Table of Contents

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Betty Magazine

"It's Just Hair" has been published in Betty Magazine's first print issue! Betty is a UK beauty, lifestyle and fashion mag that empowers young women to be happy with who they are and celebrate what they love.

You can get your copy here.
Check out their blog and twitter!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What I learned from my father

January, 2008

I can sum up my early relationship with my dad in one word: hero. My dad was my hero. I saw him as the protector, the fun-maker, and the thinker. When we would have guests over, I would sometimes prefer to sit on his knee or beside him while the other kids played. I would listen and watch with wide eyes as he talked with other adults, giving his opinion with the smile that crinkles his eyes and scrunches up his nose. When others talked, my dad would listen with careful, humble consideration. I can always tell in his eyes how hard he is thinking about what people are saying. And whether he agrees or not, his eyes always hold the same respect. From him I learned to always look at both sides of a situation, and to value others’ opinions no matter what my own may be.

Up until I was ten years old my father had no sons. Living in Africa, I grew up with a healthy appreciation for adventure. My dad recognized this and fostered it. So alongside my dolls I played with the bow he had made me, sharpening my own arrows with my mock swiss army knife and targeting passing sheep (until Dad stopped that practice and I had to resort to aiming at rocks and bushes). I was a warrior princess, Robyn Hood’s equal. My Dad’s confidence made me feel strong. “I don’t want my girls to be wimps,” he would say in a playfully rough voice, gently punching my arm.

My dad may have given me soccer balls and bows and arrows, but he never made me feel that I had to choose between those and my more feminine playthings. He cared for and protected my sensitivity, cradling me whether it was my heart or my knee that was wounded. He also made me feel beautiful, telling me often how pretty I was. I remember so many times in my awkward teenage years, I would come out of my room ready for a concert or for church and he would look at me with tenderness in his eyes and say, “Look how pretty you are.” I knew that he meant it, and somehow his approval made everyone else’s not so important.

For my graduation, my father wrote me a beautiful letter. He told me how proud he was of me. Then, near the end, he told me that I was his first heroine. My father’s heroes are men like Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis and William Wilberforce. When I read those words that placed me next to people of such accomplishment and passion I began to cry. My dad thought me worthy of the title- heroine- and suddenly all the dreams I had to change the world were not so very far off.

My father has also instilled in me a great sense of heritage. He tells me stories and talks about my family’s history in England and Wales as if it were part of our everyday, modern lives. A writer himself, Dad has recorded stories for me of my grandfather who I knew only briefly as a child before he passed away. In this way I have learned a lot about my dad, and in turn, about myself. He helps me discover where I have come from in order to better discern where I am going.

My father is a sensitive man, but he does not cry often. In fact, I know of only a few times he has shed tears. Of those times, I have only seen one. It was the night I left home and flew back to Canada to begin university. I had a hard time believing that Dad was even crying until one of the girls I was travelling with confirmed it. Those tears spoke more to me than all the parting words we exchanged. They meant that I am cared for, that I am important, and that I will always have someone to protect me when I am vulnerable.

Through the past few years, as I have tried to take my place in a world full of heartache and failure, my dad’s encouragement and confidence in me has rested in my heart like an anchor, able to withstand even the ugliest storm. I have come to him many times with my head spinning with questions of history, theology and social justice. He patiently unravels my ideas, discusses each point, and researches answers he doesn’t know. It has also been a great honour when I have been able to share what I have learned or beliefs that I have developed. I don’t strive, as some do with their own fathers, to win his approval. He is proud of me now, and that in part gives me the confidence to take on tasks that may seem insurmountable. He tells people proudly that I am in a program in university studying to “save the world.” I may roll my eyes, but I cannot help but smile because he too thinks it possible. I’m not alone in dreaming that God can do all things. I’m not alone in hoping for a better place for those who are hurting. My dad is there too, and his prayers and confidence mean everything to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's just hair

Across from me in a coffee shop is a girl with an Afro. It is curly, puffed out like a dandelion, a light brown. It is beautiful.

Since I cut 18 inches of golden strands off my head seven months ago, hair has become somewhat of a fascination to me.

When I first walked in to school with my shorn head, one of my classmates clutched her shoulder-length brown tresses like it was her who was threatened with scissors. “I could never do that to my hair,” she gasped.

