It’s been so long…

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Peg McCarthy/ OShoot Photography

Well, it has been awhile.

Almost four years to be exact since I decided to blog and send my words into the Internet ether. Hello, is this thing on? Can you hear me?

I know I am not the first and certainly won’t be the last blogger or writer who once feverishly wrote up a storm and then faded to the background.

What’s been going on since we last interacted?

Easy answer: Life.

Marriage, a new city, an ever-expanding career (I could or maybe should start a blog about management of a B2B newspaper in the ever-shifting world of journalism) and the latest, incredible addition, a baby son who is on the cusp of turning one.

It’s that last factor which brings back. I have honed a career and life where the written word, being accurate, telling stories and capturing images has been the main driving force. The lessons learned in those pursuits I know have shaped me but this new force of nature, a baby boy, has been an awe-inspiring change which lit the wordsmith fire…well…for today anyway.

As my awesome wife and I tackle the journey of parenthood, it has been amazing to see and feel how this little person we created is a game changer and the main reset button needed for a life which became too fixated on a career and getting ahead.

None of the observations I make now and going forward will be revolutionary or different from the other mommy and daddy bloggers out there but all the same, here we go…

While watching my son grow over the last 11 months I have caught myself at times looking at him in wonderment as he takes in the world around him, recognizing, remembering and experiencing new things on almost an hourly basis. I have said he is like “an open nerve”, experiencing and feeling everything right now as he lives in the moment.

Trying to reset this adult brain, which worries about the house, hiring and firing staff, traffic congestion, bills, politics, friendships come and gone and an ever slowing metabolism, to see things around me as a child does, has been refreshing and much needed…more than I would have ever acknowledged before or even expected.

What will my legacy be, I often wonder, for my son to learn about? He will figure me out in due time but I sometimes wonder, will he be curious about what his old man obsessed about most of his life? Where will he find those stories and photos? Will he wonder, “Why didn’t you write about me?”

My wife has dutifully kept a journal for our little guy during his first 11 months and I am so thankful she has. I have obsessively taken pictures (which parent hasn’t in the age of the smartphone?) in order to document his early years but I really have not written much. Then again, even before he joined us, I had pretty much forsaken any type of personal writing. The energy wasn’t there. The time was nowhere to be found. The passion was essentially gone.

I think things are changing now.

The blog has been dusted off, as has the keyboard, for how long I am not sure but surely there is time between diaper changes and getting down on all fours, to see the world as he does, where I will be able to write into the ether again.

Thanks for that little man.

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From Paris to under Stephen King’s dome and back.

So, let’s write about books.

After another successful haul of books thanks to Christmas, I have an incredible amount of prose to add to my already excellent haul of books from last year. Slowly but surely that pile is being whittled down- the classic mantra of all book readers.

Books are little wonderful collections of art in my opinion. All that energy and work, hours of angst and blissful inspired glory, spilled page after page, all neatly bound, ready to be lost in…if you are ready to take the plunge.

Recently I finished two books that appear far apart on the literary spectrum but they were worth the slow coffees, teas and snacks I had as I flipped through them.

Each book is rated on the typewriter (remember those?) scale from one to five. The more the better.

PARIS 1919: Six Months that Changed the World

By Margaret MacMillan

Take a peek at the world map, see it all divided up by borders, both manmade and natural. If you ever wanted to know how most of those pieces of this great puzzle were created, read this book.

Paris 1919 is internationally renown so it won’t mean much to heap further mounds of praise on it but rest assured, the accolades are all well deserved. The research and writing which went into this political history book, which centres around the Paris 1919 peace conference, is incredible and a joy to indulge in.

As the world reeled from the end of the First World War its prevailing powers were bent on justice, acquisition of power, land expansion, global positioning and control. The strength of MacMillan’s research and style really delivers “fly on the wall” moments again and again as she unfurled those six months in Paris.

If you love history and politics, add this to your bookshelf ASAP. If you ever wanted a better understanding of Germany pre-World War Two, the Middle East, the Armenian genocide, Italy’s inability at political stability, Japan and U.S. relations pre-World War Two…and there is more, read this book. One thing I can tell you is this…the butler did not do it.

5/5

Under the Dome

By Stephen King

This 1,074 word opus by the master of fright, scream and all things macabre was a workout to carry around for its sheer size alone. For the record, I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s Darktower series, if you are ever going to read some King, read this series first. Under the Dome has nothing to do with that awesome series though it is the longest King book I have read since finishing the Darktower journey.

What continues to amaze me about King is, love him or hate him, he has an incredible imagination and impeccable story-telling capabilities. He is not lavish and technically great as a writer, according to some, but that does not matter. Dear reader, the man knows how to spin a tale. Under the Dome is about a sleepy town which becomes enclosed in a massive dome, essentially becoming the world’s biggest snowglobe.

