Sunday, March 11, 2007

Further madness

I started work today on a brand new comics series. Superhero fare with a twist, entitled The Exceptionals. I'm anticipating a gritty feel and plenty of cool action. My good friend Dylan Burns is drawing it.

No release date yet. Though pages may be available online.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Another rebranding and: PROJECTS!

Those poor bastards who have read from the beginning knew "Stranger than fiction" as a project for my web journalism class, hence the political ruminations and half-baked theories.

Those who continued to read were treated to four sporadic posts featuring my experiences writing news in a (horrible) small town.

Those who even now can't seem to get enough of my particular brand of idiocy will be treated to the following:

- Madcap rantings of a man given a conduit to the entire world.
- Updates on my current projects
- Short (bad) fiction
- Commentary
- Simians

At any rate, let's leap directly into this, shall we?

- Nefarious Schemes stubbornly continues to refuse to edit itself, leading me to believe that I should probably give it a nudge or something in the right direction. Thus far, no prospects for publishing.
- Artists continue to stymie my best efforts. Still waiting on confirmation from an artist who had expressed interest in Fairytale Streets (a one-shot coming featuring mythology and sadness and homeless children). Also waiting on concepts from an artist attached to draw my upcoming webcomic collaboration, [as yet untitled].

More on all this later.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Prose vs. Journalism

Lately, I've been doing some thinking. This thinking was largely prompted by the prevailing attitude I see among young writers (in fact, the prevailing attitude I recently held) that since professionally writing fiction doesn't often pay well, you might as well do something writerly - i.e. Journalism.

It's an admirable attitude - become one of the few, proud bastions of truth and warriors of the quill out there every day breaking the big story, and then coming home at night to work on the great Canadian novel.

This, unfortunately, is not the case. Speaking as someone who ditched fiction to work in the news industry, they are two very different animals - skill in one does not necessarily mean success in the other.

I started my long career of waffling around various educational institutions as a fresh-faced English major. This would be great, I thought. I'd get a chance to hone my writing skills while studying the great works of those who came before me - what better vantage point to start a career as a novelist than standing on the shoulders of giants?

Unfortunately, I learned that being an English major meant largely learning how to interpret the works of others, rather than learning to create works of my own. So I dropped out.

After a year of rambling around, cranking out a few short stories and racking up rejection letters from literary magazines, I found my calling like Wile E. Coyote finding a skillet in a Road Runner cartoon.

It was after watching the TV movie Live from Baghdad - a film based on the Robert Wiener book of the same name - that I realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on the frontlines of the big story, right up there with police and soldiers, but without the firearms. It was a romantic image of which I'd soon be cured.

Nevertheless, I signed up for Journalism school, and was hooked. Everything meshed perfectly - my command of the language gleaned from my brief foray into University English combined with a thought process that translated perfectly into inverted pyramid style made newswriting fun.

So, it was some months later that I entered the workforce, ready to get to the bottom of things, rake the muck, and do some serious ace reporting.

Or so I thought.

See, career small-town journalism is like career poker - long stretches of boredom mingled with moments of terror.

The big story doesn't come along very often, so the rest of the time is taken up with community news. You'll cover a LOT of tea socials, a lot of curling, a lot of minor hockey, a lot of little school events, and a lot of dry council meetings.

Most newswriting I do involves writing about something that is upcoming, and then covering the event itself. It's not the sexy, edgy profession you see in the movies, with high-powered drama and people screaming at each other about deadlines.

The biggest difference between professional prose and professional journalism is simply this: In professional prose (novels, short stories, etc.) your thoughts and opinions are paramount - it's what people are reading. Sure, you have to package it to appeal to an audience, but it's all you. In professional journalism, however, it's all about the audience - what are they going to need to know? What will interest readers? Even if covering the Valentine's Day Tea Social for the fifth year in a row makes your eyes bleed, people are going to want to read about it.

Sure, it's not a sexy profession, and it's hard work, and it's no substitute for writing a novel, but I love it, and that's all there is to it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Public Domain and what it means to journalists

Today was interesting.

See, Friday means deadlines, which, because I'm an incorrigible procrastinator, means a last-minute scramble to crank out my copy and photos for the week. It's normally a quiet day - more about the quiet tapping of the keyboard than the frantic in-and-out-of-the-car news-hounding that characterizes the rest of the week.

That said, news doesn't sleep - as long as the clock keeps ticking, things are happening, so it becomes a way of life to drop what you're doing and go cover something.

