A humbling and hurting 1km (!) run

I made it one kilometer today before I had to stop running from the pain and walk slowly back to my apartment.

So discouraging. The physiotherapist’s optimism yesterday about me trying running again was infectious. I woke up this morning to clear, sunny skies and thought, maybe I can do this. Maybe a week off and all that icing and massaging has worked and I’ll just do a nice, slow 5 km run.

Nope. Definitely not. (And 5km?!? Laughably ambitious of me. Right now that’s seeming like an endless stretch of hell. How did I run 28 km just 12 days ago? That’s what makes me so sad, that just prior to pulling my groin I was feeling on top of the world after a few terrific runs, long distances and good times. Pride before the fall and all that, I guess.)

I’m trying not to panic or cry but it’s really, really hard.

Recap of Women in Media panel + just a regular Saturday morning as a reporter

Before I get into a brief recap of last weekend’s YWCA Women in Media panel, I wanted to share one (of the many!) reasons why I love my job as a reporter.

I’m working this weekend, so I was up bright and early to get to three different stories all before noon. First on my list was a movie screening of the new Disney flick Frozen for cancer patients, survivors and their families and caregivers. What an awesome event! It’s sponsored by George’s Night Out, a volunteer organization started by Sue Baldock after her husband George passed away ten years ago at the age of 30 from cancer. The Simcoe couple was living in Denver at the time with their infant son, far from extended family for support, and a foundation in Colorado helped send them to things like restaurants for meals out or the hockey arena for an Avalanche game. Nothing too big or overwhelming – just fun, lowkey and relaxed events – but we all know those are the moments we hold onto and remember, right? It’s the simplest memories that mean the most.

When Sue moved back to Simcoe, she was determined to bring that idea – just spending time with your loved ones while everyone is together – to Norfolk County. One of the many things George’s Night Out does is this annual movie screening. It was packed with people from around Norfolk! The kids were especially excited to have the chance to eat popcorn for breakfast!

After interviewing people there and taking some photos, I then headed to the Salvation Army for their Kids Only Christmas Store. This event lets kids from low-income families buy Christmas presents for their parents and caregivers for just a loonie. Again, what an awesome organization! I watched kids anxiously scour the aisles of donated items (either new, regifted, or gently used) for the perfect present for their mom, dad, or grandparent. Then the volunteers would wrap the gifts up while the kids eagerly waited, pride and anticipation written across their faces.

As one of the volunteers told me, “Kids want to get in on the giving spirit too.” Isn’t that true? A program like this allows them to do so, and takes what can be (and is) a very stressful time financially for many people and turns it into an opportunity for everyone to feel included. I loved this!

My third and final destination for the morning was a book signing with a local author from Long Point. Jan Everett wrote and illustrated a children’s book called “Never Give Up” for her husband’s birthday, inspired by his dedication to helping save turtles crossing from the bay to the marsh on the causeway (this is a HUGE problem in Long Point). Jan and John were delightful, chatty, warm and welcoming, and their passion for the environment is so inspiring.

All in all, it was a Saturday morning that reminded me why I love my job. Like police officers, judges and various other professions, journalists are often called to bear witness to the worst of humanity, but we also get to experience the best of it. The stories about people working to improve our world little by little are the ones we need to focus on when it seems like the media can be full of so much bad news. I’m continually awed by this and I hope that never changes, that I never become jaded about all the good that is around me. Let’s keep getting these stories out!

*

Now for the Women in Media panel: what a fantastic day! I was so impressed by the YWCA and the planning they did to pull off a terrific National Career Day. There were city councillors, midwives, a police officer, a hair stylist, a boxer, a NASA spacesuit designer, a biologist and more all there to speak with the girls and answer any questions they had. It was fascinating and I particularly enjoyed speaking with the police officer and the midwife. The inventor of the Diva Cup was also there, which was really cool. All fabulous, strong female role models for the girls in attendance.