How quickly does this town go to rot “under the dome”. Who is the first to crack? Who is the first to try to capitalize? And…who will stand up and fight? As King explores the small-town psyche of Chester’s Mill, Maine, you at times get the feeling that his descriptions of people in crisis, even under these fantastical circumstances, might not be that far-fetched.

A good read for a long book, not one of his best but it is worth getting lost in for a bit. I only have one issue with the book but I won’t ruin it for you, if you commit to this opus, you are in it for the long haul!

3.5/5

Tucson shooting illustrates social media and journalism dance

As social media and traditional journalism continue their awkward dance to find a pleasant rhythm and co-existence tragedies like the recent Tucson shooting highlight there are still plenty of missteps to endure.

For every hard news reporter, breaking news is the extra java blast to your blood in the day. All is serene, you are working on your gem ledes and threading facts and quotes effortlessly on yet another council meeting story or the latest minor league baseball game then….the local plastics factory goes up in flames or a police offer gets killed or you have a situation like the Tucson shooting which claims six lives and injuries a dozen, including a congresswoman.

“Getting it first and getting it right”, is the mantra drilled into any breaking news reporter as they learn their craft. As the internet gained prominence “getting it first” took on a new level and pressure for those of us who welcomed it. The meshing of the internet and social media with traditional media has been messy in of itself sometimes as we all try to co-exist and ply the skilled craft and trade we love.

However, that awkward dance I mentioned in my lede only has become more so as Facebook and Twitter evolve. They are not just as social communication sites but are becoming the first and for some, the only link and access to news. This is where the stepping on toes and sweaty hand-holding of the dance between social media and journalism really takes hold.

Scene at Tucson shooting. Photo: AP

“Getting it first” now entails getting it first on your publication’s blog or Twitter, let alone your website. Reporters then find themselves competing with other Tweeters and bloggers to both collect and distribute news while having to disseminate what is hard fact, what is conjecture and what is plain rumour or innuendo via social media.

The actual tidbit of fact via social media is not the problem; it is finding the time to verify it under new digital reporting pressures. That Tweet is no different than the anonymous phone call from someone reporting some obscure or juicy fact about a murder, fire or councillor. It is information and it is a reporter’s responsibility to verify it the best they can, working credible sources, even off the record, before running with it.

The issue arises when the race to “get it first” and the trouble with verification leaves a media outlet in the conundrum where they couch unverified information as “alleged” “unverified reports indicate” “unnamed sources say” “rumoured to be” etc. etc. in order to “get it first”. Not an uncommon quagmire many a newsroom has been in.

Remember, unverified rumours and information via Twitter are like undercover whispers, they require work to verify.

The problem is not the couching per se, the problem is how that information you have not verified, but have now given a stamp of approval to by using it, is then used by other social media users, who simply see it as “Hey, the New York Post has this up, it must be real now” and they do not pay any attention or mind to how the information has been couched.

In the early hours of the Tucson shooting aftermath, blended information and facts flowed via traditional and digital media, creating some serious misinformation, such as the reports of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being dead.

Washington and Lee University journalism professor Claudette Artwick, said in a recent interview, that the Tucson shooting illustrate the changing nature of the way in which we receive information.

“This is where we live now,” said Artwick, who studies how journalists use social media, in a statement via Newswise. “Many people are receiving their news through Twitter and other social media. It’s no longer the favourite station or the favourite newspaper. People are getting their information from many, many different sources.”

Artwick said journalists are also trying to figure out just how to use Twitter. This became apparent as the Tucson event unfolded when tweets from mainstream media outlets, from National Public Radio to CBS anchor Katie Couric, showed up alongside the tweets and reTweets of both eyewitness and casual observers.

Time to foxtrot.

“Getting it right” needs to remain in the forefront for journalism, no matter the digital and social media pressures. It has to, or we are then no better than the gossipy person behind you in the grocery store checkout line.

The dance itself is not bad and we all have to learn along the way what the new steps are. The days of the foxtrot may be over but the fundamentals still remain to a degree, at some point social media and traditional journalism will find their rhythm as will the readers who use them.

Professional journalists are that- professionals

The face of journalism keeps changing and there are days I do not like what we see in the mirror.

A recent decision by Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that journalists do not enjoy a special constitutional protection to shield the identity of sources of information during police investigations.

The decision means a National Post reporter is now required to hand over documents to police that he received while writing about a land deal by a former Canadian prime minister. Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau did a really good streamlined job explaining the decision and I highly recommend it. Kirk Makin at the Globe and Mail also did a strong detailed piece too.

