Saturday, November 29, 2008

IABC Gift of Communication - The Student Experience

I had the pleasure of attending the Gift of Communication event that was hosted by the Golden Horseshoe chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). The event was an opportunity for members of the IABC to speak to representatives from a handful of local charities, all of which are financially supported by the United Way in part, and help advise them on potential solutions to communications problems within their organization.

As a student in the Mohawk College Public Relations program, a group of our students were given the opportunity to take part in the event to learn from these communicators, and find out some of the issues facing area not-for-profit groups. I signed up to see what the event would be like, but that was before I knew the actual content of the event.

For the record, had I known the format of the event, I likely would have traded off my spot. No disrespect to the IABC or any of the organizations involved of course. The reason I say this is because I pictured myself 18 months ago, when I ran The Lung Association's Brant office, and I thought about whether or not I would have wanted to be that guy sitting and listening to other people try to understand how to fix my problems. It turned my stomach a little, it really did...

The format for the event turned out to make the experience. We were each allowed to sit at whichever table we wanted, and were sooned joined by the organization's representative(s), along with 1 or 2 communications professionals. We spent the next 90 minutes or so working through the operations 2 prime communications weaknesses, brainstorming all kinds of solutions.

My discussion involved The Eva Rothwell Centre at Robert Land. Ted Hodkinson represented the Centre, and the two of us were joined by Amy Wright from UPS and CritiCall Ontario's Christine Moon. The four of us discussed the communications difficulties the Centre was facing: how to communicate a message to an impoverished community of 8 500 people, and how to communicate the user expectations in a positive light.

A challenge was certainly in our midst. Social media would have direct effect on the users or potential users. Language barriers impede any written materials. Safety concerns create issues with a door-to-door campaign. And volunteers may have issues standing up to peers, especially ones who could potentially lash out.

Yet after an hour and a half of discussion, and very little out of my own mouth, we were able to come up with some ideas that I truly thought could help the cause.

And that was the story throughout the room. My group was just one of nine featuring similar issues, and yet, all of the discussions produced real solutions to real problems.

It was a rewarding feeling, all 'warm and fuzzy' like we were told before the session began. That truly was as billed.

The final component of the day was also an incredible thing for all of us students to witness as well. The final speech came from the head of the United Way for Hamilton Region. The man's name escapes me at this time. He gave a very strong and commanding speech that demonstrated simultaneously the passion for the organization and the heavy-handed leadership needed to help build a cohesive operation. He gave an overpowering message of demand and respect, a sort of higher eschlon of expectation for those who want the support during these difficult financial times.

There was a line that I took away from his speech that I think truly put a perspective on the value of the exercise for us students. He said: "A community is not truly great until it is great for everyone". For me, that tells us why we must take any opportunity we can to help those who need us, whether it is with our hands or with our minds.

I'm glad my mind could contribute that day...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Stories are just too funny...

Today's shift in the newsroom started like any other Sunday afternoon shift. Very little local news, and only a select few national and international stories that had strong enough content to add to the day's report.

As always, I began my scan of around 30 sites that I look to for content, hoping to find enough for 8 stories for each of at least 3 different newscasts. I checked all of the usual suspects, the newspaper, radio, and television sites of any media outlet in the expansive region covered by the station.

My first glance only produced one major regional story, that being the vote by workers at the CAMI plant in Ingersoll. I knew that would be the big story of the day on a regional level, so I added the story and moved on with my first set of casts.

I took a second look around 5:00, scanning the same 30 sites in the hopes that some eager reporter would try to make headlines by being the first to post about a major story. What I would soon find would have me almost in tears with laughter.

As I mentioned, my circuit of scanning includes all media throughout the region, spanning west to Chatham, south to Cleveland, east to Stoney Creek, and north to Mount Forest. One of those sites was the Guelph Mercury. It was there where I would find the story. All I had to do was read the headline and I knew it was GOLD.

"Car hits deer, deer hits jogger"

I thought it was some kind of cruel joke, or at least what it literally sounded like. But no, it was exactly that.

"In a bizarre accident Sunday morning, the body of a deer that was struck by a vehicle flew through the air and collided with a jogger."

Now maybe it is just my sense of humour, but I can honestly say that in almost a decade as a member of the media I have never laughed that hard. Quite literally, a driver had hit a deer, which is sad don't get me wrong, but the deer then flew through the air and hit a jogger.

Seriously folks, play out the odds of that happening for a second. I think lightning striking the same person five times has better odds than that does. What an incredible fluke...

I spent a good 5 minutes laughing, told everyone within shouting distance, the one person in the building, and then posted about it on my twitter. For me, it was the exact boost of inspiration I needed to get back to work.

Inspiration, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But in a society filled with the reporting of depressing news, and with the non-stop barrage of stories about the crumbling economy, this produced a laugh unlike no other before it. Yes, it was sad that the deer did not survive the accident and that there is a ver yserious lesson to be learned about the need for drivers to be cautious, but through all of that, a glimmer of light to liven up a rather mundane, negative newscast on another gloomy winter Sunday.