The media panel I was on was really intimidating at first – I had to answer first so I was very nervous! The other two women on the panel with me was Sophie from 91.5 The Beat in Kitchener-Waterloo and Sasha, a recording artist and Canadian Idol competitor. Both women were funny, wise and frank about challenges they’ve faced in the media and advice they have for young girls wanting to work in the industry.

One question I received that I loved was “who are your female role models?” This is a question we should all ask ourselves regularly, I think. I told the girls it’s important to have role models who are real people you know in your life – that it’s fine to look up to famous people in the public eye (but seriously, let’s have more Malala Yousafzais than Miley Cyruses, please), but to also make sure that some of your heroes are girls and women you know, and to talk to them, ask them questions, be inspired by them. I added that your role models can be all ages and from all backgrounds – they don’t have to look like you, be like you, have the same interests or talents as you. What matters is that they represent qualities you strive for.

My female role models? My mom, first of all, for about a billion reasons but off the top of my head for her strength, vulnerability, selflessness, love of learning and devotion to her principles. My great-grandmothers for their grit, determination, faith and style. My former Russian professor Nazia who became a great friend for her humour, commitment to academics, passion for women’s rights and never-ending curiosity. My cousin Lindsay for her balanced approach to life and healthy self-perception. All traits I want to cultivate in myself – things I struggle with, to be frank, so looking up to these women as role models helps inspire me every day to try and be better.

Anyway, the rest of the panel was hopefully helpful for the girls and I’m excited to continue my involvement with the YWCA. The coordinator of the program and I have been chatting since the event about volunteering with their Media2Me program, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

Okay, I better head out for my next event for work – busy Saturday!

Women in Media panel

Last July, I was lucky to meet a group of spirited, smart and savvy young girls taking part in a media camp run by the YWCA. I did a story on them for the paper, and I was so impressed with their questions, their critical thinking and their attitude towards media portrayals of women. We had a terrific, thought-provoking conversation on topics ranging from song of the summer Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to why female celebrities are always photographed with their mouths open on magazine covers and editorials. I left the girls that day feeling inspired to be both a more discerning and responsible member of the media and receptor of media too, because I’m just as vulnerable to buying into certain ideals and messages.

So when Kate, the leader of the camp and program coordinator of the YWCA’s Media2Me, contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I’d be interested in appearing on a media panel for the YWCA’s National Career Day, I jumped at the chance. Now the panel is just a few days away (this Saturday) and Kate sent me some more information about what to expect.

I’ll have 5-8 minutes to speak, and the YWCA is asking me to bring an item as a show and tell piece that speaks to the work I do in media. I’m going to have to think about this! Kate suggested something I use in my industry or something personal that inspires the work I do.

She’s also asking me and the other two women on the panel (so excited to meet Sophie from 91.5 and R&B/pop recording artist Trish!) to speak on the following questions:
 
– Why is it important to have women’s voices in media? (you can speak specifically to your industry, or in general)
– What are some of the challenges or barriers women uniquely face in your industry?
– What inspires you?
 
I’m going to have to think about all these questions in greater detail, but off the top of my head my gut answers are:
 
– because we make up half the population! 🙂 And because women are funny, smart, engaged, passionate, caring. Specifically to my industry, women reporters can often get stories and go places where men cannot. I’m thinking of sharing stories about life in Afghanistan for women – a male journalist wouldn’t be allowed to speak to women there, yet these are valuable stories that need to be told. On a more trivial note, even yesterday my male colleague told me I’m able to get certain stories because I’m more approachable than men. I had complimented two older women on their hats and brooches, and that led to a conversation between the three of us that I used in a story I ended up writing yesterday. They confided in me because – as silly as it sounds – we had initially bonded over, yes, fashion. Something stereotypically “girly” or in that female domain, but it led to them opening up to me and maybe they wouldn’t have if J.P. had been the one to approach them. Who knows.
– Challenges/barriers women face in the media industry? Ha. APPEARANCE. SEXISM. That’s what it boils down to, I think. What you wear, how you look, whether you’re wearing makeup…media is all about appearances. Even my own grandfather – an educated, well-traveled, kind man with five daughters and a long, loving marriage – has said it’s time to replace a certain female news anchor because “she’s looking a little long in the tooth!” Would ANYONE say that about Peter Mansbridge??? I don’t think so. But maybe these specific barriers aren’t so unique to my industry, because I actually think they’re present in every workforce.
 
