Please join us at

Get the posts on my new blog by e-mail. Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

New posts on

Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Hey, Canadiano"

Reader-submitted question: I've got a distinct cultural heritage of my own. In my culture (Texas), we settle disputes with our "shock and awe" military. For some reason, we can't get on your professor's list of treasured cultures. Why is that?

It's really quite simple. Canadians are tolerant and enlightened. That means that we cannot accept intolerant xenophobes like you. Cultures are to be treasured, but only when they show other people just how much we cherish diversity.

For example, if you were to bring a big container of tobacco to my house and set it on fire to cleanse the negative energy from my kitchen (caused, of course, by cooking meat), I would nod and show my appreciation for the enlightenment we both share. On the other hand, if you were to bring a smaller amount of tobacco to my house in the form of cigarettes, I would glare at you and maybe even clear my throat in a pointed manner to show my disgust for your lifestyle. There is a huge difference between the two: When you burn a LOT of tobacco, it is part of a treasured traditional ritual that I'm sure is practised somewhere in the world. That is very important to me as a Canadian.

A good rule of thumb is that cultures are more appreciated when Canadians don't know anything about them. That means that your Texan heritage is something we would prefer to overlook, and we think it would be best if you did, too. We've seen people from Texas on TV, and we're not impressed. Now, if you were to hand-roll sushi while listening to a CD of traditional chanting from Zaire, your activities would be cherished and supported. The side benefit is that we would not know if you were doing it incorrectly: you could stave off all criticism by telling us that yours is the most "authentic" way to make sushi.

Thanks for your question. The next time you visit my website, please hide your IP address by routing through a proxy server from a more enlightened part of the world, like Argentina. It makes me look bad when my web stats show too many hits from the southern U.S.

Hat tip: Miss Lyndsy

I am having a David Hasselhoff morning: rolling around on the floor, mumbling incoherently and eating greasy food from McDonald's. So this seems appropriate.

Friday, May 30, 2008

If you've got time to click a link

There is an interesting discussion about journalistic ethics over at Just Below 63, my fellow blogger from across the lake. This particular discussion is about publishing photos of dead bodies in body bags.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I can't get away from you, even if I try

Reader-submitted complaint: My roommate says you're just like every other Canadian and totally obsessed with the Hoff. I keep telling her you're different—special—but she doesn't believe me.

Interesting. Is this a Canadian stereotype I wasn't aware of? Something like the urban myth that we all say "aboot"?

Your roommate is afflicted with Humour Impairment. It's OK. This is serious, but much more common than I could have imagined before I started this blog. She needs to work her way up from TV shows with names like Stupid Americans Hurting Themselves. Please warn her to go slowly. I have discussed this matter with legal counsel, and I cannot accept any liability for the strain that could be created when she makes the jump to shows without laugh tracks.

My dry sense of humour is not always appreciated. I am not the driest member of my family -- not by a long shot -- but I post more of it on the Internet than the rest of them do. We express affection by insulting each other.

I think you need to introduce your roommate to someone in my family. That should help. Now, if you could only find one of my brothers...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The story BEHIND the story

Reader-submitted: My husband was out and about on free comic day and found that magazine in a discount bin at a comic store. (WHAT? Hello, employee oversight. Heads are going to roll. Hoff at a discount? So wrong.) He called me and said, "I found something that I think Megan is really going to like." I said, "Megan?" followed by "I'm scared. What is it?"

When I saw it, I was totally giddy. I mean, HOW AWESOME IS IT? And in totally MINT condition. I hope you realize the strength of generosity it took for me to mail it your way. I wanted to stick it under my pillow and keep it there FOREVER. But I knew it would thrill you even more so I willed myself to put it in the envelope and send it to its spiritual home.

Amazing story. Please tell your husband that I understand the strength of character it took to preserve the magazine in mint condition. There is always the risk that some sweat will get on the old-school stuff.

I know he is a moral person, so I appreciate the fact that he did not alert the comic-store owner to his grave error in misfiling it. This must have taken a lot out of him. Usually these situations only arise when Babe Ruth cards accidentally fall into shopping bags or rare recordings get slipped into the wrong LP case. A true dilemma, to be sure. If the owner had discovered his error, this priceless artifact might have been lost to his own private collection.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reader-submitted Hoff

Monday, May 26, 2008

The way I've always dreamed it could be

Reader-submitted complaint: I won't go so far as to laugh at journalistic ethics, but you're sounding utopian. Do journalists mystically get less bounded by their own expectations and valuance of information than the rest of us?

No, but they should be. I hold them to a higher standard than the rest of you, and they often let me down. I expect them to follow basic journalistic ethics, but they don't always meet my standards.

About a week ago, a reporter told me that I am mean to people in her industry. I thought that was funny, because many of my readers have worked or now work as journalists. Most of my closest friends are former reporters, and I respect the role of the media more than most people do. Sadly, that respect means that when they let me down, they deserve additional scorn. We need to root out the evildoers, chase them from this land, and destroy those who would give them comfort.

Uh, sorry for getting all Cheney on you for a moment there.

Our system is not perfect. There are no formal standards: anyone can start a newspaper or radio station and take on the responsibility of providing information to the public. The industry is governed by voluntary standards that are generally accepted but by no means required. Nobody is going to pull your local science reporter's license if he starts to believe the Flat Earth Society's propaganda. The public has only two ways to insist on better reporting:

  1. Refusing to buy subscriptions or advertising.
  2. Public shaming.
Traditionally, members of the media have collectively called out the worst offenders in their midst. Media critics, ombudsmen and senior journalists are responsible for informally policing their industry. Sadly, this is not common in Canada. This may be why my columns provoke such a reaction from some working journalists: they know I'm right, but they can't believe I'm saying it.

