In Defense of the Truth

I never really thought that Donald Trump being elected the President of the United States would have much of an effect on us here in Canada.

But now I’m beginning to see that through TV screens and laptop speakers, Trump has already crossed our border and is cementing the long-standing yet wildly unfounded notion that the press and its reporters are gossip-hungry vultures who get off on destroying innocent people’s reputations with unsubstantiated “fake news,” to borrow some classic fear-mongering vernacular from Mr. Trump himself.

In the early morning hours of February 14, 2017, a 58-year-old Winnipeg Transit driver named Irvine Fraser was stabbed and killed while he was working. Brian Kyle Thomas, 22, has been charged with the crime.

In the hours and days that followed, we heard from colleagues of Fraser about what a fantastic person he was, and there was an outpouring of sympathy from the community of Winnipeg in the wake of a tragedy that most people had wrapped up nicely with a bow inside their heads: “Upstanding, blue-collar family man slain on job by young punk.”

On February 16, the Winnipeg Free Press published this article: Winnipeg Transit driver was facing serious criminal charges prior to his death. In short, the article shatters the aforementioned illusion that mourners had previously bought into by bringing to light allegations of repeated sexual abuse by Fraser on a now-adult woman, beginning when she was as young as four years old.

First and foremost, I’d like to express that the top priority of any credible/ethical newsroom — which the Winnipeg Free Press is, I assure you — is to find the truth and publish it. Not three quarters of the truth, or only the attractive parts of it; all of it. This is a fact, which means it’s not something that can be debated, despite any “alternative facts” you might have.

Sometimes, the truth is uncovered in segments, over time, or the truth is misreported and needs to be corrected and updated as a story unfolds. But the press has an enduring obligation to report as much of the truth as they’re aware of, so the public can make an informed decision on how to feel, but also so that they aren’t lying by omission.

The reason I wanted to write something today, is because some of the comments on the WFP’s story infuriated me. Not just because they were painfully ignorant and uneducated, but because they were all just continuing to roll this snowball of hatred for the press down the hill, helping it gather more and more momentum.

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This was the highest-rated comment on the story, with 29 Likes. A suggestion that this professional newsroom went out of their way to “dig up dirt” on the victim in order to “take pressure off the attacker.” Normally I would completely dismiss a comment as absurd as this, but the fact that 29 other people agreed with what she said is, frankly, terrifying.

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On the flip side, and to provide a small glimmer of hope, we also have comments like Jay’s. What’s most important here, is his repeated use of variations of “possibly.” This is something most people don’t seem to understand. Journalists, if educated properly, have the utmost respect for an individual’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court. No one is reporting that this man molested a child.

I don’t work in journalism anymore, and as much respect and appreciation as I have for those who continue to bring us the facts in a world that is becoming more and more hostile toward the media, it’s days like today that make me so thankful I chose to get out of that industry. There are far better-suited people with more patience to continue beating the dead horse of trying to reason with a general population that is somehow becoming denser in a world of infinite information.

I guess my conclusion here is that if you don’t trust the press, or believe they report to their own narrative, please stop consuming their product, or do so more quietly. Because, ironically, in the name of trying to expose these “corrupt newsrooms,” you’re the one telling the biggest lie of all.

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Fort McMurray

When I first drove into Fort McMurray on April 30, 2012, it was a gorgeous sunny day. I’d just spent the past three days driving through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, finishing off with my first-ever drive up Highway 63, just a few days after a fiery head-on collision claimed seven lives on what is commonly referred to as ‘The Highway of Death.’

I was 23 years old, and had just done something I never thought I’d be able to do: graduate from college. I was restless, bored of my hometown and, finally equipped with an education, I was ready to get out of town. In fact, at that time I was exclusively applying for jobs out of province, that’s how badly I wanted to leave Winnipeg behind.

Fort McMurray answered my call.

I vividly remember hesitating for just a moment when I was officially offered my position as a reporter at the Fort McMurray Today daily newspaper, my false bravado finally giving way to anxiety and uncertainty as I realized all at once everything saying ‘yes’ to this opportunity would mean.

