Publication

For our last three weeks of our reporting classes, we made publications.  It was actually pretty awesome, really.  We picked a theme, found stories, edited each other’s work, took photographs and then put it all together into a news publication.  Here are the links to our publications, and I will include more specific links to just my stories in my published section.

Enjoy…

The Pulse – Week one (news)

The Pulse – Week two (health)

The Pulse – Week three (news)

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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Journalism Idol

We had to do this very unique assignment called Journalism Idol.  Sort of an American Idol for our favourite journalists.  I, along with my partner and roommate Hilary Duff, chose Chuck Klosterman.  He is a badass journalist who has written for so many magazines and newspapers that it blows my mind.  Along with Hunter S. Thompson, he is the reason I wanted to be a journalist.

Enjoy…

When I was in grade 10, I read the book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and I was hooked.  The flowing, witty prose of Chuck Klosterman got me.  I thought, “Who is this Klosterman fellow? … He is a journalist. Well, that’s what I am going to be too.”

Chuck Klosterman has written articles for Spin magazine, the New York Times, Esquire, GQ, ESPN and the Washington Post.  He is best known for his essays and unique conversational style of writing that involves the reader to such an extent that you are engaged in a dialogue with Klosterman.

Klosterman is a first person narrative writer who writes about very unconventional topics.  In one of his books, Killing Yourself To Live, Klosterman drives across the United States to various sites of famous rock deaths – Graceland, the Chelsea Hotel, the swamp where Lynyrd Skynryd’s plane crashed, the house Kurt Cobain shot himself – he wanted to find out why the best career move any musician can make is do stop living.  Not only was this a new and fresh idea but, he wrote the story in his trademark style to create a fantastic piece of journalism.

Klosterman’s personal style is exactly the opposite of what we are taught in school.  He uses non-plain language, writes huge run-on sentences, and often talks for pages without really making his point.  He can be self-indulgent at times, and he always manages to relate every issue back to Mötley Crüe.  He does however, have an uncanny knack for connecting with his reader.  He has an incredible ability to weave in his personal experiences in all of his works, and this creates a very strong sense of intimacy.  I have never met Klosterman, yet I have spent hours in conversation with him.

Perhaps the reason I respect Klosterman so much is his honesty.  He is honest with himself and therefore with his readers.  When you read Klosterman’s writing, you are talking to him.  He is telling you all he knows and thinks and believes about any given topic – say, the KISS solo albums – and you know that he is telling you absolutely everything he knows about it.  Maybe, this isn’t objective, but it most certainly is honesty, and it is something that I hope I will be known for when I become a real journalist.  The job of a journalist is not to always be wholly objective, it is to be honest, and tell the reader all you know to better inform them.   Klosterman just so happens to be informing me about the infinite sadness that is Billy Joel’s life.

Klosterman grew up on a farm outside Wyndmere North Dakota, which is outside Fargo North Dakota, which is the middle of nowhere – having driven through North Dakota before I can wholeheartedly say this.  He attended the University of North Dakota and graduated with a bachelor of journalism.  After graduating, he worked as a journalist in Fargo, North Dakota before getting a job as a senior arts critic at the Akron Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio.  While he was living in Akron, he wrote his first book, Fargo Rock City, and got it published.  His book got the attention of the editors at Spin magazine and he was offered a job as a staff writer at the magazine.  Klosterman moved to New York and while working at Spin, he had his own column, and was given an enormous amount of creative freedom.  In 2006, however, Spin was sold and Klosterman along with most of the senior writers and editors were fired and replaced.  Klosterman then became a freelance writer, frequently contributing to many publications.  He has published six books to date, including one novel.

While Klosterman has had a very respectable career and has created his own niche in the world of journalism, there are those who do not care for him.  For some, his writing is far too self-indulgent and long-winded.  In a review of his book, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, by Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times, Heffernan says, “Klosterman is insidious. ‘Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,’ his book of muddled essays on whatever, annoys — it’s sloppy, ingratiating and unnecessary.”  Heffernan is not the only one to express a distaste of Klosterman’s style; there are many others who do not want to read a page-long footnote, or a rant about the merits of Rod Stewart’s voice.