So far, no journalist has ever told me that my columns about journalism are incorrect. However, I'm open to the possibility that they simply did not want to challenge me at the time, so I will throw this out there: If you believe I am incorrect on any matter related to journalism, please let me know. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts. You can use the comments box or send me an e-mail privately. My e-mail address is linked on my profile page.

Thanks for your complaint.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good news, bad news

Reader-submitted complaint: Journalism ethics? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

That was really un-called-for. I demand that you apologise to me and all of my readers who are either current or former journalists.

Journalism ethics are real, although they're not like, say, medical ethics. They are a voluntary code and there are no standard consequences for reporters who violate them. There is no licensing body and, at least in theory, anyone can work as a reporter. However, a reporter who really screws up will get fired and won't work in journalism again.

I cannot point you to any definite set of rules, because different publications have different standards. My former employer has a pretty good set of guidelines, and that would be a good place to start.

I can provide a brief overview, though:

Journalism must be accurate.
This means challenging a person's false statements. It means presenting as much information as possible. It means checking facts and getting as many sources as possible. Really outrageous stuff should be double-sourced, and things that are easy to verify should always be verified. Information should not be presented in a misleading way. Corrections should be prominent and online versions of stories should be updated with the correct information.

Journalism must be objective. This can be tough. Journalists are people (yes, ha ha...) and people can get wrapped up in their work. It doesn't mean that they have no stake in the issue -- usually reporters will have SOME stake in their stories -- but that they can fairly evaluate the issue. Often, one of the following things will cause problems for a news organization's objectivity:

  • The reporter will be unable to accept the possibility that he or she has been duped.
  • The reporter is convinced that someone is hiding a big secret or is corrupt to the core, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • The reporter (or his friends or family) somehow gets involved in the story.
  • News breaks late in the day and there is no time to allow the subject of a story to respond to a nasty allegation.
  • There is not enough or no separation between news and editorial staff.
  • There is censorship of some kind -- perhaps there is pressure to avoid making an advertiser look bad.
  • A source has been paid for his or her information.
News organizations must be accountable to the public. They have an obligation to report the news and to bring matters of public interest to light. But they also have an obligation to acknowledge their own errors. Some have ombudsmen, but others do this through their senior editors. This can be tricky, because when staff screw up, the boss's first instinct is usually to back them up. This doesn't work in the news industry. The person at the top has to be willing to admit when he makes mistakes, account for the decisions he made, and promise to do a better job in the future. That's a bitter pill.

Journalism ethics can be complicated and it would take an entire blog to discuss them in any depth. There is no list of rules; you just have to learn the basic principles and apply them to situations as they arise. Sometimes this will be a matter of weighing principles that appear to be in opposition to each other: for example, there is no real consensus about how to deal with confidential sources who turn out to be lying or with government agencies that present compelling reasons a story should not be published.

Thanks for your complaint.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: I'm an annoying Gen-Whyer, and so are you!

I really shouldn't read Leah McLaren's columns, but for some reason, I always do. Leah, you see, represents women of my generation. I know this because she keeps insisting that she does, even though there is absolutely no evidence of this.

Today, Leah informs us that, like me and the rest of the approximately one million Canadians who happen to be our age, she is a gypsy who takes a casual approach to international travel. We just show up in Zanzibar with our Blackberrys and hang around.

This is really helpful. It's like Leah is peering right into my soul. I'm thrilled that she represents me to the rest of Canada through the Paper of Record, because I've been waiting for someone to express my desire -- no, need -- to drop everything and leave the country on a moment's notice. This is really the way I live. It's too bad that it took until now for someone to be pioneering enough to point it out. Thank you, Leah!

It's really unfortunate that Leah apparently does not know anyone who isn't an annoying childless freelance writer from Toronto. She claims that this lifestyle is very common and depends on "portability of work (i.e. self-employment)". I see. What she really means is "(i.e. unemployed wanna-be writer)": I can tell you from experience that self-employed people can't live this way. Clients don't like it when you run off to Libya. Only tortured, misunderstood, artsy weirdos can do this. The rest of us have to earn a living.

I suspect that Leah's friends don't actually do this, either. They've shown poor judgment by talking to her about their lives, but they've got to make money somehow. Organic food, lofts and Converse All-Stars aren't cheap, and used-book stores don't pay their staff as well as Leah would like you to think.

I had to read her column several times to figure out what is actually happening here. Leah provides four examples of this supposedly common behaviour:

  • Herself. She disappears to other countries without telling her family where she's going, because she is so hip and awesome. No indication of how often she actually does this. Also, she has a cell phone. People of the world: The 1980s are long gone. Cell phones are no longer a status symbol. Please stop telling us that you own them: We are not impressed.

  • A friend who books flights at the very last minute because it is cheaper. No indication of how often he actually does this or where he is going. I suspect he is going to Winnipeg.

  • A friend who likes to go to other countries without planning ahead. No indication of how often he actually does this. However, he has an iPhone, so you should be impressed.

  • A friend who went to Kenya without telling Leah. No indication of how often she does this, whether she tells other people, or whether the trip was planned.
I don't really like "trendwatching" articles, but this doesn't even meet the lowest standards for trendwatching. Thanks, Paper of Record.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Baby, one more time

Reader-submitted question: why did britney spears want to be famous?

I give up.

What, there's no punch line? You actually expected me to know the answer?

