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‘For those who don’t know…’

May 1 2017 |

In some writing spaces, there’s an actual physical list of clichéd words and terms on a wall- phrases that have been overused to the point of being meaningless. It’s a good practice to remove crutches and help sharpen writing.

One of my personal crutches that I’ve been thinking about lately, which is “for those who don’t know.” I use it when we have an expert guest on and I want the host to prompt them to give a basic explainer on the topic at hand. For example:

“For those who don’t know, what is the first-past-the-post voting system?”

“For those who don’t know, why does the U.S. think Canada is unfairly subsidizing softwood lumber?”

“For those who don’t know, what is geoengineering?”

It’s a way of making the topic accessible while demonstrating that we, the journalists, already know all this stuff. This is for the benefit of the listener, not us.

I’m wondering if that’s necessary. If a host were to start a conversation with “What is first-past-the-post voting?” would listeners at home throw their hands in the air in frustration at their ignorance?

Or would it be pretty clear that this is being done for the benefit of establishing the basics before moving on to the more nuanced portions of the conversation?

Interested in your thoughts.

Filed under: radio, writing

The second Facebook profile experiment

April 29 2017 |

TL;DR: I’ve made a new Facebook profile designed from the ground-up to be an effective tool for me to use as a journalist. 

There are two reasons you might want to connect with it:

  1. You use your own Facebook to do things you would like I, as a journalist, to know about (ie you are a community organizer, business owner, musician, politician in northern British Columbia). 
  2. You use Facebook to follow news and get information about Prince George/northern British Columbia.

My current Facebook is useless, personally or professionally

I’ve had an ambivalent relationship to Facebook for a long time now but over the past six months or so it really feels like things have come to a head.

The problem is this: I joined the network back when you need an @university email address to do so, and there were no such things as groups, pages and all the other bells and whistles that currently exist there. The friends you connected with were actual friends and the entire social graph was pretty much limited to people roughly the same demographic as me.

Since then, of course, it’s grown up to be the most dominant media company int he world and I have moved through several jobs to my current iteration as a journalist.

As a journalist, Facebook is a great tool. I can join community and interest groups pertaining to my beat, follow pages and politicians and use it to connect with strangers who have interesting ideas and information.

As a personal network, Facebook is also a great tool. I can see pictures of new family members, keep up with old friends and organize activities.

Trying to use Facebook as a personal and professional network is completely useless.

This became obvious to me on a recent vacation. I turned off my work email, put an “out of office” message on my phone and then… tried to figure out what to do with Facebook.

I still wanted the personal part of the app. I wanted to post some photos. I also still wanted to see what was going on in the life of my family member’s. But for a little while, at least, I didn’t really want to keep up with all the community boards and groups that I was following for work. There was no clean break.

I’ve tried various ‘notification’ settings to adjust what I see in my newsfeed, but it just doesn’t work. The problem is, I need at least two distinct newsfeeds: one for work hours, and one for personal. I don’t want to never see posts from community groups, I just don’t want to see them when I’m not working. I’ve tried lists, and they don’t work that well, either, especially since you can’t put groups in them.

Similarly, people connect with me for at least two distinct reasons. Some are because we have a shared past or we currently see each other socially. Others are because we’ve connected on a professional level- me using them as a source, or them following my reporting on a story they’re interested in. Those groups are not necessarily interested in seeing the same sort of posts and as a result I don’t really want to post anything.

Further, I’m increasingly using Facebook as a way to reach out to contacts I want to speak to professionally. I always identify myself as a journalist in those instances, but sometimes it still feels a bit weird, like using an @hotmail address to reach out for an interview request. I think I’d feel better making these approaches using an account that is clearly demarcated as a professional, journalistic account. Incidentally, this is also why I’m not just making a “Andrew Kurjata: journalist” page- I want to be able to chat with people from the account, and that is not a current feature pages have (unless someone messages them, first).

So that’s why I’m starting a new Facebook profile, one designed from the ground-up to work as a professional, public networking tool. I’ll still post some personalish stuff there- like photos from around town and that sort of thing. I imagine it will be something like my Twitter account, although slightly less frequent.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try paring down my initial account, starting by leaving groups and unfollowing pages. I don’t have any real plans for how I will use it because I think step one is seeing what it looks like once I’ve turned it back into a personal network.

