Why is it news?

With all that celebrity around, it's possible nobody noticed the football game that took place in Indianapolis.

I don’t know which was worse: the hype over last weekend’s so-called sporting match in Indianapolis, the anticipation over the new 30-second commercials (reportedly costing US$3.6 million each for the airtime), or the guessing about what Madonna would do during her half-time show at the Super Bowl. The newspapers, magazines and TV commentators were all atwitter all week.

“Would she employ her thin veneer English accent?” one asked.

“Would she be naked?” hoped another.

My answer was a resounding: “Who cares?”

When you just gotta know

"I just gotta know."
"I just gotta know."

Earlier this week, in a news-reporting course I teach at Centennial College, something suddenly interrupted the classroom discussion. It was just after 8:30 on Tuesday morning and a number of my students had their heads down. I recognized the posture. They were texting on their smartphones beneath their desks. I was about to call them on it, when I realized the source of the distraction.

“Oscar nominations just out,” one of them admitted to me.

Three-generation learning curve

Hallways - empty all summer - began to fill this week with students back to school.
Hallways - empty all summer - began to fill this week with students back to school.

They were a long way from our consciousness in the dying days of spring. Nobody in our family had even thought of them back then. There was too much summer holiday ahead, too many barbeques, too many long weekends, for us to ever worry about them. But about two weeks ago – I think it was the Friday the CNE opened, the same day the advertisements began ganging up on us on TV and radio – suddenly, they were back in our faces: the three most important words of September.

“Back to school.”

Citizen Jack

Jack Layton (left) in a media scrum during the 2006 federal election.
Jack Layton (left) in a media scrum during the 2006 federal election. Toronto Observer photo.

Jack Layton gave me and my teaching colleagues a gift we shall always cherish. It was a political gift, yes. It actually took place in front of news cameras – during the 2006 federal election – so it was also a public gift. It was a gift that probably wasn’t appreciated by the mainstream media reporters present that day. That’s because, for a few moments, he ignored the big-name reporters from CTV, CBC and Global Television in Toronto in favour of the lesser known, less experienced and less jaded reporters – some of our first-year journalism students.

“I’ll take questions first from the Centennial College journalists,” Jack Layton said during the press conference that day.

Still a noble profession

The keys to ethical journalism
The keys to ethical journalism

Last winter, during one of the daily meetings with my staff at the Toronto Observer (the online newspaper produced by senior journalism students at Centennial College where I teach), one of my student reporters faced a dilemma. We had assigned her to attend the funeral of Sgt. Ryan Russell, the Toronto Police Service officer killed by a stolen pickup truck with a snow plow. It was too late for her to get a press pass to the funeral. So how, she wondered, would she get into the ceremony?

“Do I hide the fact I’m a reporter?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s a public funeral. You should be able to get in. But if they ask you not to take photographs, respect their wishes.”

Psychology of time

WATCHFACEA few weeks ago, at Centennial College where I teach, we realized things were reaching a breaking point. Students faced a never-ending stream of deadlines. Faculty appeared completely stressed out. And everybody seemed at wit’s end. So, we invited in a campus counsellor to conduct a stress workshop. Eventually, she just asked straight out, “What seems to be the problem?”

“I can’t seem to get things done,” one student said. “There’s never enough time.”

Never in November

Grave of J. Robertson, VC, at Farm.
Grave of James Robertson, VC, who served with the 27th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He died Nov. 6, 1917, during the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium. He was 35.

They tell me if things go a certain way, one day soon I’ll have this day to myself. I’ll be able to rise, take a leisurely breakfast and then do the right thing. They tell me if their plan is accepted, I’ll have all day to pay my respects to Canada’s veterans. That plan will mean I’ll have a statutory holiday on Nov. 11, on Remembrance Day. At least, that’s what the sponsor of a private member’s bill, MPP Lisa MacLeod, believes.

“There’s been an outpouring of support for Canadian soldiers, our war veterans and our war dead,” she told CBC a few days ago.

No more immunity for social media

I walked into my History of Broadcasting class last Friday morning. I told those present – about 50 Broadcasting and Film students at Centennial College in Toronto – that I was tossing out the lesson plan that day. I suggested I had a more contemporary issue on my mind. But I didn’t want to colour their responses. I simply asked for their take on the alleged gang rape of that student near Vancouver earlier in the week.

“It’s revolting,” one male student said.

Retreat, but write

At Sage Hill Writing Experience, writers (l-r) Shar Mitchell, Gayle Sacuta and Linda Killick, pose with Ted Barris in the Saskatchewan sunshine.
At Sage Hill Writing Experience, writers (l-r) Shar Mitchell, Gayle Sacuta and Linda Killick, pose with Ted Barris in the Saskatchewan sunshine.

Shar Mitchell and I greeted each other like old friends. We are. But we haven’t seen each other in years. We exchanged smiles and a hug. We got caught up on spouses and kids. We reminisced about the 1970s when she – then Shar Lenz – felt disillusioned with nursing and expressed an interest in the media. I offered some leads and she landed a job in television. She never looked back. From TV producer to feature writer to actor to concert tour assistant for the ’70s band Seals and Crofts, Shar’s professional life has brimmed with travel and experience. But with pleasantries over, she asked for my help with her next challenge.

“For 10 years I’ve been carrying this story like a yoke,” she said to me this week.