Current Events, media, News, Opinion, Politics, school

Getting friendly with politicians

One of the biggest ethical issues in the world of journalism is the fear of getting too close to your sources. I call it a fear because the traditional notion of getting too close to your sources could lead to the loss of objectivity – a cornerstone of journalistic integrity. I came across this problem firsthand yesterday amidst my reporting for the Toronto Observer. It was a neat experience to say the least, but it wasn’t until after my encounter did I realize that I may have been unintentionally coerced to write my story more favour of the views of my source.

Throughout the week, I’ve been covering a story for the concerning the new Green Energy Act released by the Ontario provincial government. One of the big issues is the possibility of wind turbine systems being erected to use more wind energy, rather than the usual fuel and coal energy we all know and love. It’s particularly important where I’m based because of the famous Scarborough Bluffs, which the province has has it’s sights set for for a the potential introduction of the systems. Many residents in the area have expressed concern for this new process so that’s where my coverage comes in… (I’d love to discuss the story, but that’s not the blog topic.. for more information feel to research to issue on your own;)

One of the first people to be quoted in papers expressing “a not so positive” outlook on the act was Paul Ainslie, councilor for Ward 43 – Scarborough East (the area where the Bluffs are located). I would certainly have to get in touch with him if I wanted to get a better local perspective of the situation.

It’s a little after 5 p.m. and I’m still in the newsroom at Centennial, finally finished gathering information, ready to see if I could contact the councilor. I never intended to actually have a quote by the end of the day, but that didn’t bother me because I knew I had enough time to get his word and still come up with a story by my deadline. I come across his website, where I notice he has calendar. I click on the link, which I hope will give me an idea of his schedule outside of City Hall responsibilities. Not only did I find that, but low and behold there was a scheduled Town Meeting tonight in the area for 7 p.m. Now… normally when these super awesome things come up, I’m never fully prepared; I’m usually missing a camera or recorder, or have no questions prepped. This was not the case!

So after clearing stuff at home, which means no dinner in un-kosher Scarborough, I made my way down to the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre for this meeting. I had to walk a bit of the way (15 minutes) because the TTC buses could only take me so far. It was weird walking down one the streets because some people had stepped out of their houses and literally stared me down as I walked by them… Probably wasn’t me, but hey when was the last time they saw a Jew walk down their street at night?

Once I got there, I was clearly the youngest of the dozen or so people who showed up for the meeting. It’s too bad not enough people show up for these things because they’re actually quite informative and you get to build a relationship with the people running your neighbourhood. The meeting went for about an hour and a half. Later I approached the councilor and began talking to him. We had the interview, which went very well, then told him about our paper and how we’re always looking for stories and issues. I said that we have no problem writing stuff once it gets out, but we suck when it comes to finding it ourselves, or getting spoilers and releases like how big media outlets receive. He understood that, expressing how you put in so much work into something yet little feedback comes in return and its a little disheartening. It’s always great to maintain active network of relationships.

After exchanging contacts, I picked up my stuff and proceeded to leave… then the fun starts…

“How did you get here?” he asks me.

“I took the bus, than walked here,” I replied.

“Can I give you a ride to Lawrence?” (where the bus is)

“Sure… I’m heading back to campus by Morningside and Ellesmere…”

(Here’s where I stuck my foot in my mouth):

“Actually, where are you headed?”

Ainslie: “East around that area, want a lift?”

“Sure! That be great.”

So I got ride to along with the councilor in his big black van back to campus. We schmoozed about the community, school, yeshiva in Israel, how he failed the LSAT 3 times and then started a food business and other things. That was really nice of him. I’m naturally very appreciative when kind deeds are done for me.

But then as I began waiting for the bus, I wondered had I accepted too much from him? I’ve never shied away from accepting a ride somewhere (See future post of rant about public transit) and at that point he was just another human being, who deserves proper respect like any other person, who’d do something for me.