I smiled at her, but I thought, “It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

But hair holds more meaning than we might give it credit for. The Bible says that a woman’s hair is “her glory”. And in some ways, it was for me. It was what I hid behind, what got me attention, the confidence booster I used to console myself when I got a blemish or had bags under my eyes. Some days, it was my saving grace.

But I soon learned that having blond waves that reach almost to your waist can also be a liability. On an internship in Malaysia it earned me many more catcalls and stares than I expected. It even led to one unpleasant experience in my news office when a visitor snapped pictures of me at my desk, saying, “Oh, a blond girl. My son will love this!” I felt utterly used, a commodity, invisible beneath my halo of flaxen hair.

It had to go.

So my sister (who has been dying her even lighter strands in a rainbow of shades for years) and I took a trip to the salon. I brought a picture of Emma Watson and said, “chop it off”. The stylist divided it in three elastics to be sent off to Locks of Love. And then she cut. And I smiled.

It felt incredibly free, incredibly me. I felt like I could actually see my face for the first time, with no distraction. I looked older, I looked my age, years away from the young teenager that I felt had always stared back from my 23-year-old face. There was not one ounce of sadness or regret as I held those 18 inch strands.

That was in February. Now it’s September, and I am starting to feel a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my haircut. It’s cute, it’s professional and it’s in style. But life is uncertain right now, with a job interview on the horizon, a dwindling bank account, and the cold weather coming. I miss the comfort of my hair. I miss the certainty of it, the sameness.

But when I look in the mirror, I remember why I cut it. I want people to see me, not my hair. I want them to read what I have to say and not be distracted. I want to have conversations where people have no choice but to look in my eyes, because there is nothing hiding them. And I don’t want to ever play it safe. So I pull a comb through my pixie cut, smile, and face the day. I make the choice to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be kind. To smile at people more, because there is nothing to camouflage my smile from them.

And I think about the kind of courage that hairstyles take. For the girl in the coffee shop, it was the beautiful audacity to grow it out the way it was meant to be, instead of straightening it, putting in extensions, dying it darker or lighter or brighter. For me, it meant cutting off something that some people felt was intrinsic to being Megan. It meant changing my view of myself, and, in the process, learning to take myself less seriously. To change what I thought was beautiful. To change my life. It meant taking a chance, with no room for regret.

Because in the end, it’s just hair.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taking on Terry Richardson

In June of last year, I wrote a feature on writer/model Jenna Sauers and the infamous fashion photographer Terry Richardson. In light of the recent media attention around the sexualization of young girls (brought on by 10-year-old Thylane Loubry Blondeau's already extensive career in modelling), I thought I would post this. Do photographers and the fashion industry sexualize young girls to the point of abuse? What measures should be in place to prevent vulnerable young girls from being pushed into compromising situations? How young is too young to pose nude?

Let me know what you think, and read on:

A controversy is swirling through internet blogs, magazines and news sources. At the centre of the storm is Jenna Sauers, the model-turned-writer who has reignited the debate over sexual exploitation in the fashion industry.

“I still work in the fashion industry in some respect,” she mused over Skype from her New York apartment.

But Sauers’ work is no longer showing off creative designs or walking a catwalk. Now she uses her English degree and her modeling experience to expose both the good and the bad of the fashion world on the online women’s magazine Jezebel.

Sauers’ story for the past few months has been Terry Richardson, a highly influential commercial, fashion and advertising photographer. His controversial nude photos and even more controversial treatment of his models have become subjects of debate.

Richardson’s stories have opened a pandora’s box of questions about the structures of the fashion world. In an industry where power is in the hands of the elite, Sauers said new voices are taking a stand against practices that exploit and mislead young women.

It began when supermodel Rie Rasmussen confronted Richardson at a party in Paris. According to New York magazine, she told the photographer, “What you do is completely degrading to women.”

After Sauers and other news sources covered the incident, models began writing in to online magazines, sharing their stories of how Richardson had used his notoriety to gain sexual favours from them. Models stripped down and performed sex acts for photos, in the hopes that Richardson would help get them high profile jobs. Sauers said she heard this from stylists, fashion writers, models, magazine editors, agency bookers and more.

