Death of the Narrative: A Radio News Perspective

Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)
Jane working the early morning hours at 570News (circa 2009)

This morning I am struck by a strong sense of time and narrative. Triggered by what, I’m not yet sure. Whether it’s because just this week I noticed a few grey hairs on my head, (for who knows how long; it just snuck up on me). Or whether it’s because my teenage daughter is now starting to fight with me the same way I used to fight with my mother, with a hint of condescension as if to say, “what the heck do you know anyway?-you’re out of touch”. Or, whether it’s the 1993 video veteran newscaster Dick Smyth shared this week of our 680News team in the early days of the first 24/7 news wheel format in Canada. I sense that it’s this latter scenario drawing me in, provoking a strong need to reflect on the perception of time, narrative, and what it does to the psyche. But first, a little background story.

In March of 1988 I was a high school senior partying in Cuba over Spring Break, living in the moment, not thinking too hard about what I really wanted to do after graduation. There were close to fifty other teens who came together from various regions in Ontario, all feeling the same way. We were escaping our futures, holding on to the moment, and to our youth. One of the teens from our small 10-member Niagara group would go on to embrace the future the following year, marrying a co-worker at her part-time student workplace. Still another would go on to serve in the Canadian military, dying 15 years later in Afghanistan from an improvised explosive device going off underneath the Armed forces’ light armoured vehicle he was traveling in. But these were not the potential realities we were thinking about in Cuba. Excited by our new-found independence and celebration of youth as a collective group, we spent the nights drinking and talking, and the days sleeping on the beach.

One late night we let “living in the moment” slip. A boy from Cambridge talked about his plans to go to college for Radio Broadcasting. It was all I could think about for the rest of the trip. What was I going to do with my life? Shortly after I returned home, the sun melted the Spring ice and a TV crew showed up on our door to film my mother for a gardening episode on TVO. I got some advice from a young crew member and set my sights on applying to Ryerson and getting a co-op placement at the local radio station.

At CHSC, the afternoon news anchor and later, my friend Ed Eldred took a chance on me and sent me out to do a story on the tall ships that had sailed into the Welland locks. I found a young sailor who invited me to sit and listen to stories of his travels and description of what a typical day was like living on the ship. It is this first interview that remains ingrained in my memory, succeeded only by a handful of others including an interview with the sister of NHL hockey player Brian Bellows. A strong spirited survivor, Sandy wanted to reach out to other young women after she was raped and savagely beaten in the snowy woods by serial rapist and murderer Peter John Peters. She had lived because a retired police officer overheard her screams of terror and rescued her, and she now had a strong desire to tell her story. I held two pieces of ID up to the window while two dobermans sniffed enthusiastically at the cracks of the door before being let in for a 2 ½ hour interview.

I joined the 680 News team right after graduation. In fact, Dick’s video was taken on the day Jamie Munroe and I had to leave work early to attend convocation. With the fresh 24/7 news wheel format, we were now responsible for getting news out around the clock and by the second. I often think back on this time as the moment radio reporting died for me (though I continued to anchor off and on). Instead of meeting with people and really hearing their narrative, the immediacy of the new format largely forced us into gathering sound bytes with man-on-the-street and over-the-phone interviews. Since that time, other shifts have worked to reinforce its death. Our evolving technology has combined with our post 20th century desire to live in the moment, acting like a hammer hitting the final nail on the coffin of the style of radio reporting I fell in love with almost 25 years ago.

I do not mourn the passing of the radio medium as a major news source sent into the back corners, but rather the passing of a public’s narrative and with it the echoes of empathy heard through the recounted stories of those we connected with; those we took the time to hear. Much the same demise has played out on our 24/7 news television screens, turned by audience desire for immediacy and entertainment. Many of you may argue with me, citing the unusual full-length playing of Charles Ramsey’s step-by-step account of how he saved three kidnapped women and a child from confinement. You may say, “the narrative isn’t dead. They even played the full 2 ½ minutes of Ramsey’s interview this week during a radio newscast”. I can’t help but hope there is a fraction of the public seeking to revive the narrative, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s entertainment they’re after.

Sunday May 12, 2013 Update

More evidence that the narrative is taking a hit for the sake of its audience comes in the Toronto Star today with media analyst Robert Thompson saying, “Basic rules need to be taught, not only on consuming media but how people themselves use media in these completely democratized ways. And that would include a sense of ethics, even if you are not a professional journalist.”

The article is largely about how news outlets keep getting the big news wrong time after time with the pressure to publish first. Coincidentally, the Toronto Star obviously failed to re-read before publishing. Reporter Mitch Potter used direct quotations for a person named Bleier twice. However, Robert Thompson is the man who should have been quoted throughout. He is the director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Centre for Television and Popular Culture. The use of “Bleier calls the rush of…” and “said Bleier” shows that even the Toronto Star can’t seem to write an article on journalistic mistakes without making mistakes of their own.

 

Now That’s PD!

