Monday, May 28, 2007

Karl Wells is retiring from the CBC

News flash: Veteran broadcaster, weatherman and all-round performer Karl Wells (photo by Randy Dawe) is retiring from CBC, effective August 1. I will have more on this later. In the meantime, the following internal memo from Janice Stein, Managing Editor for CBC NL, sums up this story quite nicely. I had noticed that Karl was becoming much more animated lately, reading the weather like he was calling the play by play in the Stanley Cup finals. Perhaps he was betraying some of that excitement that one must feel when surveying the new vistas that await in retirement. In this case, Karl plans to pursue his freelance writing career. Karl operates a great web site so if you would like to read more about him, click here. Here's the memo from Janice Stein:

Karl Wells, our colleague and Here & Now's weatherperson for almost 30 years, has decided to retire from the CBC.

With the approach of his official CBC retirement date of August 1, Karl has been thinking about a career change. He wants to pursue freelance writing. Karl already writes a regular column for The Telegram and he hopes to expand into magazine writing.

Karl began his remarkable 31-year career with the CBC in 1976 as an announcer in radio and television. In radio he was the first host of Weekend AM and the voice of the Morning Show’s satirical segment, His Worship, an impersonation of former St. John’s mayor John Murphy. In 1978 he moved to television to begin his Here and Now weather assignment and to anchor the very successful late night news program, Newsfinal. In 2001 he went national for two years as the Country Canada channel’s morning weatherperson on CountryWide.

During the past 31 years Karl has spent almost 30 years reporting the weather on Here and Now, becoming an icon across the province for his weather knowledge. During that time he became one of our most visible CBC personalities, in large part because of the highly successful live community segment he helped develop during the early nineties, reporting from winter carnivals, fire stations, church basements, fishing boats and live from the Hibernia platform, over 350 km offshore!

As well as the weather, Karl used his passion for arts and food to bring many arts personalities to our show and to launch the popular ‘Cooking with Karl’ series. And he has always been an ambassador for the CBC at community events, including his role as volunteer host of the CBC Janeway Telethon.

It will be a challenge to find a replacement for Karl. Karl will remain with us as we search for a new weather person and help with training. Our search will begin immediately. We hope to have a new weatherperson selected and trained soon.

Karl’s commitment to his work at Here & Now and to his role as a representative in the community is something we appreciate and will miss. Please join me in congratulating Karl on a wonderful career with the CBC and wish him all the best in exploring his new adventures in writing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Big changes in store for this little blog

I launched Meeker On Media just over three months ago, to write about the people who produce news in this province, and create a forum for the discussion of local journalism.

Thanks to the kind support of other bloggers, who keep linking to my posts, and faithful readers like you, the site has grown quickly. It has also been the catalyst for discussion in other media outlets, which I appreciate as well.

But the blog is about to be elevated to an entirely new level. The Telegram is adding a blog section to its web site, and would like to get the ball rolling by hosting Meeker On Media. It will be the first of several local blogs to appear there. (Other print media have been adding blog sections to their web sites with some success. Check out Macleans Blog Central to see what I mean.)

That’s right, I am picking up the whole shebang and moving over to The Telegram’s web site. I will start migrating archived posts over the weekend, and should have everything up and running in a week or so. You get there by going to The Telegram’s home page, then clicking on the blogs section in the column on the left (though there is nothing up as of yet).

What’s in it for me? Well, they are going to pay regular freelance rates for my contributions, which is more than the blog is earning right now. More importantly, they are going to expose me to a much larger readership.

How large? Right now, I’m getting about 300 unique visitors on a good day, which is not bad for a new blog. The Telegram web site, however, gets an average of 20,000 hits per day. While logged on yesterday, I noted there were 900 people browsing the site at that moment, triple what I get now in an entire day. As a writer, I like to be read. And those numbers are what sold me on accepting The Telegram’s offer.

Such a large base of readers will also make for a more active comments section, which enhances the readability and value of the blog.

Is there a downside? Are there strings attached? Does this mean I start sucking up to The Telegram?

No, no and no.

I asked these questions of The Telegram and the reply (to paraphrase) was, ‘Your blog is a good read, and that’s what we want – just keep on doing what you’re doing.’ I asked them what happens when I criticize something in their newspaper, as I inevitably will, and the reply was, ‘That’s fine, we have broad shoulders. We can take it.’ They are giving me the same latitude extended to any other columnist – which is pretty much unlimited – except my content appears online, not in print. So I am satisfied with that.

The odd person might suggest that I am now biased toward The Telegram, because they are paying me to write for them. This is patent nonsense, of course. Firstly, my reputation is not for sale at any price. Secondly, this would mean by extension that all columnists are biased toward the paper in which they appear, a notion that no thinking person – including the columnists themselves – should accept. Furthermore, I have administrative access to my portion of the site and will do all posting myself, which enables full control over what gets posted and when.

There will be fewer posts here over the next few days, as I migrate archived material to the new site (not to mention keep up with some client deadlines). But I do have some interesting items on the drawing board, so stay tuned. A notice will be posted here when the new site is ready to go live.

I think this is good news indeed. You may think otherwise. Either way, feel free to express your point of view in the comments section.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Newfoundland's senior reporter passes away

He was the only working journalist to cover all nine provincial premiers. And this afternoon (May 22), it all came to an end. Veteran broadcaster Scott Chafe passed away at the age of 62, after a brief battle with lung cancer.

I remember seeing Scott Chafe at work when I was a young reporter at The Newfoundland Herald. We had just left a news conference and I was standing nearby when he picked up a pay phone and filed his story in time for the 1:00 pm news. I was still digesting what I had heard at the newser, and here was Scott, delivering a perfect 20-second wrap of the story without even looking at notes. I thought that was pretty cool.

