Table of Contents

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hats Off to Aaron Sorkin

The West Wing was the first TV show that I didn’t understand, which perhaps says much about our entertainment industry as I was about 12 when it first came out.  However, I didn’t start watching the show till it became a late-night routine for my parents while I was in junior high or high school.  I would sometimes sit with them and watch, confused by the fact that I was captivated by a show that seemed to revolve around…well, nothing a high schooler is typically interested in.  It was about politics, but it wasn’t boring.  It was like watching the news, but it wasn’t.  They used thinly veiled references that I didn’t catch and talked about issues that I had hardly heard of.  I ate it up.  That is the power of any script Aaron Sorkin touches.  Sometimes you don’t understand why you love it.  You just do. 

Often Sorkin’s work leaves me pressing pause on the DVD player to go and look up an icon, an event, or an artistic work one of the characters has made reference to.  This third-culture-kid needed a Western cultural guide, and I can think of no one better for the job than one whose characters drop lines from classic literature like some of the ladies at my school drop “In Touch” headlines.  My friends may tease me for my attachment (ok, addiction) to The West Wing, but the show makes me believe in political honour, and demand it in my own government.  It is perhaps part of what influenced me to vote for Glen Pearson, an MP that is making waves in Parliament for his refusal to play dirty politics and drop cheap accusations on his fellow politicians. 

The West Wing also makes me want to be a part of something bigger.  When I was first introduced to the characters of Amy Gardner and Ainsley Hayes, I wanted to stand up and cheer.  They are two women who stand for their convictions, sometimes in the most unconventional ways.  One night my friend (a feisty young feminista and, might I say, talented script writer herself) were discussing how these fictional women have become powerful ideals for us of what we could someday achieve as women of conviction ourselves.  It may sound pathetic to find your inspiration in fiction, so rest assured that I have “real” role models as well, among them journalists Stephanie Nolen, Lara Logan and Naomi Klein. The point is that these women, real or fictional, have given us something to aspire to. And that's a powerful thing.

By creating entertainment that doesn’t just make us laugh and cry, but makes us think and wish for a better future, Aaron Sorkin goes beyond the typical boundaries written in glitzy Hollywood ink.  As realists say, art imitates reality.  Sorkin, for anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes, ignites our imagination with a world that has so much potential.    What shocks us as the credits roll, is that this world he has imitated, the world where things can and do change for the better, is ours.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Consequences

So we’re starting a new term in our Masters program. On the agenda, a class called Online Journalism, which, as it turns out is pretty interesting. The way our world is changing is daunting, but exciting. That we are able to post things right from the street and upload them in seconds so that people across the world can see them is changing the way information works.

But despite my interest in how the internet and technology is affecting our craft, this first class today freaked me out. Not because I don’t like iPads and Kindles and smartphones. I actually think some of them are pretty cool. But as I was writing my notes down, a question kept popping into my head. It became so persistent that I finally scribbled it in the margins:

What are the consequences?

In my undergrad we learned about how our choices affect those in other countries. In the 90s the outcry was against so called “sweatshops,” where factories in Asia pumped out the items needed to fulfill the West’s desires. For our generation, I believe one of the many issues that we have to grapple with is how the minerals and metals needed to make our smartphones, cameras, computers and more are fueling a war right across the ocean.

Coltan is one of the elements used in cellphones. In an article from 2008, Mike Pflanz of the Telegraph reports, “More than 80 per cent of the world's coltan is in Africa, and 80 percent of that lies in territory controlled by Congo's various ragtag rebel groups, armed militia and its corrupt and underfunded national army.”*

Congo has been in conflict since the 1990s, some of it a spill-over from the notorious war in Rwanda. The violence between the Hutus and the Tutsis continued when many Hutu men fled to Congo following the genocide. A few days ago I posted an article to Twitter about how there have been 500 rapes in the Congo in the past 2 months, according to the United Nations. In 2008 it was reported that more than five and a half million people have died since the war officially began in 1998.

Numbers like this should scare tech-savvy students and consumers like us when we consider that the role of conflict minerals in the deaths and rapes in Congo have recently been acknowledged in a confidential United Nations report that was leaked to the media. Organizations like The Enough Project have begun to make noise about the effect of conflict minerals. But computer and IT companies continue to trade with suppliers in war-torn Congo.

So my question is, are we willing to live with that? Are we willing to live with the fact that our desire to be on top of technological trends is directly linked to the death and rape of people in countries like Congo? As journalists, can we use these tools to reach our readers without a serious look at the ramifications? Don’t we have an obligation to the truth, however it might inconvenience us?

Because if we do, there are still options. News media sources are choosing those options each time they publish an article on the Congo. People are putting pressure on companies to make sure that the materials they use are ethically sourced. And as young journalists and consumers, we can do the same.

Progress for us and for the world shouldn’t have to mean suffering for someone else. Because how can that be called progress at all?

Note: This piece was originally posted on the Western Online Journalism blog, where it received almost 2000 page views.

*I would encourage you to read the entire article here: It is the most comprehensive piece I have found on the subject.

Other articles on Congo, minerals, and corporations:

“Human exploitation fuels mining trade in DRC: Apple, Dell look away”:

“Congo’s Death Rate Unchanged Since War Ended”:

“The U.N. Report on War Crimes in Congo”:

“Over 500 rapes in Congo since July: UN”:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The great migration

Hello all! Some of you may be new to this blog, some of you may have followed me over from Vox. My old blog ( was shut down when Vox closed its doors, so I will be slowly reposting my old blog posts from there on this new site, as well as creating and posting new articles.
A little about me:
I am Canadian, born in Newfoundland. When I was 7 my family moved to Senegal, West Africa. We came back to Canada in 1999 and spent another year in Newfoundland before moving to Toronto, where I went to school for the next 5 years. When I graduated from high school, my family and I went back to Senegal where I spent a year volunteering. I then did my Bachelor in Honours Social Justice and Peace Studies with a minor in Francophone Studies at King's University College. I am currently doing a one year Master of Arts in Journalism degree at The University of Western Ontario.
I am bilingual, and though French grammar and I have a love-hate relationship, I love French literature and Francophone culture. I have a passion for social justice, international relations, the environment, world fashion, music and the great outdoors. Many of my posts will be on those topics!
Welcome to my blog.