Unfortunately (for you), I don't know very much about Britney Spears, and I don't write about her very often. I don't expect this to change soon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's in the cards you don't play?

Reader-submitted question: Do you think there should be a federal shield law for journalists?


First, remember that I am not a lawyer or an expert on the policy implications of shield laws. If you want that sort of information, you are on the wrong blog.

I wrote about journalistic privilege a few months ago. The Cole's Notes version of that post is that the phrase refers to a reporter's decision to defy a court order that would otherwise force him or her to reveal information, usually the name of a source.

This is not a real privilege like the kind lawyers have. Your lawyer will keep your secret within certain limits and can't be forced to tell. Your friendly neighbourhood reporter, on the other hand, can be sent to jail or fined for contempt of court. This usually doesn't happen, though. Usually, one of two things will happen:

  • The reporter will crack and give up the information. This sometimes happens when a judge refuses to consider a fine and insists that the reporter will sit in jail until he gives up the information. Although editors and producers are usually willing to pay a fine for the sake of preserving their journalistic integrity, they do not want their employees to go to jail. They may tell the reporter to reveal the information instead.

  • Someone else will come forward and give up the information. The reporter is usually keeping a secret about the identity of a confidential source, but it's sometimes about original research. In any case, someone else has the information the court needs. That person will often come forward to keep the reporter out of jail.
Some people have suggested that there should be a federal shield law to define reporters' right to protect their sources. I've been told that some states have shield laws, too.

I don't know much about the implementation of shield laws, but I'm cautious about them. I do understand why reporters would want an honest-to-goodness privilege -- heck, I don't want to go to jail, either -- but I think it's dangerous.

The media are representatives of the public. They should get everything the public can get, but the flip side of that is that they should not get anything the public cannot get. We can't create a special class of people who have a different type of access or a different ability to defy court orders.

I would think the media would be concerned about this, too. A federal shield law could probably only work if reporters were regulated in some way. That's the sort of thing people talk about from time to time and realise is a bad idea. Journalism is not regulated in democratic societies, unless you count the libel laws and other laws that all citizens have to follow. The industry is informally self-policed using ethical guidelines that vary from one publication to another. A reporter who really screws up will not work again, but it's not because he lost his licence to work as a journalist. It's because no editor or producer who knows his history will hire him. There is no central organization that can certify or censure individual reporters. Who would take on this role? The federal Department of Propaganda?

Who would be considered a journalist, anyway? This is dangerous territory. Some bloggers are definitely journalists. Are all bloggers? I think you could argue that I am a columnist. Would this type of law allow me to refuse to testify about things I learned while researching blog posts? If there was a law that applied only to journalists, there would need to be some way to determine who is a journalist. Our current anything-goes system is not perfect, but it's better than the alternatives.

To anticipate your next question: No, I don't like it when reporters go to jail or face heavy fines for refusing to give up what they consider confidential information. But I can't agree that they should have a different ability to conceal information than the rest of society.

Thanks for your question.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Reader-submitted complaint: I didn't know that you have a blog!


Yeah, I guess you didn't. It's not a secret, but I didn't exactly take out an ad in Name of Paper Withheld to get more readers, either. I'm glad you're here.

I'm going to tell you something I don't always tell new readers. I publish new content every day, so the newest post might not be representative of the rest of the blog. You have to read a number of posts to really get a good sense of what a blog is. Then you have to come back tomorrow to read more.

I love to read blogs, but it takes effort to find new ones. That sounds silly, because there are probably millions of blogs, but you never know what you are going to get. It takes time to find people who write about the things I'm interested in, and even more time to read through enough posts to decide that I want to go back and read more.

This blog is about all of the things that are important to me, so I'm glad you're here. Please be reassured that I do not write about you personally. (I'm always surprised at the number of people who, upon learning that I have a blog, wonder if I write about them.) Look around, and stay if you like what you see. If you scroll down, you'll see labels on the right side. They will take you to all of my posts about a particular topic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't break the spell

Something about this song is oddly comforting, but I can't figure out why. Something about the bass and keyboards is more familiar than it really ought to be.

I feel like I must have heard it when I was a little girl, but that doesn't make sense. My dad was in a band 25 years ago, so I heard a lot of music at the time, but this wouldn't have been one of the ones they played. Or am I wrong, Dad?

UPDATED: My dad has disavowed participation in anything that resulted in my blog being named after a Stevie Nicks song. He has suggested that I heard it on the radio during the early '80s when Rumours was in heavy rotation. That's certainly possible. At the risk of committing 1970s blasphemy, I will say that the video above feels familiar like the one below:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Steve Gets Healthy

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'm a huge fan of Danny Williams, but I was pretty disgusted to read at Townie Bastard's site that he has decided to "cut off" one of the local provincial-affairs reporters. No interviews or access to the premier for...well, goodness knows how long.

I definitely don't approve of any media strategy that ends with reporters being blacklisted. I worked with David Cochrane for a short time at CBC St. John's before I moved Up There, and I can't imagine that this will end well for Danny.

Reporters are paid to report the news. I've written a lot about responsible reporting, and I won't defend a journalist who's unethical, but David's a good reporter. He does some analysis, too, and this may be why Danny's upset with him. I honestly don't know what set him off: this little tiff over Andy Wells' stupid fundraiser seems like small potatoes. Maybe David really did screw up about something, but if so, I don't know what it was.

From time to time I will hear people talk about cutting one reporter or another off, usually in the context of national politics. I've never seen this done, so I admit I'm not clear on how it would work or how it could possibly benefit anyone. What, you just stop talking to the guy? How does that help? Do you do the same thing with non-journalists who criticise you, like advocacy groups and the opposition parties? Do you make all of the staff stop talking to the guy, too? How do you decide when it's a good time to start talking to him again? Do you just call him up and expect things to be hunky-dory all of a sudden?