I spoke with VOCM news director Gerry Phelan several weeks ago, when I first became aware that Scott was gravely ill. He spoke to me on condition that I check first with Scott’s wife, Barbara. I did, but she asked that I not write anything at the time. Scott was not feeling well, didn’t feel up to creating a rush of visitors and – as usual – didn’t want to make a fuss.

Sadly, that embargo has ended.

Scott passed away with the same unassuming, quiet dignity in which he lived. He was sick for quite some time before the diagnosis but kept it hidden as best he could.

“I think he was in denial about it,” Phelan said. “I remember his first phone call to me was ‘Gerry I’m some glad I don’t have lung cancer.’ He was in hospital when he called and said that. He said he had back problems, had to have a back operation and would be back in the saddle soon… And then a bit later it was ‘cancer of the lung’. He never said ‘lung cancer’.”

Some of Scott’s colleagues knew he was ill before Scott acknowledged it to himself, because he insisted on keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ while his health was clearly deteriorating. Scott even managed to keep it hidden from his bosses, since he spent so little time in the newsroom.

“Even the Sergeant of Arms over at the Legislature, when I told her that we were going to get somebody else to cover the House, said she knew how sick he was,” Phelan said. “She could tell last fall that he was deteriorating. She said that her uncle had cancer, and she cried seeing what he was going through. And here was Scott coming in here every day as if he was normal. We knew he wasn’t completely well, but we never saw any of that… he would not let on how bad he was.”

But those who worked most closely with Scott – his fellow journalists out in the field – could see something was wrong. And the way they rose to help their colleague is perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Scott’s final days.

“I gotta tell you this much,” Phelan said. “And this is the most moving thing I have heard about this from other reporters who have called me – the Cec Haires of the world and a few others. They told me stories about how Scott was sick for a while and how they have covered for him for a long time – like being sick and almost passing out at an event. They would start his tape recorder for him. Someone else told me about taking off his clip for him because he was so ill. I never knew… One day he was on the verge of passing out at a Board of Trade function. He was out in the lobby asleep on the couch. Those who knew him knew he was sick. They went out of their way to make sure he was okay, and that he did manage to file his story. None of us had any idea. That shows the camaraderie out there, how deep people in the media community really are. That means a lot, you know. To me, people who take care of people… they make the difference. It can be dog-eat-dog in this media world but let me tell you, in all honesty the people on the front lines know how to take care of each other. I always knew that the boys were really good people. Those are the things that have stayed with me…”

Here is the full story that was posted on the VOCM web site:

We are mourning one of our own today. A man who can be called THE senior journalist in this province, has passed away. VOCM's Scott Chafe was 62.

Scott Chafe covered the political scene in Newfoundland and Labrador under all nine Premiers, starting in 1963 with Premier Joey Smallwood and continuing until today with Premier Danny Williams. He was the senior Legislative Reporter with Steele Communications, and the dean of reporters at the House of Assembly. Scott reported on all the major events in the province over the past four decades.

Scott wore the badge of the consummate professional. His familiar face, and voice were accompanied by the red arm holding the VOCM microphone at news event after news event.

A native of Harbour Grace, Scott was an avid outdoorsman whose passion was fishing for sea run brown trout and Atlantic Salmon. He was an accomplished fly-tyer and built his own fly rods from scratch. He had an intimate knowledge of the geography of Newfoundland and Labrador having visited and written stories from the Torngats in Northern Labrador to Cape Race and in between.

The funeral service for Scott Chafe will be held on Friday at 10:30 am at Corpus Christi church.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More interesting stuff on the way

I will be out of town on Monday and Tuesday of this week (May 21 and 22). I'm working on some interesting stuff and should be back on deck by Wednesday; possibly sooner, if I can find time to post while on the road. In the meantime, check out Bob Wakeham's column in the Sunday Telegram - he offers an opinion on Ryan Cleary's appearance at the Trust & Confidence Rally but goes one further, saying that David Cochrane shouldn't be speaking at business luncheons either. (I don't agree with that. If Cochrane can offer analysis on a political panel he can do the same at a luncheon, but Wakeham's column makes for interesting reading.) The weekend's Independent is also interesting. Ryan Cleary offers a half-hearted defence of his appearance at the rally, and Randy Simms writes about it too. There is also a letter slagging me, and that's fine (although the editor describes me as a "Telegram columnist", implying perhaps that I am biased toward that paper, as if I could be bought for any price. I will have more on this point later.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Walsh leaves the bright lights of TO for St. John's

You may have noticed a new byline in The Telegram this week. After serving in high profile reporting positions with the national CBC network, Peter Walsh (right, CBC photo) is back in hometown St. John’s and working at The Telly.

Walsh graduated in 1994 from the one-year journalism program at University of King’s College in Halifax. He worked at CBC Here & Now, where he distinguished himself as a strong investigative journalist and a champion for ripped off consumers. After five years, Walsh landed a job with the national CBC on its investigative program Disclosure, working out of Winnipeg. When that program was cancelled in 2003, Walsh moved to the CBC Sunday program in Toronto, working with Evan Solomon and Carole MacNeil.

So what draws him from the glam world of national TV back to the grind of a St. John’s daily?

“Well, it’s professional and personal,” Walsh said in an interview. “I care more about Newfoundland stories than I do about national stories and I really want to be in the province with my family. I’m married and have a nine-year-old stepson. It was just a great job opportunity to tell Newfoundland stories, to have an opportunity to do investigative Newfoundland stories, and also to live a great lifestyle with my family in Newfoundland.”

I asked Walsh what sort of job description he has.