Perhaps, I am a little biased, seeing as Klosterman is my idol, but I believe that those who do not like him are simply scared.  Journalists pride themselves on constantly being able to change and evolve.  This evolution, however, usually takes place within the context of traditional journalism.  Klosterman doesn’t fit into this context. His style and stories are so commentary driven that he doesn’t even acknowledge one of the central tenets of traditional journalism – objectivity.  When Hunter S. Thompson first burst into journalism, there were many who didn’t think his drug-addled ramblings deserved to be called journalism.  Klosterman is doing the same thing.  He has created his own niche in journalism and made the world aware of a void that only he could fill.

When I first thought about being a journalist, I had always thought of it first in terms of Klosterman.  He was my frame of journalism reference.  It seemed foreign to me that covering the city hall beat for the Ottawa Citizen is even in the same league as writing a feature piece chronicling a whole month of nothing but eating Chicken McNuggets.  I had always made this divide in my mind that what Klosterman does is journalism and the rest is just reporting.  I was wrong.  Klosterman taught me that journalism can be whatever you make it. He is constantly expanding his horizon and looking at new issues and new ideas in ways that are wholly Klosterman.  Journalism can be an in-depth profile of Britney Spears, or a commentary of the importance of Saved By the Bell, or it can be an article outlining the city’s new plan to repave main streets.

Klosterman is a unique voice in the world of journalism.  He has shown the world that you do not have to be a jacket-wearing, sharp-tongued, hardened reporter to be a journalist – he is just the son of a North Dakota farmer.  By creating his own niche in the world of journalism, Klosterman has made sure that he will not be ignored, or soon forgotten.  He has made himself into one of the foremost pop culture critics, and has done so in his own way.  I have a great respect for anyone who is able to make it on their own, with their own ideas, and Klosterman is a prime example of that.  A journalism idol is someone who inspires you, and who makes you want to charge the world armed only with your pen.  Klosterman did this for me.  He made me believe that I can go out into the world, pen blazing and be a journalist.  That is a true journalism idol. 

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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Question Period

For this story we got to go to question period.  I love question period, the political nerd in me gets to roam free and take in all our Canadian government has to offer.  I love how in question period, our nation’s leaders will yell and shake their fists at each other like they are in a tiff in a schoolyard.  It is quite hilarious to see Steven Harper reiterate his argument 7 different ways, only to have Jack Layton call him names and go on an incomprehensible rant about nothing in particular.  Iggy sits, waiting for someone to say something stupid, so he can stand up and point it out to them, and Duceppe will just yell in french at nothing in particular.  Man, I love Canada.

Enjoy…

Even on International Women’s Day, the talk in question period always came back to a heated debate between the Conservatives and the opposition about what to do with the Afghan detainee affair.

Opposition Leader, Michael Ignatieff led question period by asking the government, “Why will the Prime Minister not do the right thing and appoint a full public inquiry?”

When foreign affairs bureaucrat, Richard Colvin told the country back in November that Canadian troops had been turning prisoners over to Afghan officials, with full knowledge that the prisoners would then be tortured in, the issue became one of great contention.  With even more information coming out in past weeks, the debate was re-ignited and was raging at today’s question period.

Ignatieff said that he had “great respect” for Justice Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court Justice, who was asked by the government to review documents surrounding the detainee issue to determine what information can be more widely released to the public,  but still had major concerns, and said that the Canadian people would be better served if there was a full, public inquiry.

“If (Iacobucci) does not have the authority, if he only sees what the government wants his to see, how can he get at the truth?” asked Ignatieff.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper remained adamant that not only is Justice Iacobucci the best man for the job, but also that he will have access to all government documents on the issue.

While some of Monday’s question period time was spent on women’s issues raised by several members of the Opposition, nobody could drop the subject of the Afghan detainees.

Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, was a prime example when he went from berating the government for treating “women as second-class citizens” in the budget to badgering the Prime Minister about need for a public inquiry.