Sauers kept many of her sources anonymous, but they are “not anonymous to me,” she said. Some of them were people whom she knew from her days in the industry, and their stories sounded all too familiar.

“I had heard of very similar stories,” she said. “I knew exactly what they were talking about.”

Yet despite the outcry from models, blogs and online magazines against Richardson’s methods, Vogue editor Anna Wintour still included him in the June 2010 issue as the photographer of supermodel Doutzen Kroes’ swimsuit spread.

“Fashion has a huge capacity to ignore the outside world and its judgements,” said Sauers.

In response to Vogue’s decision, Professor Susan Knabe of the Women’s Studies and Media, Information & Technoculture departments at the University of Western Ontario said that “there is a sense that fashion, like art, is above any kind of moral responsibility.”

Knabe said that power and sexual exploitation in the fashion industry is “an issue that’s been been dogging cultural images” since the 1950s and 60s.

“Our culture is becoming increasingly fascinated by the visual iconography of pornography,” said Knabe. The message to young women is that in order to be modern, liberated and powerful they must be sexually available. “I think those are really dangerous messages,” she said.

Sauers was cautious in talking about the issue. “It’s not like it’s entirely normal,” she said, referring to Richardson’s practices. But she also commented, “He’s not the only person who does it by any stretch.”

Sauers remembered being warned about Richardson and other unprofessional photographers from fellow models. But from the time she worked as a child model, through high-school and again after university, none of the people she worked for said anything to protect her from predatory clients.

“I don’t think any of the agencies I worked for talked with me about sexual harassment,” she said. When incidents do occur, Sauers said that “the industry lacks any appropriate structure to deal with it.”

To combat situations of abuse, Rosemarie Noble, owner of The Agency, a London modeling company, makes sure that her models bring a companion to photo shoots.
The power photographers hold is ultimately in the hands of the consumer, Noble said: “Magazines will put out what people will buy.”

Sauers disagrees. “It’s asking a lot of the consumer to take responsibility for choices made (by the fashion industry).” Ultimately she said she believes that fashion insiders themselves must take a stand against sexual exploitation.

“I feel that things have changed, at least a little bit,” Sauers said . She called the advent of fashion insider blogs a “democratization of information.” Online sites like Jezebel are having an impact, and bloggers with young readers are able to voice their opinions on controversies like Richardson’s.

One blogger who Sauers said has “no truck” for Richardson is 14-year old Tavi Gevinson of Chicago. Gevinson is the author of the popular style blog “the style rookie.” Sauers called Gevinson an “industry phenomenon,” who has been featured on the Teen Vogue website and has written for Pop Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar, impressive credentials for a junior high student.

Gevinson wrote about Richardson’s photos from her blog on May 11th, “This is where we are now?... I hope there aren’t people who view this as a strictly feminist issue- it’s a HUMAN issue.”

With the internet providing access to alternate opinions like Gevinson and the models who told their stories online, Sauers feels that “things have changed, at least a little bit.” In the future, “I would hope the industry would listen,” she said.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Girl at the Newseum

On Friday I had the opportunity to visit the Newseum in Washington, D.C.. Aside from being one of the coolest museums I have ever been too, this is a place that every journalist needs to visit. The exhibits were stunning, educational, and inspiring. Many of them also gave me pause, as I thought about the lengths that journalists go to getting the news to the public. As a currently unemployed freelancer, I am often frustrated with the hurdles I have to climb to make it in this business. But faced with the stories of people who have risked life and limb for the sake of the news, I felt humbled and even a little chastised.

It was in one of those moving exhibits that I met a very special person. I never got her name, but she has given me fresh inspiration in my quest to make my profession one I can be proud of.

The Journalists Memorial is not for the squeamish. There is a notebook splattered with blood, equipment from deceased newspeople, and a wall of photographs of those who have died getting the story...or for telling it. It’s a shocking and solemn place. So I was a little surprised when, nearing the end of the exhibit, as I was busily scribbling down names and dates in my Moleskine, a bespectacled girl of about 12 years approached me.

“I don’t know if I want to be a journalist anymore,” she said, her eyes wide. “But I think I should,” she added as an afterthought.

“I think you should too,” I said. I continued writing in my notebook.

