Thursday, December 6, 2012

Two ways of looking at a murderer

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:


Monday, December 3, 2012

Words, words, words

“Such things are easily said, since words themselves have no shame and are never surprised.”

 Ancient Light, John Banville

Friday, November 23, 2012


1. Black Friday lineups

2. Ikea traffic jams

3. Hot dog crust stuffed pizza or bacon sundae?

4. Big Gulp or Red Bull?

5. “I used to dig Picasso/ Then the big Tech giant came along/ And turned him into wallpaper.” Neil Young, Driftin’ Back.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Winnipeg Metro: Small, with big plans

Two weeks ago Paul Samyn, editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, told Creative Communications students, “Don’t ask me where the newsroom is going to be in 12 months.”

His caution is probably commendable, given that the business in which he has been newly promoted is going through dramatic changes.

Contrast it, though, with the confident one-word assertion today to those same students by Elisha Dacey, editor of Winnipeg Metro.

When I asked what her paper will be like in a year, she said, “Bigger.”

Dacey hopes to increase her full-time reporting staff by 50 per cent next year.

OK, that means growing to three reporters from two.

But it’s still growth, a feature unfortunately absent from many news media business plans these days.

Dacey and Alison Zulyniak, the paper’s advertising sales manager, gave an upbeat presentation about Winnipeg’s year-and-a-half-old newspaper.

Metro Canada, of which Winnipeg Metro is a part, is 90 per cent owned by Torstar Corp., the parent company of the Toronto Star. Stockholm-based Metro International, which originated the international chain, owns 10 per cent.

Key to the success of the Metro papers, in addition to free distribution of the print edition, is small, low-cost staff, lots of short stories, and bright pictures and ads, all designed to appeal to free-spending but time-short 18- to 34-year-olds.

Oh, and the editor writes a ton of stories and takes pictures. “This is the best job I’ve literally ever had,” Dacey said.

Next year we’ll invite her and her colleague Zulyniak back to tell us how much bigger Winnipeg Metro has become.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Je me souviens: Corruption in Quebec

The Charbonneau inquiry into political corruption in La Belle Province is creating terrific theatre.

Day after day it hears testimony about payoffs to politicians and bureaucrats for construction contracts.

Now the mayor of Montreal is taking a few days off after the inquiry heard testimony that he ignored illegal fundraising in his political party.

Infuriating? Perhaps, but not surprising.

Corruption in Quebec has long been an open secret.

You can read a riveting account of this rotten state of affairs in Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada’s Sicilian Clan by journalists André Cedilot and André Noel.

You can also read my 2011 review of the book in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Technology in education

Red River College requires its instructors to take the10-course Certificate in Adult Education.

The course I am taking for  four hours each Thursday night is Introduction to Technology in Education.

It showers us with new technology and invites us to consider which technology could help our students and us.

We reflect on our use of technology in teaching.

Rather than being an early adopter of new technology, I watch my colleagues' adventures on the leading edge or way out on the bleeding edge (hello, Kenton Larsen). I prefer to husband my technology-learning resources, because I have seen too many world-beating, must-have technologies flame out in a few months.

The technology I like makes my teaching more effective or my life more enjoyable.

So I blog and I use Twitter. I use an iPod Touch to check email and Twitter, when I am in range of the college's wifi.

I have a cell phone -- and a land line.

But I don't feel the need to walk down the street, buds in my ears, listening to music or talking to someone.

I already have enough music in my head.

ATriple-E Winnipeg Free Press

E-journalism, enterprise and engagement will form the core of the Winnipeg Free Press, its new editor said today.

Paul Samyn, who took over the top job in September, told Red River College Creative Communications students that the paper is changing the structure of its newsroom to reflect how its readers live.

One consequence is that, although he knows what he wants the paper to be like in six months, “don’t ask me where the newsroom is going to be in 12 months.”

The three E’s? No, this is not the Triple- E Senate – elected, effective and equal – of 1980s Canadian constitutional debates. (What happened to that, anyway? Our Senate is still none of those things.)

E-journalism is online content, more of it with more diversity in material and style, content that people will pay for.

Enterprise: “stuff that people can’t get anywhere else.” Samyn cited today’s Free Press/ Probe Research poll on attitudes to Manitoba politicians. He also mentioned Gordon Sinclair Jr.’s column and the weekly entertainment and listings planned for the broadsheet replacement for Uptown starting next Thursday.