“I am a beat reporter, with the goal of breaking as many stories as I can. My personal goal is to use my training and experience as an investigative reporter to do that. That can't happen every day and I will also cover daily news, but I think The Telegram is committed to setting the news agenda, not following it, and is the best media platform in the province right now for enterprising and investigative reporting, an area which I think is suffering generally in Canada right now.”

Walsh said that Toronto is “a great city and I enjoyed working there, but the cost of living is high and it’s a little overcrowded for my liking. My wife and I, we just decided that we’d rather be here.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An all-out attack on freedom of speech

I’ve heard many rowdy listener call-in shows, but none as boisterous as this. In fact, the racket it raised is still echoing within the corridors of the CBC.

The Monday, May 14 edition of Crosstalk on Radio Noon started out quietly enough. The topic was abortion, and the guest was Patrick Hanlon, representing the pro-life side of the debate. The pro-choice side was also invited to participate, host John Furlong (above, CBC photo) explained, but they declined. Furlong had noticed a recent survey which found that 34 per cent of citizens in this country feel that abortion is wrong, which struck him as a large number considering that people are not vocal on the issue.

After a quick preamble with Hanlon, a soft-spoken 24 year old with deeply held religious beliefs, Furlong opened the lines to callers. And that’s when it hit the fan.

Well-known activist Peg Norman was the first caller. And she went ballistic. I don’t know that I have ever heard such vitriol expressed on radio. You can hear the entire program by going to the Radio Noon Crosstalk archive. The content is so intense that it is disturbing at times, though Norman’s call off the top was probably the most shocking. Here is the full exchange:

Peg Norman: First of all, I’m absolutely appalled that CBC has given the Crosstalk show over to the anti-choice, misogynyst group of people that Patrick Hanlon represents. I was approached on Friday by somebody who had been tasked by you to come up with a guest to be on as a counter-point. And I said absolutely not. I would not do it for two reasons: one because the issue of abortion in Newfoundland and Labrador is not a current hot topic… Abortion in Newfoundland and Labrador is acceptable, it is covered by our health care plan and it is a medical procedure available to all women in this province. Two, to go on Radio Noon as a counter to Patrick Hanlon and his hateful misogynyst views is a waste of my time. Patrick Hanlon will never have to make the decision to have an abortion. Patrick Hanlon will never have to be in that position. And to give him a full show to spew his hateful, misogynystic views, I think is deplorable on the part of CBC. The issue of choice in this country is still very much current. There are still threats to it, as Patrick Hanlon represents, and people who think like him. The issue of choice in this world is still very much an issue. There are many women in this world who are still dying every day because of hateful people like Patrick Hanlon who think that women have no right to control their bodies. And I am absolutely shocked that the public broadcaster would give him a full show to (broadcast this). I am absolutely shocked. I cannot believe it.

Furlong: If I can interrupt, the only reason that Patrick Hanlon has the full show is because we couldn’t find anybody else to go on with him.

Norman: But the fact that CBC would go ahead and do this show without…

Furlong: And let the other side dictate whether or not we’re going to do the show because…

Norman: Would you have somebody on that show who was anti-semitic? Would you …

Furlong: Well, that’s a specious argument.

Norman: No, I am asking you, would you have somebody on your show who is a member of an anti-semitic group and allow them on because you couldn’t find somebody who wasn’t anti-semitic? Would you allow someone on the show who represented a homophobic group, for instance? In this day and age you would not. But you, for some strange reason, believe it is still fine to have a hateful, misogynyst man on your show talking about the issue of choice which he has absolutely no right to talk about. Patrick Hanlon, if you don’t believe in abortion, do not have one. But do not – do not ever – stand in the way of a woman who has to make that very difficult choice. Do not ever do that. You are a hateful person. I cannot believe it – I have to say it again – that my public broadcaster would have you on there today. I am shocked.

Since this item aired, word reached me that a letter of complaint had been sent to the CBC from an unspecified women’s group, demanding that CBC apologize for airing the program and commit to not broach the subject again.

I received confirmation from Regional Director Diane Humber that CBC had received such a complaint, to which they have yet to respond. She promised to get back to me with more information, and I will update you as I receive it.

For his part, John Furlong stayed cool during the program, despite the verbal attack from Norman and several others. I called to ask if he was at all shaken by the incident.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I was taken aback at the all-out attack on freedom of speech.”

Furlong said that repeated attempts were made to bring in a representative of the pro-choice side, but their reply was that this issue should not be discussed at all. “I mean, that’s a very dangerous ideology to be spreading in 2007,” he said.

Accusations made during the program – that the producers didn’t give the pro-choice side enough time to pull in a spokesperson – are not accurate, Furlong said. “We’d been chasing this since last week and were still chasing it right up to airtime. So the people who called on Monday morning, who said we had just called them that morning, I suppose technically they were right because we were still feverishly trying to get someone to come on and put forward the other side. “

While he certainly didn’t set out to offend anyone, Furlong has no regrets about how the program was handled. “Could we have done the show differently? Absolutely. I could have set it up differently. I could have been a little more clearer on why we decided to do it now. I could have maybe looked for a different guest to put forward. Rarely am I part of any show that I somehow wouldn’t have done differently when I think about it. But to not go ahead because one party doesn’t want to be part of it, because they want the subject shut down… I thought that was shameful.”

Furlong also expressed disappointment that he has not received the unqualified support of CBC management on this issue.

“I’m still paying the price here at CBC, because the CBC brass are thoroughly pissed off,” he said. “I’m not quite sure why, but I get the distinct impression that they are not pleased. There are people who won’t even make eye contact with me… If the CBC had upset Patrick Hanlon, they would have said ‘That’s ok, that’s only Patrick Hanlon, don’t worry about him.’ But if you upset Gerri Rogers, Peg Norman and Nancy Riche, then you’ve got a problem on your hands if you’re the CBC.”