I’ll admit the decision is a concern. As professional journalists we need to understand what it means now, as we move forward, when we receive envelopes surreptitiously and sources seek anonymity.

However, what bothered me most about the decision is that solid, grounded, professionalized and educated journalists are having their integrity and rules of governance and conduct being lumped in with basement bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalists and internet media cowboys.

The court explained that there are “cogent objections to the creation of such a ‘constitutional’ immunity” for protecting sources found in a recent case and that…

“the protection attached to freedom of expression is not limited to the ‘traditional media’ but is enjoyed by ‘everyone’ who chooses to exercise his or her freedom of expression on matters of public interest whether by blogging, tweeting, standing on a street corner and shouting the ‘news’ at passing pedestrians or publishing in a national newspaper,” the court explained.

“To throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality and on whatever terms they may choose to offer it (or, as here, choose to amend it with the benefit of hindsight) would blow a giant hole in law enforcement and other constitutionally recognized values such as privacy,” the court stated.

There is the final rub for me, right there in the paragraph directly above, “to throw a constitutional immunity around the interactions of such a heterogeneous and ill-defined group of writers and speakers and whichever “sources” they deem worthy of a promise of confidentiality.”

As a professional journalist I can confidently say that I and fellow counterparts in real media outlets are not an “ill-defined group” of writers and speakers. We are journalists. We are trained professionals entrusted and expected to have the judgment to use “off the record” comments and anonymous sources both efficiently and effectively. The fact we get lumped in with a bunch of rag tag pseudo reporters is what drives me crazy.

“Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor…”- On Deadline

Look at it this way, just because I own and know how to follow suggestions in the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies, it does not make me a doctor and it does not make me qualified to make educated diagnoses based on experience and with expertise.  Also, it certainly does not allow me the privilege of using a scalpel or to write prescriptions.

A trained professional doctor has the above privileges and such respect should be afforded to trained, professional journalists- our tools of the trade should not be hindered by those who blog and tweet without journalist credentials.

If you do not believe so, drop me an email when you have a five inch open gash in your thigh, I’m sure I can find a way to fix you right up via Google or the home remedies book.

We’ve hit two years – Happy Birthday On Deadline!

On Deadline celebrates its 2nd birthday today.

Two years and almost 200 posts later and we are still kicking.

This blog started on a whim two years ago today and was strictly meant to give me an “online presence”… little did I know it would become not just an obsession some days but also something I hate on others.

The push and pull of creating not just anything for the blog but something of quality has been an interesting exercise. I never wanted it to be an asinine collection of links and videos nor just a place where I rant. My ultimate goal from post to post is to give a reader some sober second thought on a subject or get them motivated to make a positive change. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed but the posts, readers and views kept coming.

Over the last year The Good Revolution found us worthy enough to be contributors to them  and the fundraising efforts we supported, from Two Write Love On Her Arms to the World Food Programme, proved to me the quality of you, the On Deadline readers. You are all worth whatever menial struggle I have to overcome to click away at the keyboard.

My thanks to you for ensuring this blog and my efforts are worthwhile.

On Deadline readers you simply rock.

Vince Versace

  • MOST POPULAR POSTS OVER THE LAST YEAR:

1. My blog post about the frustrations in trying to find the Terry Fox Memorial in St. John’s, NFLD and my eventual disappointment in what I found was the most popular over the last year here at On Deadline. Though it was penned this past October it has screamed up to the top on the most viewed and referral charts. Feels good to know that a personal hero of mine is so popular and that others found the memorial not worthy of this amazing Canadian.

2. Sex does sell and it does equal visits to your blog. My sexy Canadian politicians post from last year still brings eye balls trolling for sexy pictures of sexy politicians. What disappointment these folks must have felt when they found G-rated photos of some attractive Canadian politicians and then nothing else.

  • MY FAVOURITE POSTS OF THE YEAR:
  • This year I introduced a category called Writer Talk where I looked at the craft of writing, the joys of reading and all the frustrations that came with them. My post called Pushing an Elephant Up A Mountain was my favourite. Judging by the discussions, responses and messages from other fellow writers, hacks and wordsmiths, it struck a chord. My other two favourites were about my last, late night walk in Tokyo and Amanda Lindhout being freed.

  • TOP SEARCH ENGINE TERMS:

These following three terms brought the most people to On Deadline: terry fox, ruby dhalla, voodoo.

Thanks again and on to Year Three!

 

Red Snow, a Michael Slade gold medal thriller

The suspense and action builds in Red Snow, Michael Slade’s 2010 Winter Olympics crime thriller, like a Super G skier careening down an Olympic ski run.