I sold the large majority of my possessions, sublet my apartment, packed everything I owned into my brand new 2012 Toyota Corolla, hugged my mom and dad, and I drove away.

I called Fort McMurray home for 13 months after that. From fist fights at black-tie galas to 8-hour city council meetings to black bears shot in backyards, I became a journalist, made lifelong friends, fell in love with photography, and grew into the person I am today.

Fort Mac wasn’t perfect. Far from it. Everything you’ve heard about the place is probably true, to a lesser extent, and everything you’ve heard in defense of that is probably also true, to a lesser extent. People like to exaggerate. So just marry the two opinions together and I’ve got a crisp $5 bill that says that’s a perfectly accurate depiction of Fort McMurray.

But to me, Fort McMurray was an opportunity that nobody had to give me. I wanted to find out what I was made of and Fort McMurray was there for me to make as much or as little of that opportunity as I chose.

It’s been an interesting feeling the past few days, watching footage of the city burning, the journalist still in me longing to be there just for that one photo…

I may not miss the city, but I would be ignorant to deny owing it a massive debt of gratitude, and I think that sums up many people’s feelings toward Fort McMurray lately. Much of the time it’s but a pit stop for the transient who are looking for something missing in their lives; in many cases, you’ve had it with you all along, but people seem to find it in Fort McMurray.

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For once I agree with Torts

It is not my intention to drag out the issue that was my last post, but it was the first thing I thought of when I saw this recent clip of New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella.

Normally I find Torts to be way over the top in how he goes out of his way to be deliberately difficult with reporters, but he was right on the money here.

We don’t actually get to hear the reporter’s question, although the voice-over on TSN says he was, “asked in an indirect way” about Rick Nash’s lack of production. Much the same as Claude Noel was asked in an indirect way about how he thought that game went.

“Are you asking me is Nash playing good enough? Is that what you’re asking me?” Tortorella challenged the reporter.

“Yes, but without… asking it that way,” he responded.

“Ask me that way. You’ll get an easier answer if you just ask me that way, instead of beatin’ around the bush.”

I can’t say I understand why some reporters seem to be too intimidated by a coach after a loss to do their job effectively. I mean, I suppose I understand it well enough, but I guess I’d just suggest the reporter try to find a little more confidence then or maybe a new profession.

Hopefully if someone is a sports reporter, he or she is a sports fan. And being able to think like a sports fan is one of the greatest assets a sports reporter can have. A sports reporter should know what he or she would want to read, the answers he or she would want, as a regular fan.

“How did you feel the game went?” might seem like a lazy question, but yes, fans want to hear the coach’s thoughts on the game. “How tough is this loss?” Not a sports fan in the world who wants or needs the answer to that question.

Ask the question you want an answer to. It’s your job, don’t be afraid to do it.

How tough is this loss?

Jobs in journalism are hard to come by. I mean that within the broad spectrum of all job industries in the world, and I feel qualified to say that living in Fort McMurray, surrounded by the oilsands industry, in which, if you want a job, you’ve got one. But as with any industry, if you’ve got talent and work hard, someone will recognize it and give you a job.

What I’m trying to say is, since the broader picture of journalism as a whole doesn’t have a lot of jobs to offer, it’s kind of like trying to find a needle in a haystack if you want to get even more specific about the job you want, ie. politics, crime, arts… sports.

I never wanted to be a city reporter, the job I have now with the Fort McMurray Today, but I realize that if I choose to sit around and wait for a sports journalism position to open up, I might die of starvation before I’m employed. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard at the job I currently have, it’s just not where I ultimately want to end up.

NOELSo when I’m watching a post-game scrum with the Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Claude Noel, after arguably the team’s most devastating loss in the two seasons they’ve been back in the NHL, and I hear someone who has a job I would kill to have ask him, “How tough is this loss?” it makes me want to scream until I throw up blood.

What exactly are these guys doing in the three hours they’re up in the press box, being paid to watch a hockey game? I realize they need to have a game story as good as written by the time the 3rd period buzzer sounds, I know what’s required, but really? The best question you have after 60 minutes of hockey is, “How tough is this loss?”