Engagement? That includes events at the Free Press News Café such as a public invitation to meet and chat with Olympic soccer bronze medalist Desiree Scott.

And those recent layoffs of journalists, many of whom had preceded Samyn’s audience as RRC students: the “layoff situation,” in Samyn’s words?

“It forced us to re-examine everything we would do and dragged us into changes we wouldn’t have made before.”

Now Samyn, along with everyone else in Canadian journalism, is watching The Globe and Mail’s paywall experiment that started this week, hoping for a key to unlock the vault of online revenue, the stuff that business proprietors’ dreams are made of.

All this is consistent with much of the commentary at a recent Canadian Journalism Foundation session that Sylvia Stead, the Globe’s public editor, described as “a thought-provoking and positive night for journalists.”

Today Samyn was optimistic about students’ prospects in journalism. Multimedia skills are key, of course – far from the “keyboarding” that he studied in CreComm before graduating in 1988 and landing a job on the Free Press as a business writer.

So what did the students think today?

They asked good questions politely.

One asked how they are supposed to choose a career path if Samyn can’t see a year ahead. He responded that optimism; multiple-platform skills and persistence are the key to success in journalism.

I certainly hope so. That’s what we teach.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Don't like the rain and snow today in Southern Manitoba?

Forget them! Live in the past!

I took this photo last Thursday evening, Sept. 27, at the Notre Dame campus of Red River College in Winnipeg.

It was part of an assignment for the Introduction to Technology in Education course I am taking for the Certificate in Adult Education.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rather outspoken (with help)

Let’s pause for a moment.
We have been struggling to understand the actions of newspaper owners who fire their youngest, most tech-savvy employees while maintaining their costly distribution networks and their expensive presses.
Let’s put that fruitless quest on hold.
Let’s think instead about the aging faces of another declining news medium: network television news – specifically, one of the old lions of U.S. television, a tribe on the verge of extinction.
Dan Rather is speaking to us again.
A couple of weeks ago we left Rather, the formerly famous face of CBS News, in the fairly gentle hands of his predecessor Walter Cronkite.
Now we can assess Rather in his own words, or perhaps in the words of his literary collaborators.
The title page of Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News names the author as Dan Rather with Digby Diehl. The publisher describes Diehl as “one of the most trusted and successful literary collaborators in America.”
Rather takes a step farther in his acknowledgments, crediting Digby and Kay Diehl. “This man-and-wife team were indispensable in helping me get this book down on paper and ready for publishing.”
There’s nothing wrong with collaboration on a book. But perhaps these writers could have involved a copy editor in the process.
The students in my Editing Print and Online Media class spotted three typos in one nine-line passage.
And the usual practice when borrowing a vivid phrase is to credit the author. Recalling meeting the woman who became his wife, Rather says, “She also had a figure that would make a bishop kick out a stained-glass window.” Raymond Chandler wrote that first, I think.
Rather opens the book on a bitter note, reporting his feelings in 2006 after being squeezed out of CBS News, where he had spent his career reporting and anchoring.
“But hey, I said to myself, this is the big time; you’ve been privileged to play the game at the top for a long while. These are the major leagues: Envy, cowardice and betrayal are part of life. Stuff happens, and people will always surprise you; take it for what you can learn from it and take it like a man, like a pro.”
CBS and Rather parted ways very publicly “because I reported a true story,” the newsman asserts. That was “President George W. Bush’s dereliction of duty during Vietnam.”
The story may have been true, but Rather’s rush to get it on the air and the network’s refusal to deal calmly and rationally with criticisms after the broadcast overwhelmed the truth of the report.
Rather blames the corporate owners of CBS for caving in to pressure from the U.S. government and right-wing propagandists.
In our conspiracy-obsessed era, that argument just might fly.
Now 80, Rather professes himself happy and busy reporting for Dan Rather Reports on
Coming soon: the memoirs of a Canadian television news icon: The Kind of Life It’s Been by Lloyd Robertson of CTV News.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The way ahead for journalism