As for the new account, feel free to friend or follow, I do plan on keeping it pretty open to see how it works operating fully publicly although I will continue to enforce my rules for commenting. However, you are under no obligation to connect with me here, or anywhere- no hard feelings, at all, I am doing this because I don’t want people to see things they aren’t interested in.


Filed under: journalism, social media | Discussion

“I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.” → 

March 26 2017 |

I first read this piece by Denise Balkisoon on what it means to be Canadian when it came out over a month ago, and I’ve come back to it multiple times.

There are many, many great parts of this, starting with a rumination on how countries are places, not just ideas:

“The closest I got to considering the physicality of countries was thinking about borders, which are ideas about how imaginary lines should be imposed onto a real space, followed by vigorous attempts to police them. It’s weird that invisible borders breed cultures, but they do, and one thing that I’ve always known is that Canada is not the only way a country can be.”

And this, on ‘Canada the good’:

“My Canada has always been a place where the idea of white Anglophone superiority is driven home with consistent ferocity. Though I have a Canadian passport accepted around the world, that doesn’t mean I am accepted as Canadian. I used to internalize that rejection, fuelling my travel with a desperate longing for a new home. That phase is over now. I know that I belong to this place, and I’ve become used to asserting that.

“Between my global views and my local wounds, I consider my citizenship a lucky penny with a tarnished side. Canada was, without a doubt, a good place to be born. I have had a safe and comfortable life here. But I refuse to be endlessly grateful to anyone other than my parents. The comfort I live in is no more than I deserve, since housing, health care and education are basic human rights, and hardly guaranteed to every person born in this country.”

And on the division between ‘mainstream’ Canada and the lived experience of many Indigenous people:

“A bit out from the road, in the middle of some tall grass, I noticed a sign featuring what I saw as “Indigenous art” and advertising a helpline for native women coping with violence. I had driven by at least five times before, but this was the first time I registered that sign. And I felt, physically, the intense individuality of my lived experience of space, and how the same small bit of Earth could be utterly different for different people. In the language of The City and The City, I had experienced a breach. And, as in Besźel and UI Qoma, unseeing is almost impossible. It’s not an idea, but a truth: I’m a citizen of a place that was laid right on top of another.”

Highly recommended.

The Manitoba Sound → 

March 26 2017 |

Melissa Martin investigates the Manitoban accent and its roots in Indigenous languages and waves of settlers:

“Manitobans don’t think about this much. Our accents aren’t famous or a point of civic pride. Unlike English speakers in New Yawk or Bawwston, we don’t often see our ways of speaking presented in pop culture media.

“So we don’t usually conceptualize ourselves as speaking like Manitobans — until someone else points it out.

“Yet language is tied to place, as surely as mountains and rivers. The words we use, the colours of our vowels, the way consonants find their way through our teeth: those belong to here, too — and they are changing.”

I love learning about these hidden, subtle things that create community and identity in almost imperceptible ways.

The New York Times looks into ‘Month 13’ of the 12-month private sponsorship of Syrian refugees in Canada → 

March 26 2017 |

An excellent piece of reporting by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn in the New York Times following the experience of well-meaning Canadians and their Syrian sponsors as they move away from helping their charges through everything towards, hopefully, self-sufficiency. As expected, it’s complicated.

“She and the other sponsors asked themselves: How could this be happening, after they had grown so close to the family? And did they really have the right to know or question how Mr. Hajj used money?

“In reply to his question about welfare, Ms. Karas did not mince words. ‘We didn’t bring you here and give you all this help so that you could become a drain on our government system,’ Ms. Karas told him. She explained that social assistance was a stopgap measure for people in need. “We expected you to go out and get a job and support your family.

“Mr. Hajj agreed not to apply. “’’m a son to these sponsors, who have lived in this country their whole life,’ he said later. ‘They must know for sure what is right and what is wrong.'”

Honest, stark and, importantly, human, this is great work. And, not to take away from this, it should be asked why this is a front page story on the Times rather than a Canadian publication.

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There are messages everywhereIf you don't walk in random places you don't see stuff like thisOn the side of the old RCMP building in Prince George. #graffiti #cityofPGInteresting.#cityofPGMy office buddy is cuter than yours