– What inspires me? Girls like the ones I met at the YWCA in the summer, for sure. They make me want to be a better example to them, to work on my own hang-ups about myself so I can truly be a role model. My parents inspire me. Other journalists. My dreams and goals. Certain teachers I’ve had, like Nazia who has become a dear friend of mine in addition to being the first person to teach me Russian. Injustices inspire me, and so do happy stories – yes, they’re out there! The thought that I have a valuable tool at my hands that can help create good always, always inspires me. When I get emails from people asking how they can donate to a cause I wrote about, or telling me that my article helped a situation get better, I’m motivated even more to seek out stories that can help bring positive change to communities.
 
What about you? What are your answers to these questions?
 
I’m really, really excited about this media panel. I’ll write all about it on the weekend!
 

Covering council: how to survive with only minimal loss of feeling in your butt

Every Tuesday, I spend anywhere between four (on a good night) to six hours covering county council meetings. I’ve only been doing this for a month or so, which means I’m certainly no expert, but I thought I’d share my tips to other young reporters about to cover council for the first time. In j-school, I took a political reporting elective where we were assigned to go to city council and find a story to write about and file before noon the next day (ahh, what a beautiful, unrealistic deadline!).

Aside from that one time, I had no experience covering council before I started working at the paper here. Of course, I didn’t advertise that fact – fake it till you make it, right? And I’ve been doing a lot of faking it this past month, so I’ve picked up on some useful tips for reporters new to covering council:

1) Council meetings are marathons, not sprints

You would be amazed at just how long councillors can debate the mundane minutiae of, say, rooftop solar projects or road repairs. So go in prepared with the right attitude. Get plenty of rest the night before (yes, I’m serious…council meetings are late nights for everyone there, but keep in mind you’ve also got to head back to the newsroom to type out at least a couple of briefs before your paper goes to print).

Eat a solid meal about an hour before, and don’t be afraid to bring snacks – just make sure they aren’t loud, distracting, smelly or awkward to eat, so nix the wrappers, chips, curry, hardboiled eggs or tuna, carrot sticks, full-out turkey dinners…you get the idea. At first I was too afraid to eat during council and would end up with horrible stomach cramps by the end of the night. But then I started noticing other people taking surreptitious snack breaks, and I realized it was okay to show your human side and admit you’re hungry. Just be respectful about it. Occasionally there will be a 10-minute recess if the meeting is really stretching into the late hours of the night, and I find that the perfect time to bring out a snack. My favourites? Almonds, homemade granola bars (chewy, not crunchy, and wrapped in noise-proof cling wrap), small pot of yogurt, pre-peeled clementines or dried fruit. Aim for some protein and complex carbs for lasting energy – you’ll need it!

2) Show up early and dress the part

Maybe this is a “well, duh” piece of advice. But don’t underestimate it. Get to council 20 minutes early and pick out a good seat. There’s usually a media section that gives you a clear view of the action, so to speak, but keep in mind you could still have hearing and visual problems. Wear glasses if you need them. Sometimes there is only a limited number of seats for the media too, so you want to get there before everyone else shows up and you’re left having to awkwardly balance your laptop or notepad in your lap while crouching behind them.

Showing up early also gives you the perfect opportunity to say hello to the mayor, councillors and city/county staff. I wouldn’t use this time to fire questions at them, but just a smile and a “how are you?” can go a long way in building up relationships and rapport.

And dressing the part? That should be “well, duh”. You’re a professional. Look like one.