But when writing my stories, including this one, it doesn’t resonate in my mind how nice a source was to me beyond the matters of exchanging information for stories. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them taking the time to answer my questions. Rather, it’s the opposite. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to be cited in newspaper articles regardless of what paper it is. Yes, you have bear in mind the role source plays in stories, but I don’t know anyone who would deliberately shoot down a source (aka with malicious intent) in a story. Unless substantial reasoning exists, that’s not right…

I hope I can maintain a respectful relationship with my sources in the future.

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What a crazy day…

You know what freaks me out the most, when crazy things happen that are completely out of your control. That’s kind of how it felt today after realizing that my bus driver had just hit a pedestrian crossing the street on my way to school today.

Boy was that fun.

My day actually got off to a pretty good start even though I didn’t get a ride to the bus stop like I usually get in the morning. But I had enough time to get myself ready to catch a decent bus to the main stop I’d normally get a ride to. So what happens? The first bus I take comes late (which takes me to another bus station where I catch an express bus that takes me to school). I just miss catching my second bus by like a second and end up waiting for another half hour. Another bus comes at about 9:30am (after leaving home at 8:25… whoopee…

So I’m on the bus working on my laptop sitting in the second row. The bus is kind of like a coach bus (for you Ontario people – it was a GO Bus). We’re leaving the first stop, which is a big mall in Scarborough, the town I go to school in, and as the bus is making a left at a traffic light, all of a sudden it comes to abrupt stop – and boom!

After hearing that and than an expletive from the driver, who proceeds to rush outside, I take a look right on front of the bus, and low and behold, there’s a person – on her side, clutching her arm, shaking in obvious pain.

Talk about a scary site. I’ve been in car accidents before, but none like this. Thankfully, many people came to assist the driver (who was seriously freaking out) and eventually (within 5 minutes) and ambulance arrived. She was sat up and than taken away on a stretcher in the ambulance. Nothing serious. She was alright.

So after the hour of waiting, talking to police, filling out forms and stuff, I finally made it to school at 11:15, settling into the newsroom by 11:20 pm. Thus begins more craziness as we scramble to finish our newspaper before we leave (which could be whenever). It actually wasn’t that bad, I left at 7pm but the time in between was interesting to say the least.

But something else bothered me about the whole situation. I called my mom to tell her what happened and the second question she asked me after “Are you and everyone else alright?” was “Can you cover it?”

I laughed and told her no (it was out of coverage area), but I had thought about that before speaking to her. Had I been in the area, I probably would’ve been all over it. But I don’t know about you, but if you had just been caught in this kind of accident as a passenger on a bus, where the driver is freaking out and needs your total cooperation, how can you not feel like a jerk when putting on the reporter cap? I’m real sensitive to rubbing people the wrong way in that light, especially when they’re in complete chaos mode. A fellow classmate just told me, once that journalist mindset kicks in, it stays there. It builds a nest, and a along with your brain it makes babies, or should I say stories. You can’t just kick it out like that. It almost makes me want bad things like accidents to happen, so I can get a story out of it. I feel horrible saying that, but I’m reminded that like most bad things that happen in life, they end up happening for a good reason in the end.

Hopefully in the future, occurrences like these aren’t all that often, but if they do, with G-d’s help I should be able to approach them with the appropriate attitude necessary to maintain my dignity. (and maybe get a nice story too…)

(I know… the nest and babies were lame metaphors, but they work :p)

media, News, school

Sitting in on ‘The Hour’ with George Stromboloupoulous!

Our journalism class got a real treat today as we went down to the CBC building this afternoon to be a part of the studio audience for the only late night Canadian talk show, The Hour, hosted by George Stromboloupoulous.

The Hour is a nightly talk show on CBC hosted by former MuchMusic VJ, and longtime radio personality George Stromboloupoulous. The show’s been running for nearly 5 seasons now on national TV and has become quite a success. The show delves into a huge realm of topics such as politics, pop culture, sports to you name it, featuring guests ranging from the likes of politicians such as  Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney to musicians like Queen and Tragically Hip, to comedians like Russel Peters, Trailer Park Boys and a whole lot of other people and topics. I like to think that the show knows little to no boundaries when it comes to who and what will be discussed.