“If the Prime Minister thought that the prorogation of Parliament would make the torture scandal in Afghanistan disappear, he was wrong,” said Layton, in French.

“Why will the Prime Minister not call a public inquiry to make sure that Canadians can have access to the full truth about what has gone on with the transfer of detainees?” he said.

Even after heavy fire from the opposition, Harper never waivered from his stance, that Justice Iacobucci will find the truth.

“As I said earlier, the opposition has questioned the work of public servants who are responsible for administering access to information.  In order to further assure them, I have asked Justice Iacobucci to review their work and he will give a public report,” said Harper.

With much shouting and several angry outbursts, question period came to a close with little headway made.  The opposition are still calling for a public inquiry, and the government maintained that Iacobucci has it under control.

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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Culture

The assignment for this story was to find a story in statistics from the Statistics Canada website.  Now, I am alright at math, but numbers hold very little interest for me, so I managed to find a study that analyzed and defined culture in Canada.  I thought that it would be interesting to get the perspectives of some people who are actively involved in culture and the arts and see if they agreed with the definition, or if they thought that culture could even be defined, and what it meant to define culture.

Enjoy…

Culture is a word that holds a lot of meaning for those in the art community and yet to define it remains a controversial issue.

But, a recent study by Statistics Canada, the “Canadian framework for culture statistics,” has done its best to define culture for both the statistician and the ordinary Canadian.

“This is a model that we developed in 2004 and we are reworking,” said Erika Dugas, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada.

“In terms of (the framework) it just gives a broad definition so people have an understanding of how we define the area of culture,” she said.

Dugas said that the framework, which was released Feb. 9, is of interest to many members of Canadian society because it clearly outlines the boundaries of culture and standardizes its definition.

Dugas said there are several advantages to trying to define culture.

“Well, when people talk about culture, it’s good to know what the defining characteristics are so that if people come up with different statistics, you can look and see what was included and wasn’t,” she said.

On the second page of the study, culture is defined as, “creative artistic activity and the goods and services produced by it and the preservation of human heritage.”

There are some, however, who said they do not necessarily see the standardizing the definition of culture as a step in the right direction, and that it is perhaps too narrow a definition for culture.

Robert Murrell is vice-president of the Ottawa Art Association, an organization where Ottawa artists can come together and work on their craft, with help from others. Murrell said he doesn’t completely agree with the definition provided by the study.

“Well, without being political or anything, I think that is a pretty narrow description of culture,” he said.

“I think that culture can be a whole lot of different things.  Culture goes beyond the arts, and certainly beyond fine arts.  It encompasses a lot, even our values,” he said.

Catherine Gutsche, an Ottawa-area artist, said she understands why Statistics Canada has defined culture this way, and generally agrees with the definition, but she said she also believes that culture has more to it.

“Culture encompasses more and it includes the way people act and interact, pursue academic knowledge, and their belief systems,” said Gutsche.  “In a larger sense culture can and does, make or break civilization.”

Dugas, however, said she thinks defining culture is the first step in creating a greater understanding of the various aspects of the culture industries.

“It gives us an idea of what the boundaries are, and what is included in culture,” said Dugas.  “I think it is very important because we want to make sure that we are all talking about the same thing.”

Gutsche said it is important to let culture flourish and that measuring the progress of certain cultural industries can help to raise awareness about them and their contributions to culture and society.

While there remains some disagreement as to the exact definition of culture, all three said that it plays a vital role in our society and communities.

“Culture is what makes a city into a community. It’s how we express ourselves as individuals living in a community of many,” said Gutsche. “It is these aspects that define one culture from another in a global sense.”


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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Monopoly

This assignment was all about finding a story out of a news release.  I found a news release about a Canadian version of Monopoly where people can vote for their hometowns.  I did some research and found that the top two cities were ones that I had never even heard of (albeit I am quite oblivious to eastern geography, I can find Revelstoke Dam on a map of BC, but have zero idea where Barrie, Ontario is).  I thought it was really interesting that the three largest Canadian cities were nowhere in the top few spots, so I contacted the mayor of one city, and a representative for the mayor of the other.  I even had to do one interview in French, which was went a lot better than I thought it would.  Anyway, here is my story about small-town spirit.