3) Do your research

Print off the council agenda (they’re typically posted online the day before the meeting) and read through it to get a sense of what potential hot-button issues could come up. Read the attached PDFs of staff reports for a further understanding of what people will be discussing. I only started doing this a few weeks into covering council and – at the risk of sounding hyperbolic – this changed my life. All of a sudden I was no longer sitting there blind, wondering what everyone was talking about. I’m not going to pretend like I always understand, but at least I have a general sense. Plus, it’s reassuring to know you have all the numbers and statistics right there with you, so you don’t have to furiously try and catch all the numbers people throw out during their presentations.

4) Flex your typing fingers

Unless you know shorthand – my political reporting prof did, which is a skill I’d love to have! – typing is probably your best bet when covering council. A lot is said, and often very fast and mumble-y, so typing is the easiest way to get as much information down as I can. I wouldn’t suggest relying on a recorder, because then you have to go back and listen to it all over again (and believe me, sitting through one council meeting is rough. Sitting through the same one again would be worse than being forced to watch an all-day marathon of Keeping Up With the Kardashians).

That being said, bring back-up. Have your laptop battery and cell phone charger with you, but also always throw in your notepad and a pen and pencil (pencil in case the pen runs out of ink!). Not only do you never know if your laptop will die, but if you have to slip out of council and chase someone before they get to the elevator, you’ll want your notepad to jot down their quote. Plus, no matter how slim and light laptops and iPads get, nothing beats an old-school coil-ring steno pad. You just feel more like a reporter with one.

5) Don’t be afraid to admit you know nothing

Look, maybe your hobby is reading up on rated capacity water systems versus firm capacity. That’s cool. But mine isn’t. So when this came up in council the other week, I really struggled with it. Council talks about some pretty dull and difficult things that the average person – ie. me, with my extremely limited science, math and business background – grapples with. Not to mention all the bureaucratic jargon and gobbledygook council and county/city staff like to use!

It’s our job as reporters to listen to all of this, try and make sense of it, then translate and interpret the information back into regular English for everyone else. This isn’t easy, but no one expects it to be (whew!), so don’t feel bad about saying, “I don’t understand such-and-such. Is there a way you could explain this to me that would make it more clear to readers?”

It’s humbling and frustrating and there have been moments over the past month where I’ve wanted to simultaneously tear out my hair and berate myself for being an idiot. But be patient, ask various people lots of questions and remind yourself you are not stupid. It’s easy to feel in over your head especially when this is your first job and everything is new, but have confidence in your abilities as a reporter to ask questions. That’s what we’re here for, right? People are expecting us to have questions, so don’t feel intimidated.

6) Take cues from other reporters, but trust your instincts too

If all the other reporters are hastily writing away during a deputation from a member of the public, or a presentation by county/city staff, that’s probably a really good hint that there’s a story here and you should be writing too. Don’t feel pressured to keep up with them, though. Different publications have different deadlines, space constraints and audiences. For example, one reporter who sits next to me at council writes for the paper in Port Dover. His readers aren’t typically going to be interested in a story that’s all about Simcoe, so he doesn’t write anything down during that discussion.

Also don’t be afraid about going with your gut. Reporter’s instinct is a powerful thing, so if something’s telling you to stay at council long after other media have left, stay. What will you lose (besides precious sleep)? You’ve already come to terms that you’re never going to be home in time to catch your favourite show anyway. Who knows? You just might scoop everyone else.

That leads to…

7) Don’t ever be the first reporter to leave

This applies not just to covering council, but any story. You don’t always have to be the last one standing, but it never hurts and could pay off. Tenacity and patience, my friends, are two of the biggest skills reporters can cultivate!

8) Make friends with other media

Okay, I know I just touted the joy of scooping other news organizations, but I’m not totally blood-thirsty. We’re all in this together, after all, and although healthy competition is a good thing I’m not an advocate of anything nefarious – we’ll leave that to the politicians we’re reporting on!

Seriously, make friends with each other. This will make boring council nights at least marginally more enjoyable, right? When you can turn to the guy on your right and double check a figure with him, or when you can both snort with suppressed laughter at something (yes, there are occasionally moments of mirth when covering council). Or when one reporter comes back after sneakily slipping out, with a tray of Tim Hortons coffee and tea for everyone (this happened last night and was a absolute lifesaver – thanks again, Aaron!).