“What are you writing?” she asked, peering at the page.

“I’m writing down names so that I can look up their stories afterwards.”

She considered this, then gave me a probing, quizzical look. “What do you do?”

“I’m a journalist.”

Her eyes got a little wider. “Are you a traveling journalist, or a stay-in-one-place one?”

I smiled at her description. “A traveling one, I guess.”

She was quiet then, so I asked her, “Where are you from?”

“Peru, but now we live in Virginia.”

“Cool, “ I replied.

I was trying to think of something else to say, when she blurted out, “I would make a good journalist!”

“I think you would too,” I said quietly as she walked away.

Now, thinking back on our short interaction, I wish I had said more. If I had thought about it a little longer, I would have told her so many things.

I would have told her to be brave, that there will always be things that scare her, but that she can overcome them.

I would have told her to tell the truth, even if it gets her into trouble. The most powerful movements for change have happened because there were men and women who were courageous enough to speak out and to share the facts with the world.

I would have told her to work hard. Anything worth doing is worth pouring everything you have into it.

I would have told her to write, write, write. Unless you are in the photography field, all good journalism starts with well-chosen words. If you don’t know them, you can’t use them.

And I would have told her that if she became a journalist, she would always be in good company. Some of the most generous, passionate, unique people I have had the privilege to meet have been journalists. Many of them were young people like me, just starting out. Those who were older have always been eager to offer tips, contacts, encouragement, and, when I needed it, criticism. Whether young or old, there is always a fellow journo willing to help you get the story, even when it’s dangerous.

After she left, I walked to the end of the exhibit and stood by a wall of photos, some of them too high to see properly, of journalists who have lost their lives for their stories. At the bottom of the photos were all the journalists (that we know of) who died on the job in 2010. I read their short bios and tried to hide the tears that were forming in my eyes as many people just passed by the wall on their way to the next exhibit. The men and women I read about gave everything they had to get us the news. Their sacrifice deserves respect, and at least the time it took to look at their pictures and think about how fortunate we are.

In the end, that little girl was the one who gave me the push I needed to keep going, to keep writing, to keep telling the truth. If she could walk away from that exhibit, not only still wanting to be a journalist, but certain that she could be good at it, than I can keep tapping the keys and trying to find a way to tell people’s stories.

There are stories worth risking everything for. The people whose photos graced that wall believed it. And a little girl has helped me realize that I do too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Change the World

I met a lovely lady yesterday. Her name is Jessica Allossery.

The event was Around the Fire at a little venue called The Inner Garden in the Fashion District of Toronto. Musicians played everything from soul-inspired to beach bum Jack Johnson-like tunes. Jessica was the last to play, and she blew me away with her sweet voice and desire to make the world a better place.

This song should speak for itself:

If that rings true for you, check out the rest of her music on iTunes or on her website.

Be the change!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nagata Syndrome

My generation lives in a world set on hyper-drive. We’ve grown up being sensitized to this...but is it distracting us from being able to focus long enough to accomplish anything?

Instead of being fed information, news is shoved down our throats and screamed at us. It is second nature to be on the cutting edge of technology, culture, and current affairs. A popular t-shirt slogan says “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet”...and for many of my peers, this is almost true. Our society is, globally, increasingly interconnected through social media, so when injustice happens, we read, see or hear about it...and then our attention is immediately pulled somewhere else. It is overwhelming, but addicting.

Author Courtney Martin writes in Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “Always moving...We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible. We drink coffee. A lot of it...We are the daughters of feminists who said, ‘You can be anything,’ and we heard, ‘You must be everything.’”. She was writing about young women, but I would argue that much the same thing could be said of the young men I know.

Being everything means that we take on five projects at once, that we are interested in everything, that we find it difficult to say no to anything. And we continue to “find ourselves” over and over again, in new and different jobs, always looking for that one magical profession that will fulfill us. Often we think we have found it, only to be let down when it does not meet our expectations. So we move on, not sticking around long enough to stir the waters like we could, not long enough to realize our full potential.