This seems to be counter-productive. The only way to make sure a journalist understands your side of a story (whatever that might be) is to talk to him. Refusing to grant interviews only ensures that your critics will be the ones featured in the story. Not exactly the best plan for someone who feels like he's getting picked on.

Now, there are definitely times when it's a bad idea to talk to any reporter about a particular issue. This is not the same thing as shutting an individual journalist out, though. Those situations are usually time-limited and apply to all members of the public, not just reporters.

Do any readers have experience with this?

Man, oh, man...

Reader-submitted question: do people kill seals because people think its the best way to make their money?

No, they do it because they are sadistic sonsabitches who just love to hurt cute baby animals. Keep your kittens away from sealers. They actually don't care if they kill the seals at all. You can tell because sometimes after a thwack on the head, the animals will keep moving. Obviously, they are still alive, and the psychos just love it. They like nothing better than walking in pools of blood. It's like a murder fantasy, except that they actually get to live it out.

They say they do it for money, but really, it's because they are pure, unadulterated evil. Who else would kill baby seals?

OK, I'm not being fair. This was a sincere question, and I'm just making fun of it. My dear reader, I have written quite a lot about the seal hunt. You can find all of my posts on the topic here (this post will be at the top, so just scroll down). I remain convinced that if you really want to stop the seal hunt, you should pay sealers to sit at home and NOT kill seals. This would shut down the hunt without the need for consultants, publicity stunts or expensive ad buys. And that's exactly why PETA will never do it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Boring conversation anyway

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: You didn't give me an interview, so I'm going to say that you suck!

I don't know who originally said that you should never argue with men who buy ink by the barrel, but in general, it's not a bad idea. (Well, except when the men making these bulk purchases are really bad at journalism or grammar.)

The Paper of Record has a bone to pick with Harrison Ford. Apparently Mr. Ford sucks, and everyone knows it. We tolerate him, but don't respect him. And we definitely don't love him. Basically, we put up with his presence on our movie screens because -- well, the Paper of Record never really makes that clear. But it's in the Paper of Record, so it has to be true.

You see, Rick Groen wasn't able to interview Mr. Ford for his column. If the actor had made himself available, I have no doubt that the Paper of Record would have published one of its typical fawning stories, complete with a photo. But he didn't, so the Paper of Record will have its revenge. They CONTROL the masses, doncha know? Simply by saying that nobody likes him, they will make it become true!

It would never have occurred to me that nobody likes Harrison Ford. It's a ridiculous notion. Sure, some people don't like him: nobody is universally loved. But the man is an icon and has been in dozens of movies, including some of the most popular ones ever made. Han Solo has a cult following. Raiders of the Lost Ark is still one of my favourite movies.

But the Paper of Record is desperate for proof that everyone hates him. He sucks because his name reminds the writer of Presidents Harrison and Ford. He sucks because he's in Steven Spielberg movies. He sucks because he doesn't direct himself. He sucks because he likes privacy and didn't want to be president, governor or mayor.

Did I miss something? Is it now a black mark on an actor's career if he does not run for public office?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Over and over

I talked to a reporter the other day.

Now, I talk to reporters all the time, but I don't usually talk about my personal life. I'm not exciting enough to make the news very often.

However, the NWT Blog Awards are going to be back in the news on Monday. Sadly, I have to agree that the way the contest ended is fair game for the arts section.

When the reporter told me she wanted to do a story about the cheating, I told her that I really wished it hadn't happened. I haven't talked about it much because I didn't want it to end the way it did. I was basically in denial about it for days. I knew it was happening, and it was happening during the first round, too, but it really took off on the last day of the second round of voting for Best Post and Best Blog.

Online polls are very easy to "goose", but I was hoping that nobody would. I mean, it's a stupid blog contest. It doesn't mean anything. It's definitely not worth cheating. Heck, my own family forgot to vote.

There are two ways to cheat. At first, people were using proxy servers. I saw this happening and thought they were morons for going to the extra effort. Then they started to clear their cookies -- this probably took about one second each time and allowed them to vote as many times as they wanted. I was pretty annoyed, and this is why I ended up calling both categories three-way ties. Apparently, no matter how many times I say this, people do not clue in that I can see what they are doing when they are on one of my websites.

Fewer than 100 people actually voted. During the second round of voting there were 335 visits to the site, 1090 page loads and 488 votes for Best Blog. I watched one person in Nova Scotia vote 100 times over a two-hour period. It apparently never occurred to this person that an additional 100 votes would be noticeable.

I ended up closing the contest a few hours early. I was thinking about letting it all play out, but then someone in Quebec came back (yes, back -- I assume he was taking a break) and started another round of megavoting. By the time he'd voted 76 times in a row, I decided to put him out of his misery. Seriously, if you're going to sit in front of your computer getting calluses on your hands, it should be for something much more exciting than blog awards.

People have asked me who really won. Honestly, I don't know. There was so much cheating that there is no way to separate the real votes from the fake ones. I am pretty comfortable saying that Best Post really would have ended in something close to a three-way tie. All three posts were within a vote or two of each other for days, and I was getting ready to call it a tie when the numbers suddenly spiked. The vote totals for Best Blog are all so far off that I can't tell you who really won.

It doesn't matter, though. My goal was never to pick the best blog in the NWT, and I don't think you could do that even if you wanted to. The point was to get more readers for local blogs and to promote the community of bloggers. In that way, it was a success.

