Monday, 29 October 2012

What interview subject?

I've been told that people are the guts of journalism. Journalists should insert a humanistic angle in almost every news article they write, because what do other people care about? People.

This is true. When I read the news I always want to know who's involved, sometimes even more than what is happening. I grew up reading celebrity gossip articles so maybe that's why I have an innate curiosity about other people.

People want to read about other people for several reasons. Catharticism is one. People like to relate to others and feel like they aren't alone. I think people feel alleviated from particular pain when they read in the news of people who have been through similar experiences.

I said people way too much there. I'll try to refrain from further excessive use.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much journalism relies on people . Interview subjects are a large part of the story, so when they don't get back to you within your preferred time frame, it's frustrating and chaotic. Over a short period of time, my life has become a series of unanswered phone calls and mechanical, rehearsed voicemail messages. Call it selfish, but I don't understand how difficult it is to respond to a message within a reasonable time frame. In this modern world, I think many have their phones near by at all times.

My progressive disdain for the people-chasing portion of journalism is overshadowing my love for the writing process.

I don't like it one bit.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Happy News

Amidst the car crashes, robberies, and manslaughters, someone - a bunch of someones, actually - are actively working to bring us some good news.

Happy News is a news website whose content is mainly distributed by citizen journalists but also extracted from other sources such as The Daily Mail. The website's byline reads, "Real news. Compelling stories. Always positive." This sums up what they're all about.

Categories of news include international and national stories, sports, and heroes. Columnists post on the website as well.

After hearing about the bus driver who donated his shoes to a homeless man, it made me think that not all news stories have to be hard-hitting and investigative. A lovely tale of a simple act of kindness can also be considered as journalism. The fact that someone was there to witness such an act and be able to share the story is incredible.

I used to think that to be a journalist, you needed some sort of credentials, a certificate, a degree. Something physical to show that you had the skills and qualities to report the news. I needed some sort of validation to show I was the right person for the job.

So when the idea that regular, everyday people were able to consider themselves as journalists while I was in school, working towards a journalism major, slaving away over piles and piles of assignments, I will admit to have sneered at the idea . . . at first.

A great story is a great story, no matter who tells it. I know that now.

Visit Happy News and read an article about how a dog saved a child's life or get some advice on how to decrease your risk of heart stroke.

We could all use some good news for a change.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

One book, a thousand farewells

My journalism class and I have recently read Nahlah Ayed's highly acclaimed nonfiction book, A Thousand Farewells, detailing her journey from Canada as a young girl to the Middle East. As a girl, she was whisked away to her parents' native land in Amman, Jordan to live in a refugee camp with her family. The reason behind this move was to introduce Ayed and her siblings to their Palestinian heritage and culture. Eventually, Ayed develops a fascination with Middle Eastern culture and politics and becomes a correspondent for that area while working at CBC with a focus on the war with America. There she experiences a plethora of unimaginable feats, one seemingly more dramatic than the one before.

I'm not going to spoil the book for those who haven't read it, so that's as far as I'll go.

At over 300 pages, it is clear that Ayed provides an excruciating amount of detail in the book. Perhaps, dare I say, too much? On one hand, I understand it's a book that's meant to educate readers about the politics of Iraq, and therefore, plenty of detail, facts, names, and dates are essential to the story, but a lot of the time I felt like it was just too much. At the end of the book, I had forgotten all of the facts, names, and dates provided by Ayed. But the good thing is if ever I need to look those nuggets of information up again, I know they're buried somewhere in those pages.

One thing Ayed does really well is capture emotion in her storytelling. In between the hundreds of thousand of facts, I specifically remember the stories about her family and the feeling of dread when she was attacked in Kathimiya.

Consequently, I am willing to admit that I wanted to know more about her family in the book and less about the war. Some testimony from her parents would've been nice. I would have liked to read how they felt about her being away from home for so long in such scary conditions. What are her brother and sister up to now? Sprinkling the story with familial interaction (if any) would have made the tedious task of reading through the heavy, factual material more bearable.

Despite the fact-heavy contents of this book, it is a great piece of journalism. I was impressed by Ayed's unbreakable spirit and constant search for information and truth throughout the book. She included facts which are very important and essential to any news story. She obtained quotes from people from all walks of life. And she provided both sides to the ever complicated story of the Middle East.

But the most valuable information a journalist can take away from this piece of nonfiction is that no matter how long you've been a journalist, the awkward task of talking to people never fully goes away. I nodded fervently to myself when she described the discomforting feeling of talking to someone a second after tragedy strikes. It feels insensitive and wrong, and I'm glad someone of Ayed's stature and expertise brought it up.

Last year, my classmates and I read Journey for Justice by Mike McIntyre which was a non-fiction work. When comparing the two, I can't help but notice that McIntyre's book was much more interesting (and easy) to read. I think it's because it had a human angle complete with plenty of interaction and quotes. It was structured like a novel with short paragraphs. But because Ayed's book was non-fiction, she can't exactly conjure up interaction when there wasn't any. Ayed's book was also about people, but it was just bogged down by so many facts, names, and dates.

