Monday, April 29, 2013
This headline mawkish enough for you?
Hope so; we’re talkin’ country music.
Specifically, George Jones, who has died at 81, posthumously pissing off people who died of cirrhosis at 41, 51, 61 or 71.
Many obituaries have cited He Stopped Loving Her Today as Possum’s greatest hit, and no doubt that song has propelled many a tear into many a beer.
But it lacks an essential element of the Great Country Song: Self-pity.
Check out George pitying himself half a century ago in She Thinks I Still Care.
In Friday’s Winnipeg concert, Leonard Cohen called George one of the greatest country singers.
Then he sang Choices, one of George’s many apologies for himself.
You remember Choices? That’s the ditty where George rhymes “born” and “wrong.”
Now that’s country.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Common sense has broken out at the Winnipeg Free Press, and that’s news.
The largest news medium in our part of Canada is about to sign a five-year collective agreement with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
The paper’s employees, about 450 “inside workers” including journalists and about the same number of part-time carriers, ratified the agreement on the weekend.
This is the first time the two sides have agreed on a new contact before the current one expires.
Gone are the traditional short-sightedness and pig-headedness exhibited by both sides.
Replacing them are more realistic views of the challenges facing mainstream news media as they strive to survive and even succeed in the Wild West of online information.
Disclosure: I negotiated for the Free Press as a minion of the extremely short-sighted and pig-headed Thomson Newspapers of late memory, against this same union in its own more short-sighted and pig-headed days.
This new agreement should lift the doom-and-gloom atmosphere on Mountain Avenue – and on McDermot Avenue at the News Café.
Journalists in particular, relatively well paid as they are, dreaded a repetition of the 16-day picket line in 2008.
Strikes and lockouts at newspapers these days always end badly: fewer jobs, often less pay, and lower sales and profits for the companies.
At the Free Press there will be no immediate pay raise for current employees, and only a three per cent increase over the contract.
But I think some of the biggest news is that the union has backed down on one of its traditional principles and accepted a two-tier pay system.
Staff hired after July 1 will receive 19 per cent less in salaries, CEP says.
Not great news, but not that bad, either.
As an instructor who helps turn out new journalists each year in Winnipeg, I expect the Free Press now will be able to hire more of them.
Now that this deal is done, here’s a debating point: Which is in more trouble, the maligned newspaper business or the unions that have traditionally represented its employees?
You might not have heard much about it but the CEP, losing members across the country, is merging with the once-mighty Canadian Auto Workers, mired in the same involuntary downsizing.
What kind of union will be around in five years to negotiate the next contract at the Free Press?
Friday, February 22, 2013
South Africa’s legal system is doing an admirable job of demonstrating how it does justice.
Magistrate Desmond Nair’s decision today granting bail to Oscar Pistorius on a charge of murdering his girlfriend was broadcast live on audio around the world.
Even better, cameras in the courtroom showed video and still pictures of the accused and the spectators.
Canada, unfortunately, still forbids such openness.
Not only are journalists here banned from reporting the prosecution and defence arguments in most bail proceedings, but cameras are verboten in courtrooms.
The South African experience refutes several arguments against cameras in the courts.
First, even in this sensational, emotional case that fascinated people around the world, broadcasting and recording the proceedings did not pervert the course of justice.
So forget the O.J. Simpson trial, where American lawyers who fancied themselves entertainers played to the cameras.
Second, broadcasting did not mean that sensational segments pushed out reasoned argument. In fact, the live broadcast forced us to listen to the magistrate’s entire two-hour reasoning process.
As Canadian lawyer Bob Sokalski and other media-law practitioners argue in court and outside it, most citizens cannot attend legal proceedings. They rely on journalists to tell them what is going on. Video and audio recording and broadcasting are essential tools of journalists.
You may have already heard me make this argument.
Now South Africa has provided an example of not only how cameras in the courts could work, but how they actually do work.
Friday, January 25, 2013
The slaying of a Saskatoon nurse 50 years ago haunts Sharon Butala.
The Saskatchewan writer, now living in Calgary, has published 16 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as essays and articles, poetry and plays. A new special issue of Prairie Fire magazine focuses on all things Butala.
“I can die happy now,” she joked to Red River College Creative Communications students Thursday, though assuring them that, at 72, she is not planning to do so any time soon.
