Matthew Shepard and media hate

Laramie Book cover

Cover the of Laramie Project book. Photo from tectonictheaterproject.org.

The University of Winnipeg’s theatre group performed a play called the Laramie Project last week. The New York-based Tectonic Theatre Company developed this play by conducting interviews with the town of Laramie, Wyoming after the Matthew Shepard murder. The Laramie Project is basically a presentation of those interviews.

Matthew Shepard is the student who was kidnapped, tied to a fence far from town, beaten, and left to die. It was reported that Shepard was targeted because he was gay.

This murder sparked a media circus that lasted for weeks. Reporters were camped outside of the hospital for days while they waited to hear Shepard’s fate. They covered this murder, labelled it a hate crime, and soon the town became a symbol of hate.

I picked up a pamphlet about the play and the director of this U of W play had a note on the back that mentioned the media coverage of the Shepard case a few times. “[The  Tectonic Theatre Company] managed to chronicle this community’s effort to redefine itself following Matthew’s death, and portray the residents dealing with their anger, their own misgivings, and the onslaught on media scrutiny that broadly labeled the community as intolerant…Once the media glare fades away, these communities—like Laramie, Wyoming—are left on their own to resolve the lingering divisions among the residents. The Laramie Project demonstrates that while the modern media can polarize people, theatre can build connections and restore empathy.”

As the director mentioned, there has been a common criticism that media placed a lot of importance on this murder, divided those who supported Shepard and those who don’t, then left them to deal with their problems on their own. I’ve also read the opposite—that when the media coverage stopped, the residents of Wyoming stopped questioning themselves and no longer had to feel responsibility for their homophobia.

No matter what the criticisms, it’s sad that so many people have lost faith in media. So many people I talk to only have bad things to say about media. Some say media is biased, wrong, unethical, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, ableist, etc. And yeah, sometimes it is. Mainstream has a long way to go in being equal and covering both the good and bad of minority groups.

But some of these people who criticize media the hardest also admit that they don’t follow the media. They don’t read the news, listen to news radio, or watch newscasts. It really makes me wonder how they’ve come to their decision to hate media. It also makes me wonder if they’re using their hate as an excuse for their lack of civic participation. If they don’t follow what’s going on in their world and they don’t participate in their community—whether they’re voting for the next mayor or protesting the government—how can they have so much hate for the media? The same media that has the power to hold people accountable and spark discussion in a community or all over the world.

If there’s one good thing that came out of the media coverage of the Shepard case, it’s that it brought to light the homophobia in the town. For a brief time, it sparked discussion and civic participation—parades of support for Shepard, well-attended vigils, and a hate crimes bill that, unfortunately, failed in the House of Representatives. Shepard is still talked about in university classrooms, in LGBT* organizations, in mainstream media, and in an article in the Laramie Boomerang that was published online only 20 hours ago.

Where would we be without the media coverage of the Shepard case? Maybe we wouldn’t still be talking about him 16 years later.

Aboriginal topics in mainstream media

My journalism class was assigned to write a story about an Aboriginal topic.

We had creative communications grad Colleen Simard come talk to us about Aboriginal culture and finding Aboriginal topics to write about.

Before she came, I was going to write a story that had something to do with colonization and a government that mistreats Aboriginal people. After she came, I did a story celebrating a Metis musician. Simard said something that changed my story. She said that it’s easy to find negative stories in Aboriginal topics; it’s harder to find those stores that celebrate Aboriginal culture. It’s totally true!

It’s a shame that many mainstream media outlets often only cover the bad news in Aboriginal topics and not often the good — and same goes for groups of people who aren’t straight and white.

There’s so much good to report on Aboriginal topics, I wonder why we don’t see more in mainstream media — especially In Manitoba where our Aboriginal population is huge.

There are so many stories on Aboriginal topics just waiting to be told. I hope I can help tell them.

 

Revisiting faith

I would cry every Sunday because I didn’t want to go to church.

I remember always feeling out of place there. I was never interested in what the pastor was preaching so I’d daydream. At catechism, I’d make my friend compete in staring contests with me. The first to blink was the loser. I was the champion.