Successful YouTuber Gunnarolla (Andrew Gunadie), also an alumnus of my alma mater, The University of Western Ontario, recently posted a video asking his viewers if it was worth him creating occasional videos. Between his two full-time social media jobs, Gunadie was losing time and passion for the medium that gained him fame to begin with. He said, “Yeah I have two jobs...My question to you is, is it worth trying to be a part time YouTuber? Why continue to make videos if you can’t be successful? To be honest YouTube is not really a creative outlet for me anymore.” Because he was no longer interested and available enough to create “good content,” Gunadie was questioning his involvement in what could be considered a third job.

I want to change the world. I’ve undertaken project after project, including volunteering, work experience, and two degrees towards that goal. I would hazard a guess that many people my age, regardless of their professional dreams, want to do the same in whatever field they are in, whether it’s entertainment, business, government or something in between. The problem is in deciding what that change will be, how we will craft it into something we can live off of, and then (and this may be the hardest) in sticking to it. Many of us find ourselves and our talents pulled in many different directions. And, being the ambitious, driven individuals we are, we often lose sleep rather than letting any one of our projects fail. If we do slip up, whether it is as small as a typo or something much more serious, we whine about how stretched thin we are...and do nothing to change it. This gives us incredible freedom in the possibilities, but carries costs, not the least of which is a lack of stability.

Enter Kai Nagata, the former CTV Quebec City Bureau Chief who, disillusioned with the business of broadcast news, recently quit his job. Nagata writes,

If storytelling turns out to be my true passion and the best use of my skills, then I'll continue down that path. If elder care, academia, agriculture, activism, art, education, Budo, or as-yet unforeseen pursuits turn out to make the flame burn brighter, I'll make the switch, or do them all...Right now I need to undertake a long-delayed journey of personal discovery. Having given away all the possessions that didn't fit into my truck, I've set out on the road again, heading West. I know I need to go home for a while. I need to surround myself with family and friends. I need to consult, meditate, and plan the next steps. I'm broke, and yet I know I'm rich in love. I'm unemployed and homeless, but I've never been more free. Everything is possible.

I identify with Nagata’s plight. He is a prime example of what has been called the “Peter Pan Generation,” for our refusal (or, if we are habitually unemployed, our inability) to grow up and don the mantle of a permanent job. He thought he had found something he could feel good about doing, and then discovered it was not for him. Regardless of whether or not his opinions on the business of news have merit, and despite the fact that many are shaking their heads at his Kerouac-like anti-career move, it took courage to follow his convictions. He, like so many of us, wants to make something of himself...or wants to make many things of himself.

I find myself in a similar soul-searching situation. But instead of looking at a myriad of interesting opportunities and trying to decide how many I can take on, I have made the choice to narrow down the options. As I apply for jobs in areas that I am passionate about, I am constantly asking myself- “Could I make a difference here? Does this use my skills in a way that I could be proud of? Is it something I can commit to?” If the answer is yes, I hit apply. If it’s not, I don’t, despite whatever financial consequences that may have. After six years of bouncing from cause to cause, I am looking for something that I can sink my teeth into, a job that I can devote myself to. I want to find my niche, and I want to work hard at it. Then and only then will I feel free to branch out again.

“Or do them all...” he said. For Nagata’s sake, I hope that's possible.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Walrus

The Walrus is one of my favourite Canadian magazines, and my publication of choice for in-depth articles on politics and culture in Canada. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that my Dalton Camp Award essay is in the July/August online issue. I hope you'll check out their website, if not for my article, than for any number of other erudite reasons.

(Image © The Walrus)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Africa and Technology

The effects of technology (both positive and negative) on my adopted continent are something of a fascination for me. In November of 2010 I began Africa, Technology and Development, a project tracing the interaction between fast-paced technological change and the continent and people of Africa. I hope you will check it out!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Essay in the Toronto Star

Some months back I made the difficult decision to write an essay, outside of the heavy workload of my Masters Program, to enter in the Dalton Camp Award. The topic? Democracy and the media in Canada.

During the course of the school year, I had become fascinated with those first female newswomen. I decided to explore their relationship with suffrage, and wrote a paper entitled, "How Canadian Newspaperwomen Won the Vote."

Well, the hard work has paid off. I was chosen as a finalist in the competition, and today my essay has been published in The Toronto Star. It was also printed in a booklet, and placed on the Dalton Camp website.