Enjoy…

The classic game of savvy real estate purchases and cunning business sense is giving small Canadian towns the chance to show their hometown spirit with the introduction of Monopoly Canada.

Monopoly Canada has opened up the 22 spaces on the traditional Monopoly board to Canadian cities, allowing people to vote online for their favourite city in hopes of getting the coveted top two spaces: Boardwalk and Park Place.

Hasbro Canada opened voting on Jan. 11, when Canadians could vote on 65 pre-selected cities. The city with the most votes by the end of the voting period on Feb. 7 will be given the top spot on the familiar board game.

As of Jan. 29, the top two spots were held by Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Chatham-Kent, two smaller cities with populations of 92,000 and 109,000 respectively.

These two small communities have outranked all major Canadian cities, with Calgary lagging behind in third-place and cities like Montreal and Toronto spread further down the board.

Randy Hope, the mayor of Chatham-Kent, attributed his city’s success to the residents.

“The community is really taking a hold of this. The people are really feeling proud of Chatham-Kent,” he said. “I get people who I don’t even know email me saying ‘Hey mayor, I just voted and we moved up a per cent.’ ”

Anne Potvin, a spokeswoman for the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, said that once they found out their city was pre-selected for the competition, many city’s resources were put to use.

“We have gotten everyone involved – the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Office, the school board and the CEGEP,” said Potvin in an interview in French. “We saw an opportunity to start a city-wide campaign based on pride, and we took it.”

Marisa Pedatella, manager of market services at Hasbro Canada, said the selection process was based on population, all the while making sure that major regions were represented.

Pedatella said the size of the city doesn’t necessarily matter as long as the community is dedicated.

“The people of those (winning) cities are voting every day, and they obviously have enough people voting to keep them in the top spots,” explained Pedatella.

While there are 22 spots on the board, the top 20 pre-selected cities with the most votes will be included. After they have been selected, the last two spots on the board, the first two brown ones, will be chosen by a wild-card vote, where people nominate their city and then vote for it. The top two nominated cities will take the final places on the board.

Since Jan. 29 the board showing the current ranks has gone dark, leaving the identity of the top spots a secret until the official unveiling in June.

Pedatella said the mystery is all part of the fun. “We are probably going to keep it pretty quiet up until the reveal, to keep the mystique about it,” she said.

Potvin said the mayor, Gilles Dolbec, has even dressed up as Mr. Monopoly to raise support for Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

“If we do win, we will definitely use this opportunity to promote our city. There will also be a big party,” laughed Potvin.

While Hope said he doesn’t want to get over-confident, Chatham-Kent has already began speculating about potential celebrations once the unveiling happens.

“There is some talk around the community about holding a Monopoly tournament with the new board,” said Hope.

“(People are) talking about unveiling signs that say ‘Monopoly capital of Canada’ and stuff like that,” joked Hope.

Both communities are hopeful they will nab the number one spot on the board, but in the end only one of them will be able to pass GO and collect $200.

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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Hartman’s

The assignment for this story was to find a story idea using social media and pursue it further.  I found the idea for this on an Ottawa blog and it caught my eye.  It’s essentially a struggle between a store management and the community to try and get back a piano and community space in a grocery store.  The store in question was Hartman’s Independent Grocer.  Now, I thought this was going to be easy, talk to people who want the piano back, get a quote from the store, etc.  I even thought that maybe my sharing a last name with the store would make people more into talking to me.  Not so.  This was the very first time anyone has ever been openly rude to me while I was trying to get a story.  I doubt I am ever going to forget my very first “No Comment”.

Enjoy…

Instead of the tinkling of piano keys and the quiet chatter of people in couches, there is the buzz of fluorescent lights and the faint whir of refrigeration fans coming from a display case holding pre-packaged salads and four-dollar health drinks at Hartman’s Your Independent Grocer.