I can understand and appreciate why the pro-choice side is upset. They worked long and hard to have abortion removed from the criminal code. But this does not give them the right to suppress debate on the issue. I will give the final say on this back to John Furlong:

“I think one of the talkback callers that we had on said it best: ‘Your first pro-choice caller frightened me. Obviously, she does not believe in free speech. In her world, only her right to speak is sacred.’ That is so true.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

When editors stump at political rallies

Managing editors wear many hats, god knows. But one of them should not be appearing as a speaker – make that cheerleader – at an emotionally-charged political event.

It is my view that Ryan Cleary (right, photo by Duncan De Young/The Muse) made such a mistake, by speaking at the Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador political demonstration Friday at Confederation Building.

I was also disappointed - though less so - that Randy Simms, host of VOCM’s Open Line, was emcee for the event. It is fine for Simms to offer political analysis on ‘Here & Now’, but hosting a political rally is something altogether different. However, Simms does an admirable job of staying unbiased during Open Line, and I’ve even heard him play devil’s advocate against causes he apparently believes in. So I am willing to forgive him this momentary lapse.

Cleary’s case is different. He is not a traffic cop on a call-in show; he decides what does and doesn’t get printed in a newspaper that some see as influential.

The Independent is often compared to the now defunct Sunday Express (where I worked) because the latter was controversial and nicely designed. But that is where the similarities end.

The Sunday Express was a newspaper that broke more than a dozen stories every week, whereas The Independent might break one or two. The Sunday Express was an objective newspaper that carried a brief for no one, whereas The Independent is a propaganda sheet that has become a cheerleader for the Williams government and Newfoundland nationalists.

I am not the only individual to question Ryan Cleary’s judgment on appearing at this event. CBC Radio Noon host John Furlong raised exactly this point with Cleary, in a live interview via cell phone from Friday’s event. Here’s an excerpt:

Furlong: Ryan, what about your role as a journalist? Are you worried that you are compromising your impartiality by taking a stand?

Cleary: You know, you asked me that question earlier this morning John, and the first thought that ran through my head was, ‘I wonder, did you ask that question to David Cochrane when he appeared before the Board of Trade, or Craig Westcott, when he gave a speech a while ago to the offshore oil (industry)?’

Furlong: Well, David Cochrane analyzed the political climate. He didn’t take a stand on a public issue. And he was invited to speak. There’s a big difference.

Cleary: Well, I don’t see that as a big difference. I’m here as a Newfoundlander…

But here is what Cleary said in the same interview, just two minutes before that:

I’m here today basically as the Editor In Chief of The Independent, but I am also here I guess primarily as a Newfoundlander and Labradorian first.

Thanks for, um, clarifying that.

Like a politician, Cleary dodges Furlong’s questions about impartiality, bridging immediately from the sticky subject of ethics over to the ‘rah rah Newfoundland and Labrador’ line, just as a politician would. In fact, Cleary’s speech overflowed with political rhetoric and bombast. (The full text was published as Cleary’s column in Friday’s Independent, and is posted at their web site .)

The paper’s nationalist stance is widely known and understood, despite Cleary’s occasional half-hearted denials. Just a few weeks ago, on April 20, Cleary reaffirmed this in his column. He was commenting on a guest column by political science professor Michael Temelini, who advocates “opening a discussion” about separating from Canada.

“(Temelini) says there’s nothing wrong with asking whether there’s a better way. True, but people are afraid; they feel threatened. I say Newfoundlanders and Labradorians must finally face their fears.”

Cleary closes that column by saying that the “the bigger dragon to slay will be the media,” a suggestion perhaps that other media aren’t giving separation the attention it deserves. What the other media aren’t doing is selling out their credibility by pumping their fists in the air at political rallies, or wedging their noses firmly – if figuratively – between the nether cheeks of our premier.

In the above noted column, Cleary wrote that: “I do not stand before you to cheerlead for Premier Danny Williams, although I do walk beside him in his quest to push this place forward.”

Look at the fawning treatment the paper gave Premier Williams last week, by printing verbatim his entire speech to the Economic Club of Toronto, without a shred of analysis or commentary, except to say that the Premier “set the record straight” about Newfoundland and Labrador.

Michael Harris, the Editor-In-Chief of The Sunday Express, was quick to praise Premier Clyde Wells if he supported his stand on a particular issue. But Harris kept this praise confined to editorials, didn’t let it filter into the news pages and would never, ever have stumped for a premier at a political rally.

Maybe Cleary is planning to run for provincial or federal politics, or perhaps land a job in the Premier’s office. He has every right to do so. And it is not against the law to turn what could have been a decent newspaper into a political manifesto.

However, it does cause problems for the journalists who work under him. The columnists are somewhat insulated from this, since they bring subjectivity to the mix, but the reporters need to be objective – and perceived as objective. How can they claim this when the paper itself is so obviously biased against all things ‘Canada’? When their Editor In Chief is out stumping for the premier?

The Independent has some good reporters on staff (though they could be breaking more stories), and some decent columnists. The back section is fabulous, as is some of the intellectual ferment on the opinion pages (to their credit, the paper does publish letters that question its nationalist stance or criticize the premier). Where it falls down is its blatant nationalist agenda, which was lampooned nicely by the Muse a while ago when it wrote "NL gets raw deal, See story every page". Even fans of the newspaper will agree that this bias is there – it’s why they read the paper. But do they trust it to deliver objective reporting?

No, The Independent is not impartial.