So it was no surprise that our sports reporter and a good friend of mine, Leigh, got a call saying that a boom lift had fallen off a flatbed truck.

He leaped from his desk, thrust my camera bag into my hands, and told me to get my coat.

"Boom lift tipped over," he said, "I'll drive."

Seconds later, I leaped from the still-moving (albeit not very fast) car and raced across the busy street.

Two grubby guys were wandering around, obviously trying to figure out how to get this monstrous machine back onto their truck.

Observing proper etiquette, I waved and said "hi" in hopes of revealing my presence. They ignored me, so I started shooting.

About 20 frames later, the two men, who refused to comment or to give their names, asked me exactly who I was or what I was doing. So, I gave my name and the paper I worked for. And then, something interesting happened.

"You shouldn't print anything until you get your facts straight," said Green-Shirt. Is that a fact? I thought. I should think it's pretty obvious what happened - the boom lift somehow fell off your parked truck and is now on its side. But, I decided I'd bite and play along.

"Okay," I say with a grin. "Could you tell me what happened?"

"I'm not at liberty to say that," says Green-shirt. His buddy was standing a few feet away, hefting something heavy and menacing.

"Alright. So do you want me to stop?" I ask affably.

"Yes. I'd prefer you did," Green-shirt says. Fair enough. I thanked them for their time, and headed back to the car, snapping a few more pictures.

These guys were understandably embarrassed - whether it was their fault or not, cargo they were charged with transporting had perpetrated an unanticipated egress of the carrier. Naturally they didn't want their cockup plastered all over the front page.

This brings up an interesting point for journalists.

Sometimes people don't want their picture taken. Sometimes people don't want journalists to take pictures of what they're doing. And sometimes people feel they have a legal right to tell us not to do our job.

This, of course, puts us at the center of journalism's one big quandary - we're torn between not being jerks, and doing our job. Sometimes you can do one or the other, but not both.

Luckily, we have the issue of the Public Domain.

Basically, anything you can see from public property is public domain. For instance, something you can see from a sidewalk, or in a vacant lot, or from your car, are all public domain. You can basically take all the pictures you want without fear.

Places like private homes, offices, schools, and museums are private areas, and therefore permission must be granted before you can take a picture.

In places like courthouses, photography is prohibited by law, which means big trouble. Leave the camera at home.

It should be noted that permission should generally asked when taking pictures in the public domain, just for the sake of politeness. Remember, if you snap a picture of someone even when they ask you not to, you may find yourself at a loss should you have to interview that same person for a story.

We're journalists - we have a job to do - but we're also members of the community. Why make enemies?

Monday, February 06, 2006

They say that mocking up is hard to do

Monday means production.

If that doesn't send a chill down your spine, you haven't seen a production day at any newspaper.

Picture the most violent, deranged Vietnam war movie you've ever seen - my pick would be Full Metal Jacket. Anyway, take the angst, the fear, the rage, the thousand-yard stares, and transplant that into a newsroom.

Now instead of grunts in fatigues, you've got frazzled journalists in shirtsleeves, waving pages at each other, clicking furiously at keyboards, and drop-kicking their computers off the roof.

Welcome... to my job.

Don't get me wrong - production is a vital part of the news process. Sure, we'd all like to go out, do some interviews, take some cute pictures, tap at the computer for a while, and go home happy. That's what writers do - and save for a few exceptions, they're very poor.

Well, I guess Journalists are poor too, but we have the comfort of knowing we're going to an early grave.

... sorry.

At any rate, production is important - without it, we have nothing to sell to our readers to justify our bloated salaries.

Let me take you through a typical production day at the Whitecourt star.

8:22 a.m.: I roll into the office after 22 minutes of frantic phone calls from my editor. Yes, I was late.
8:25 a.m.: I sit at my desk with a cup of tepid coffee from the night before, and behold a stack of printouts of my articles from the previous week. The amount of red on them initially convinces me that someone ran a gerbil through the print reels.
8:26 a.m.: I realize I was mistaken - these are my corrections.
9:20 a.m.: I've spent about the last hour tapping my corrections into the computer and dropping everything on the server. Also, I finally realize that the coffee I'm drinking is a day old. And chewy.
9:30 a.m.: The first dummies roll across my desk. These tell me what to put where. Whether or not it fits is another matter. This is also why Journalists must become masters of warping 2D space.
9:55 a.m.: This is where the computer locks up for the first time. Nonplussed, I reboot, get another coffee, spend five minutes googling myself on my laptop, and get back to work.
10:01 a.m.: The computer locks up a second time. Slightly frazzled, I reboot, go for a smoke, and get back to work.
12 p.m.: Lunch! Today was pizza! For free!
1 p.m.: Through some miracle, I've finished all my layout and am now dicking around on my laptop.
1:22 p.m.: A panicked call from my editor's office. I screwed up the pages. Great.
1:23 p.m.: Cowed, stunned, and a little disheartened, I sit at my computer again, fixing the layouts.
1:25 p.m.: The computer locks up again. I start to entertain fantasies of introducing the beige box to the back tire of my car.
3:20 p.m.: Layouts are finished. Now I'm on to proofing. Pages and pages of corrections as I tweak here, CP style there...
5:30 p.m.: Still tweaking. On the upside, the computer is running smoothly.
6:20 p.m.: I flop into my car, exhausted. What a day. And I get to do it next week.