It was a really neat experience to be a part the taping of the show. I’m really fascinated by how things work and to actually see for myself how a television show  like The Hour gets put together and how things go according to plan. I’m talking about cameras, and sets, and applause and other TV oriented things that you usually take for granted that come with the whole presentation of a TV show.

So we arrive at around a quarter after 3 at CBC and we begin to wait in line to go inside. And low behold, coming out of the door beside the line, is George himself! He waves, we cheer = very cool. I learn very quickly that getting a close encounter with George is a very common occurrence when visiting the studio audience of the show. We check in, head up the elevator to the set where we’re greeted by the crew and some complementary potato chips and energy drink (not kosher, but super nice to provide for the audience).

Upon waiting to go inside, Mr. I Like To Take Pictures (aka me) gets into action! I wouldn’t call it overwhelmed but I like those environments that I’m completely foreign to, because I can come in with a completely impartial point of view and just take it all in as I go along. There’s George walking back and forth between the stage and the waiting area. Once whisked in, we take our seats, yours truly has a real nice view! The set is really nice. It’s got the bells and whistle of a typical set but it manages to maintain a very relaxed vibe, which really comes into play once the show gets going.

The show is set up in a very unique way: Two guests + two news segments + commentary from George in between = The Hour. However, both guests for the day’s are not taped one after the other, rather one is taped on an earlier date, while the other is taped on the day it’s aired. The news and he other bits for the day’s show are also recorded on the same day for obvious, “must keep up to date” reasons.

For today’s show, singer Lily Allen (who was taped earlier) and Ed Broadbent were the guests. Broadbent is a large political figure in the NDP Party of Canada at the federal level.

But the big treat was who George was interviewing for a later date – Howie Mandel! That’s right, our Jewish-Toronto born and raised comedy legend, currently host on NBC’s Deal or No Deal and Global’s Howie Do It (and of course the creator and star of the hit kids show Bobby’s World).

What an interview. Howie is very comfortable with opening up about the things going on his life that normal\someone wouldn’t talk about, yet still find a way to make a joke about it. I’m talking specifically about a health scare Howie dealt with not too long ago here in Toronto. He began going on about how neurotic he was about having to be in the hospital (a germaphobe nightmare). From there he told the audience how he noticed that part of his chest was shaved by paramedics due to the ailment, and in an attempt to look alright when his wife would soon walk in, he proceeded to shave his own chest to even it out (a first he claimed). It was a very funny exchange.

In fact, George would say off the air after the interview that Howie is by far the best kind of interview a talk show host can have. He even said he was one of his favourites of all time. How cool to be a part of that.

The best part of the experience came at the end of the taping when George took questions from the audience. And than after that, he talked to whoever wanted to speak to him personally until no one was left. What a guy. He was so willing to answer everyone’s question to the best of his ability, going on with various anecdotes from his past experiences. I was really impressed with his mentality of “going to sleep knowing more than what knew waking up”. That sheer desire to grasp knowledge is very appealing to a wannabe journalist like myself.

He answered questions that addressed the types of guests he had over the years, the on-going difficulty of people pronouncing his name (another appealing one indeed), how he determined the direction of the show and other things too.

But my favourite part was when after sticking around, I got to talk to him personally. I’m not usually starstruck, but I couldn’t think of anything specific to say when approaching him. But instead he greeted me, shook my hand, asked me my name, and it was so laid back from there on. Along with two other fellow students, conversation eventually led, through George’s words (not mine) about a band I can’t stop listening to: Metallica!!! George is hardcore hard rock music fan, and we started talking about old and new Metallica. He talked about seeing them in 1987, bootlegging their cassettes(!), we exchanged opinions on the loudness war issue over the new album Death Magnetic. 2 words: Mighty cool!!