It is not even ‘independent’.

It is propaganda.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

First technology column in The Telegram

Before The Express folded in March, I was one of its freelance contributors. I furnished a column about technology, in which I wrote about technology developments in simple terms. I am not a techie - you should definitely not call me to come fix your computer - but I have always been a sucker for a new gadget. This is the blurb that was used to introduce that column back in April of 2006:

A former journalist who now works in communications, Geoff Meeker has always kept in step with the forward march of technology. He first used modem connections in 1986 and his first laptop, a Tandy, had a memory of 48K. “Sometimes it’s better to wait for second generation technology,” Geoff says. “And sometimes, you might as well splurge right now. Hopefully this column will help you sort it all out.”

Of course, the column went into hiatus when the Express folded. Just recently, The Telegram called and offered to pick up the column. I agreed, and the first installment appeared yesterday, May 14, on page 3. It will now appear every other week. I have decided to run the first column here, for those who may have missed it and to provide something to read whilst I rush elsewhere to meet a client deadline.

Time to back up those important files

Do you have hundreds of priceless digital photos stored on your computer’s hard drive?

How about many hours of home movies, saved to your video editing program?

Maybe you work at home, and all your business files reside on your computer.

Or perhaps you’re halfway through that great Newfoundland novel… and the whole thing is stored on your hard drive.

If so, ask yourself what would happen if your computer were to crash tomorrow. Hard drive fried. Everything gone.

Yes, it’s too scary to contemplate. But it happens. I’ve seen it myself, and my eardrums are still bleeding from the anguished cries of colleagues who lost entire projects when their computers died.

If there are files of value stored on your computer, you need to back them up. And the quickest, easiest and most reliable method is to connect an external hard drive. (There are other ways, such as by burning files to CD and DVD, but this can be time consuming.)

In addition to backing up work and personal files, a key concern of mine is the amount of video that I have stored on my hard drive. And in case you weren’t aware, video is a major memory hog. For example, if I stored 19 hours of raw, uncompressed video on my 250 GB hard drive, the computer would be full.

I do have my important video backed up on DVD. But I prefer ready access to the video archive, and the external drive allows me to call up any file I want, simply by clicking the external drive icon on my desktop. It has capacity for 38 hours of video and, if I fill it up, that’s fine – I will simply buy another external drive, and start filling that up as well.

As noted, there is no end to the variety of external hard drives that are available on the market. You can pick one up at any computer supply store as well as purchase them online.

I purchased a new external drive (shown above) this week for $179 at Costco, but you can find them all over the place – including online – in roughly this price range. My drive is a Western Digital My Book, with a 500 GB capacity (twice the memory of the 250 GB on my iMac).

A quick Internet search at Futureshop turned up the Comstar 500 GB external drive, on sale for $199, while CDW had the Seagate 400 GB model for $204. There are a range of other models available at both sites with anywhere from 60 to 120 GB capacity, priced in the $100 range, which is not such a great buy at all. So look closely at capacity before buying.

Two other points worth considering are connections and ease of use. The most common cable connections between the computer and external drive are USB and firewire, and some offer both. I recommend the firewire connection; it’s much faster when copying those large video files.

Finally, ask about operating software, and how easy or difficult it is to configure the connection between the hard and external drives.

The My Book that I purchased was super easy to set up and run (even on a PC). That’s because the operating software is already installed on the drive. You connect it to your computer, then plug it in. The external drive does the rest, finding your hard drive and loading the software for you. Then you click the icon that appears on your desktop and the software opens like a flower, giving you a series of prompts, to which you generally click ‘ok’ each time.

Then it’s a matter of performing your first backup. The program lets you choose between a full data backup and an incremental backup. The manufacturer strongly recommends that you run the full data backup on the first day. After that, you can run incremental backups – ideally on a regular basis – which only saves those files which have been added or changed since the last backup. But be warned: the first full backup will take quite some time to complete, depending on how much data you have on your hard drive.

After that, you can set the external drive software to run automatic incremental backups as often as you like.

And then you can relax, secure in the knowledge that those precious files are now fully protected.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Atlantic Journalism Award winners announced

The winners of this year's Atlantic Journalism Awards were announced Saturday at a gala event in Halifax. Congratulations are extended to:

- CBC Newsroom in St. John's, Gold Award winner, Spot News, Radio for coverage of the fire at Aliant.

- Chris O'Neill-Yates of CBC St. John's, Gold Award winner, Enterprise Reporting, Television for her series on the 'Secret Life of Dr. Chandra'.

- Pam Pardy Ghent of The Independent, Gold Award co-winner, Feature Writing for her 'Suck It Up' feature.

- Deanne Fleet of CBC St. John's, Gold Award winner, Sports Reporting, for 'Gushue History'.

You can view the complete list of winners here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rally numbers inflated by patriotic spin?

Organizers of the Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador rally were hoping for a turnout in the thousands for their event on Friday. In fact, they would have needed a major mob – anywhere from five to ten thousand people – to demonstrate that a substantial segment of the population stands firmly behind the premier in his equalization battle with Stephen Harper.

According to the CBC News web site, there were “at least 1,500 people” there, while VOCM reported after the event that there were “some 3 thousand.”

The Telegram opened its page one, above-the-fold coverage by saying, “Several thousand frustrated and angry” people gathered for the event. However, it is not clear if they did their own rough head count, or relied on estimates given by organizers. Further in the article, reporter Terry Roberts wrote: “with an estimated 3,000 people on hand for a lunch-hour event, organizers say the turnout exceeded expectations.” There is no attribution given for this number, but organizer Peter Whittle is quoted in the next sentence, so perhaps he is the source.