I would like to thank two very special professors who helped me with this project. First, Professor David Spencer at The University of Western Ontario. He made the history of the newspaper come alive for me, and inspired me to dig deeper into the early culture of the press. Second, Professor Barbara Freeman, who consented to a lengthy phone interview and was able to provide details and information to steer me in the right direction.

And of course, an ever present thanks to my parents, my best proofreaders.

The essays of other winners (past and present) of the Dalton Camp can be found here:

Friday, May 13, 2011


School is done. For good. As I've been applying for jobs and contemplating the imminent possibility of leaving Canada yet again, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of home. I've lived in London, Ontario for five years, but it is not my home. I love this town, but I've lived in a lot of places, and I know when it is time to move on.

The other night one of my fellow MAJ graduates asked me if I considered Toronto home (where I went to high school) or Sénégal home (where I grew up and where my family currently lives). In my mind I added a third place to the list: Newfoundland, where I was born and where much of my extended family on my mother's side still lives. Which is home? Where do I belong?

In a creative writing class in my last year of undergrad I penned a personal essay on this topic. Unfortunately, it was temporarily lost on a crashed hard drive that I have not yet been able to recover. But a little less than a month ago, Jenn, one of my missionary friends in Sénégal, used the last few lines from the essay in one of her blog posts. I was shocked and honoured that she had kept the quote for more than a year, then remembered it to put in her blog! The words hit home for me, reminding me that as a journalist, where my home is has to be my choice.

“Home, I have come to understand, does not only have to be “where the heart is”. It can be anywhere that you decide to live, and live well. You make a place your home when it becomes a point of purpose, of decision, and of life. You make home, wherever that may be, and it travels with you. Home, in my experience, is a verb.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why J-Schools need risk and trauma training.

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
(The following article was published in J-Source)

Megan Radford (pictured below) is a graduate journalism student at the University of Western Ontario -- she's already undertaken an internship in Malaysia and covered the G20 protests in Toronto. Last weekend, in her final term, she attended a workshop on Journalists & Risk which explored physical and emotional safety considerations in her chosen profession. Now she asks: Are journalism schools paying too little attention to these issues -- too late?

As journalists it is sometimes our job to put ourselves in harm’s way, to get the grizzly details and weed out what the public should know...and what they perhaps should not. What some may not realize is that the toll of this kind of life begins early. For some it begins even before we have officially entered the field.

I am a journalism student who has been taught by those who I consider to be some of the best in the business. But until recently, I had been given no training in how to deal with the myriad of difficult events that I have encountered in the past few months. Had I asked or reached out, my instructors would have been quick to respond. But I didn’t know what to ask for. Now I do, and so, from a student’s perspective, this is what you need to know:

It happened so quickly. I arrived at 10 a.m. to the third floor video department of my internship placement in Malaysia, just like I had on every other day that month. But on this morning, my supervisor wanted me to accompany him, a reporter and another intern to an exclusive interview.

That same month M. Krishnan, a man of Indian descent, had died in the custody of the Malaysian police. There was evidence to suggest that he had been beaten and refused medical care. The family was demanding an independent post-mortem to investigate the causes of death. Up to this point they had refused to speak with the media. But because of the family’s belief that our news organization was one of the few not controlled by the government, they agreed to speak with us.

Our crew of four arrived at a block of crammed apartment buildings. We rode the most decrepit elevator I have ever been in to the third floor and came to an open door leading to a small apartment. I was not prepared for the number of extended family members inside the small one bedroom home. Krishnan’s teenage daughters smiled at me shyly from the kitchen doorway, their slender arms protectively around their younger brother. On the floor in the corner of the tiny living room were two older women. Their grave eyes watched us set up the cameras. We were brought orange soda to drink in glasses. Then the family retreated out of the shot and Krishnan’s wife and mother arranged themselves on the couch in front of the cameras.

Not speaking Tamil, it was my job to man one of the cameras while my colleague conducted the interview. I zoomed in and out, thinking of the shots I was told to get till I noticed that the mother, who was speaking at the time, had begun to cry. She did not wail or scream, so there was nothing to warn me when it happened. But I suddenly became very aware of the fact that sitting in front of me was a mother just like mine, a mother who had lost a son and very likely would never find justice for his death. After that, and throughout the interview with Krishnan’s stoically calm wife, I found it very difficult to keep my composure. Was I even allowed to cry? I honestly didn’t know.

