Tuesday, 27 March 2012

When Time Is the Essence

After Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre visited our lecture hall last Thursday decided—as per our assignment guidelines—to look up some of his stories on the Free Press website.

What I noticed when I was reading through the ones I brought up on my computer was how easy they were to read compared to Journey For Justice: How Project Angel Helped Crack the Candace Derksen Case. When reading McIntyre’s book I was distracted by the grammatical errors and the change in tone/style between the sections. So much so that I started keeping count of the typos. (I eventually stopped. What was the point?)

But the articles, written rapidly and with little patience according to McIntyre, have a kind of fluidity about them. They’re not structured in any blatantly obvious way, they just kind of answer questions as they come to mind.

I understand from listening to McIntyre talk that he’s a bit lacking in the kind of patience usually required to write and publish a book. He even mentioned that he chose a publisher that wouldn’t make him wait a year to properly vet his prose for those annoying spelling mistakes.

And, okay, I get it. He’s a reporter. He’s used to the rapid-fire gratification of seeing his words in print the very next day or within seconds if he’s posting it straight to online. A book takes longer, even with a publisher willing to print a second run of your book (hopefully free of typos).

But even so, there seems to be a weird disconnect between his book writing (so-so) and his article writing (graceful?). Where’s the justification for the difference?

Maybe I should have asked him during our Thursday seminar. Then again, I was really waiting for Wilma Derksen’s chance to speak. McIntyre often “set the stage” for any questions asked of Wilma, but what that meant was he would talk until there was nothing much for her to say.

She was the reason I was interested in the seminar.

But back to Journey For Justice, what I though worked in the book was the first section where McIntyre is telling the story of the days after Candace disappeared. It’s set up like a crime novel with Wilma as the protagonist.

What didn’t work for me was the repetitiveness in the last two sections. I found all the doctor reports and testimonials interesting…but only the first time I read it. It’s like if McIntyre had put away the book for a few more weeks and read it back to himself another time, he could have cut out 50 pages of stuff he already said.

My first reaction to this book was Urg, why do we have to read this? I know what happened. The idea of spending my time reading a book that I knew had an unhappy ending wasn’t appealing to me. That opinion changed some as I read the book—it was interesting to see into Wilma Derksen’s family as all the media coverage swirled around them.

What I think journalists can learn from this book is how important it is to remember that, no matter what you’re writing, you’re telling a story. Only tell your readers what they need to know, nothing more, and only once (maybe twice).

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Take a break, read our mag

Anyone leafing through the CreComm blogroll this week can probably tell something big--and I mean CreComm big--is happening.

The magazines that we conceptualized, wrote for, designed, laid-out, and edited are done. Let me introduce you to Interval magazine.

We're a lifestyle magazine for 13 and 14-year-olds. Why, you ask? Our answer is simple: we wanted one when we were that age.

Most of the "lifestyle" mags you come across are geared towards young, professional women. I subscribe to the Marie Claire way of life, in case you were wondering.

So we wanted to take what we could from those that came before us and make it relevant to teenagers who are still navigating their ways through middle and high-school. Think of Interval as a trail of bred crumbs that will lead you to university, college, or whatever comes next for you after graduation.

But, as many of my classmates will tell this project takes boat loads of mental energy. I find myself talking in cliches because my mind can't think of anything original to say.

As I'm writing this I'm thinking, I can do better than this. There's no witty banter, sarcastic comments or interesting insights into...okay, anything.

So my goal as it stands right now is this: make it to Friday at 3 p.m. And then sleep.

Signing off,

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Why not a happy ending?

With author Mike McIntyre coming to speak with our Journalism class in the next few weeks, I read Journey For Justice: How Project Angel Cracked the Candace Derksen Case.

I started Monday, finished Tuesday afternoon. I’m not saying this to boast about my exceptionally fast reading skills (because that would be weird and to be honest, I’m not that fast). I read this book so fast because I wanted the story to be over. Just get through it.

The thing about reading this story is I knew that it wasn’t going to be happy ending. Candace Derksen died six years before I was born. Frozen forever in time as the smiling 13-year-old of the posters that plastered Winnipeg. I knew this. And yet, for reasons that had to do more with school than my own personal curiosity, I had to read it.

Let me say right now that normally I like knowing endings, if only to prepare myself for tragedy. But the tragedy here didn’t involve a character that I had become invested in—she was a actual person. Living in my city.

So I struggled. And ripped though those pages so fast I actually tore a couple.

The question I want to ask Mr. McIntyre (though I know I’ll probably ask someone else to do it for me) is how did you begin to write a story that you knew was going to end this way. Death. How do you write towards death? My only guess would be that he wanted to show all that happened after Candace’s disappearance and death.

But still, how would you decide that?

Can’t fathom it.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


The second day of the Creative Communications IPP (Independent Personal Project) Presentations are over and done with. Only half a day left.

Watching the second years give their spiels about their inspirations, motivations, and trepidations concerning their respective books, video docs and assorted other projects, I was most interested in the ones done by a team.

2 people. Not one. Now initially, you could be forgiven for thinking that two people means half the work. But not so – at least in my experience.

With a team, there are the constant checks ins to make sure you’re on the same page, the long-ass conversations when you realize that you’re not, and the assumption that your mate is putting in as many hours as you are.

Thankfully, in CreComm there aren’t many group projects. (She said dryly.) Sitting in the auditorium, listening to quite a few beautiful speeches, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was falling further behind my own list of things to do.

I’d venture that the end of term is like this for everyone in school. It’s that panic that sets in with just over a month to go and a list of projects longer than both my arms. Everything will get done, it always does. It won’t be your best work, it really can’t be.
But what’s killing me as I start my own home-stretch is that I can’t control whether my teammates are running along beside me at full-steam.

Because it’s not just that they’re bits aren’t done, which in an individual project would only cause THEM additional stress. When you’re working in a group, if somebody’s not finishing with their phase one, there’s only so far you can go with phase two.

It waiting that peeves me right off.

So what does this mean for my mental health? I’m asking this question: When working in a group, where should we set our expectations? Should they be as high as the ones we set for ourselves? I don’t think so – we tend to be a lot harder on ourselves than we need to be and it seems expecting that out of someone you’ve know for eight months is setting yourself up for certain failure. I’ve known myself for 20 years and I still don’t meet all the ones I set for myself.

But I can’t accept that we should expect to do more for the group than the others. I’ve always been the kid who said ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll finish it up for us at home.’ But now, the projects are bigger and we can’t do it alone. Well, we could. But we’d need a little more time than CreComm allows.

So again, I ask a question: At what point do you blow your top. (Naturally, in the most professional manner possible.)

And I’ll tell you. I’m not the only one asking that today. With 5 major assignments due next week, anyone is likely to combust with frantic energy.

And now, I must sign off. My shoulder is killing me.