In the tumult and reinvention of journalism, there are moments when the way ahead becomes clearer.
One of those moments occurred Tuesday.
Kris Doubledee, a Winnipeg Transit driver, stopped his bus during the morning rush hour, got off and gave his shoes to a barefoot man on the street.
Denise Campbell, a passenger on the bus, emailed her work colleagues about this striking act of generosity.
One of those colleagues was Noah Erenberg, convener of the Community News Commons, a citizen journalism site.
He agreed with Campbell that this was a wonderful story about our community. Erenberg suggested a couple of editing changes and posted the story for the world to read.
Simply by telling her story Campbell became a citizen journalist.
Almost instantly, mainstream journalists phoned and emailed Campbell. Few of them credited the news commons in their reports.
Then, a couple of hours later, the Winnipeg Free Press laid off seven reporters and editors.
They were the youngest people in its roughly 100-person newsroom, the most energetic, the most engaged in social media.
They were also the most recently hired, and so they lost their well-paying jobs under the ironclad last-in, first-out rule in the collective agreement between the company and the union.
The Free Press newsroom just got older and less new-media-savvy.
It hurts to write this, because I have friends who remain in that newsroom who will have to work harder to fill the spaces between the dwindling ads.
I also have friends among the people who were dumped.
Five of those seven are graduates of the Creative Communications program at Red River College, where I teach journalism.
It hurts as well because the Free Press fired me, too.
Sixteen years later I remember how that felt, although I didn’t express my feelings as publicly or nearly as eloquently as Melissa Martin is doing.
None of this is to blame the current Free Press managers.
As the human resources message-bearer told the departing journalists, it’s not personal.
Nor is the newspaper completely stuck in the past. It is one of the primary partners of the Community News Commons, along with the Winnipeg Public Library and Red River College.
The Free Press also deserves credit for paying its reporters to cover City Hall, the courts, the legislature and other news sources, seldom receiving credit from people who reuse its information on Twitter.
But something became a lot clearer on Tuesday.
A modest citizen-journalism site broke a story that resonated widely, using simple media tools.
A big newspaper dumped its people who were the best motivated and equipped to use those tools.
Bottom line?
The work of some of my students will continue to appear in the Free Press. Mine too, I hope.
But we’ll be on the Community News Commons as well.
So will a lot of other citizens who see it as the way ahead for journalism.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Slutty hippies and other bloggers

The Metro, Winnipeg’s free daily newspaper, is featuring two Creative Communications students’ blogs each week.

The paper, part of a large international publishing company, wants to showcase fresh young voices. Student bloggers get a new outlet they can highlight on their resumes and work portfolios.

Elisha Dacey, the newspaper’s editor, runs the newsroom, writes and edits stories, takes pictures and posts all this online. Oh yeah, she also writes a blog. And that’s just her professional life.

Here are her requirements for Red River Rants:

The RRC blog on Metro would be updated twice weekly, probably Tuesday and Friday. The instructors would pick the best two from recent student blogs. The definition of "best" will be left up to the instructors.
The blog can be about any LOCAL topic. It can be serious or funny or informative or any combination thereof. It can be about something that affects the blogger personally or an opinion piece on something happening in Winnipeg. A poem. A story. A Haiku. Whatever.

For this semester I'm choosing the blog posts.

The first one I selected was Be polite, you slutty hippie by Larissa Peck. It’s a clearly written personal story about bicycle safety, a topic a lot of Winnipeggers are talking about.

Besides, I’m a sucker for a grabby headline.

The second was Chalk 4 Peace by Erika Miller, a story of personal discovery, with a nice range of photos.

Peck and Miller are first-year students.

By Monday each week I will look at all new blog posts written by first- and second-year students and select two for publication on the Metro site.

Looking for blog-writing tips? Check out PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart’s blog.

And keep up (if you can) with CreComm’s most prolific blogger, Ad instructor Kenton Larsen.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Twitter? What Twitter?

When it comes to Canadian election strategy, Twitter is nowhere – at least in the Sept. 4 Fort Whyte byelection for the Manitoba legislature.

By the time the polls closed, the four candidates with Twitter accounts had tweeted a total of 61 times.

Make that three candidates. The Twitter account of the winner, Progressive Conservative Brian Pallister, has been inactive since July 9.

New Democrat Brandy Schmidt, who finished a distant third, led all tweeters with 43 entries.

Second-place Liberal Bob Axworthy tweeted seven times.

Donnie Benham of the Greens tweeted 11 times on his way to fourth place.

Legal difficulties prevented the fifth candidate, an independent, from using online resources.

My journalism students covering the contest tweeted more often that that at #fortwhytecc in the 90 minutes after the polls closed. But that was their assignment.

Yes, this was a byelection, held in the closing days of summer – two strikes against voter interest.

But you might think the candidates, while sweating their way through traditional canvassing at all those closed doors, would try to add a little social media to their campaign mix.

Perhaps it’s not that simple. Twitter looks breezy, but using it effectively takes time.

After I tweeted about how infrequently the candidates were tweeting, Benham tweeted in reply on Sept. 1:

“I'm trying Dunk! But some of us have day jobs. :-P”

I think the Greens could have benefited from a dose of social media. Benham proposed the only new idea of the campaign: members of the legislature who resign before their term expires should pay back the government part of their pensions.

Such a law would have caught Pallister and Hugh McFadyen, the former MLA for the area, who resigned in the middle of previous terms.

That kind of idea should appeal to new, young voters, who are likely to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Hey, Fort Whyte winner and losers: There’s no need to wait a couple of years for the next election to get tweeting.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Out of this world

One of the powers that makes humans unique among species on Earth is our ability to leave it and return.
The human who epitomized that super-power was Neil Armstrong, who has died at 82.
Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, was the first man to walk on the moon.
On July 20, 1969, he told us, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When I look at the moon, I think of Neil Armstrong.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Telling stories

Some of my summer reading has involved journalistic topics. So call me predictable.
Yours In Truth: A Personal Portraitof Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman performs a difficult task well: portraying the larger-than-life executive editor of the Washington Post, who was memorably played by Jason Robards in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men.
Bradlee is a hero to many journalists for his role in the newspaper’s unveiling of the Watergate scandal, which forced U.S. President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974.
Highlights of this warts-and-all bio are the photos of brief, punchy letters and memos from Bradlee to friends and foes. The title comes from one of those.
Himmelman claims he wanted to call the book “Dear Asshole,” from another Bradlee letter.
Yours In Truth also contains a vivid portrayal of Katharine Graham, Bradlee’s boss and one of strongest female characters in American journalism.
The news hook in the book is Bradlee’s comment that “there’s a residual fear in my soul” that some of the paper’s references to Deep Throat, its source, were not completely true.
 But you don’t need to know anything about Watergate to enjoy this fast-paced, entertaining read.
Somewhat more ponderous is Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley, a doorstopper at 819 pages.
It’s an anecdote-stuffed examination of the life of Walter Cronkite, perhaps the last of the old-time, authoritative television news anchors. Cronkite defined avuncular on CBS News, emphasizing American and international politics and space exploration.
He followed a traditional career in journalism, from newspapers to a wire service to television, emphasizing fact-checking and seeing things for himself.
From the Second World War to the moon landing and political assassinations, Cronkite delivered the nightly final word on “the news” into the 1980s.
There won’t be any more Cronkites. Today’s instant information and multimedia universe leave no room for final words.
Cronkite’s nemesis was Dan Rather, a brash Texan and CBS co-worker who was apparently a little less scrupulous about fact-checking.
His memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, with Digby Diehl, is on my fall reading list.
For fun reading I highly recommend The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee, a hilarious satirical novel set in Britain in 1997, at the dawn of the Internet.
Newspaper hacks sense something is changing in their competitive but tightly knit world. But as they swill their nightly drinks at the bar while plotting their quasi-legal exploits, they scorn the new technology.
There’s a shadow of Rupert Murdoch here: the protagonist steals a fistful of unopened letters addressed to an interview subject, and then reflects that lifting more letters would have made her appear more professional to her bosses.
Speaking of the Dirty Digger, Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman eviscerates Murdoch.
Watson, a U.K. member of Parliament, was one of the many targets of unsavoury investigations by Murdoch journalists. In a way, the book is a continuation of Watson’s aggressive grilling of Rupert Murdoch and his son James at a parliamentary hearing that revealed astonishing details of phone hacking and bribery by Murdochs’ journalists, and a massive international cover-up by their executives.
Hickman, a British journalist, steers this account more in the direction of impartiality.
Several of the characters in this book have been charged with criminal offences, and they may well be headed to prison, following the tracks of Conrad Black, a former Canadian.
That one-time press baron has released a “fully updated” edition of A Matter of Principle, his version of his losing battle with the United States legal system. It was a victory, not a defeat, Black insists.
The updating consists mainly of 16 pages detailing the end of his 42-month sentence in Florida prisons for fraud and obstruction of justice.
Black reports that his last day in custody “began in a foreign, tropical prison cell with the ear-shattering pre-dawn wailings of an ostensibly female African-American correctional officer.”
There is also a new four-page attack on Murdoch. No honour among pirates, apparently.
A Matter of Principle and The Spoiler probably will send you to the dictionary a few times: a delightful bonus.