Don't let that deter you, though. This is a great job. Just be prepared to work.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weekend update - Cultural Sensitivity and YOU!

Oh goody, a hot-button topic in the scintillating world of Journalism.

You may have noticed in the news that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons Sept. 30, that even I, as a well-meaning atheist, found offensive. The cartoons, depicting the prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-turban, and charred muslims at the gates of heaven being told "Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins!" rightly drew the wrath of the muslim world.

Think of it this way: It's like depicting St. Paul fondling a little boy in a Catholic confessional, or Moses flapping about in a big pile of money, or Jesus drunk and hitting on a mule. It's like the Turkish film depicting wild-eyed American soldiers shooting up an Iraqi wedding and hauling the survivors to Abu Ghraib.

It's using an icon of an entire people to joke about the actions of an extreme minority. In short, it's just not kosher.

I don't like using the word "shitstorm" often... no, that's a lie. I put it on my stationery.

The point is, the muslim world was up in arms four months after the fact, sparking violent protests worldwide calling for the beheading of "those who insult Islam."

This is, of course, following a complaint to the Danish government, Syria recalling its ambassador, other scandanavian newspapers REPRINTING the cartoons, Spanish, French, German, and Italian papers reprinting the cartoons later in the month, and a "too little, too late" apology from Jyllands-Posten.

Locally, there has been very little outcry. Mainly because there isn't much of a Muslim population here in Whitecourt, and our cartoons are pretty tame. So, sorry - nobody's thrown a molotov cocktail through the window of my office yet.

Now that we have a little perspective on the situation, I'm going to tell you what I think.

This is a situation that shouldn't have happened.

The editor of the Danish paper had to be asleep at the wheel to allow something like that to squeak through. And one has to wonder at the good sense of the cartoonist who drew it - was s/he hunched over a drafting table at 3 a.m., frantic about the looming deadline? Or do Europeans have a slightly different idea of cultural sensitivity?

Who knows? The point is, this action and backlash throws the ideas of Free Press and Cultural Sensitivity back into the ring for a knock-down, drag-out cage match.

On the one hand, newspapers should be, and are, allowed to print what they want. It's part of a free, transparent world. A free press is a great thing, but it's like holding the remote detonator to a nuclear bomb.

On the other, it's the responsibility of those in charge of this free press to think carefully about what they allow to grace their pages.

To think that this furor could have been raised by a cartoon - something I never read in the paper anyway - is ridiculous. It's not that these riots have been caused by a reaction to well-presented and uncomfortable revelations in a news story. It's that they are in reaction to a DOODLE. Something with a clear meaning and very little nuance - how could people NOT be offended by a top religious icon depicted as a terrorist? Or as a short-fused bomb ready to explode?

The fact of the matter is that as editors and journalists, we must always think about the implications of what we write. Sure, we're constantly against deadlines, hurrying to crank out those last few column-inches of copy so we can go home, but we always have to think critically: Is it really worth the backlash for me to publish this?

Let's face it - as journalists, we hold a lot of power. It's time we use it responsibly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sort of a new direction

It's coming up on the start of my fourth week as cub reporter at the Whitecourt Star, intrepid voice of truth in chilly central Alberta. If you're wondering where Whitecourt is... mapquest it. Use your research skills.

My name? Mark Edwards. Age? 21. Beat? School and civic. Welcome to my job.

This blog is my soapbox to expound my thoughts on Journalism, the stories I've written, and things happening to and around Journalists in this day and age.

You'll have noticed my witty comments lower on this page, dealing with the race to succeed Premier Ralph Klein once he steps down. Just ignore them - they were for a school project.