I looked up “several” and the definition is “more than a few, quite a few, quite a lot of,” whereas 3,000 could only be described as a “few” thousand.

Okay, perhaps I am getting pedantic here. But there was also early VOCM coverage, live from the event on Friday afternoon, which said “hundreds are gathered on the Hill at this hour…” Was it already apparent that thousands were not going to happen?

Most telling has been the tone of discussion at one of the web sites that promoted this event, which has been quite muted subsequent to Friday. There are 24 comments (at last count) in which many express disappointment with the turnout. These remarks caught my attention:

“I was there... no way it was over 1000 people. I was very disappointed in my fellow Newfoundlanders. Once again we flop over and do nothing.”

“I hate to wade in on the onslaught of Federalist love-in types posting here lately and trying to belittle the protest but I was there and having been to many large happenings (protests, concerts, etc.) before I would put the crowd at around 3000.”

“I went down with my big Canadian flag and was told not to wave it around while the cameras were there. This province sucks. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. And it WASN'T a big crowd.”

It should be noted that all of these posts were anonymous, so we can't put much weight on them.

But I ask you, how hard is it to calculate the size of a crowd? I think some of the reported numbers have been inflated by patriotic spin. This is not a crime since media will also do it for hometown sports teams, though an issue critical to federal-provincial relations is perhaps more important. I am quite happy to eat my words if someone wants to send me a decent wide shot of the event, showing the main body of the crowd, with enough resolution that I can count the heads. If proven wrong, I will eat crow.

Until then, my gut tells me that the crowd was in the 1,200 to 1,500 range. With a population of 181,000 within easy driving distance, that would be a poor turnout (especially given the substantial advance promotion and brilliant weather on Friday). After all, a crowd of perhaps 6,000 turned out at Mile One on Saturday night to watch ‘professional’ wrestlers.

As a tactic, this event was risky with some potential to backfire. A massive turnout of 5,000 or more was necessary to send a convincing message to Ottawa. A small turn-out would give Stephen Harper ammunition to stand in the house and claim that this is not an issue for most Newfoundlanders.

Somebody out there must have a photo. Let’s count the heads, and let the facts prevail.

UPDATE: The photo above can be viewed at Kim Goodyear's photography blog. Kim says this image represents about two-thirds of the crowd. You can open a high resolution version of the photo at her site.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A shot of Rex you won't believe

Talk about a bad hair decade! I offer for your perusal this amazing promotional photo of the CBC's Rex Murphy, taken during the 1970s. It's located at John Gushue's Dot Dot Dot site. And no, I am not mocking Rex (neither is John). I think Rex is fabulous, love how his brain works and am jealous of his vocabulary. But that hair? Well, it was the Seventies, after all...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

One reporter’s take on our oil and gas industry

Newfoundland's future is slipping into the hands of Alberta, largely because of Premier Danny Williams' unrealistic expectations.

That’s the opinion of Financial Post reporter and commentator Claudia Cattaneo, writing in today’s paper. You can read the full text here.

Last week, Cattaneo wrote an in-depth piece about the stalled oil and gas industry in this province. You can read the full text of that article here. But these first two paragraphs set the tone:

Barely a year ago, St. John's was a signature away from Alberta-style prosperity -- with a lineup of big oil and gas projects, a cascade of high-paying jobs, membership in the exclusive club of oil-producing hubs feeding off the global energy supply crunch, tantalizingly just out of reach.

Instead, a sequence of 'For sale' and 'For lease' signs jars the core of this quaint port city on the rocky shores of the Avalon peninsula, as Alberta employers host job fares almost weekly, snaring its youth by the planeload, and oil-industry operators quietly downsize.

Cattaneo follows up that article with today’s more subjective commentary, which concludes with this stark observation:

The bottom line: While Mr. Williams now tries to revive Hebron discussions and says he is optimistic its partners will accept a deal, warning terms will tougher with his new energy plan, his province is sitting out the biggest boom in the commodity's history, while Alberta is milking it for all it's worth.

He will need to beat Alberta -- not live in the past -- to get in on the next round.

A commentary of Orwellian proportions

Craig Westcott, journalist and editor of The Business Post, can always be counted upon to deliver a hard-hitting commentary every Monday morning on CBC Radio, and yesterday he was in particularly fine form. Westcott used the writing of George Orwell as an entry point to some stinging remarks about recent infrastructure announcements in the province… and makes an implicit argument for the use of bottled water! Westcott has kindly agreed to make the complete text of his CBC Radio Morning Show commentary available here... and you can listen to it by clicking here.

I've gone back to reading George Orwell.

Not, mind you, that that is a chore.

Quite the contrary.

Orwell was one of the finest and most perceptive writers of the 20th century.

It's the reason I'm reading Orwell again that's worrisome.

And that's because the times are worrisome.

There's a lot of stuff going on that has me spooked.

Like this fruitless war in Iraq.

It got me reading Orwell's 1939 classic, "Coming up for air."

A novel that perfectly captures the incredulousness of an ordinary man seeing the approaching war and knowing he is helpless to stop it.

Nothing but death and destruction on the horizon, like so many enemy bombers, and a great chunk of the population baying for blood.

Closer to home, the surreal state of provincial politics keeps "Nineteen Eighty-Four" coming back to mind.

Now I apologize for using the word surreal.

It, along with diva, are among the most overused and inappropriately used words in the English language.

But surreal sure fits the situation here with everyone bellowing for Stephen Harper's head on a pike over equalization.

All the more ludicrous, when you think about it, because nine-tenths of the population don't understand what equalization is, or what we're even getting.

But the mob has placed its blind trust in a great leader whom they believe can do no wrong.

I guess life is easier when you don't have to think for yourself.