Monday, May 28, 2012

University or college? Try both

A Winnipeg Free Press article yesterday has sparked a vigorous debate.

Got the degree … Now what? by Sarah Petz features five graduates from Winnipeg’s three universities and one from Red River College.  Check out the comments section under the story.

The burden of Petz’s piece is that many university graduates are learning that their education does not translate into an immediate job.

I didn’t think that was news, but I guess it is, at least once a year at convocation season.

On the other hand, Pamela Wankling, the RRC grad– from the Creative Communications program, in which I teach journalism – is already working in her field of public relations.

That’s not news, either. Thirty-five of the approximately 70 CreComm students who will receive their diplomas next week (that’s half of them, or 50 per cent, for the math-challenged) are already working in their fields. Many are employed in Manitoba, while others have landed jobs in Ontario and Alberta.

Based on the market demand, instructors are confident that many of these students’ fellow grads will be working in their fields soon.

I can’t resist an aside. To those people who have been announcing that journalism is dead: Think again.

Graduating CreComm journalism majors are grabbing jobs in television, radio, newspapers and online, in traditional companies and in brand-new ones.

That means a college diploma is “better” or more valuable than a university degree, right?

Not really. They’re different creatures.

A university education encourages critical thinking and broadened interests. A college diploma builds job-specific skills. Together they make an ideal combination.

Want a job in journalism or in almost any other field? Get a university degree. Then come to college.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I’m an Ally for LGBTT*

This week I became an official ally of gay people.

With about two dozen colleagues from Red River College (all but three were women … hmmm) I spent a day with Brad Tyler-West, a healthy-sexuality educator from Winnipeg’s other RRC, the Rainbow Resource Centre.

Brad took us through a quick history of the oppression and liberation of gay people.

He provided definitions, including distinctions between gender, gender identity and gender expression.

So what on earth is LGBTT*? Well, it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and two-spirit people.

The asterisk denotes people elsewhere on the spectrum of sexual orientation. That means all of us.

Most compellingly, Brad laid out his history of growing up gay and repressed in Australia, then coming out in Winnipeg. He has a 20-year-old daughter (no, she is not adopted).

My colleagues and I made commitments to challenge homophobia. We promise to be safe persons and to provide safe spaces for people to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity issues.

To proclaim our orientation, we post rainbow Ally cards in our work spaces. On the first day of each of my courses I will explain this commitment to my students.

None of this is difficult for me. I am not converting to anything or from anything.

I have seen the barriers placed in the way of the gay men and lesbians in my family and among friends, and I want to help remove those barriers.

Besides, there is a strong connection to the gay community among Creative Communications students and graduates.

Just check the official Pride Winnipeg Festival Guide. The editor, Scott Carman, and all three listed contributors, Braden Alexander, Brenlee Coates and Chad Smith, are grads of our program.

The guide is packed with interesting photos, stories and ads, including a map of the world that highlights lesbian and gay rights.

Want to feel your skin crawl? Check out the five countries in red that mandate the death penalty for same-sex acts.

Or consider the good burghers of North Carolina, who have just approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Canada, of course, is a world leader in acceptance of gay rights.

Or so it seemed until a couple of weeks ago, when Raymond Taavel, a former chair of Gay Pride events in Halifax and an editor for Wayves magazine, was beaten to death by a man who used homophobic slurs, according to witnesses.

So we have a way to go.

But U.S. President Barack Obama declared his support today for gay marriage.

So it’s looking good for the Allies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Afghanistan? What’s that?

Heard anything from Afghanistan lately?

 If you follow Canadian news media, probably not much.

Canadian soldiers have ended their combat role in Afghanistan, but some are still there, pursuing the worthwhile goal of trying to help Afghans build a civil society that will survive after they leave.

Canadians need to hear more about what we are doing there. We need to understand what we have achieved in the decade in which 158 members of the Canadian Forces and four Canadian civilians have been killed.

There has been one recent piece of news: The father of Sgt. Marc Leger, one of our first soldiers killed there, now wonders whether his death means anything.