But she really wanted to talk about the 1962 death of Alexandra Wiwcharuk.
In 2009 Butala published a highly readable book, The Girl in Saskatoon, investigating the case and criticizing the persistent and inexplicable reluctance of justice authorities to reopen it.
Becoming an investigative reporter was terrifying, Butala said.
She was not prepared for the official hostility to her work, and she came to doubt whether the people to whom she sent her questions even received them.
“Pretty soon you start getting paranoid.”
Someone even tapped her home phone, she said.
When a student asked who killed Wiwcharuk, Butala responded, “I wouldn’t dare to say.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a strong suspicion.
Butala’s frustration extends to the treatment of her book by HarperCollins, its Toronto publisher.
The company’s choice of title, based on a song Johnny Cash wrote for and sang to Wiwcharuk when she won a radio station contest, limited the book to regional sales, she believes.
Clearly, Wiwcharuk’s relatives and friends deserve answers to the questions Butala raises.
And perhaps the book deserves reissue under a title with wider appeal.
Butala’s original suggestion?
The Sweetest Face on Earth.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Hockey journalists kept their jobs.Why?
There was no news for them to report.
Sure, there were rumour and speculation aplenty – retailed by those journalists.
This column by BryanCurtis captures the absurdity of trying to cover the lockout beat.
News media proprietors missed a money-saving bet by leaving these writers on the payroll.
OK, keep them working through the first weekend of the lockout and bring them back a week before games resume. That’s still big bucks in savings.
After I offered this modest proposal in class the other day, a student blogged about his horror at my cruelty.
Hey, it’s not personal.
Here, as in so many of life’s endeavours, we can learn from The Godfather.
Mobster Tessio, led away to be killed for trying to arrange a similar fate for Michael Corleone, pleads, “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked ’im.”
Tom Hagen, the ultimate professional, responds, “He understands that.”
I hope that student understands.
My hockey-journalist friends, too.
Quotation from The Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay With Commentary on Every Scene, Interviews, and Little-Known Facts by Jenny M. Jones ©2007 Paramount Pictures.
Friday, January 4, 2013
To mark the start of a new semester, here is a post-apocalyptic (Mayan and zombie) list of seven unsuccessful student strategies I have observed.
Owing to a hangover of peace and goodwill, I have changed the title of this post from my first draft, which was How to Piss Off Your Instructor.
1. Email your instructor saying you are sick and cannot attend class. When the instructor sees you on campus 45 minutes later, tell her you are “returning equipment.” Do not attend her classes that day.
2. Arrive late for class. When the instructor asks why, say you fell asleep.
3. Arrive late for class and talk to a classmate, disrupting all those who showed up on time.
4. Miss the first class of the semester. In the second class, tell the instructor, “I’m here now for good.” Then miss two more classes.
5. Write an article in the student newspaper complaining that the college is trying to destroy your family by requiring students to meet assigned deadlines and attend classes on time.
6. Tell your instructor you were late for class because your alarm clock didn’t work.
7. Tell your instructor you missed yesterday’s class because “I had to clean my aquarium.”
Thursday, December 6, 2012
In 1994 Bruce Douglas Stewner killed his wife Kelly Lynn Stewner.
He stabbed her repeatedly at the busy entrance to Assiniboine Park, which generations of Winnipeggers have cherished as a respite from the heat and crush of the city.
In 1997 Catherine Hunter published Rush Hour, a poem about this evil act, in her collection Latent Heat (Signature Editions).
this is the corner where the husband hunted down
his wife through the rush-hour traffic
she ran between the cars
and as she was running, her terror
beating through the city
like an awful drum, he cut her
and cut her and still
she continued to run
On Dec. 6, 2012 – the 23rd anniversary of the killing of 14 women in Montreal – the Winnipeg Free Press reports that Bruce Douglas Stewner is out on early release from his sentence for second-degree murder.
Somehow, while imprisoned, he has managed to marry another woman.
As reported by Mike McIntyre of the Free Press, the Parole Board of Canada tells Stewner, “You have a history of failed intimate relationships with women that often featured spousal violence.”
Citing a 2010 psychological report, the board says, “Your risk to reoffend violently was assessed as moderate and your risk to reoffend in the context of an intimate relationship was assessed as high.”
Here’s a third way of looking at our Mr. Stewner: