Monday, October 29, 2012

Small town papers vs large dailies

While working with the Portage Daily Graphic in the summer, I had to unfortunately cover two deaths - both car accidents on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The first was east of Portage in early July. A truck had rear ended a car that was turning off the highway and the crash killed the female passenger. Being late on a Friday, I was the only one in the office, so I had to cover the crash.

So many emotions were running through my body when I arrived at the scene to take photos of the wrecked metal strewed across the highway and into the ditch. The passengers and drivers were taken from the scene already.

When talking to people who witnessed the crash, they would all say, "I can't imagine how the family feels."

Even worse are the cases where families find out about deaths by media - instead of police.

This leads to the question: Should media sources rush to get the names of deceased out to the public? Now, I'm not talking about murders or crimes such as that.

In the cases of car accidents, hit and runs and other incidents of that nature, I don't feel it is important to have the names released to the public.

But in the current day of media, where every news source wants to be first to the punch, I feel they disregard the feelings of families just to break a story first.

In Portage, we wouldn't release the names until we felt enough time would have passed and family members of the deceased would have been notified.

Because Portage was a such a small tight-knit community, everyone knew everyone, and that made the subject a little more touchier than a death in Winnipeg for example.

I'm not sure how other newsrooms work, but I think for Portage, it was the right choice.

Winnipeg is a much different market. As sad as it is to say, people are used to murders here in the city and unlike Portage, communities are not as close.

This is why Winnipeg papers have a much different feel than smaller towns. While Portage certainly doesn't shy away from harder stories, there is a focus on feel good stories.

And that is something that isn't seen much in the Free Press or Sun.

As a writer, I always hated covering the fluff stories. I wanted to break a drug bust or some harder breaking news. But when that hard news rolled around, it didn't do anything for me.

It's not that I didn't want to beat Portage Online (the Portage rivals) to the crash scene, or the large fire; it was that I realized that I would rather be covering a feel good story than a death or anything of that nature.

Either way, it's interesting to compare rural papers to the big cities. The difference in stories is just mind-blowing. With the horrible stories you see day-after-day, it's nice to open a paper and see a strong community doing great things.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lance Armstrong

Last month in The Projector, I wrote a column defending Lance Armstrong and the doping allegations that he was facing from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

While I did say it was likely he doped, I couldn't say he did until the USADA provided the necessary evidence.

Well, the USADA released hundreds of pages of Armstrong's former teammates saying he doped on multiple occasions. Now the International Cycling Union (UCI) has stripped Armstrong from his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from the sport.

I can't say much other than it's a shame that Armstrong doped. It will be interesting to see who is awarded with those seven vacant titles - especially considering most cyclists during that period doped anyways.

The most concerning question is how can a single man cheat the system so easily. While the media can and will continue to focus on Armstrong, I find it disturbing that he could cheat hundreds of drug tests - and not get caught - until now.

Cycling needs a complete shake up, much like Major League Baseball did in the mid-2000s. I don't want to say the sport is tarnished, but when the greatest cyclist is outed in this way, it doesn't look good.

That would be the equivalent of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, or Jerry Rice being removed from their respective positions as greatest in their sport.

It will be interesting to see if the public turns on Armstrong. On one hand, he is a cheat. But this is also a man that has raised over $500-million towards cancer research.

There will be a split among people. Those who can overlook his cheating because of his charity and those who have the pitchforks out and are ready to bring him down.

I'm split. I admire his charity work, but the kid inside me is just so disappointed with the news that he cheated. I remember watching every Tour de France that Armstrong participated in and he was someone I looked up to. He had character, he had guts and he was a good person. It's just disappointing that someone you looked up to turned out to be a cheat.

As for my original column in The Projector, I wouldn't say I was wrong, but I did write too much with my heart.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Thousand Farewells

Two week ago, I had the pleasure of reading Nahlah Ayed's book, A Thousand Farewells.

While I did enjoy the book as a whole, there are sections that are much stronger than others.

I feel the first half of the book was much stronger than the second half. Ayed does a superb job of grabbing the readers attention at the beginning of the book.

Her story of leaving Winnipeg with her family, only to return to a refugee camp in Jordan is brilliant. It brings many questions to the readers mind like, "Why would her family do this?" and "What was it like to move from a nice apartment in Winnipeg to the slums across the world?"

She answers all of these questions and more.

Her journalistic experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq are almost unbelievable. I can not imagine what the guts you had to have to be apart of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.

It would be so hard to think about doing your job, all while living in a nation where anything can and did happen. When thinking about all the journalists who were kidnapped, attacked and killed throughout the past 10 years, it was remarkable that Ayed could spend so many years in countries of chaos.

I do think that when she gets to Lebanon, the book somewhat loses its touch. It's not that it isn't as good, I just don't find it as exciting as the first half. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Journalists can learn a lot from this book, but nothing more than the fact that people make stories. It's as simple as that.

Without people, there are no emotions that the reader can latch on to. The reader needs to have an emotional connection with a story, otherwise it won't mean anything to them.

Ayed does a fantastic job of showing us that through her wonderful storytelling.

Although the book does focus on her life, the integration of the everyday people she meets and works with helps bring a nice focus to her story without making it look like it's all about her.

A Thousand Farewell reminds me of Band of Brothers in that regard. From the outside, they don't seem similar. But each book does a superb job of tackling a larger conflicts (Afghan/Iraq War and the Second World War) and bringing in the human side, which brings out such strong emotions.

Reading the book effected me in a real way. I think television has desensitized a lot of people regarding Middle Eastern issues and none is more evident then when a headline reads "Forty or fifty dead after suicide attack in Baghdad."

After seeing those headlines day-after-day, year-after-year, you become used to it. But the fact remains that those were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters whose lives were taken much too soon.

I think the perception has to do with those people not being Canadian, so no one takes it to heart. After reading Ayed's book, my perception has changed drastically.

So head to your nearest bookstore and pick up Nahlah Ayed's A Thousand Farewells. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Portage Friendship Centre: Bringing positive change to the community

There’s an organization in Portage la Prairie that’s making a difference for everyone in the community.

During my three and half months in Portage, I was introduced to a great community organization that is making an impact throughout the town.

The Portage Friendship Centre (PFC) not only focuses on Aboriginal issues in the Portage and Central Plains area, but they regularly team up with other local foundations to help make the area a better place for everyone.

They have a large staff dedicated to improving the lives of people who are less fortunate. And every program that the PFC offers is completely free to those who want to register.

Portage la Prairie's Aboriginal Day. Credit to

Shirley Bernard, executive director for the PFC, said the organization offers many services to Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in Portage.

“We’re a status blind organization,” she said. “We offer a variety of programs ranging from mentorship to employment advancement.”

One of their great programs is the Parent/Child Program. It offers children age’s six to twelve a chance to take part in educational activities that enhances their awareness about their own culture.

Parents are encouraged to take part in this program with their children, as it is a great tool to create a bond.

“The parent/child program is one of the programs I admire the most,” said Bernard. “It’s great to see children bringing their parents out for activities.”

Jeanna Campbell runs the program with a lot of the activities taking place at the Eagles Fire Youth Centre in Portage. The PFC staff incorporates community Elders’ to introduce a positive lifestyle to the children who go there.

Bernard said that her love of the community and people in it makes her job special.

“It makes me feel good when we can help anyone in the community,” she said. “We have an excellent staff that cares about Portage and we feel good about what we do here everyday.”

Another successful program has been the Partners for Careers program.

“We want to help people in the community acquire skills that will help them get employed,” said Bernard. “One of the aspects we target is teaching them good interview skills.”

The program also helps with resume building, as many of the people who take part will be able to work with the PFC is some fashion.

There is rarely a time during the year when the PFC won’t be holding some event or program.

This past week, the PFC held their annual Prayer Walk. The walk is to remember the missing and murdered Aboriginal women not only in Manitoba, but also across Canada.

“We had a very good turnout this year,” said Bernard. “Even though the weather wasn’t nice, we had a lot of people come out and walk with us.”

PFC holding their annual Prayer Walk on Oct 4. Photo by Robin Dudgeon/Portage Daily Graphic

With various community partnerships planned for the upcoming months, the PFC will continue to be a staple in the Portage community.

"We want to leave a positive mark on the community," said Bernard. "And we definitely encourage others to do the same."

To learn more about the PFC, what they offer and how you can get involved with them, you can visit their official website.

Monday, October 1, 2012

NHL Lockout

The NHL has been locked out for just over two weeks and broadcast journalism has taken a significant hit - especially on TSN and CBC.

As a big hockey and TSN/CBC fan, I can relate to the difficulties of having a lockout and not having much news to report - but, I cannot stand the same repetitive segments week after week.

I realize this will continue as the lockout is still young and sadly, there is no end in sight.

This has led to TSN having movie nights on Tuesdays and CBC will likely do the same Saturday movie nights as they did in 2004.

Yes, TSN has the CFL, but with no disrespect intended, the station lives off hockey. That is even more apparent with CBC.

Looking past the players and owners, television stations will have to reinvent themselves during these next few (well, hopefully few) months.

Will they be able to attain the same ratings? It's highly unlikely, but with that being said, some stations may take a hit that's too hard to come back from.

In this case, I think The Score is at a big disadvantage. With Sportsnet airing NFL, MLB and much more, their audience should stay. TSN will take a larger hit, but their reruns of major hockey games will keep some of "us" around - for now anyways.

Sadly, The Score should be on its way out. Will it? Well, that's up to the big men at Rogers.

After losing Cabbie, The Score Tonight and Hardcore Hockey Talk, the station has been going downhill. They have the best online presence, but sadly for them, it doesn't make up for everything they lack - which is good programming.

I am looking forward to seeing the changes and adaptions made by sports stations over the next three to four months - especially if the lockout lasts a full season.