Call it not funny, call it rather sad. For me, it was just the kind of comical story with a side of a valuable lesson, that was needed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Passchendaele - Too much love, not enough war...

I was very exicted the other night when I was able to get my girlfriend to come and see the movie Passchendaele with me. I have wanted to see the movie ever since the first time I heard it was being made, as the historic World War I battle is one that I have read about several times over the past decade.

This was the first time I had watched something with Paul Gross outside of his stage acting. No, I was never a fan of, nor did I ever watch an episode of, North of 60. I grew up while that show was on the air, but I was as inclined to watch Canadian content then as I am now as a member of the media.

Let me start by saying, this film was not what I expected. Let me continue by saying, that's not a good thing.

For starters, there was more done with the background love story of the film than their was of anything relating directly to the title battle. I was expecting there would be some build to the climactic struggle over Passchendaele, but nor did I expect so much of the film to be caught up in sub-plot. And if it wasn't sub-plot, then why deceive us by calling the movie by the name of the battle and not something more important to look at the undertakings at hand in Work War II Calgary.

In the first 5 minutes of the film, the exciting beginning that explains the battle origin of our main character played by Paul Gross. The scene shows the incident that is the core event starting the sequence of the film, a very tragic meeting between German and Canadian soldiers in the ruins of a town that lead to a gruesome stabbing of a young German soldier.

When that started the film, I got excited. I was finally going to see a true Canadian war movie. My expectation was to see the tragic journey of Gross' character from hospital to recovery to battleground and back again. Then the scene switched to Calgary and I knew that something just wasn't right.

For the next hour, at least, of the movie, the viewer is subjected to a sappy love story with family and friends sub-plots that had me cringing in my seat. Think Pearl Harbour with better actors but 10 times the cheese.That is, at least, the reaction I had as the movie began to unfold. In all honesty, the only thing that kept me in my seat during this torturous sequence was the knowledge that eventually, the war scenes must ultimately return in order to due justice to the very name of the film.

But I digress...

Once the love story plays out, as do the other sub-plots, they all culminate on the outskirts of Passchendaele, just a day, or perhaps even two, before the historic battle takes place. From here on out, this movie was worth the price of admission. I was impressed with the portrayal of the battlegrounds and trenches. The images leapt out at me as if to pour out of the pages of history. I felt them to be a very acurate portrayal based on the many World War I texts I have read, and was impressed with the many details placed throughout.

The battle itself, to me at least, left nothing to be desired. It was a very strong representation of what I believe it must have been like. The explosions, the gunfire, the look of the soldiers, all seemed perfectly placed on the riddled French battlegrounds.

The climax to the movie, when Paul Gross' character finds the strength to take his lover's brother across No Man's Land on the crucifix on which he hung, was an incredibly emotional moment. I looked around the theatre to see people who were of the age to have known relatives who fought in the Great War, and they all struggled to watch. It was an unbelievable representation on so many levels. I was, as amazing as this is, speechless.

I have to say to anyone who reads this that is very much a Pearl Harbour-esque war movie, and not Platoon. The hardcore war-movie enthusiasts I expect would have a similar reaction to that of my own, struggling through the 'Calgary' part of the movie just knowing that the battle is yet to come. After all, had they not presented this movie in the sequence that they did, I certainly wouldn't be able to tell you how it ended...

Great Big Sea at The Aud in Kitchener

This was easily one of the most enjoyable concert experiences of my entire life. There is no doubt about it, these guys are as entertaining as they come.

Great Big Sea played to a nearly sold out crowd at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, November 20th, and seeing that we are both fans of the band, my girlfriend and I got tickets to the show. We were up in what felt like the rafters, as we were only about 4 rows from the top aisle of the arena. Thankfully The Aud is an arena that I know quite well from covering Kitchener Rangers hockey for 3 years, so I knew our seats would still be a good location for a concert.

If you have never heard them before, and are truly musically-inclined, then you don't know what you're missing. And I don't mean musically-inclined like you enjoy music and like to listen all the time. I mean having a true infatuation with music, whether classically, instrumentally, or vocally. The show that GBS puts on, even if you aren't a 'Newfie' truly does appeal to those who truly appreciate music. The a cappella quartets, the introduction of non-traditional instruments, and the very singability of the music cane appeal to such a large spectrum.

One of the first things that fascinated me about the concert was the scope of the ages that were in attendance. Behind my girlfriend and I sat some young adults. On my girlfriends side of the row sat a couple likely in their 40's, along with a woman, who I presume to be no younger than about 70, sitting with some younger members of her family. And then directly beside me was a man with his son, who I would pin at around 9 or 10. All of these people, at one point or another, could be singing along with a handful of tunes provided by the band.

I had my expectations set pretty high going into the show. Tickets were over $50 each, and there was no signal that anyone would be opening for the band. So I wasn't sure what to expect, but I set my bar high.