But it's got me thinking, did someone put something in the water, or what?

And if so, how come it's not affecting me?

I'm on the Bay Bulls Big Pond supply too.

Still, even cynics like myself can't help but be amused by the absurdity of it all.

Like the press releases being cranked out by the provincial government, which now has more communications directors and PR people on staff than ever before in our history, a veritable propaganda machine.

Take this little gem that was spun out Friday.

It heralded one million dollars for road work in St. John's.

Here's the lead paragraph.

"The St. John's area is the latest benefactor of the Williams' government's unprecedented 66 point five million dollar provincial roads improvement program under Budget 2007."

Unprecedented is right.

The St. John's area, which has nearly half the population of the whole province, is getting a whole one million dollars out of the 66 million the government is spending this year.

If you cut through the cram of the rest of the release, you'll see the money will pay for the repair of one bridge and the erection of some dividers along a small portion of the Outer Ring Road.

"Government is committed to providing all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador with a safe, reliable transportation system," said Transportation Minister John Hickey.

"We have therefore made this significant investment to improve transportation infrastructure in St. John's."

Meanwhile, Labrador, where Hickey is from, is getting some 34 million dollars worth of road work this year.

It may actually be more than that.

I lost count of the projects and funding for the region.

Now I don't begrudge anyone in Labrador their road work.

But it seems passing strange that a place with less than six per cent of the population is getting over half the provincial roads budget.

That's what I mean by surreal.

That, and the comments of St. John's MHA's Bob Ridgely and Tom Osborne who are waxing eloquent in their praise of the crumbs Hickey is leaving for them.

Has Hickey even driven the arterial road between CBS and St. John's I wonder, with its patchwork quilt of potholes, ruts and crumbling asphalt?

More people drive that road every day than live in Labrador.

On a good day, the road is a threat to every car's suspension, shocks and tires.

On a bad day, when it's raining or snowing, the road is a menace.

But hey, I should be grateful.

Everyone else is.

We're getting a bridge fixed and some concrete dividers.

Big Brother really is looking out for us.

Pass me another glass of that water, would you?

For The Morning Show,

I'm Craig Westcott.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Change is becoming a Regular thing

Eighteen months ago, Ken Regular left his job as video-journalist with NTV to take a position as a web journalist with CTV News Online.

Now Regular has taken a new work role, with the CTV Toronto newsroom. In an email exchange, Regular said he will be leaving the national newsroom, where the web service is based, and going to the local Toronto TV newsroom.

“My work at the website was focused on Toronto news, so I was regularly in contact with the local newsroom's assignment desk and reporters,” Regular wrote. “In about three weeks I'll start the new position as a writer. The plan is to begin 'learning the ropes' towards producing with some opportunities for field reporting and other roles along the way. It's one of those 'open door' kind of positions where it could evolve into so many things with time… It is a return to the television business for me and one that has me feeling very excited.”

This is not to suggest that Regular didn’t benefit from the web exposure. “It was an amazing experience that honed my writing skills, offered me endless opportunities to see my photography published, and allowed me to report on a variety of stories that ranged from simple crimes to detailed political issues,” he said.

“We did a number of things there but the most memorable was our municipal election coverage last year. We did a 2.5 hour webcast for the site. Only 30 minutes of the program aired on television. The rest was seen exclusively online. Imagine a full studio, anchors, reporters in the field via satellite, and real-time results produced only for a web audience. It was - as far as we can tell - the first time it had ever been done in Canada. And the effort won CTV Toronto an award at the RTNDA this year.”

So can we expect to see Regular filing pieces soon for Lloyd Robertson? “I think national CTV News stories are a little ways away yet,” said Regular, pointing out that he will start by “getting my feet wet in a host of writing, producing, and reporting roles.”

Friday, May 4, 2007

Stuart McLean makes watching the radio fun

It’s amazing how many people are willing to pay good money to watch a radio show; a show that you will hear for free in a little while. Yet, that’s exactly what more than 2,000 people did last Tuesday and Wednesday (April 24 and 25) at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Two sold-out audiences forked over $39.50 per seat for the privilege of watching Stuart McLean (right, Ben Flock photo) record live episodes of The Vinyl Café radio program for national broadcast.

And I can understand why. The Vinyl Café is one of my favorite national CBC radio productions, and it does the heart good to learn that I am not alone; to witness hundreds of people united by their devotion to Stuart McLean, a national treasure, a great storyteller and a three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

The Vinyl Café also features live musical guests, and good ones at that. Special guests this time around were Ron Hynes, the Great Big 3, Rhonda O’Keefe Arsenault and Hey Rosetta! Ron Hynes was great as usual – his version of The St. John’s Waltz was the perfect encore to McLean’s opening monologue, which sought to capture the essence of our fair city (as McLean does for the host cities wherever he performs). The Great Big 3 were a trio of folk-singing women from New Brunswick, with a name apparently inspired by their physical size and large voices. I also enjoyed the solo vocal from Rhonda O’Keefe Arsenault (her and McLean go way back). The most riveting performances, however, came from Hey Rosetta! This alternative group, fronted by the charismatic and gifted Tim Baker, is destined for greatness, if they just keep on doing that thing they do.

Four of the show’s biggest stars do not exist in real life. They are the characters who populate McLean’s weekly stories, which revolve around Dave, owner of the World’s Smallest Record Store, his wife Morley and children Stephanie and Sam. While I do enjoy McLean’s opening monologues, they are a little predictable in their celebration of all things ‘local’. Yes, it’s the Dave and Morley stories that I like the most. Most often, they are side-splittingly funny, though they can be poignant on occasion too.