I went to church for years and there’s nothing I remember learning except that I knew I didn’t belong.

Suddenly, we stopped going to church. The last time I remember going  was when I was around 10 or 11-years-old.

A few years ago I finally found out why.

My mom told me that the church was passing around a petition against same-sex marriage. My parents being very loving and accepting people didn’t sign it and stopped making us go to church. This was years before I came out to them.

All these years of not fitting in with the homophobic church plus everything I heard about other conservative religious institutions petitioning against LGBTQ* people really ruined church for me.

When my brother married into a Mennonite family and told me he was now religious, I was confused and angry for at least a year. I felt betrayed because my only experience with religion was that it taught me that I should hate myself and “pray the gay away.”

Of course, not all religions, churches, or faithful people are right-wing conservatives who petition against LGBTQ* people. Now I understand the benefits of religion for people even though I don’t partake in it myself.

I’m not the only person who was forced to go to church as a kid. For a journalism assignment we had to write a story on the topic of faith. I wrote a story about engaging young people in church and I interviewed a 20-something-year-old man from Exchange Community Church who was forced to go to church when he was younger. It was the kind of traditional church where you constantly stand up and sit down in this large building while a pastor tells you what your morals are. Talking to him was really enlightening (pun intended) because he didn’t let his past experience with a church ruin his faith for life.

He found a church that works for him. He likes Exchange Community Church because it’s casual — it’s on the third floor of a building in the Exchange District and not in a huge cathedral, it’s discussion-based, it focuses on artists in the community, there’s more than one person who preaches and there are tables instead of pews. It’s also LGBTQ*-friendly.

He was telling me how many young people were forced to go to church when they were younger, didn’t like it and give up on religion. A lot has changed in the past decade and there are a lot more progressive churches and faith-based groups that are more casual and open than the churches we were forced to attend as children. But what if my generation never goes back?

Religion has played a big role in the lives of many baby boomers but as they disappear, it’s up to my generation to keep their religious traditions alive.

My story looks at how some churches are appealing to young adults through new media.

Though writing this story didn’t convince me to revisit faith, I think I’ve become obsessed with learning about it and coming up with story ideas.

I’ll post a link to the story here once it’s published!

Disorderly question period at the Legislature

I hope you know that the people bringing “order” to our province act very disorderly in the Manitoba Legislature.

I didn’t know until today when our journalism class sat in on question period.

Our class and the MLAs stood while the speaker walked in. Everyone was silent during a prayer. Then they let loose.

These leaders — these people representing our province nationally and internationally were yelling, booing, cheering, and banging on their tables with two fists when the premier or MLAs were talking.

The speaker had to stop everyone to tell them to stop banging on their tables, reminding them that he made this same request last week.

I can’t say we didn’t have fair warning — Steve Lambert from The Canadian Press told us that it would be just like theatre. Even so, I looked around the room wide-eyed several times to see other people’s reactions.

Their theatrics were distracting me from hearing anything anyone was saying. Their ploy?

Lambert also reminded us to be skeptical and assume everyone is lying until we dig more and find out for ourselves what the facts are.

A recent example that Lambert brought up is how the Manitoba government announced earlier this month that its new five-year infrastructure plan will create almost 59,000 jobs. That number is person-years of employment. For example, if someone works at the same job for 18 years, that’s 18 years of person-years employment — not new jobs.

As Duncan McMonagle, our journalism instructors, would say, leave your “bullshit detectors” on at all times. Lambert would say especially so when you’re interviewing someone who is feeding you irrelevant or rehearsed answers.

From an intimidating man to a friend

Duncan

I remember my first term in Creative Communications was scary. Duncan would ask a question to our class and not move or say a word until someone finally answered him after a long, awkward silence.

He would assign us streeters that we would have to do in under two hours and he would remind us over and over that he would be walking out the door RIGHT at the time it was due; if we were a second late, we would fail.