And Gwynne Dyer, one of our clearest-thinking columnists, told Canadians this week, “The Taliban is obviously winning the war in Afghanistan now.”

That’s a sobering conclusion, and one that Canadians need to discuss.

But while most news media are backing off, it’s heartening that journalists and the soldiers themselves are creating documentaries and publishing books about this most important story of our time.

Canadian Press reporter Murray Brewster has published The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan, a detailed, dramatic and thought-provoking account of his 15 months over several years on the ground.

Lt.-Col. Mike Vernon, a soldier and former CBC journalist, has released Desert Lions, a 60-minute documentary. Although the doc has received the approval of the Canadian Forces, it is not mere government propaganda. Its soldiers are real people with real frustrations and fears.

In addition, we are seeing more books written by the soldiers themselves. March Forth by Trevor Greene and Debbie Greene recounts the slow recovery of Trevor Greene, horribly injured in Afghanistan in 2006. On April 7 I reviewed it in the Winnipeg Free Press.

In 2002 we sent our soldiers to Afghanistan with noble rhetoric and, I think, noble intent. The results have been less than satisfactory.

Our news media need to keep exploring this story.

Monday, March 19, 2012

See no evil? Not on TV in court, anyway

Another judge has forbidden Canadians to watch what happens in our courts.

The Canadian Press reports today:

A Manitoba judge says allowing cameras to broadcast the sentencing of disgraced former hockey coach Graham James for sexual abuse would turn the highly charged case into a spectacle and could violate the sex offender's privacy.
Judge Catherine Carlson denied an application Monday by a media consortium to set up two live TV cameras in the Winnipeg courtroom where James will learn his fate Tuesday.
"This case is highly charged enough. It's not going to become a spectacle," Carlson said in her ruling.

A spectacle? I thought the courts were open to the public.

The problem for the public is that few of us can take time away from caring for children, working, studying, whatever occupies most of our days, to head down to the courthouse.

Media lawyer Bob Sokalski made this argument clearly, though not successfully.

Even if we can afford to attend court, the courtroom is likely to accommodate only a few spectators.

This is a perfect setting for live television coverage, particularly in a case of tremendous public interest such as this one.

It’s not as if television is some strange new medium.  It’s at least  85 years old; that's older than any judge now sitting in Manitoba (I hope).

Television was demonstrated in 1927; the opening of the New York World’s Fair was televised in 1939.

Courts, including many in Manitoba, routinely allow journalists to cover cases through much newer media such as Twitter.

In fact, this ruling barring a nearly-century-old medium was all over social media and news websites moments after it was delivered.

I generally support judges against criticism that they are out of touch with the public will. In my experience, judges are hard-working, honest and fair, concerned above all to be able to deliver clear reasons for their decisions.

So this is not a personal criticism of Judge Carlson. No doubt she has carefully considered all aspects of this question.

But surely the time has come for senior judges and the provincial and federal governments to say the public must be invited more clearly into the court system.

That means televising court proceedings.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Covering sports? Don’t uncover any news

From online media to old-fashioned television, radio and print, sports coverage besieges us.

So you’d think a story about a professional league revealing last week that players on one of its most prominent teams were paid to inflict game-ending injuries on their star opponents would be a big deal.


Sure, there has been a bit of coverage of bounty hunting in the United States National Football League. ESPN, for example, said:

New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach maintained a bounty pool of up to $50,000 the last three seasons to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, the NFL said Friday. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. The NFL said the pool amounts reached their height of $50,000 or more in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.

But sports reporters are spending much more energy covering hockey, curling and golf, and even baseball training camps, than on chasing the disgusting details of this headhunting.


Robert Lipsyte, in his highly readable 2011 memoir An Accidental Sportswriter, argues that journalists are simply too dependant on the people and teams they are supposed to cover.

Scribes learn early never to attack the sport that gives them work; you can trash most athletes, some officials and owners, a few rules and conventions, but systemic criticism is for “rippers” with other sources of income. (page 216)

And while I’m poking sports journalists, let me express my discomfort with publications and broadcasters that climb into bed with the teams they cover: “news media partner of Team X.”

Media that climb under the covers with teams in this way, hoping to amass advertising bucks, are no different from people who climb under the covers with others for money.