McLean read two new stories for this show which were a bit of a disappointment. One involved Stephanie’s experience working as a waitress; the other a strange disease that afflicts Sam, turning his skin green. They were okay, but not in the ‘classic’ category.

Two full programs – each about an hour long – were recorded live on both nights, with an intermission to break things up. (If you attended one night and are wondering what you missed on the other, you didn’t – the same shows were performed twice, giving the editors at least two takes to choose from when putting it all together.)

The first of the two locally recorded programs airs this coming Saturday and Sunday (May 5 and 6) and again on Thursday (May 10) in a new time slot. The second program will air May 26, 27 and June 1.

However, you will not see the funniest parts of the show, which were the occasional moments when McLean flubbed his lines whilst reading his stories and monologues. He was not afraid to milk a mistake for a laugh, occasionally stumbling over the same word to the point that the audience applauded when he finally got it right, thus ruining a good take – and making him crack up even more.

These were the moments that made the evening memorable for me. You won’t hear them on the radio, so I encourage you to get a ticket to the live show, the next time it comes to town (don’t hesitate – they sell out quickly).

For more on Vinyl Café, visit the official web site.

Couldn't have said it better myself!

General Rick Hillier's widely reported remarks recently, about how his soldiers were "pissed off" about media coverage of current events in Afghanistan, prompted a wonderfully succinct call yesterday from a female listener to CBC Radio's On The Go. I have paraphrased the comment below, but missed the woman's name whilst jotting this down. If you know who it is, feel free to correct this oversight in the comments section.

"It seems to me that, if the press didn't cover things that pissed somebody off, they would be reduced to reporting start times for card games and mall walks."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Indifferent about awards until given one

Craig, in his Townie Bastard blog, wonders how I feel about journalism awards. Fact is, I was ambivalent about them for most of my career as a journalist. In my early days as a writer with The Newfoundland Herald, most of my stuff was crap; I learned how to write in public and am eternally grateful that none of that stuff is available online. So I didn’t even think about submitting award entries.

My writing style had evolved and matured by the time I started at The Sunday Express, but even then, neither myself nor my colleagues thought much about awards. Once in a while someone would say to someone else, ‘Hey that was a great piece – you should enter it for an award,’ but I don’t think we ever did. We were too busy chasing down the next week’s story list. There was absolutely no resting on your laurels.

The folks at the Atlantic Journalism Awards actually created an award for the Express during it last year of operation, apparently to correct the fact that we hadn’t been recognized up to that point (through every fault of our own). We were given a plaque-mounted Five-Year Award of Achievement, featuring an artist’s rendition of all staff members. I had been indifferent about awards up to that point but I must confess, it felt great to receive it… though I have no idea where it is now.

In 2003, I actually entered an awards competition for the Media Spotlight column I wrote for The Express newspaper. That submission won an Award of Merit from the International Association of Business Communicators. And it felt very good.

My take on awards? Easy to dismiss until you actually win one. I invite other journalists to comment on this subject…I am sure there are some interesting views to be shared.

Greg Locke’s journey picks up national coverage

Photo-journalist Greg Locke appeared on the national CBC Radio program Sounds Like Canada yesterday (May 2). He was interviewed by host Shelagh Rogers about observations on his relocation from St. John’s to Grande Prairie, Alberta, where Locke is working as a photo-journalist with the daily newspaper there. Rogers is also interested in Locke’s blog, which is chronicling not just his own story, but those of the many Newfoundlanders he has been meeting along the way. Of course, the blog – Dispatches from Exit 0 – is also illustrated with Locke’s stunning photography. Check it out and keep listening to Sounds Like Canada – it looks like Rogers will be staying in touch with Locke on a fairly regular basis.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A time of transition for CBC Radio Noon

With the retirement last Friday of long-time host Anne Budgell, what’s next for Radio Noon?

I put this question to Janice Stein, managing editor for news at CBC, who explained that the position will be filled through a competitive process, with a national posting that is open to all CBC employees.

In the meantime, we will be hearing a game of on-air musical chairs with the hosting duties rotating among a series of local personalities. For the next three weeks, John Furlong (host of Fisheries Broadcast) will be acting host of Radio Noon, followed for three weeks by Ramona Dearing (reporter and host) and three weeks later by Ingrid Fraser (producer of On The Go).

This will not be a ‘play-off’ for the position. At this time, there is no indication that any of the stand-ins are actually interested in applying for the position (although I would be happy with any of the above; all three are fabulous).

The recruitment and selection process will continue through the summer, with the intent of having a new host in place by fall of this year.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cabbie stands in as computer expert

Have you ever been caught up in a dream that turned rapidly into a nightmare? This, no doubt, is how taxi driver Guy Goma (left, BBC photo) felt when, through a case of mistaken identity, he found himself seated in front of a live BBC studio camera, and introduced as technology expert Guy Kewney.

It happened about a year ago. Kewney was supposed to be interviewed about the lawsuit between The Beatles' Apple Corps and Apple Computer over the use of an apple symbol. Instead, he watched in astonishment as someone else was interviewed.

How the mistake happened is not clear. Goma is black and bald, while Kewney is white and bearded. However, they both share the same first name, so Goma must have misunderstood and actually raised his hand when the studio assistant called for Kewney. The look on Goma's face when he is introduced on live TV as someone else is really quite priceless. And now that the nightmare is rolling, Goma gamely tries to brazen his way through the interview, with less than impressive results. The interviewer doesn't seem to get it at first; it looks like the director alerts her through the earphone and she soon cuts away to another expert.

Ah, the perils of live TV. You can read an article about the incident here, which includes a transcript of the interview and the actual video link. For maximum enjoyment, I suggest you read the article before watching the video (a Windows Media file).