I don’t want to pass judgment on whoever it was that asked the question, because I know absolutely nothing about the situation. It could be someone new in the position (although Noel was quick to point out that the offender asked the same question last season…) and I know what it’s like to feel like a small fish in a big pond and end up asking a stupid question. Yes, stupid questions do exist, no matter what your parents tell you.

I guess it just dismays me to see someone not care enough to come up with one decent question to ask, when I’d like to think I would have been jotting down potential educated questions based on the game to ask during the post-game scrum.

But then I also think to myself, maybe this person simply takes his or her job for granted. Maybe I would have asked the exact same question if I was hired by a major media outlet as a sports reporter right out of college. But instead, I’m actually missing hockey games I’d love to watch, because I’m in a city council meeting, trying to force myself to care about things that wouldn’t even be on my radar otherwise.

So when I finally do get a chance to ask Claude Noel a question after a Jets game, I can appreciate how fortunate I am to be doing something I love for a living, realize what I had to put up with in order to get there, and come up with something a little bit better than, “How tough is this loss?”

The other bit of good news is that I’ve been there. I’m not just speculating that it’s where I want to be, I already know it is. It’s not a place that I’m trying to get to, it’s a place I’m trying to get back to.

Past and future.

Past and future.

Mental Health in Elementary Schools

I don’t normally cover anything school related here at the Fort McMurray Today, but thanks to a co-worker’s illness, had an opportunity to do just that a couple of weeks ago. Frankly, I might have passed on it if it was some fuzzy-wuzzy fundraiser story — not that I’m Satan and don’t support fundraisers, they’re just all the exact same to cover and if you’ve done one, you’ve done ’em all — but it happened to be about something that I was genuinely interested in learning more about.

Maybe I’m influenced by my own experiences through elementary, middle and high school, but I think almost all kids experience some varying degree of depression or anxiety at some point — or multiple points — between kindergarten and Grade 12. Of course, looking back now and weighing our current problems against being called into the principal’s office for throwing a snowball, we realize things weren’t so bad back then. But at the time, you felt like Tupac Shakur; “It’s just me against the world, baby.”

I had the opportunity to visit one of multiple schools in the Fort McMurray area that were implementing this FRIENDS Program, in order to help prevent depression and anxiety, or help kids deal with it better if they’re already going through it.

I had nothing like this when I was a kid.

I had a school counsellor who, as far as I know, was just “there if you needed her.” I can honestly say that I really have no idea what it was that she did at my elementary school, because I think the only time I ever saw her doing anything at all was when she was brought in for a brief Sex Ed lesson, and that was probably in the 6th Grade, I can’t really remember.

But you would think she would lend a hand or sit down to chat with a kid when he or she was being particularly troublesome, to try and find out what was going on. And believe me, I was “particularly troublesome,” and if you don’t believe me, I’ll be glad to provide some references.

There’s no doubt that I ultimately reached a point where I was depressed, and according to my mom, it was painfully obvious. But I still never saw the school counsellor; I don’t think it was even suggested to me that perhaps I should. I find myself wondering now what the difference was back then as opposed to now, when we have entire programs implemented in schools to help kids deal with depression and anxiety. Was it a more taboo subject back then? Was there not enough awareness to understand that, although their problems are comparatively more insignificant, kids can still be legitimately depressed? Maybe it was just the staff at my elementary school not doing their jobs.

During my interview with the psychologist I was shocked to hear her say that more kids now are coming forward and identifying themselves as having some sort of mental health issue. Maybe it’s kids that are different today.

I could speculate all day long about why mental health seems to be taken a lot more seriously today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but more than anything I was just pleased to learn that something like the FRIENDS Program exists and is making a difference in the lives of the kids who need it.

Anyone who wants to weigh in on how mental health issues were handled in their schools, feel free to leave a comment, I’d be interested to hear.

What’s my age again?

In a fit of narcissism (okay, maybe nostalgia) I was reading through some of my old blog posts the other day, specifically the one I wrote when I first made the decision to leave Winnipeg and move to Fort McMurray.