As master villain Mephisto’s sadistic plan unfolds in Whistler readers can almost feel the villainous cold intentions creep in thanks to Slade’s detailed writing.

Red Snow is a gripping read because as Mephisto’s plan targets his arch nemesis, the members of Special X– the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s super sleuth hunters of psychotic killers, it happens lockstep with the ultimate goal of turning the world on its head with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics around the corner.

Tasked with not only making the winter Olympics safe but also to stop Mephisto, before dead bodies stack up higher than the roadside snow banks of British Columbia’s deep interior, is Robert DeClercq, RCMP Chief Superintendent. In facing his old foe DeClercq will be challenged not just tactically but personally to ensure Mephisto is stopped.

As the hunters become the hunted and the noose of Mephisto’s plan begins to tighten around the idyllic Whistler backdrop, even first-time crime thriller readers will find Red Snow a fast-paced suspenseful read. Make no mistake; though the book’s backdrop is one of Canada’s jewel winter getaways, Slade manages to brilliantly thread historical accounts, such as those of explorers in lush South American rainforests, to bring further context to Mephisto’s mind and a trip into his heart of darkness.

Author Michael Slade takes you into the dark shadows of a villain's mind.

Among the eeriest aspects of Red Snow are Slade’s descriptions of the security challenges facing an Olympics stretched out over hundreds of kilometres in British Columbia, from Vancouver to B.C.’s North Shore mountains to Whistler itself. With the world’s winter Olympic community soon to arrive in B.C. readers get a better picture of the mountainous security shield that is required.

Red Snow is as much a classic good versus evil bloodletting as it is a blow-by-blow boxing match between how far a twisted mind will go to exact revenge, while striking at the world and how deep resourceful good people can reach under dire circumstances against the clock.

Self-publishing your book can fulfill a dream

Was Snoopy a self-publishing type?

Every writer, from a crusty newspaper hack to flowery wordsmith of prose, usually thinks they have at least one book lurking in the shadowy recesses of their minds.

Though that book lives there, sometimes growing deep roots, for some, getting it to see the light of day as a published work can be as daunting as actually writing it.

Then, tack on the agonizing self-analysis: is my story original enough? Are the characters realistic? Will anybody really like it beyond my mother and closest friends…if that? and it is a wonder that anything gets published at all.

Talk to Alex and Donna Carrick and you have two authors that decided to wrestle an author’s demons of self-doubt by wielding the weapon of self-publishing.

“The old model of book publishing is a dying model,” says Alex, author of Two Scoops is Just Right, his recently self-published  first novel. “This will all really change when e-books get fully accepted and that will leave publishers looking for a stream of e-books. Also, if critics start to review self-published books, that is going to help get those books  into distribution.”

Alex has no issue in sharing his rationale for moving away from traditional publishing: agents and publishers want exclusivity, they get to set the price; sometimes they demand copyright; royalties “are a pittance” -between seven to 15 per cent at best, he says and sometimes books are held up if a competing one is coming to market.

“Still, the old model has the one big advantage- access to bookstores, supermarket shelves and so on. Their distribution is the key,” he notes. “However, for those who do self-publish it is simple, you have to do the promotion yourself which means working social networks like LinkdedIn and Twitter and making a meaningful presence there.”

The economics of printing an e-book is what will change the market, says Alex. Author royalties with e-books are as much as 50 per cent; self-publishing royalties through Amazon are 33 per cent. The key to turning a profit is volume and putting in the time to market yourself and believing in giving self-publishing a shot, he says.

“For those writing books, why should it not see the light of the day?,” Alex says. “If you have the wherewithal to self-publish why not do it. Get it out there and take your lumps along the way.”

Taking the hard road of so-called “legitimate” publishing is not foreign to Donna, as she celebrates her recent self-published book The First Excellence:Fa-Ling’s Map. She attempted to get her earlier works published through an established publisher but found the process disappointing.

“My first goal is to reach readers through whichever channel I can,” she explains. “I have seven manuscripts and three self-published works. I know the first few manuscripts were practice but at what point do you decide as a writer to have more than just manuscript paper under the bed collecting dust. You have put your work in front of people.”

Donna adds that if she ever does get published by an established publisher now it will be because someone discovered her via her online footprint.

“The fact is now the writer who may be shy and wants to go off and write has to be this exotic dancer, promoter and songstress in order to promote themselves and help with their self-publishing,” Donna says.

BookSurge and Lulu offer a cheap and relatively easy opportunity to fulfill a dream, say the Carricks. Kirkus Reviews has recently established a division  to objectively review self-published books and the Carricks have paid to have their works reviewed.

“They say they are objective and we are  not looking for a puff piece,” explains Alex. “The ultmate goal is for someone to read what you have done even if they do not like it.”