I actually got offered by one the show’s managers if I wanted to come back for the next day’s tapings cause their were openings. Unfortunately, I reluctantly refused cause we have a newspaper to finish for Thursday (ugh/yay- you choose).

All in all, a really cool experience. Thanks to our professors for setting the whole thing up.

The Howie Mandel interview is being shown on Wednesday February 18 @ 11pm on CBC.

Archives of recent shows including the taping our class was at today can be found  @ http://www.cbc.ca/thehour/

Judaism, News

Saving Auschwitz

A classmate of mine brought this to my attention yesterday. We were in the middle of an interview where she was telling me about her experiences while on The March of the Remembrance and Hope (a story for another time) and than she told me about this….

Two weeks ago, the 64th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration was commemorated. On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Amy became the first outsiders to witness first hand the terrors of these  “hells on earth”. But 64 years later, those “hells on earth” are mere remnants of once what they once were. Literally.

Here’s what the reports have said:

“Polish officials who oversee the camp say at least £93.5m is needed in the next 15 to 20 years to maintain the site – money it has so far failed to raise from the international community.

The museum has already had to seal off crumbling barracks for fear that visitors could get injured.

And the remains of the former gas chambers and crematoria are also deteriorating.”

“If we can’t secure the buildings and conserve the site properly, we will be forced to close it to the public in a few years,” says Auschwitz spokesman, Pawel Sawicki

So what do we do? Do we keep them around, or let them rot?

I think it’s an obvious question (Keep them around) , but when you think about it, it’s a really strange question to consider.

Doesn’t it seem odd that the people who were once made victims in such a place now rally around save it years later? I mean the psychology behind this question from an impartial point of view seems very bizarre.

Here’s two reasons why they should be kept around: The March of the Living AND The March of Remembrance and Hope. Those trips are too important to hindered by the closing of these camps.

But what do you have to say about this? It’s an interesting dilemma. For more information, here’s a link:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7800397.stm

Judaism, Thoughts about Life

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder and Rosh Yeshiva (principal/dean) of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, passed away this morning (Thursday Feb. 5) in Jerusalem at the age of 78.

Rabbi Weinberg was without a doubt one of the great Jewish leaders of our generation – a Tzaddik and a Gadol Ha’Dor (a righteous Jew and leader of the generation). In co-founding two of the largest beginning yeshivas in the world: Aish HaTorah and Derech Ohr Somayach, Rabbi Weinberg was responsible for bringing thousands of unaffiliated Jews back to a life of Torah and Mitzvos. He passionately believed in the greatness of every human being, and displayed a special love and concern for every Jew.

Though never meeting Rabbi Weinberg personally, I am not exempt from from his teachings and influences. My family, like several other misplaced Jewish families, became affiliated with Aish HaTorah upon moving to Thornhill almost 15 years ago, and today we are proud observant and practicing Jews. Coming from small, not-so-Jewish Oakville, Thornhill was definitely a big step up the yiddishkeit ladder. As years added up in Thornhill, our family slowly grew closer to our Jewish roots. A vital moment along the way came during the winter of 2003, when our family took part in a family mission to Israel with our synagogue, Aish Hatorah @ Westmount. On the trip my parents were fortunate to meet Rabbi Weinberg at the Aish building in the Old City in Jerusalem. I don’t know what was said during that encounter, but I recall my father posing for a photo with the rabbi. There was my dad, mullet and all, with a big smile on his face standing next to the white-haired, dressed fully in black rabbi, with a smile just as wide as my father’s.

After the trip, our family decided to take on more responsibilities and mitzvos, such as keeping shabbos and kosher. It was a an huge stepping stone for the family that would eventually lead to greater endeavours. When I look at that photo, not only am I reminded about how far my family has come, I also see a standard worth reaching toward, a model to look up. Rabbi Weinberg was just that.