Although I thought of it as a silly, fun contest, I clearly underestimated its importance to other people. Obviously, they thought it was important enough that they were willing to spend hours at their computers trying to keep their favourite bloggers' numbers up. (And people say bloggers are the losers.) It is great to see that people have superfans who are willing to go the extra mile to get them some much-deserved recognition. I'm just sad that they thought this would be the way to get that recognition for their favourite writers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When everything's going bad

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm a nice person. I promise.

Reader-submitted question: Do you keep scaring new people, or is it the same person who just can't let go?

You mean the grammar stuff?

I keep scaring people. Family members say they're afraid of me. Strangers say they're afraid of me. Friends say they're afraid of me.

The last reader-submitted item came from a person who is worried that I will savage him if he puts his creative writing online. Only a grammar terrorist would do a thing like that. I should probably take this opportunity to state emphatically that I would never want to stifle creativity and that I really do want to read his stories.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes, those pants make your butt look fat

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Things you should never say.

Consider this your monthly dose of free communications advice. I really mean it. If you say any of these things, I may be forced to take violent action against you.

I refuse to comment. Uh, moron? This is a phrase the media made up to make you look bad. When you won't answer their questions, they say you're refusing to comment. It's a way to make you look shady and untrustworthy. Never ever ever use the word "comment" when talking to a reporter. It just puts the word in her head. If you can't talk about something, say that you can't talk about it and explain why.

Anecdotal. I sort of understand this one. I mean, you're a bit slow to begin with. You can't be blamed for telling people that their stories are anecdotal. They're technically anecdotes, right? If nobody's ever told you that the worst thing that ever happened to you was anecdotal, I suppose you might not realise that this word sends the message that it's just a cute little story that's not worth taking seriously.

You're stupid. Never tell anyone that something is safe. It might be safer, but it's not safe. The second something bad happens, you'll be screwed.

I'm not going to talk about it. That will make everyone else stop talking about it.
I have lost all respect for you. Fortunately, I didn't have much to lose. You don't control what other people say, and you don't control their opinions about what's important. The only thing you can control is whether you tell them your side of the story.

I don't know what happened, but I assume...
Uh, hello? Stop talking. If you don't know what happened, just shut up. The last thing you want to do is start guessing about it in public. Your educated guesses are helpful in private while you're trying to figure out what really happened. They are not helpful to anyone else. Tell people you're going to find out what happened, and then go and find out.

You didn't use the same words I did, so you're wrong.
No, she's not. You're a control freak who can't stand it when someone else talks about your favourite issue. There are times when you need to use your jargon. Those times should be very rare. If your jargon's really the only way to explain something, tell people why. At all other times, normal people should be able to understand you and talk about the issue using normal English. Don't tell people you're collecting nasopharyngeal swabs when you could just tell them you need to rub the insides of their noses with Q-Tips. And it's a waste of your energy to get upset with them when they don't use your jargon.

Not in my backyard. Okay, I knew you were an idiot, but this takes the cake. People don't say this about THEMSELVES. The phrase means that a selfish person is refusing to go along with something that almost everyone agrees is in the public interest. Usually the selfish person thinks it's in the public interest, too, he just doesn't like the way it would affect HIM. Until recently, I wouldn't have believed that it was even possible for someone to be this dumb. However, you have surprised me. Boy, I love surprises.

It's been too long

David Hasselhoff - MyVideo

All of the elements of true ART are present in this video:
Intense singing...check.
Expensive sets...check.
Killer special effects...check.
Hot models...check.
Sexy singer...check.
Music that no mortal could duplicate...check.

I can't read the German on the web page I found this on, but it doesn't matter. His dazzling musical genius transcends language and culture.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Love ya, Megan, but..."

Reader-submitted complaint: scare the crap outta me. Writers write, editors correct.

You are quite right. Newspapers need multiple lines of defense, and that is why news stories should go through at least three sets of hands before they get to print. The reporter does all of the research and writing, the editor makes sure it is complete, and the copy editor checks the grammar, spelling and other details. When all three people are working together well, the result is usually very good. When they're not, I cringe.

A reporter who doesn't do his or her job is usually lazy, not stupid. There are tell-tale signs, the most common being:

  • The same interviewee you've heard a hundred times saying the same old thing. (GREAT! No need for extra research!)
  • Lots of cliches. (Why bother coming up with a new way to describe the search for the germ that will cause the next pandemic when you could just say it's like a time bomb? Another day, another dollar!)
  • "More catchy, less true" journalism. (The editor doesn't know what's true, right? All he cares about is the way you describe it!)
  • Believing a source without questioning him or her. (She says the city's new bylaw is unconstitutional, but you don't have the energy to actually read the Constitution to find out if that's true. Just put "unconstitutional" in quotes and you're covered!)
Reporters are usually pressed for time. They have to file a certain number of stories every day, so they rely on these little shortcuts that end up wrecking their credibility. Not in the newsroom, of course: their editors usually have no idea that their reporters are screwing up so badly. If you really want to know if a beat reporter's doing a good job, ask someone who works in that industry.

Editors sit in the newsroom barking orders at reporters and turning down bad story pitches. Well, the good ones turn down bad story pitches. Lousy editors will just check to see if there's a news hole. Editors are responsible for catching all of the reporters' mistakes:
  • When they see the same tired old quotes from the same tired old sources, they are supposed to ask the reporter to interview someone else.
  • When they see cliches in a story, they are supposed to remove them or ask the reporter to rewrite the story.
  • They are supposed to know that no story is simple enough to sum up in five words. Catchy copy needs extra scrutiny.
  • If a source is saying something really crazy, editors are supposed to hold the story until it can be confirmed, not just put quotes around the weirdest stuff.
They also look for logical inconsistencies, unanswered questions and sections that are really just diversions from the main point. They pull things into sidebars and oversee teams of journalists. A good section editor will understand how to use photography, layout and writing to tell a story.