It was only eight months ago but, no exaggeration, it feels like years — multiple years — since I wrote that. You may be wondering whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but just don’t ask me, because I don’t even know.

I was leaving my hometown for my first post-college job, and had no idea what was in store in for me, if I’d like it here, or even if I would be moderately successful at this whole journalism thing.

I mentioned to someone just the other day that I really only started to feel officially comfortable in my position at the paper about a couple of months ago. I probably felt like I was comfortable two months or so in, but around month six I realized I wasn’t even really comfortable back then, because now I feel this whole new level of comfort. So I suppose around the one year mark, I’ll renege on these comments as well, and say NOW I’m comfortable here…

There’s still no question that if I plan to stay in journalism (of the print or photo variety) I’ll need to make the move over to sports eventually. I had the opportunity to cover two Fort McMurray Oil Barons games over the weekend, and the difference in my passion and enthusiasm between that and the regular, day-to-day news can’t even be properly measured. To this day, covering hockey, be it university, AJHL or NHL, remains the only work I’ve ever done in my life that I can truly say didn’t feel like a job. And, to Darren Dreger’s dismay, I fully intend to pursue sports journalism as a long-term career.

By far what has surprised me the most since coming up here is my relatively new-found love of photography.

Fun fact: I didn’t touch a DSLR camera in my entire two years in CreComm. I even had assignments that required me to take my own photos with a professional camera, so… you do the math, just don’t tell my instructor. Thanks.

Fact is, professional photography was just one of those things that intimidated the crap out of me. I’m not really sure why, since I spent probably over 100 hours of second-year college with a professional camcorder, shooting a video documentary for my final project of the year.

Even once I was at the paper, I was pretty afraid of picking up a DSLR camera. And it goes without saying that the dial was pretty consistently set to Automatic every time I went out with it. 593079185

Then I went out to an Ellis Hall concert on June 3, and snapped this photo —————————————————————–>

And I think I can pretty honestly pinpoint that as the moment I got the “bug” for photography.

As someone who hasn’t studied for a damn thing in his life, when I begin to independently research something on my own time, that’s a pretty good indicator that I have a genuine, and pretty strong, interest in something. I started reading up on the manual shooting modes, trying to learn the terminology, techniques to make my photos look better, but most of all, I just tried to get in as much “practice” shooting photos as possible.

I also think a “good photo” can only be 50% (at the MOST) credited to the photographer who took it. Are there great photographers out there? Of course. They know exactly what settings to have their camera set to in a given situation, but at the end of the day, what did they do to capture the moment? They moved their index finger a fraction of a centimeter and pushed a button. The great photos that exist today, wouldn’t if it wasn’t for their subjects just happening to be doing whatever it was they were doing. The photographer was just there to capture it.

I did get my first real taste of shooting a hockey game over the weekend though, and listen, I’ve never tried crack, but I would hazard a guess that photographing hockey, for me, is a very similar sensation to doing crack.

Over the two hockey games I worked, I shot more than 1,000 photos, which were ultimately narrowed down to about 30 or 40 that I kept.

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At at a smaller newspaper like the Fort McMurray Today, we don’t have the luxury of being able to send two or three reporters to a hockey game, meaning I had to stay on top of tweeting, and write the game story for both games on top of taking photos. I can only imagine the level of enjoyment I would find in only being responsible for the photographs.

Some of my other personal favourites can be found on my Flickr Photostream.

But as much fun as I have here doing some of these things and keeping busy, I’m ready for a vacation, and looking forward to going home for almost two weeks on Dec. 28. My brain may not know how to properly react when the combination of no work, being home, and World Junior Championship all comes together at the same time. I just shivered.

I suppose what I’m trying to say that I’m beginning to feel like I’m accomplishing things I wanted to come out here to do, and even things I had no intention of conquering when I decided to move here eight months ago. It’s been a great, educational, sometimes very tiring, experience thus far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2013 has in store.

(Assuming we all make it past Dec. 21.)