Bons mots

Slips of my tongue

My first week of school, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the blog

It is the end of the first week of school and I have survived. No wedgies, no Uggs, no sea of laptops in class.

The fears I laid out in my first post were all for naught. The benefit of a post-grad winter program is the variety of people enrolled in it. There are a few students fresh out of their undergrad term at university but the majority, like me, came from the workforce. We all bring different perspectives to the table and there has already been a good exchange of ideas and opinions. The size of our class (31) also allows for a feeling of closeness and solidarity – we even started our own Facebook group!

The funny thing is, we take the same classes together. Coupled with the fact that our campus served as Degrassi High, at times it feels like I’m back in high school. (I think my locker is near Joey Jeremiah’s but I haven’t been able to confirm it.) And like high school, the cafeteria food leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the Danforth is just a 10-minute walk away.

I have an advantage over most of my fellow students when it comes to corporate communications and P.R. But I’ve discovered there is a lot more I need to learn. Like how to write, for example. As I mentioned in my first post, it has been a long time since I wrote anything beyond a client proposal or an e-mail. Back then, I had a tendency toward the verbose and the thesaurus was my bible. Since there is no demand for 2,000-word news releases, I will strive to learn the seven C’s of good writing: clear, concise, correct, coherent, complete, consistent and creative. The CP Style Guide will become my new bible.

Another tidbit I picked up was how to read newspapers. I mean, REALLY read newspapers. I subscribe to the Toronto Star and read it religiously every morning. But I tend to skim over most of the articles, reading only the first two and last paragraphs to get the gist of the article. But after my first Media Relations class I began to analyze the paper and noticed something: Every journalist has a bias. It tends to be obvious and expected with columnists like Rosie DiManno of the Star and Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail. But the bias of other reporters tends to creep in “hard” news stories. For example, take this article in last Thursday’s National Post:

’09 Afghan pullout too soon, experts say

It is already too late for Canada to withdraw from combat in southern Afghanistan when the mission expires in 2009, military analysts said yesterday.

The federal Liberal party made a submission this week to the panel studying Canada’s future role in Afghanistan, headed by former finance minister John Manley.

In it, the party insisted Ottawa should formally notify NATO now of Canada’s intention to end its combat mission in Kandahar next year, contending it would be a “travesty” if the mission continued beyond February, 2009.

But experts warned yesterday that there is not enough time to safely replace the 2,500 Canadian troops in the region with soldiers from other NATO countries.

This “news” item is about a submission the federal Liberals made to a panel studying Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Post reporter chose to focus on the opinion of “experts” who believe it is too soon to withdraw our troops. This jibes with the Conservative government’s view that Canada’s should keep its troops in Afghanistan until progress is made, no matter how long it takes. And we all know how “right” the Post is.

Now take a look at how the Toronto Star reported on the same item:

`Travesty’ to extend combat role: Liberals

Canada should remain committed to Afghanistan but the current combat mission in Kandahar must end in just over a year, federal Liberals say.

Canada should instead look at other roles for the military, such as training the Afghan National Army and police, protecting Afghan civilians or leading reconstruction efforts, the party said in a paper released yesterday.

“We believe Canada and the rest of the world have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan,” the Liberal party says in its submission to the federal panel now studying the future of Canada’s Afghan mission.

And in a news release accompanying the document, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he’s open to “other possible military roles in Afghanistan.”

But the party says it would be a “travesty” to continue the current military role in Kandahar under the guise of a “training mission.”

Instead, the Liberals say, the Conservatives must immediately inform NATO that Canada will end its Kandahar mission in February 2009, adding that as long as allies believe the mission is “open-ended, they will never prepare for our departure.”

The Star focused on the viewpoint of the Liberals, who want an early withdrawl of our troops. This isn’t surprising, given the Star‘s leftist/Liberal leanings. The point I am trying to make is this: there is no real objectivity in the media. While this is hardly new information it has made me think of how obvious it is and how it doesn’t matter anymore. With the technology available to us, we have access to raw information and can arrive at our own conclusions instead of having it spoon-fed to us. We can also draw from a huge pool of opinions regarding the latest issues and decide which ones appeal to us. (For the record, I like mine with a little satire and Jon Stewart’s snarky, sexy grin.)

In the early term of George W. Bush’s presidency, the traditional media was shameless in their unwavering, hyperpatriotic support of the war in Iraq (“Bush Lies, Media Swallows“, Eric Alterman, The Nation). The dearth of coverage on any opposing viewpoints and the growing savvy of the public (or more so the left-leaning intelligentsia) has led to the rise of citizen journalism (or “new media” as some call it).

It would negligent for me as a future communicator to ignore this. If the role of public relations is to “…establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depend” (Center and Broom, Effective Public Relations), then giving little credence to the “new media” would be inviting disaster. There are numerous examples of how the “little guy” brought down “the man” (or anchorman, in Dan Rather’s case) and it’s not going to end, folks. All of which leads me to believe that when Time named their 2006 Person of the Year as you, they confirmed what we all know: opinions are like a–holes – everyone’s got one. And they will blog about it. And the world will notice.

Jon Stewart

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January 12, 2008 - Posted by | Learning | , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Nicely written. Balanced opinion. You will be an excellent resource as a communications professional, my dear. I think you’ve definitely found your calling.

    Comment by Darlene | January 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. So glad to hear your return to the hallowed halls of academia went smoothly.

    I, on the other hand, have had a vastly different experience at the University of Toronto.

    Class sizes often range from 200-1000, and are populated with a myriad of spoiled brats who’s incessant typing on their laptops and updates on facebook are only drowned out by the blaring music of their omnipresent Ipod earbuds.

    Teacher’s assistants are a frustrated bunch of elitist bastards who think having to work for slave wages and mark undergraduate work is really rather beneath them.

    Professors are inaccessible.

    There is a dabbling in each class of folks over 40, but they are rare and often rather reserved.

    It’s also challenging being older than half of said professors.

    I look forward to actually taking a course I like, and not one mandated by my degree program. Enduring the 101 courses of first year has indeed been a challenge.

    But you’ve found your calling girl, and your writing skills are not only precise, but entertaining. I look forward to your future blogs.

    Comment by kerry | May 14, 2008 | Reply


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