Although many people think of editors and reporters as being in competition, they should be making each other better at their jobs: an editor can shape the final product and provide guidance to a reporter who's not sure how to proceed.

Editors are usually pressed for time, too. The idiot reporter has spent HOURS trying to write a story about the break in the sewer line downtown, and of COURSE he filed it late! And now HOW is the editor supposed to fix this mess? This is a true crisis! Is this quote from the mayor or from the director of public works? Who can tell? WHO FUCKING CARES IT'S ALMOST PRESS TIME! That reporter's ass is MINE in the morning!

And that's when the copy editor gets the story. The copy editor is the last person who can fix grammatical mistakes or factual errors before the paper goes to press, and he usually gets only a few minutes with each story. The editor is furious, and the reporter's throwing a tantrum because the headline had to be changed at the last minute, and now it seems that there was NO BREAK IN THE SEWER LINE AT ALL! FUCKETY FUCKETY FUCKETY FUCKETY WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST PERSON TO HEAR THESE THINGS???

Copy editors (or "sub-editors") are angels who work behind the scenes. They clean up bad grammar and lousy spelling, and they fix minor factual errors. They may be the poor chumps who give the editor the bad news that the story about the sewer line needs to be spiked or completely rewritten. At some publications, they lay out pages and write headlines. You will never know how much work the copy editor puts in: the reporter and editor usually take all of the glory. The copy editor is responsible for making them both look good and keeping them out of my Little Miss Know-it-All columns.

But, dear reader, this is all in the context of newspaper reporting. I do not expect average folks to have copy editors for their blogs. Please do not allow my occasional criticism for professional journalists to keep you from your creative writing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

I don't know if any of my readers other than my parents and the Capitalist will know what this is. (Philosopher King?)

My son is now asking for his very own iPod, but when I was his age, we listened to records on my parents' turntable. We LOVED Pete Seeger, and this song was one of our favourites. I am still partial to Sam The Whaler and Sweepy Sweepy Sweepy, but when I pass my iPod on to Michael, I will make sure that Abiyoyo's on it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's almost Mother's Day, right?

Michael used to be very good at cleaning his room. This video clip from 2002 proves it. Each day he would dutifully put all of his Legos into the Lego box and all of his blocks into the block box. His clothes would be put away, and his books would be returned to his shelf. I liked that.

His new standard of cleanliness for his room is "seeing the floor". I do not think this is a good goal. When I ask him to clean his room, he will do what he calls "clearing a path". This is exactly what you think it is. Toys on the left side of the room are pushed to the left wall. Toys on the right side of the room are pushed to the right wall. Clothes, books, cash, and old notes from his teacher are pushed into one of the two piles. Actually, it is probably more accurate to refer to them as mountain ranges: it's not as if there are only two piles of mess. They will occasionally have minor avalanches that completely upend the natural order. I don't know how he finds anything. I definitely don't know how he knows which items of clothing are clean, because it seems to me that they are all strewn across the floor with no accurate way to determine the difference.

I am really starting to get the feeling that I am nothing more than a maid. No, wait: normally, you pay the maid. On the other hand, I am expected to work every day so that new purchases can be placed in the mountain range.

Every few months I will go through his room and fill two garbage bags with old toys. I do this secretly while he is at Daniel's, and he never misses the things I've thrown away. I am pretty sure he could live quite happily with only his Pokemon cards and his Transformers DVD. I also suspect that I could do a similar purge on Steve's stuff while he is distracted by the short-skirted girls on Deal Or No Deal, but I haven't actually put that plan into action.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Follow those who pale in your shadow

Reader-submitted question: Hi Megan. This might sound weird. I LOVE your blog, but oftentimes I don't get it. I don't really understand why the music videos you include are there. This, I'm sure, is generational. Try this video. I would love to know what you think of this. I LOVE it -- I can hardly stand to watch it; I love it so much.

Wow, a reader who understands both semicolons and dashes! You really know how to get me to publish the things you send in, don't you?

I really like this. I've always liked this song, and this version is great. I am not really very familiar with Dusty Springfield, but this is really good.

You don't understand my blog? I'm surprised, because I often feel like an open book. Like I'm actually telling my readers TOO much. The music videos I include are often part of that. They do mean something. Well, not the birthday greetings, but those are clearly labeled. Sometimes those are references that the average person wouldn't catch. I'll admit that.

The others mean something. They're supposed to illustrate something about the post or about my life. And they're not just for the Stevie Nicks fans who like to hang out here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"The editor in me wanted to madly edit the blog!"

Reader-submitted complaint: I'm not sure how to raise this with you. I went to your blog for the first time last night, but, uh, I only read the first entry. I didn't realise you were such a fan of that writer. But I also had trouble with the spelling errors. I couldn't keep reading.

Oh dear.

This has happened before. My own cousin came to the blog one day and had no context for the Uriel post he found on the front page.

Sorry about that. Let me reassure you that I don't actually think that women deserve presents for bragging about spending as little time as possible with their kids. It was an attempt at satire. I'm not actually a fan of that person at all (I refuse to link directly to her), and, unlike her, I am very good at spelling and grammar. I promise.

I don't think of myself as subtle, but I think I can sometimes be too sarcastic for my own good. If it was your first visit, you definitely wouldn't have known what was going on.