EdCamp Hamilton
via David Carruthers @pluggedportable

What a fantastic end to a rough week. I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp Hamilton, coming off the back end of several heated discussions around the organization and attendance of a focus group held by Pearson last weekend. I had taken issue with the fact that some were unable to distinguish the difference between a conference and a focus group. Today, I stand somewhere in the middle.

My colleagues were at the Pearson session to share opinions about social media. They weren’t told exactly what Pearson was looking to gain from the meeting but I’m told by several attendees that it didn’t really matter since anytime Tweeps come together face to face, PD is happening. Fair enough. Members of this group have a high interest in advancing education into the 21st century and are well-meaning and forward-thinking people. Though I still take issue with the misguided use of the ontsm hashtag. It suggested that 50 educators were representing all Ontario teachers on the topic of social media. It also didn’t include Pearson’s company name in the hashtag. This led to the embarrassment of at least one colleague doing her best to smooth over the recent political turbulence with the public over education, tweeting how proud she was that Ontario educators were getting together over a weekend on their own time for PD. She did not know that this time, these teachers were being paid. Though I can’t go without mentioning that several of the same attendees of the focus group had paid for PD at the Google summit the week previously and showed up to the free edcamp event in Hamilton this weekend. Afterall, these are highly engaged teachers.

Edcamp felt like neutral ground. The uninhibited chance for everyone to freely post and select topics keeps current practice just that-CURRENT-with a capital “C”, and I thoroughly enjoy edcamp for that. The topics were also uninhibited by companies hawking their wares through sessions and trade show-like activities. Yes, there was some corporate sponsorship, but we’d be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that at least some money has to come from somewhere for an event like this. However, towards the end of the day, I overheard a publishing representative approach a colleague of mine asking for a meeting. It proves just how desperate these companies are to infiltrate the good things we have going on in education. Whether you view it as a goal to exploit teachers for profits or whether you chalk it up to simple recognition that we’re on to something big here, we’ll have to examine our relationships with publishers and educators. The line has become blurred between our meeting spaces.

I suggest that we need to take into account all the relationships that we have-with our employer, the college of teachers, our union, and our corporate suppliers. It’s time to revisit our contracts around ownership of our content in all arenas. Consider also whether you will take an open approach and use Creative Commons or whether you will go privately; corporate or as sole owner. So, the next time a company approaches you with a media release or some other sort of contract, what would it hurt to ask for it in advance and have it checked over by a board or union lawyer? Sometimes in our effort to be shift disturbers we push too hard, too fast without considering the agency of all parties. And above all, keep a critical eye open and remember that all media have commercial interests.

A Teachable Moment in Media Literacy and Global Perspective

 

Members of the Jeddah Kings United all-female team attend football exercise in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. AP Images

A group of grade 11 girls were showing the music video they had just finished producing for my Communications Technology class, when it occurred to me how differently the video would be perceived in some parts of the world. It was a video about three girls all doing different sporting activities but coming together at the end to high-five and yes, even chest bump each other.

I asked them to explain the main message of their video. They looked surprised, as we had conferenced over the video several times through the production stages and they knew that I knew full-well what their intentions were. I asked them again, adding “for the sake of the class”. The girls explained that the message was about the fact that even though these girls enjoyed different sporting interests, they could still be good friends. Can you read the message laying beneath their statement? The realization just about knocked my socks off, especially after reading about the recent bus rapes in India and viewing pictures on the Internet of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was sent to a U-K hospital to be treated for a Taliban gun attack she endured for promoting education of females in her homeland. I thought about my students. We enjoy so many freedoms in Canada. Without a global perspective who can be blamed for taking these freedoms for granted?

I asked my students to consider if and how the message in the student music video might be received differently elsewhere in the world. After some silence I prompted them with, “how about, for example, in the middle east”? They were still very quiet. After this even lengthier moment of silence I mentioned there were some countries in the middle east where girls are not allowed to go out of the home without the accompaniment of a male family member, let alone play sports. This led into a discussion about culture and the importance of becoming acquainted with various global perspectives. In the end, the girls who produced the video said they wished they had been able to make the connection earlier, but were now even more proud of their project outcome, high-lighting just how lucky they felt they were to be living in Canada and empathising with those women who will never know the joy of sport.

It’s a topic worth re-visiting and requires digging deeper, as it’s really not so black and white. Women of privilege in Saudi Arabia are training for sports amidst constant criticism, while state run schools neither have the facilities nor the approval for physical education classes. The Human Rights Watch was quoted, “Millions of (Saudi) girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools.” The division of rights based on class is worth a discussion.

Ohio-born and Saudi-raised Equestrian Dalma Malhas was to have been the first Saudi female to compete at this past summer’s Olympics, but the International Equestrian Federation reported she was disqualified from the Games in late June for failing to meet minimum eligibility standards. Two other women did end up qualifying in their sports for the Olympics. Wujdan Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar became the first women ever to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics; Shahrkhani in judo and Attar in track and field.  Shahrkhani had to jump many hurdles in meeting both the dress code demands of her country and the Olympic rule-book. Still, one North American news outlet viewed Saudi Arabia’s allowance of the women to compete as a “sham“. Perspectives of cultures holding deeply polarized oppositional and dominant readings is certainly worth a look with students.