He wasn’t kidding. Luckily that was enough to scare me and make me hand everything in on time. A minute before the deadline he would be standing at his desk in the newsroom with all of his stuff, just waiting for the clock to change so he could walk out of the room to avoid dealing with the students who would hand assignments in late but mostly to prove a point that deadlines matter.

Every time we would arrive in the newsroom for class and he would say, “It’s time to commit to some journalism!” I would get this woozy feeling in my stomach — fear that we would either have a streeter or an impossible quiz.

I’d come to journalism scared every single day. But in second term things changed.

Duncan was my journalism instructor again and on the first day of second term I noticed how different he was — he was a lot more relaxed! Of course it didn’t mean that he was any more relaxed with deadlines and we still experienced long, awkward silences after he asked questions, but he swore more in class and imitated people in a stoner voice and said “man” a lot. We all thought it was hilarious since we wasn’t like this in first term.

Near the end of the second term we had to choose our majors. My scared feeling somehow turned into a passion for journalism and Duncan played a major role in developing my love for it. He always pushes us to cover stories about topics we’re unfamiliar with, which I love because we’re always learning something different. By making us cover different topics, Duncan made me realize that what I love about journalism is that I’m always learning and always teaching.

Duncan is passionate about the craft and although he mostly guides our classes and let’s us teach ourselves, he is very knowledgeable and willing to help us outside of class.

I’ve had such a great two years with him as my journalism instructor and I’ll be sad to say goodbye when I graduate and he retires.

Thank you so much for teaching us, pushing us, and supporting us, Duncan. CreComm will miss you!

245 McDermot: a coworking space

 

 

245mcdermot_logo

For the past year I’ve been working with ACI Manitoba on launching and marketing their coworking space, 245 McDermot.

Coworking is a global movement of small organizations, entrepreneurs, and freelancers who work in a flexible shared office. Coworking is all about collaboration, openness, accessibility, networking, sustainability, flexibility, and community-building.

deskmag

Coworking is having a really positive impact on the way people work, according to reports from Deskmag, a coworking magazine.

I love the concept of coworking and I’ve been around 245 McDermot long enough to know that it’s a concept that works. Instead of renting a big empty room in the Exchange District and filling it with furniture and equipment, you can rent a desk or office at 245 McDermot for as little or long as you want, bring your laptop, work, and leave. Your furniture, meeting spaces, and office equipment are always ready for you when you need it but you didn’t have to invest thousands of dollars to get it.

But what really excites me about coworking is working around a bunch of different people in creative industries. I love going to Secret Handshake or ACI Manitoba and New Media Manitoba events — I always leave feeling energized and inspired from talking to other creative people. Coworking spaces aim to leave you with that feeling every day you work.

If you want to start getting involved, come to events in the space, meet the people there, and see if it’s something you like. One of the events I suggest you come to or participate in is Ignite Winnipeg.  Ignite is a geek event in over 100 cities that gives people the opportunity to share their personal and professional passions.

Presenters have five minutes to share their stories in 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. 245 McDermot introduced Ignite to Winnipeg and the first event was on Feb. 13.

Watch this video from Ignite Winnipeg to hear the inspiring story about how 245 McDermot got started and how coworking has grown into a global movement:

7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga

7 Generations book cover

All media is authored through a lens and received through a lens. The type of lens is dictated by well, life — social, political, and cultural surroundings.

Westerners have a history of authoring media that draws on stereotypes of Aboriginal people. This isn’t just a thing of the past though — a recent example of this is Disney’s The Lone Ranger, which draws on the stereotype of the noble yet “savage Indian.” Worse, Johnny Depp plays the Aboriginal warrior who speaks in broken English while he rides around the desert on his horse.

It’s movies like The Lone Ranger (which came out in 2013 —no joke) that make 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga by David Alexander Robertson very important. It’s important because it’s written and vetted by elders.

Reading the residential school scenes of this graphic novel brought me to tears but after I was done I quickly wondered what kind of impact the images of Aboriginal people would have on readers who don’t know anything about Aboriginal culture beyond what they see in movies like The Lone Ranger.