Here's a good rule of thumb: If you think I'm joking, I'm probably joking. Keep reading.

Finally, Uriel makes an impact

If you haven't been over to NWT Blogs, you should. The fabulous and uber-talented Amy has reworked it as a megafeed with about 15 different NWT blogs. It's a great way to see many blogs from this region in the same place.

She called the other day and said that the program she uses scans posts and automatically generates tags based on the content, increasing the font based on the number of posts with that auto-tag. I can see that Uriel is having a real effect on the list. "Atheists", "heathens", "lake of fire" and "perverts" all feature prominently. I will let Uriel know that she has finally conquered the Internet. Maybe this will make her stop picketing City Hall, although I doubt it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Miss Lyndsy has joined the Cute With Chris cult

Well done, Miss Lyndsy.

"I'm not obsessed"

Reader-submitted: I'd be entertained if you were inspired to write about this clip of Rebecca Eckler, but don't mention me.

OMG like What. Ever I am not just here for your amusement. Plus, she is like an amazing star and I am totally jelous. Not only is she on TV talking about what a great mom she is, she is also in the Paper of Reocrd because she needs presents on Mothers Day. I mean really she should NOT have to ask for spa days because she is so naturally relaxed and pretty, but like how dare everyone say she is a spioled brat for telling her ex-finance that he has to buy her stuff. I mean she had to schedule the Csection and everything and then sometimes tell the nanny what brand of formula to buy and even sometimes watch the nanay change diappers or feed the baby when she was not having an emotional vacation for months at a time because of the huge stress of having a baby and getting fat! That is so deserving of a present. So like how dare they. And child support payments dont go to far when she has to pay for lawyers to sue that stupid book stealer Judd Apatow who TOTALLY stole her idea about getting pregant by accident. You go girl. Like where is she supposed to get stuff if people dont buy it for her? and if people don't want to buy her stuff how is she supposed to react.

She is definately my favourite author and I could only hope to be freinds with someone like her who really wants to be freinds with celebraties like Brad and Angelina and follow them around like a real investagative journalist. The best part of her new book is that it is just as simple to read as Us Weekly. That is a real selling feature for yummy mummies like me because lets face it, we do not have time to read. We spend our time needing to be really patient and that is another reason I am jelous of her because she is so patient all the time even when her daughter says she is using the mean mommy voice. and another thing. Other mommies are way to overprotective of their kids. I mean if your kids don't go to school and daycare when theyre sick, when are you supposed to shop? It is like they don't thing these things through.

I think its awesome that she reprisents young Canadian moms because that would mean that I was just like her! I love the haters, I just love them because did you see her stories about them? HAHAHAHA it was so awesome for her to finally get back at them. I mean she doesnt care about them at all. Like she really doesnt care, so lay off, haters. She will allways get the last laugh so dont waste your time being super-jelous. I mean SOME jelousy is normal, like what I have where I want to be her freind and meet her and sometimes maybe get a 'you rock!' on her super-cool blog and THAT is normal but the stalkers are scary and really need to get a life. I mean do they not see that she purposely creates a narcissistic persona to sell more stories? She gets the last laugh! Carry on!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I, who went to sleep as two, woke up as one

Reader-submitted question: Stevie Nicks had an abortion?

I don't know, but, since it's a pretty common procedure, it's not a stretch to think she might have.

Many people think that's what this song is about, but I don't think the lyrics are nearly clear enough to be sure of that. It could also be about a miscarriage, or about the end of a relationship. I am in the "end of a relationship" camp: I think that anyone who's convinced it's about a baby is being entirely too literal.

Thanks for your question.

Monday, May 05, 2008

My readers start to make suggestions about the blog header

Reader-submitted question: How about this? See the snow-covered hills?

Well, yes. But somehow I don't think that will work. She's got green eyes. Otherwise, she would already be up there.

Man, this is hard! Who am I, anyway? And what single image could represent this blog? I like the Anime Sweetheart more than the plain text that was up there before, though. I am going to keep it for now.

I have a few readers who are graphic designers, so I'll throw this out there: If you have ideas about what the header should be like, please let me know. I would be willing to pay for the right image.

It's the great Northwest for me

Reader-submitted question: Hi Megan. My aunt and uncle are moving up north to teach! I'm not sure of the location. Do you have any advice for them?

Absolutely! Steve's a teacher, so he can provide more information about teaching than I can. Have them e-mail us: dryas at theedge dot ca.

I haven't been to every community in the NWT, but I've been to many of them, and I know something about each one. I'm no expert on Nunavut or Yukon, but some of my readers are. :)

The NWT is a great place to live, but it's not for everyone. I can confirm that people from the East Coast seem to thrive here. I think this is because we're used to nasty weather, odd neighbours and isolation. I also think that we're more likely to take a risk by moving here because there are fewer jobs at home. I came here because I was offered a permanent full-time job for the same Crown corporation that could only give me short-term contracts everywhere else. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Your aunt and uncle can see photos of the NWT here.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

This one's for the fetishists

I know the quality is terrible, but I love this video because of:

  1. The look of pure hatred Stevie Nicks keeps flashing at Lindsey Buckingham.
  2. The way she spits out her words as she sings backup on a nasty breakup song about herself.
  3. The fact that he's ignoring her as she glares at him.
  4. Stevie's stupid tambourine. Is it just me, or does she appear to be waving it at Lindsey's head?
  5. The fact that the other musicians seem to be enjoying the entire situation.
  6. Lindsey's tendency to run away from the microphone and play his guitar at the drum set instead. (Thirty years later, he still does this.)