Since the disappearance on Jan. 5 of the upright piano and seating area at the front of Hartman’s grocery store on the corner of Bank Street and Somerset Street, the store has been under fire from local residents to bring it back.

Shawn Menard, the president of the Centretown Citizen’s Community Association, said that the loss of community space is the real loss.

“The community space … is just as important.  It added a nice, eclectic element to a grocery store downtown and really added to the community feel within Centretown,” said Menard.

Karen Foster, a member of the Facebook group “Bring Back the Hartman’s Piano!!!” also said the residents relies on the community space at Hartman’s.

“For me, it’s just about creating that community space, where people can get together, who might not always be in the same space,” said Foster.

Foster acknowledged one of the speculated reasons the piano was removed.

“(There is an) injustice in the idea that maybe the reason the piano and the seating area were removed because of the types of people that were hanging out there.  Specifically, people who are maybe living on the streets … they don’t have a whole lot of other places to go,” she said.

Robert St. Amour and the rest of Hartman’s management has declined to comment on the disappearance of the piano and the community space.

When asked about the piano and the community space, St. Amour said only, “No comment. I have nothing to say. No comment.”

The staff of Hartman’s has been instructed not to speak further to the media.

Joshua Michael Moore, who identified himself as a full-time Hartman’s employee and responded on Facebook, to explain why the piano was removed.

“Truthfully, having the piano was a good idea, yet at the same time we’re a grocery store and so … some sacrifices have to be made to expand our already wide variety of produce,” he wrote on the wall of the group.

Foster said she can understand why the management is not talking to the press or the public, but would still like to see the return of the piano and especially the community space.

Talks between the management of the store and Diane Holmes, an Ottawa city councillor for the area are slated to begin soon in hopes of reaching an agreement between the store and the community.

Foster and Menard said they remain hopeful that the space and piano will be returned so it can again be enjoyed by the whole community.

“I have yet to run into anybody that said they don’t want to see the piano returned,” said Foster.  “Whatever side of the fence people are on, they all want to see the piano back.”

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Filed under Reporting Class - Winter Term 2009-2010

Sex Toy Feature

I worked for a really long time on this feature.  I put a lot of time and effort into finding people with interesting and new things to say about the sex toy industry.  I even got to talk to Melody Murison, who along with her husband, invented one of the most popular sex toys on the market right now.  Anyway, here is my little sex toy baby, for this story I went into numerous sex stores, asked far too many inappropriate questions and learned far more about edible lubricant than I ever wanted to know.

Enjoy…

Wanda Cotie helped a 50-year-old woman buy a sex toy for the first time.

Cotie is the owner of an Ottawa sex toy store, Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium, and can recall changing a woman’s whole perspective towards sex toys.

“I was at an event and I was giving away gift certificates and this women won a gift certificate for my store and … she was like: ‘Oh no, I’d never do that,’” says Cotie.

After talking with Cotie, however, she quickly changed her mind.  “Before we finished our conversation, the woman had tears in her eyes and said that she and her husband have had such a [horrible] relationship, she had just given up on herself physically,” says Cotie.

“After we talked she came into my store, and we went through some stuff and she went out a happy lady,” she says.

Cotie’s experience is becoming increasingly more common.  The taboo surrounding sex toys is being eroded away, and is being replaced with knowledge and acceptance of the immerging industry.

With huge international conventions and in-home parties, it is evident the sex toy industry is evolving.  It is transitioning from the old, slightly pornographic industry that it used to be, into a thriving industry that boasts intelligent marketing and innovative designs, leading to a more socially accepted industry than ever before.

In 2003 Melody Murison and her husband Bruce were laid off from Nortel, the high-tech giant in Ottawa.  By 2008 they had launched what would become a niche-making product in the sex toy industry, the We-Vibe.

While her husband Bruce was in charge of the inventing, Melody Murison headed the task of marketing

“When we first started developing the We-Vibe, sex toys really weren’t a part of our life.  [I was] seeing the industry for the first time,” she explains.