The Torah tells us one of the most effective ways to educate someone is to lead by example. I believe Rabbi Weinberg championed this concept, and used it in a unique way that appealed to those around him. When looking upon a great person, not only is their greatness so evident, but we may also see a piece of ourselves looking right back at us. That piece is the great potential we all have as Jews, and human beings as well. When I look at that picture, I see what potential I may have, which gives me great optimism and hope for the future. But I’m also humbled by the photo, which is a great thing because it prevents arrogance, because I (or we, referring to our family) also see where we once were, and how much more we need to do to grow more.

When a Tzadik leaves this world for Olam Habah (the next life), I was taught that this is a great tragedy because so much kedusha (holiness) has left this world, thus diminshing its overall amount in the world – which is a form of judgment from the heavens. However, we’re also taught that even though the death (of anyone for that matter) is sad, if we have the right perspective, we can channel our heightened emotions toward becoming a better servant of Hashem, G-d… Just as Rabbi Weinberg would teach, and therefore practice as well.

May everyone impacted by Rabbi Weinberg bring to life his teachings through our own own actions.

media, Opinion, school

My First Article in the Observer

One of cool things we get to do in my journalism program is to publish our own newspaper. However, it’s not a school newspaper. Rather, it’s an actual community newspaper serving real neighbourhoods. The endeavour is a actual course in our program (Newspaper Laboratory) and it spans over two semesters – this one and next one (Jan 2009- Jan 2010 with a summer break in between). It’s called “The East Toronto Observer.”

We just published our first paper (yay!) and yours truly had a significant contribution. I got to write the feature editorial on our Comment page, and draw the cartoon too. Here’s a piece of what I did below. If you can’t read it, my article can be found here @ the online edition of our paper. http://www.torontoobserver.ca/2009/01/29/

Cartoon (above) Article (below)

The entire text from the story as seen from the paper

The East Toronto Observer is the only print news outlet serving the neighbourhoods of Malvern, Highland Creek and West Hill. About 5 years running, the paper is completely made and published by the University of Toronto/Centennial College journalism students (under faculty supervision of course). To give you an idea of what everything means, this is what we do:

Writing, Reporting, Layout (every single detail you see in the paper, like spacing and fonts etc.), photography, web publishing, delivery (yes we do the actual legwork of getting the paper on every doorpost), yelling, screaming, interviewing, staying up late, waiting hours in the cold for a bus to take you home (and to school), and of course shenanigans (my favourite)…

Our class makes up the staff and we get to do something new every week, such as editing articles/production (layout)/photos, writing about news, education, sports, arts & life, editorials, PSAs and a bunch of other stuff too…

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Welcome Back to Reality York Students

Yesterday York University students returned to classes for the first time in more than 2 months because of a strike initiated by the union representing teacher’s assistants. Congrats guys! Personally, I wouldn’t know how to manage with almost half a semester compacted in a week, along with final papers, and (ugh) exams following. Thank G-d U of T took care of business about a week ago (sigh of relief;)!

The only thing that bothers me about York students returning is that now all the GO Transit buses I take are gonna be packed on the way home – my bus goes westbound to York (aka toward home) and east to Pickering while stopping along the way at UofT Scarborough and Centennial College. Along with this weather, I hope buses don’t get to stalled… I had to wait nearly 3 hours for a GO Transit bus last wednesday night, which didn’t come and I eventually took a TTC bus to a subway station, took the subway to another station and was finally picked up by my dad around 11pm. I didn’t get home until  11:30…. Later I’ll make a humongous rant on the ineptitude of public transit in Toronto and surrounding areas….

Back o the strike…. How stupid is the NDP? I’m talking about the socialist/communist party that somehow has political status in the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments. I mean seriously, it’s quite clear how messed up this strike is, yet you have the nerve to vote against the movement that would put students back in school. Talk about sticking up for the masses… And then there’s the federal government with Jack Layton and his ugly mustache…. He said no matter what the 2009 Budget holds, he and his party will vote against it. They won’t even look at it… This guy really wants to mess up the federal government… I’m sorry for anyone who votes NDP, but you must have brain damage.

That’s it. Have fun in class.