an example of something else I was discussing within that post, but NOT the story in the local paper that was the main focus of the post. This created some confusion. To be clear: they are separate publications, and I did not intend for the image to represent the story I was discussing.

Regardless of my original intention, I need to apologise for the misunderstanding that resulted when a reader pointed out that they are different papers: I agreed that they are, but did not understand that he was criticising the fact that I had combined a reference to the front page of the local paper with an image of the front page of the territorial paper. I should have been more clear that the image was not intended to illustrate the main part of the post, which, after all, did include a reference to a front page. This was sloppy of me and could have been dealt with in an extra sentence or two.

I am not going to change the original post; rather, I will link this post to it. Then I'm going to take more cold pills and go back to bed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've never changed, never will

Reader-submitted question: I love ellipses. But I write scripts, not newspaper copy, so it's not as bad, right?

I've decided to write this as a radio column. So you'll have to imagine that I'm talking.

See what I just did? Well. I mean, did you HEAR what I just did? You're HEARING me say these words. And that sentence didn't have very good grammar. But that's OK.

Now, I know the Forces of Evil are still out there. And they can't WAIT to send me nasty messages. So I guess I should explain.

Writing for radio is not the same as writing for newspapers or even for blogs. When you write for radio, you write for the ear. You're going to write short sentences that sound natural when you read them out loud. And most of the time you're not going to write the same way you'd write for the newspaper. That's because you're not really writing at all. You're talking.

There's no punctuation in radio. Only pauses and changes in your voice. So you're not using ellipses at all, really...you're just leaving markers for yourself that tell you to take a breath. You could put commas there, or you could put in a period.

Or you could start on a new line.

It doesn't really matter. And that's because you're not creating something that will be read. You're creating something that will be HEARD.

Now, if I meant for you to READ this instead of HEARING it, I wouldn't write words in capital letters. That would be rude: you'd probably think I was shouting at you. But I wrote those words that way to tell myself that I want to put extra emphasis on them when I read them to you. I'm not using punctuation to give you clues about what I mean. I'm using it to give ME direction about how to speak.

See, there's more subtlety in the spoken word. I can stop...cast around for the right word...and pick right up again where I left off. It's natural. The written word is UN-natural. We need rules -- like grammar -- to help us understand what a writer means. We need extra help, help we DON'T need when we listen to someone speak.

A print journalist has only TWO reasons to use an ellipsis. As you can tell from this post, people don't talk the way they write. Sometimes a quote SOUNDS better than it looks. A writer can use an ellipsis to fix a quote for print. There's only one other time you can use an ellipsis. That's to trail off mysteriously...

(beat)

But a writer CAN'T just stick an ellipsis in anywhere. Ellipses aren't decorations. You can't just use them because you think you need a really long bit of punctuation. And I THINK that's probably what happened here. The headline needed to be just a little bit longer. Instead of re-writing the headline, the editor tried to stretch it out.

Don't think I'm saying that radio reporters get off scot-free. They don't. But they don't follow the same punctuation rules print reporters use.

Now, before I go, I need to be really clear about one thing. That post wasn't about the ellipsis at all. The ellipsis is really not that big of a deal. Yeah, it shouldn't have been there. But really, WHATEVER. I'm not that sort of grammar freak.

That post was about journalists seeing themselves as the only ones who get the facts right, when in reality they mess up all the time. And they KNOW that. They just can't resist getting in a few digs at the competition. Most media organisations do this.

Here's an example. CBC might say that print media reported that Mr. Smith died, but his family says he's still alive. It's just their way of reminding you who you can trust. CBC does this all the time. So does the Paper of Record. But this story was an extreme example. That's why I picked it. NOT because of the ellipsis.

(beat)

Thanks for your question.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You said you'd give me light, but you never told me about the fire

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Stop the presses! Somebody else made a mistake!

You may not believe it, but Name of Paper Withheld is suddenly very concerned about journalists' factual errors.

Yes, you read that correctly, but I didn't give you all of the information you need to make an assessment of this development, so don't jump to conclusions just yet.

They are very concerned about OTHER journalists' factual errors. Not their own.

Yeah, you can breathe again: The world has not turned completely upside down.

You see, a journalist from another country visited Name of Town Withheld and filed a story to a British publication. Name of Paper Withheld reports triumphantly that that story included some mistakes. For example, most residents do NOT heat their homes with wood. What a bunch of idiots those overseas guys must be!

