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280 characters is already making me a worse writer

November 10 2017 |

Earlier this week, Twitter rolled out the ability to post up to 280 characters at a time to every one of its users, myself included.

This has already made me a worse writer.

I know they’ve done all sorts of research into this and don’t owe me anything, so this isn’t a complaint post. It’s an observational one.

Being limited to 140 characters at a time was, for me, a good thing. No longer having that limitation makes Twitter a worse tool, for me.

 

Few things have done as much to help me combat bad writing habits as Twitter’s old 140-character limit. Even with the advent of Twitter threads, which allowed me to go on and on, the goal of getting as much information as possible into a single Tweet remained. Unnecessary words and poorly formed sentences would be cut in an effort to fit the format. With greater brevity came greater clarity.

You’d think the fact I’ve already gone over the 140 character limit might make me see the value in removing it, but it hasn’t. When I look back at the Tweets I’ve made since the roll-out I see bad articulation and poor distillation of ideas. I’m serious when I say I would like the option of returning to the 140 character limit and only going to 280 when I explicitly ask for more.

Antoine de Saint-Expupery wrote, “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” He was right, and it only took him 105 characters to say so.

 

Filed under: writing





A l’il professional news…

October 31 2017 |

Though I love radio, I will be spending the next few months as CBC’s digital producer for Prince George/northern B.C.

My key role is to translate great stories you hear on CBC Daybreak North into versions that will find you in your news feeds on facebook and cbc.ca.

The best way to get these stories is as follows:

1. Facebook –> http://facebook.com/daybreaknorth
2. Twitter –> http://twitter.com/daybreaknorth
3. Bookmark –> http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/british-columbia/topic/Tag/CBC%20Prince%20George




Gord Downie, 53 → 

October 18 2017 |

“Fireworks exploding the distance

Temporary towers soar

Fireworks emulating heaven

Til there are no stars anymore.”

Damn.

The Best of the Tragically Hip Mixtape.




Precision in language (and identity)

October 5 2017 |

You’re writing a story about people living in Toronto. Do you refer to them as

a. Torontonians

b. Ontarians

c. Canadians

d. North Americans

Every answer is technically right. However, there are different levels of accuracy within each term.

If people in Toronto are voting for a new mayor you’d probably say “Torontonians are going to the polls” rather than “North Americans are going to the polls”, because it more precisely communicates the identity of the people you’re talking about.

I bring this up in the context of a column written by Melanie Lefebvre and Alicia Elliott for the Walrus titled ‘We Didn’t Choose to Be Called Indigenous.’1 It’s a meditation on the way in which Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native/Indian people have been given generic monikers over the years, rather than being referred to by their specific nation.

“The continual refusal of Canada to acknowledge our names for ourselves, insisting instead on “Indian,” or later “Aboriginal,” or now “Indigenous,” has ideological roots in the same idea. We name you. We grant you your identity—or not. You are ours to name as we choose. “

By the end, they suggest some steps Canadians can take to take part in reconciliation, including, “Learn the treaty history of the lands that you live on. Learn how to say the names of the Indigenous nations who traditionally cared for those lands—in their language.”

In my read, it’s an ask to learn and think about Indigenous people not as a generic, catch-all category but in more specific ways: Dakelh are not Haida are not Annishnawbe any more than Albertans are Manitobans are Newfoundlanders or Canadians and Mexicans are Americans despite being part of North America. There is a certain amount of shared experience, but there are also unique historic and cultural characteristics that make more precise terms helpful.

However, in a somewhat less charitable reading, former Walrus editor Jon Kay summarized the piece this way:

In his subsequent replies, Kay makes clear it’s his belief Elliott and Lefebvre are arguing the word “Indigenous” is no longer an OK to use and are embarking in language policing:

“Ive read a LOT of pieces like this over last year. Lots of focus on labels. This one seems like a rhetorical ante-raise over the others.”

“In six months, there will be another preferred label. I’ll wait for that one.”

“the smallness is the problem. college students & social-justice activists think they’re saving the world by policing language on FB threads”

The thing is, I don’t understand where Kay’s reading of this piece comes from (I’ve asked him, he’s yet to reply).

One reason I don’t think Lefebvre and Elliott are attempting to prevent anyone from using the term “Indigenous” is because they use it themselves, multiple times in the piece.

They also specifically acknowledge the impracticality of referring to specific nations at all times, writing, “We could not be “The Hopitu-Oceti-Sakowin-Kanien’kehá:ka-Powhatan-Chahta-Annishnawbe-Beothuk,” and acknowledge there is some use in catch-all terms such as “Indigenous” to acknowledge shared/similar experience across groups as a result of the last 200 years or so.

The suggestion, as I read it, is simply to strive for the most accurate terminology possible when referring to Indigenous people: “Indigenous” works when referring to people from different nations, but if you’re speaking about an individual, find out which nation they belong to– how they self-identify– and use that.

It’s precision in language and it’s something I personally think is worth striving for.

 


  1. Elliott has said she doesn’t feel the title accurately reflects the purpose of the piece

Filed under: writing





250News shutting down → 

September 15 2017 |

This is shame. 250News.com has been an important force in the world of media and politics in Prince George and beyond.
 
I remember when I had a short internship working in a government office there were some key websites political operatives monitored — the Vancouver Sun, The Victoria Times-Colonist, and 250News as a sole representative from the north. Over the past decade it’s probably the news site I’ve visited the most, and I’ve learned a lot as both a citizen and a journalist from reading it.
 
The dedication the Meisners showed to covering city hall is especially commendable, and the legacy is the number of of other organizations that now dedicate resources to council meetings and others– and one I hope carries on, because without 250 there everyone else is going to have to step up their game.
 
As Tyler Sabourin points out, they also were pioneers in digital news, from publishing news as it happens to fostering an online community of people engaged in local goings-ons.
 
Elaine Macdonald-Meisner apologizes to those who will miss the organization, but no apology is needed– she’s making the decision that’s best for her, and I’m glad of it.
 
Hats off to her, and to the late Ben Meisner, and to everyone who made a go of independent local news in the north.




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