Friends make everything better, and this goes double for council meetings.

 

Experienced council reporters out there, do you have any other tips to add? I’d love to hear them!

Writer’s block

It’s been a busy month since my last post, and I’ve been doing so much writing for my job that the last thing I feel like doing when I get home at night is write a blog post. I’m usually thinking FOOD, followed by getting sucked into an Internet hole of celebrity gossip and random articles on national/international news, since my days are mostly filled with local goings-on and I need to get my Senate scandal fix at some point.

But I’m determined to make blogging more of a habit. I love writing, and blogging is such an unstructured and free way of writing that it’s nice to switch it up from reporting, with its focus on leads, tight, snappy writing and word count. Sure, I’m not giving myself carte blanche to ramble on with boring, sprawling posts that are all over the place (at least, I hope not), but I’m looking forward to having a little more freedom and a little less pressure (no deadlines! whew!).

On the road

Monday morning dawned crisp and clear. Blue sky, warm sun, burnished leaves in golds and crimsons. Perfect autumn weather in rural Ontario.

I met J.P. and Darryl in the Brantford newsroom, and after we touched base on the progress of our stories, we decided to use the day for a road trip around Norfolk County. Darryl grew up in Waterford and to say he knows the area well is an understatement. “If I don’t know someone in Norfolk, my mother does,” he said. So he was the ideal guy to give J.P. (an Ottawa transplant) and I a tour of the place we’ll be calling home now.

We had a great time driving around the sprawling area proudly known as “Ontario’s Garden”, and I started getting really excited about moving here. I have to be honest – my very first impression of Simcoe a few weeks ago wasn’t the best. After accepting the job offer to help start a new newspaper in Simcoe that would cover Norfolk County, I drove there with my parents on a rainy, sullen Saturday to check it out. Note to others contemplating a move: never tour a potential new home for the first time in the rain. Maybe there are some cities whose romance and charm can withstand the rain – I’m thinking Paris perhaps, and London definitely because then you can walk wistfully around some charming garden in wellingtons (love that word) while twirling a Burberry umbrella and feeling very British.

But driving down Simcoe’s main street as raindrops trickled down my window made it all the more glaringly obvious to me that Simcoe was not, in fact, Paris or London. And you know, that’s okay. It’s got its own thing going on, and I’m excited to explore it. At the time though, I was feeling pretty miserable.

Monday was a different story. That was when I could really start seeing myself living here, calling this place home. We stopped at a couple different beaches in Long Point, Turkey Point and Port Dover, and I realized with a thrill that come summertime, I’ll be just a few kilometres from warm sand and cool blue water. As a former Huron County girl who basically grew up with sand between my toes and wave-whipped hair, the chance to be close to a beach again is something to revel in.

"So how about we just make this our newsroom, okay?"

“So how about we just make this our newsroom, okay?”

Darryl filled J.P. and I in on some of the issues, people, places and stories in the area as we hastily scribbled away in our notebooks, trying to soak everything in. It looks like there’s going to be a lot to write about here, and what’s more, it looks like Norfolk County will be a great place to live. The restaurants, cafes, and theatres Darryl pointed out, the awesome Rail Trail he showed us that looks perfect for running and biking, the farmer’s stands and markets dotted around the county, the stretches of beach and forest…I fell more and more in love as the day went on.

We’re getting ready for our inaugural issue that’s out in a week (!) so things are really starting to pick up for our three-person team of reporters. We’ve got a host of stories we’re chasing now, and on top of that we’re waiting to move into our newsroom, get our website and social media accounts up and running, and set up our new computers and cameras (Christmas is coming early…the three of us are getting new Mac books and SLR cameras). I’ve never helped build a newspaper from the ground up, so this is really exciting. I feel so lucky to be getting this experience, and I can’t wait for our first issue to hit the doorsteps around Norfolk County.

What road trip would be complete without an ice cream stop?

What road trip would be complete without an ice cream stop?