Yes, this is quite a scoop. Hold the front page. Oh, you were already planning to put it on the front page? Carry on, then.

I've been away for almost a week, but I'm pretty sure this is a new approach to factual errors. They are apparently worthy of a new story that ridicules the original mistake. I guess Name of Paper Withheld won't mind if I casually skim the latest issue of the paper for errors, then. Maybe I'll find a decorative ellipsis.


UPDATED NOVEMBER 21: I have written a new post that deals with some of the concerns described in this post's comments section.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm really back

As in "actually back". I've been away for almost a week, and all of the last few posts have been scheduled posts. Yes, this was a massive violation of the trust you place in me, blah blah blah. Bring it on.

Little Miss Know-it-All is also back. She'll be posting tomorrow. Family comes first.









Monday, November 17, 2008

Chances not taken, deeds not yet done

Reader-submitted question: If I send a complaint, will you make fun of me?

Your question is biased and ignorant. You have no idea what it's like to have a blog, and you just hate all self-published writers who take questions from their readers. How DARE you complain about my blog? Don't you know how hard I work on this? And that it's just me here? And that I do it all in my spare time? And that for these reasons, it is just plain wrong for anyone to disagree with me?

I, on the other hand, can criticise anyone I want. That's because I work really hard on this blog. I have a special ability to trash anyone, for any reason, and I am immune from the same sort of scrutiny.

HAHAHAHAHA.

OK, I can't sustain that.

I can't tell you what I'll do with a complaint I haven't seen. But in general, I post complaints on my blog, giving complainers a public forum. Sometimes I agree with them, or at least sympathise with their overall arguments. Other times, I don't. But I do make an effort to take your opinions into account. I even comply with special requests. This blog is successful because you care enough to tell me what you want to see here and how you feel about what I write.

The complaints you send always make me think. I love them. I really do. Some writers refuse to read any mail that is critical of their work, or lose themselves in a blind fury when someone suggests that they have made mistakes. I think that's counter-productive. I owe it to you to be transparent. You deserve to know who disagrees with me, and what their arguments are. How else are you to decide whether I'm right?

One more thing. I am a former reporter, so I do not like cowards. Many of my readers are or were journalists, and they feel the same way. Your opinion means more to us when you are a real part of this site: a person who provides a unique perspective on a number of different posts. You are more than welcome to say that I am wrong about something, and to explain why. You might even convince me to change my mind. On the other hand, if you come here through a search for your own name and leave me a rude "anonymous" comment, I'm going to respond this way.

Go ahead. Complain away.

I'm back!

The last three posts were written by Zach Bell. If you like his writing, check out his site.

Yes, the winner of the next Being David Hasselhoff Contest will also win my blog for a day. So start planning your entries.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What’s A Stuffed Norbert?

When you win a contest, you’re supposed to get something cool. What’s her face got a storm trooper’s helmet that could very well have given some much needed confidence to my community patrol. The reflective vests they wear now don’t go well with their “boy I hope nothing happens while we’re out here” kind of approach to citizen’s on the lookout.

The crocodile head could have served me well as a conversation piece at children’s parties.

“What’s that mister?”

“Stop talking or I’ll bring it back to life to eat you!”



No, instead of that or a stuffed Norbert (I haven’t even tried to find out what that is) I got to blog here. Not that this is un-cool but I actually had to figure out what on earth I could do to pump out content for a day to satisfy you people. Frankly, Megan’s blog is tough to live up to and I’m very lazy. Her posts are creative and attract comments from you the readers. I think I know why the blog is so good though and since I have this space to use, I think that it is incumbent upon me to reveal the creative edge that Megan has enjoyed for so long before I am banished back to my own blog for the rest of eternity. Yes, you should know why she is able to blog as she does and why her blog remains entertaining and fresh after all this time.

She’s crrAAaaaaaAaaAAZZZzzzyyy!

You see, this is a blog bought to you from the frozen wasteland up north that many Canadians know as “oh dear god no! You couldn’t pay me enough!” or “Yeah…it’s cold up there!” No one actually lives there aside from people who got lost hiking, took a wrong turn during a road trip or survived an airplane crash. I mean sure, there are a few oil riggers and diamond miners up there that have homes further south but people generally steer clear of the place. Megan can’t get out on her own so she has survived all this time by blogging. It’s not only her creative outlet but also the only connection she has to the real world…you know…the one with foliage?