One bold exception to this harlotry is The New Yorker, from whose advertising sports enterprises are notably absent. Considering the NFL’s bounty admission, the magazine says today:

In any event, any business that evolves a workplace culture where dozens of people from top to bottom collectively lose sight of the difference between fair competition and corruption deserves to fail.

Sports may be the most over-covered human activity, but for my money it’s also the most under-covered.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Story Monday, Story Funday

Yesterday I asked the Creative Communications Journalism majors to propose stories in a traditional “story meeting,” then research and write them the same day.

Story Monday, in CreComm-speak.

I also assigned them to use Twitter in their research or writing, posting at least four tweets during the day.

The resulting topics ranged from curling to polar bears (Canadian, eh?) to senior citizen benefits and International Mother Language Day.

So how did the students use Twitter?

Some used it to seek interviews, successfully or not. Some reported their whereabouts during the day, GPS-like.

Some teased their stories. “Did you ever wonder how teams get seeded for the mens prov. curling champs? I'm finding out today, stay tuned for more,” tweeted Terryn Shiells.

As I followed the students’ Twitter feed I noticed several graduates of our program, now professional journalists, tweeting during their assignments.

As soon as I mentioned them online, I was deluged with “Me, too” tweets from other grads. Naturally, I had to retweet those messages.

Story Funday, student Emily Wessel called it.

The take-away? Work + social media = fun!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Heart of brightness

Since contact between Aboriginal peoples and Europeans, Canada’s story has been immigration.

Today the Winnipeg Free Press recognizes the diverse and fast-growing community of immigrants and refugees from Africa.

The Africa Edition: Our City, Our World contains dozens of stories and pictures – highlighted by Ruth Bonneville’s beautiful front-page portrait – of Africans in Manitoba and Manitobans in Africa.

It’s heartening to find these previously untold stories in the Free Press, and to see the newspaper emphasizing its competitive strengths against other news media.

Despite falling readership and advertising for their dead-trees editions, newspapers retain large pools of trained, experienced, well-paid journalists.

Rather than reporting only the daily grind of news – crime, press releases and sports – newspapers are uniquely positioned among for-profit news media to research and display major projects such as The Africa Edition.

Good on the Free Press for telling us the latest chapter of our Canadian story.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Obituary: Manitoba Press Council

The Manitoba organization that hears complaints against newspapers is dead because the papers refused to continue paying for it.

The Winnipeg Free Press, the council’s largest member and the chief architect of its demise, noted its passing.

Although the meagre five comments today on the paper’s website suggest that interest is limited, we should care that press councils are going out of fashion across Canada.

A quick online survey reveals signs of life only in the press councils of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Most Canadian press councils, including Manitoba’s, sprang up in the 1970s and 1980s, sponsored by newspapers desperate to demonstrate that they could police themselves (and maintain their high profits) without government interference.

The newspapers’ owners were outraged and terrified by recommendations from the Davey and Kent inquiries that the federal government impose some control over concentration of ownership.

Their ploy worked. The feds shrank from imposing the suggested regulations – and that’s probably a good thing.

Since then, not much has change in the world of press councils.

The standard model contains equal representation from newspapers and the public, with an independent chair.

Councils hear complaints about any content in a paper—advertising, news stories, pictures. They act as appeal boards in cases where someone is not satisfied with a newspaper’s response to an original complaint.

Member newspapers promise to publish every press council ruling about them.

Four years ago Don Sellar, a former Toronto Star’s ombud, lamented the decline of press councils.

More recently Brian Gabrial, director of the MA Journalism program at Concordia University, proposed remedies including broadening the mandate of press councils to include other news media and giving them a vital online presence.

His suggestions make a lot of sense – as long as governments do not sneak into the business of regulating news media content.

It’s not as if press councils have waged war against the newspapers.

The Manitoba body dealt with five cases in the last two years, John Cochrane, its chair, told me on Jan. 5.

That’s not a lot of activity. But the very existence of a press council imposes a discipline on member newspapers. If the papers don’t treat complaints seriously, they risk having them adjudicated in a more public forum, and being required to publish decisions that may criticize them.

Now the Winnipeg Free Press, the Brandon Sun and the Manitoba Community Newspapers Association owe their readers and advertisers an explanation of how they propose to replace the Manitoba Press Council.

If, on the other hand, those newspapers believe that their handling of complaints is always correct and never needs to be reviewed, they should say so – on their front pages.