When reading this book, I couldn't help thinking of my parents. They, too, came from a refugee camp in a war-stricken country. But they would never do what Ayed's parents have done. I don't think they would want to go back to Cambodia, let alone with their only daughter, to the place that caused them so much pain and anguish. When I read that Ayed and her family went back to Jordan, all I thought was, why? And even though Ayed said she was thankful for that experience, I don't think I would have reacted the same way. I imagine I would be bitter for a good part of my life.

But I'll never know what that's like.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Foster care makes hearts and wallets heavy

"Do you like Dora?" Jerome Rumbaoa, 22, asks his five-year-old foster sibling, L.

"I like Dora," L giggles, not looking up. She fiddles with her purple plastic ring.

"What else?" he presses.

"Batman," she smiles. "And Jerome."

They laugh.

Bloodvein River (
L is one of three Aboriginal foster children living in the Rumbaoa residence. She is also the child who has stayed with the family the longest, since she was two weeks old in 2007. The other two kids currently in the Rumbaoas' care, M and A, are newer additions to the family. L and A came from Hollow Water Reserve while M came from Bloodvein Reserve.

The Rumbaoas have been a foster family since 2007, but they had a different batch of kids at first.

"It started with two sisters and one brother. They were teenagers, maybe about 13-14. The oldest sister was 14," Rumbaoa explains. "That was a different experience because the teenagers were kind of rebellious and they wanted to do what they wanted to do."

Rumbaoa's parents had applied for foster care through the Southeast Child and Family Services. Rumbaoa says this particular branch deals with Aboriginal children from certain reserves. The application process had included good references, household inspections, and personal interviews.

Rumbaoa reveals, "[My parents also] had to attend a workshop that teaches them to communicate and how to handle kids and how to discipline them."

At that workshop, the parents were taught to take care of Aboriginal kids.

"When these kids ask where the parents are or what happened to the parents or if we are their blood families, we would have to respond, 'oh, your parents are trying to get better and you'll be with them,'" Rumbaoa says.

M, the newest foster child, has been separated from his mom since March since he joined the Rumbaoa family. When asked why he switched families, he replied with, "'cause she's drinking."

He recalls the day he was taken away. "When I was hiding under the table, she told me to go to my room and I don't know who was carrying me from the living room. [...] I had to go with my CFS worker."

The Rumbaoas haven't had any problems so far with Child and Family services, but some foster care agencies aren't as thorough as CFS when it comes to background checks.

According to an article on CBC entitled "Canadian foster care in crisis, experts say", some children are placed in foster homes without complete safety checks. Some families don't even care about the kids and just do it for the money. The article reads, "Foster-care rates differ by province, but tend to range between $23 and just over $30 a day."

It sickens me to think that someone could be signing up to be a foster parent with ill intentions. These children have been through so much and to imagine them tossed into an equally terrible situation is painful. I've heard of people solely viewing these Aboriginal foster children as petty cheques in their bank accounts, and I don't like it one bit.

I've seen the difference these foster kids have made on Rumbaoa's life. They have opened his eyes and filled his heart with something he's never experienced before. Once oblivious to Aboriginal issues, Rumbaoa is now attending pow wows with his foster siblings so that they don't forget their culture and that he can learn about it.

For more information about foster care, go to the Child and Family Services website.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Turn Sunday into a fun day

I've recently been given the wonderful opportunity to write the 7 things to do column for the Sunday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. My first issue came out yesterday, September 30. Click here to read.

Things I've learned while writing this column:

Compared to every other day of the week, Sunday is pretty uneventful. I mean, September 30 was relatively action-packed due to Culture Days and CIBC Run for the Cure, but it took me three to four hours to find seven different events to write about. Searching definitely tested my patience, because I'm a very impatient person, and I surprisingly found the thrill in the hunt. It was like looking for treasure, as corny as it sounds. Which leads me to my next point. . . .

Writing the column showed me many sides of Winnipeg. I was told to look for events that weren't as well-known or highly advertised. I tried to include as much diversity into that column, discussing a book launch, a dance workshop, and a Motown concert. This week, I already found an Assiniboine Park walk on The group organizer, Stacey Sigurdson, organized this walk for their group called Out and About Winnipeg Social Group. The group's purpose is to organize low-key, usually outdoor events for anyone to come out, be active, and have a good time. This was one of my favourite finds, and it makes me want to write a long-form article about it.

Keep a directory of websites and sources on which to find events. This is a definite time-saver. Instead of spending so many hours looking for events, I turn to websites such as,, and for event listings to make my job easier. They can lead to other great websites with events that may not be as well-known.

Divide events into categories. This helps the column from being too art-heavy, festival-heavy, and so on. Variety is the spice of life. I learned I can't please everyone, but I tried to get as much diversity into the list as possible.

Have fun! I'm having a great time writing this column. It feels good to control what content to withhold or share with the readers (I mean this in the least controlling way possible). For myself, Sundays are family days, so I try to write about events that are meant for families to enjoy. I think this column exists to inspire families to take time from their busy schedules and spend their day dancing or taking a walk in Assiniboine Park instead. At least, that's what I'm going to strive for while I'm there.

Happy Sundays, guys.