In thinking back on that experience, and the other desperate stories I have reported on in my short time as a journalist, I feel like I want to scream. I want to scream for that mother who cried so quietly. I want to scream for the babies who are abandoned by their mothers on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I want to scream for the women in the fashion industry who are treated as sexual objects by certain photographers. I want to scream for the Congolese family I interviewed in London, Ontario that is losing loved ones as the war in their home country continues.

I also worry that without the proper risk assessment training, young journalists like me will be put in physical danger. When I reported on the G20 protests in Toronto, I was unprepared for the kind of mayhem that broke out. Similarly, when I was in a crush of people at a Hindu festival in Malaysia, it was mere instinct that caused me to find a high point (a metal grate) and to avoid being pressed against a wall, rather than any kind of training I had received. Often our tendency as inexperienced go-getters is to run to the story, no matter the danger. We think we are invincible. We are not.

I recently attended a workshop co-sponsored by my journalism program and the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma. My professor, Cliff Lonsdale (formerly of the CBC and a host of other media outlets) is one of the co-founders of the Forum, and hosts these talks for his students every year. The workshop, through a panel of journalists and interviews with top reporters, cameramen and editors from around the world, gave an overview of the risks that we as journalists, whether at home or abroad, will encounter in our careers. They run the gamut from mortars, to lone attackers with guns, to the emotional toll of sitting through a gruesome trial.

We were told that when we go through these situations, we need to find outlets to deal with the stress right away. We need to find other hobbies outside of work, we need to exercise to work off the stress. Most importantly, we need to talk about what we are going through with someone that we trust. If we don’t, the cumulative effect of the traumas can build to the point of breakdown.

For some of us in the room, the scenarios were hypothetical. But for others, those of us who may have had to call a grieving family for comment, or been exposed to very immediate danger, they were not. The information we gained from this needed to be put into action. NOW.

I’m sure that my experiences are not extreme, but the point is that even in such a short time, this job has had an effect on me. We may be young and we may have been working in the business for less than a year, but that has not stopped us from experiencing the kind of heartbreak and fear that any seasoned journalist goes through. This is why we as young journalists need to be informed of the risks, both mental and physical, that this job can have, right from the start. Far from being dissuaded from a career in reporting, I believe it will make us braver, more careful, and ultimately better journalists.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alleged Police Brutality

My colleague Arvind Raj worked very hard on this story and I was honoured to be able to play some small parts in it- assistant camera-woman, stand-up intro reporter and subtitle editor. Be sure to turn on the captions so you can read what the women are saying.

From the sidebar: An exclusive interview with the family members of death-in-custody victim M Krishnan who was found dead in the Bukit Jalil police station on the 7th Jan 2011.

The mother, A Lakshmie and wife P Revathi of the victim are not convinced with the reason given by the police; that the victim died due to a medical condition. They are seeking a second post-mortem to discover the true cause of their family member's death.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shopping the Golden Triangle

On Saturday I went shopping.

And I mean, really hardcore shopping. In shopping malls with 9+ storeys. If you don't believe me, here's a picture:

I was lucky enough to have two new girlfriends with me who are as thorough about shopping as I am (and wonderfully fun company), as well as Calvin, a Malaysiakini video editor who acted as tour guide and protector. :)

Bukit Bintang is basically the mecca of KL shopping. It is in an area sometimes known as The Golden Triangle. There are four major malls here- Sungei Wang and Times Square, for bargain hunters of all sorts, especially clothes, shoes, bags and electronics. Then there is Pavillion, an upscale mall that reminded me of the ones that sprout all over Hong Kong. It's beautiful, and the food court there (The Food Republic) boasts basically every kind of Asia cuisine, from curry to kimchi. Last is Lot 10, but as I didn't get there, it won't figure into this post.

To get to Bukit Bintang we had to take a harrowing ride on the monorail. The cab of the monorail is short and squat, and not nearly big enough to admit the crush of people trying to get on from KL Central station. As a result, I ended up shoved into a metal bench, bending over a woman sitting down, with my shopping bag sticking in her face. It got worse with every station, and still when people were packed like sardines and almost blocking a door, a middle-aged Chinese woman with a scowl on her face attempted to push into the train, further bruising my already smarting hip bone. She uttered angry words, but gave up when she could not push herself onto the train.