Now don’t think for a second that I’m telling you to stop reading or commenting. You need to continue to humour her and tell her that it’s a good thing she works for the justice department. It doesn’t matter that the justice department up there consists of two polar bears and a penguin, just remember that it’s all she has. Remember to keep commenting and keep this poor gal company. She needs people like us. I just thought I would use my parting post here to explain some of the mystery behind this blog.

You can trust me and the credibility of my words. I’m a contest winner. So long and thanks for all the fish everyone.

Props Yo

You know if you go to the CNN elections website and look at the results for president, Missouri is still uncalled. That’s 11 electoral votes…WHO’LL GET EM! McCain has the edge!

Heh heh heh…Anyhow, aside from president, Senators and House Representatives, other things were being voted on too. There were a bunch of ballot measures with endearing titles such as Prop 102, Prop 4, Amendment 48, question 2, and initiative 1,000. That’s a big initiative.

Since I have the floor of a blog more popular and credible than mine, I’ll take this opportunity to whine about a pet peeve of mine. The definition of marriage and the government’s involvement in it.

In California, the proposition of contention was a ban of gay marriage. In fact, a ban on gay marriage was on the ballots in three states and a ban on homosexual adoption in one. All passed including the one in super liberal land also known as California. What’s even more shocking to me than the fact that the bloody thing passed is that as the African Americans voted 90% in favour of electing a coloured president thus moving their civil rights movement and quest for equality further, they voted away the rights of an existing oppressed minority by a majority of 70% among their own race. While blacks favoured a black president overwhelmingly, they also supported abolishing the rights of married gay couples in the great majority.

Even more than simply defining marriage, prop-8 also determined whether or not gay couples would have access to the same rights and benefits that heterosexual married couples do.

There are so many things wrong with prop-8 that I can’t even really go on to list them. That would make this one heck of a boring entry and heck, I’m already sounding pretty dry. So far there has been no mention of fat people exploding at a distant fast food joint or rabid kittens intent on dominating Vancouver Island. I’m sorry but I’m not even going to mention those…again.

Prop-8 was well funded on both sides. Religious zealots and wing nuts urged their congregations to donate money to take away the marriage rights of gays lest we all catch their evil disease. Flower arrangers and truckers that normally keep to themselves for reasons best not mentioned at a truck stop diner rose to the defence of their brethren and hoped to defeat the measure that would rob them of the most basic rights enjoyed by married couples. Simple things such as inheritance rights or death benefits resulting from the loss of a partner.

History was written of course and prop-8 passed as a state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Of course this will see its day in the courts and the amendment will be declared unconstitutional federally and gays will get the right to marriage back but my own position is that prop-8 was a great idea…it was just completely misguided.

Here’s the straight dope on marriage. The word “marriage” is a religious term. It’s not a term that is only linked to civil law and in fact finds its origins in religious tradition and institutionalized acceptance of god and divinity. That was then…and for some reason, we dragged it into now. Now, marriage is an interchangeable term and that creates a lot of confusion and havoc. Marriage may as easily refer to a civil contract between two people as it may refer to a divine endorsement of the relationship that exists between two people. It is because of this interchangeable nature and solid connection to millennia old religious traditions that when two men are married, a god bag who can’t get over a badly interpreted part of some dusty old book will get upset. You can never make gay marriage acceptable to all because the state is handing out a license that strongly implies (if not outrights confers) a religious endorsement for a relationship.

The state needs to get out of the marriage business and prop-8 in California should have been asking whether or not the state should even be involved in giving out marriage licenses as opposed to domestic partnership licenses. You can never escape the religious connection to the term “marriage” and so you can never make this a dispassionate issue of civil law. People of all types are deserving of equal treatment as human beings, that much is simply true. To solve the inequity that exists regarding homosexual couples wanting the same rights and responsibilities that come with being married, the government should immediately stop conferring “marriage licenses” to people and give them something like civil union licenses or something.

If you read my blog, you’ll know that I hate the government and would like to see it one day disappear from this wonderful thing we call the planet earth. In the meantime though, I think it would at least be a step in the right direction if we could only have people stop demanding that the state define their relationships.

Ask yourself for just a second, do you really need the government to define the relationship you have with your significant other via a term with undeniable ties to religious tradition?