What do you think of the new header?

Reader-submitted complaint: Hi Megan. Your new look makes you look like a suppliant. Is the Grammar Nazi a suppliant? I'm surprised. Of course, human realities are always more complex than media projections!

Really? I hadn't thought about her arm position when I put her up there. I think she looks like she's thinking really hard, or maybe shivering. Perhaps we each see what we want to see in that image. That might explain why you think she's praying. Maybe she's praying for a longer skirt.

I think it's better than the plain text that was there before, but I'm not sure if this particular image is working. She does look a lot like me, and I like the snow. It is harder than I thought it would be to find a single image that represents this blog and will work in the header.

What do the rest of you think?

P.S. Wait, YOU call me the Grammar Nazi, too?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

And in the end...

Reader-submitted question: Who won the blog contest?

It was a three-way tie. Yes, seriously.

Greetings, weirdos

Recent first-time readers have come here using the following search terms:

  • peeing in public
  • Various words about a narcissistic Canadian author
  • The Capitalist's full name
  • Stevie Nicks abortion date
  • what would happen if the seal hunt shut down
  • drag queen music
  • reflection of snow of absorption of the ground
  • cbc seven wonders of Canada
  • iqaluit prostitutes (I have no idea why I keep getting this one)
  • how to apologize like a canadian
  • seal hunt newfoundland perspective
  • rick mercer AND Jon Stewart
I'm sure that most of these people are very disappointed when they get here.

Iqaluit readers: Do you have any idea why there is such a fascination with prostitutes from your town? Do you even HAVE prostitutes?

Friday, May 02, 2008

"The bride should wear the veil after she has become a wife."

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: MY COLUMN IS THERAPY! YES IT IS! YES IT IS!

I should have known better than to think Sarah Hampson had improved. In the last few weeks, I've read her column in the Paper of Record without wanting to scream. For some reason, I figured that her editor had clamped down on the self-indulgent ex-bashing. Clearly, I was wrong.

As you'll recall, Ms. Hampson is on a crusade to convince the world that her own personal situation is the hottest ticket around. Divorced women, you see, are the only ones who are able to have any personal growth. Whereas married women are stupid, frumpy and unable to cope in the real world, divorced women are smart, sexy and confident. Especially if they've got a couple of kids and a nasty ex-husband. Separation agreements are hot! Got that? Come over here and let me show you my application for joint custody!

Ms. Hampson's column has typically been a mix of anonymous sources, family therapists and thinly veiled snipes at her ex-husband. Because I have familiarised myself with her body of work, I am now able to recognise where she's going with any particular topic. Her column is generally about herself, even when she pretends it's not, and it usually mentions that men are terrible.

And so I was infuriated when I saw that this week's column begins with a mention of Rosemarie Fritzl, the Austrian woman who discovered a few days ago that her daughter has been in the cellar for the last two decades. Ms. Hampson knows how Ms. Fritzl must be feeling. You see, she's been married, too.

Married women, she informs us, just want to think that everything is fine. They only see how horrible their husbands are when they have been liberated through divorce.

Ms. Hampson, you are totally right: You DO have something in common with Ms. Fritzl! Her husband is suspected of forcible confinement, rape, kidnapping and psychological torture, but your ex-husband lied to you! Your ability to sympathise with other people is truly limitless.

Women, you see, are in denial about the cause of our problems. Fortunately, Ms. Hampson can be our role model in our collective quest for self-enlightenment. She has already discovered that men are the cause of all of her problems. And she accomplished this while looking GORGEOUS.

This is profoundly disappointing, because I think a column about life after divorce would be interesting. I'd like to read about someone who is struggling to balance her relief that it's all over with her sadness that things didn't work out, but feels guilty about that struggle. She might write about her shock at discovering that her kids try to play their parents off each other, and admit that she really LIKES shared custody, because she gets a few days to herself every week. Or maybe she thinks the logistics of sharing custody are so difficult that she might as well live in the same house with her ex; besides, they're sort of getting along again.

But of course, this is too much to ask of Ms. Hampson and the Paper of Record.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"I have something to tell you."

Reader-submitted question: I voted for you in the blog contest. Really, I did. I think your post is the best one. Really, I do. But now I am scared of you. Are you judging ME like that? I feel like I can never show you anything I write! Should I have used that exclamation mark? Wait, is it exclamation "mark" or exclamation "point"? Oh, man. Did I misspell "judging"? It looks like it might be wrong. And should the question mark go inside the quotation marks? Seriously, you are my FAVOURITE blogger.

First, thank you for voting. Everyone else: If you haven't been there yet, please go and vote. I am up for Best Post in the second round of voting. If you voted in the first round, you need to vote again. (Exception: Please do not cheat. If you go over there and get a screen that says you've already voted, please don't try to vote again.) I really do need your help. There are three other fabulous NWT writers in the running for Best Post and Best Blog, so even if you don't want to vote for me, please go over and check them out. The contest ends on Friday night.

Now, on to your question: I scared you?


Well, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you personally. I will admit that on the day I wrote that particular post, I almost had a nervous breakdown from the stress of reading Name of Paper Withheld's editorial. But I think you can understand why: I read a lot of lousy writing, but that was one of the worst things I've ever seen on the editorial page.

I hold professional writers to a higher standard. Regular readers know that I expect writers to be able to write, and I expect journalists to do journalism. Within those general guidelines, I am pretty liberal.

I am not a grammar terrorist: I do not target civilians for political gain. So no, you don't have to be worried. I am judging you, but not with the same level of venom. We can still be friends.