Saudi Arabia may be the only country still banning women from sport in government schools, but that doesn’t mean women in other countries are completely free of barriers to play. Obstacles such as war, gender-bias, and violence against women put survival first and foremost on women and girls’ lists, leaving very little consideration about sport. One only need look to the situation in the Congo where a Refugees International report says women are choosing between rape and hunger. While it’s important to consider the various barriers to women playing sports in the world, we also have to take care not to place the issue in very geo-specific areas such as the middle east.

Extensions of the topic may include a look at American perspectives of how sport enhances female power. I recommend using a Forbes article titled, “The Secret to Being a Power Woman: Play Team Sports“. How might this perspective be viewed by other cultures?

Lastly, shifting the topic from sports to the Saudi ban on women driving is worth a look as the release of MIA’s music video, “Bad Girls” is sure to get students’ attention (my personal favourite music video from 2012). At the beginning of our Music Video unit, I showed this video to students first without any explanation of the laws in Saudi Arabia, then after explaining the situation, I played the video again. At first, students had no idea what message MIA was presenting, but felt the pimped out cars being rolled on the edge was kind of cool and then a bit overdone by the end of the video. However, on second viewing and with their new learning, they were able to point out so many details of subversion including the men cheering on the women driving, women toting guns, and exposed female skin and fashions. They also pointed out that the desert was likely a whole lot closer to Hollywood than Riyadh (actually, it was Morocco).

I can’t stress how important it is to present these opportunities for critical reflection of pop culture and global perspectives, even for a Communications Technology teacher. Our students are producing cultural artefacts; snapshots of current perspective, trends, and interests of North American youth. It only makes sense that we do them the courtesy of validating their work by offering opportunities to consider the relationship of these cultural artefacts to oppositional readings, global and even generational perspectives.

 

Go Deep! Ask Questions Before Implementing Tech Resources

kevin dooley / Free Photos

As I skim educational resources and discussions on the web, I like that many of the conversations are changing towards thinking about purpose and ownership when planning tech integration. It helps us avoid implementing “novelty tech”, which I akin to clowns jumping around in the front of the classroom grabbing students’ attention. A checklist by Sue Lyon-Jones helps get teachers started.

But, after reading the chart, I still think we need to go further in our questioning when thinking about the purpose of technology in the classroom. We need to ask a whole other list of questions. I presented these at ECCO last year in my presentation about Google Docs. When thinking about integrating any tech, ask yourself:
How will the technology support…
media literacy?
digital citizenship?
social learning and communication?
critical thinking?
collaboration?
differentiation for learners who learn best textually, auditorily, kinesthetically?
assessment and marking (teacher, self, and peer)?
organization/management?

We also need to think about some of the inherent changes online tech brings to the classroom. Anything posted in a learning environment with 24/7 access helps students have access to reviewing and continuing work; it also ramps up transparency, which most certainly increases accountability for both student and teacher (think time stamping and the permanency of text in public spaces).

There are some subtler differences to pedagogy that are all wrapped up in the choice and use of a particular tech. Some of these may be hard to spot until you’ve actually tried out the technology or poured through someone else’s action research. These may include significant shifts in pedagogical teaching/learning methods. I really noticed this while using Google Docs. After asking permission from the 18 years olds in my classes, here are some of my findings.

In praise of Volunteers

CC woldgangfoto

Walking into the Grand River Hospital this morning, I was struck by the large number of volunteers working. While waiting for my husband, one high-school aged volunteer noticed I was shivering from the air conditioning and brought me a warm blanket. I was so appreciative of this gesture of kindness. It brought me back to my days of volunteering at a downtown school in Woodstock. That story is actually tied into how I got my self-esteem back and how I got into teaching.

I was just 23 and had left a bad work experience in Toronto where I worked in radio. A station in Woodstock had an early-morning opening and I decided to take it, leaving behind my poisoned work environment amidst warnings that it would be career suicide. Shortly after moving, I noticed a small school at the end of the street where I lived. Intuitively, I went in and asked the principal if I could volunteer in the afternoons a few times a week. Each day, students and staff were pleased to see me, genuinely valuing my assistance and I quickly fell in love with the school environment. I believe that I got more out of volunteering than those I was helping ever got from me. They saved my self-worth and pointed me in the direction of my next career. After a few months I was encouraged to apply for the position of Educational Assistant and while in that position I applied to Teacher’s college. Teaching had never been on my career list. My father, although well liked by students, had been my high school principal and so I was determined to chart my own path in media. Years later, it would be my mother who pointed out that as a child I had regularly lined up my stuffed teddy bears and gave them my dad’s old ditto sheets from when he taught History. Yet I am so glad that it took volunteering to show me my true path.

My daughter starts her first volunteering job tomorrow and I am so excited for her. She will be working for the Niagara Conservation Authority in the summer camp program at Ball’s Falls. The program co-ordinator is a wonderful lady who welcomes Kaitlyn back as a volunteer after many years as a camper. It’s Kaitlyn’s turn to give back, but I’m willing to bet the experience is going to benefit her the most.