The concert got going on a high note for me, as the second song of the first set, Process Man, is my favourite GBS song. I was one of hundreds, if not thousands, who found themselves singing along to every word of the classic hit, which was part of their second CD 'Up' that came out in 1995.

That wasn't the only song throughout the night that I found myself singing along to. Of course I am a favourite of some of their more classic songs from the early days, like Mari-Mac, The Old Black Rum, Goin' Up, and Rant and Roar, two of which were used in different sections of the encore they played.

I also find that for me what makes a concert good is when you hear something you've never heard before that leaving wanting to know more. And yes, I did find myself on to find out information about a song I had never heard before and suddenly made me want to run to a record store to purchase.

The song that struck me was called 'The River Driver', a track from 'The Hard and the Easy' which was released in 2005. This was not an overly complex musical number, however it did primary feature a 4-part a cappella section that showed the band's ability to harmonize with one another with instrumental backing. It was an impressive musical feat from an impressive musical band that left me wanting more.

All in all, the concert featured a 70 minute first half with a 22 minute intermission and a 65 minute second half, which included 5-track, double encore.

All in all, Iwas very impressed with the concert and would recommend going to see them if the music is in you...
Photo courtesy of the Waterloo Regional Record -

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chatting with the Deputy Premier

I have met a lot of politicians during my career as a journalist. Granted I have been in the game only about 9 years now, but between university media at Western, working at Rogers TV for almost 6 years, and now Easy 101, you get to meet and interview a lot of them.

Today was my first day where I officially had to represent the radio station(s) at an event. The event in question was the groundbreaking for the Woodstock General Hospital. The hospital is being made as part of a private/public partnership that will see the City of Woodstock pay a private developer for the construction and maintenance of the facility across a 30 year period, to the total cost of just under $600 million.

That's the background, here is the reason for my blog entry...

I arrived at the event wearing no identification that made me recognizable, and I had to park the company vehicle far enough away from the crowd that nobody noticed initially that I was the reporter who was driving the thing. I walked slowly through the crowd, hoping to find someone with a name tag or some kind of ID that would make my job a little easier to pull off. Or at least I was hoping to find my brother Jon, who was there to provide his store's sound system for the event.

Instead of finding either one of those, I saw a familiar face in Brant MPP Dave Levac, someone who have known since I was 10 or so. I stood behind him just out of view since he was in a conversation as I did not want to interrupt. Media guy or not, that's just rude when you aren't in need of a soundbyte. Suddenly from behind Dave this man popped over to say hello. Needless to say, I recognized him immediately.

"Hi, I'm George Smitherman, Deputy Premier."

"Yes Mr. Smitherman, I know its you. Its good to see you again. I'm Andrew Macklin, from Easy 101 in Tillsonburg. I have interviewed you before though."

He started to give a look that resembled bewilderment, a look I assume was him trying to figure out where we had met before.

"Don't worry Minister Smitherman, it has been a few years since we last spoke. I met you with Dave here when you were in Brantford. I used to work with Rogers there."

I know it doesn't sound like much, just a courtesy conversation between a politician and a member of the media who is trying to get his job done.

The fascinating part was, the conversation continued on from there, and kept going in a very casual manner. I hadn't pulled out my digital recorder to get my interview, so he continued to chat about the event and how great it was.

We continued our conversation by talking about the Hospice in Brantford, the place hwere the two of us had met for the first time. We continued on for a few minutes, never once bringing up the issue of an interview, or him needing to move on to someone else. As the conversation began to run its course, our talk took another peculiar turn.

"Well George I will let you get on to other people. I will get a comment from you after the event is over."

"Are you ready right now? If you are ready, why don't we get this done right now and you won't have to worry about finding me later."

"Are you sure? I don't want to keep you from other people who might want to talk."

"That's okay. If you are ready, let's do the interview."

And so I did, avoiding what would have likely been a fight to the finish in any media scrum that would take place later on, especially since I noticed at least another 5 or 6 media there. So the interview went off without a hitch. I got my 1 on 1 with the Deputy Premier...

Its very rare that you would get a 1 on 1 interview with someone at the level of Deputy Premier, let alone people that are a few rungs below that. Of course its a little different if it is the representative from your home riding, but mine was standing right behind Mr. Smitherman.

Where am I going with all of this? I'm trying to make the point that sometime's everyone appreciates the personal touch. Instead of just telling me that he could give me comments later on with 'the rest' of my counterparts, he took the time to meet my specific needs by giving me comments to my questions. He didn't make my choose from the assortment of comments generated by a pool of reporters, with likely just one directed towards a question I have been able to sneak in. My needs in my job were met by, of all people a politician, going out of their way to meet those needs. It was a true gesture from someone who I have known from past interviews to be a class act.

Perhaps to most journalists something like this would have gone unnoticed or unappreciated. But as a young guy starting to feel like he's a veteran of the industry, it truly was noticed, and it truly was appreciated...