So when Robertson came to speak to our journalism class I asked if he was worried that his book would reinforce stereotypes of Plains Cree people being the default Aboriginal image to stand for all Aboriginal people. He said he had never thought of that and he hasn’t encountered that issue.

700-00070663              Plains Cree 2

It’s images like these that are often the only images of  Aboriginal people that we see in media created by Westerners. It’s these images in our grade school textbooks that really give us a skewed impression of Aboriginal culture.

For Robertson, the images of Plains Cree people many generations ago are part of his heritage and it makes sense that he would use them. The history and images of Plains Cree people in this book are accurate — they don’t draw on stereotypes, which is why it’s important to have Aboriginal people create media about Aboriginal people.

Scott B. Henderson, the illustrator of 7 Generations, isn’t Aboriginal but Robertson told our class that he was very specific with the images he wanted in the book.

The images are accurate and the history is real but the characters are fictional.

So is it journalism? Maybe. It uses storytelling to give the public information but it’s still fiction. This fictional novel is what’s different between two other books we’ve read in class — Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells and Jim Blanchard’s Winnipeg’s Great War.

I found the storytelling much stronger and more streamlined in 7 Generations than the other two books we read, not to mention most of the storytelling is done through images, which makes it a great book for all ages.

Though Robertson said 7 Generations is supposed to dispel myths of Aboriginal people, this graphic novel is just a dip into the experience of one group of Aboriginal people.

Like Robertson said, we can’t change the past so we have to recognize Canadian history and begin to heal.

But we, a Western culture, still have a lot to learn about Aboriginal people, including how we portray them in media, before we can begin to heal.

Katz sues volunteer for the Uniter

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Lawyer Bob Sokalski joins our journalism class today and I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about.

Sam Katz is suing the Uniter, a writer, and the University of Winnipeg for defamation for an op-ed that was published in December. The piece mentions Katz, ex-city CAO Phil Sheegl, the fire hall, and Martha Stewart.

This lawsuit brings up an important message: an opinion is only an opinion if it’s based on facts and a fact is only a fact it it’s true (yes, lawyers distinguish facts from true facts).

Plus, it’s not only pieces in newspapers that can be deemed defamatory—it’s anything  on blogs too.

The point is, do your research and back up what you write.

Humanizing politics

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On Tuesday NDP candidate Dean Harder was giving a speech about his loss to a room with his family members, friends, PR person and us — four journalism students from Red River College. He had just landed in second place with 488 votes compared to Conservative Shannon Martin’s 2,642 votes in the Morris byelection.

Harder was giving a speech about how grateful he is that he talked with the community about their needs and his desire to engage more people in democracy. He didn’t seem too disappointed with his loss and his family’s indifference was comedic.

Harder was talking about helping people in the cold weather in his speech when his father’s cellphone went off. We were in an empty bar called Lucky Luc’s so it was a casual environment. But what made me laugh is that his dad answered his phone, started talking and walking away while Harder was giving his speech. Harder acknowledged his dad walking away and laughed.

Then, Harder’s mom was whispering something to his wife and he stopped his speech to say, “Are you alright mom?” They all laughed and Harder continued on about how his dissatisfaction with the Conservatives fuelled his desire to run for MLA.

They celebrated the night with shots and beers.

As Harder’s father put it, “Life goes on.”

Hi, Sorry To Burden You, But I’m Thinking About Killing Myself.

danellec:

Wow, what an inspirational blog post from one of my classmates. #BellLetsTalk

Originally posted on KIERAN MOOLCHAN:

When I lived in residence at university, my neighbour killed himself.

The night he died, he came into the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. I said “hey”. He said “hello”. I reminded him of a long standing offer to play Starcraft, and he said he might play, but he had a lot of studying to do.

Two days later they found his body on the banks of the Red River. He’d jumped off of the Bishop Grandin Bridge.

I had been the last person to talk to him, and at his funeral all I could do was ask myself over and over what I could have done, or how I could not have noticed. Some people might say that there was no way I could have known, or that once he had made up his mind that there was no stopping him.

For all I know he was…

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