The We-Vibe is marketed as a classy and sophisticated toy with a box so sleek and discreet no one would guess that inside the small packaging is a tiny, yet powerful sex toy.

“We wanted to go out there with a beautiful, elegant piece that was mainstream acceptable,” Murison explains.

“I looked at different things that were out there, and as a whole, I think I have seen packaging evolve from the old XXX dark-window presentation …  [towards] a more acceptable format for the packaging,” she says.

Murison says she put six years of research into the marketing strategy of the We-Vibe, determining the target customer, how much it would cost and where the We-Vibe fit in the spectrum of sex toys.

The We-Vibe is a small, yet powerful U-shaped vibrating toy that can be used during sex.

“We knew that our target customer was between 35 to 55.  We knew it was going to be a $150 product,” she says.

Murison says she is very pleased with how well the We-Vibe has done on an international level and that there are more things to come from the We-Vibe.

“Canada is known for hockey, Blackberries and the We-Vibe,” she jokes, adding “Stay tuned, Bruce is a true inventor.”

Not only has the marketing sector of the sex toy industry been evolving, but the design of them has also been changing.  The design of newer sex toys has been moving away from the traditional phallic-looking devices towards more body-conscious and sustainable designs.

Lois Frankel, an associate professor with the School of Industrial Design at Carleton University remarks, “there is more of an awareness of how things relate to the human body, whether it is a sex toy or a power tool.”

“The whole trend, generally, is towards things that fit better with the human body,” says Frankel.

“More usable for people, for their behaviours, for their physical relationship with their product.  It wouldn’t be any different if it was with a sex toy, a power tool or a water bottle,” she explains.

Cotie says she also understands that it is important to acknowledge the relationship between the toy and the body.

“A few years ago we used all latex toys, which are not the best product for your body,” says Cotie.

Part of making designs more usable is sustainability, says Frankel, calling sustainability “an imperative,” that is far more than a mere trend.

According to Frankel, there are many aspects to think about when designing a sustainable sex toy.

“Things like finding the proper materials, not just designing the product for its use, but also looking at how it’s taken apart, when you are finished using it.  Making sure it can be properly recycled or reused or repurposed,” explains Frankel.

The main issue for sex toys and sustainability is, of course, batteries.  Until recently, nearly all sex toys required regular alkaline batteries that had to be frequently changed.

Cotie’s store now has a wide range of toys that can be recharged and put away without ever having to replace the battery.

Murison also explains that sustainability played a key role in the design process of the We-Vibe.  She says it was vital the We-Vibe have a rechargeable battery, not only to make it more sustainable, but also to keep the design of the toy simple and sleek.

Cotie says that with all the advancements in marketing and design there has been a  dramatic shift in the way the public sees the sex toys, making them far more acceptable than before.

Sue McGarvie, an Ottawa-based sex therapist, says she cannot believe the rapid evolution of the sex toy industry.

“When I started as a sex therapist 15 years ago, [the industry] was really taboo,” recalls McGarvie.

“I can’t get over how fast opinion changes. … I think it is clear that it is becoming much more acceptable and much more open than it used to be,” she says.

Cotie says she believes this shift in public opinion can, at least in part, be attributed to increased knowledge on the subject.  Cotie says her store is geared towards helping people understand what is out there and getting them comfortable with the industry.

“[My store] is more about educating our customers and [offering] workshops … that bring people to a point where they are much more comfortable discussing their sexuality,” explains Cotie.

Many sex toy stores now offer workshops, where customers can come in and be informed in a fun way.

Cotie says she thinks it is her “positive and open approach with people” that really helps her customers to have a more open mind about the whole industry.

Noting that the industry has become much more woman-friendly over the past decade, Cotie says, “I think that most women own a vibrator, and even if they blush when they say it, they kind of giggle and go ‘Yeah, I got one.’”

As Cotie puts it, “most people have a bigger tickle-trunk than others think they would.”

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Filed under Reporting Class - Fall Term 2009