Mercifully, the train ride was short. And suddenly, we were the ground-floor atrium of Times Square that slightly resembles the open concept of the CBC building in Toronto. I looked up and up and up at floors of shops that seemed never-ending. Where to start?

The food court of course, where one can buy a promotional meal for only 4.90 ($1.60 in USD/CDN). Then it was on to the shops. We only covered 2 or three floors, but it was enough to leave dents in our pocket books. Only slightly though. Rarely was any item of clothes over 30 Ringgits, and most hovered around 25. I bought a belt for 9 RN and bright coloured nail polish for under $2 from the lovely Elianto. I was also able to nab an FC Barcelona keychain for my brother, the football-crazy fan.

After we were shopped out there, we headed to Sungei Wang to find someplace to rest our tired feet...and satisfy our sugar craving. What we discovered was even more fun- a concept restaurant based on the most colourful, cute bathroom you could imagine. Yes, I said bathroom, as we sat on squeaky-clean toilets and ate off of a glass-covered sink. My ice cream came in a little pottery bathtub. It was sweet enough to hurt my teeth, but I enjoyed it anyhow. You can check out more about T-Bowl here.

Sungei Wang seemed a bit classier that Times Square- it was less market and more boutiques and chains. Right away I nabbed a black cardi with intricate lace detail for 29 Ringgits. I also bought a dress for 29 in a store full of the prettiest little numbers you have ever seen. I couldn't make up my mind between two I liked, and unfortunately chose one that ended up not fitting. Many stores in Sungei Wang and Times Square do not allow you to try things on because they sell them so cheap. This store didn't give receipts either, so there is no chance of returning it. Luckily I have a wonderful fellow J-Schooler whose style is similar to mine and who I believe will fit the dress perfectly. It's all part of the KL shopping adventure.

Our last stop led us through the crowded streets of night-time Bukit Bintang. There were throngs of people: locals throwing up spinning lights that were liable to land on you if you didn't dodge them, cars honking, performers in sparkling paint frozen in the centre of a ring of people (unless you wanted to pay to take a picture with them), lovely smells wafting from nearby restaurants, and tourist girls wearing a camera and not much else (their dresses barely counted as dresses).

(I was just interupted by a camera in my face. One of the citizen journalists, or "CJs" in for training today was taking my picture. "I'm sure my son will love to see this," he said. It's not the first time I've been photographed as an oddity, and I expect it won't be the last. Long blonde hair is rare in these parts.)

Pavilion is as luxurious as you could hope. My eyes were dazzled by the huge red and pink decorations in place for Chinese New Year, and the upscale stores for young and old (Marc by Marc Jacobs and Burberry were just some of the offerings). Fat statues celebrated the Year of the Rabbit and huge flowers took up some of the expansive floor. Wide red steps leading down into the mall were covered with tourists taking pictures.

By the time we reached Pavilion, we had only time to eat a well-deserved dinner. I ordered the biggest bowl of noodles I have ever seen from a Thai fast food counter. (Picture soon) As we sat and ate I watched people pass with bags from Cotton On and Forever 21, two of my favourite stores. Alas, the mall was closing as we struggled to finish our meals. I think my wallet breathed a sigh of relief though.

It was a long ride back as we trudged on aching legs and tried to ignore the rowdy pre-teen boys that were harassing the monorail passengers. But it was a happy kind of tired, the kind a little souvenir retail therapy brings. All in all, I'd say it was one of my most memorable, successful shopping trips.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 3- My first impressions of Malaysia

I have embarked on my one month internship in Malaysia! I will be working with Malaysiakini, an independent news organization based in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is known for placing tight restrictions on local broadcast and print news, but Malaysiakini is able to circumvent these by posting its content online. The website is subscription based, but I will be working in the video department which streams it's videos free on youtube.

After two slow first days at the office, today I got all the action I wanted...and more. But before I get into that, I wanted to quickly reem off some of my first impressions of Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur in particular.

The first thing I noticed as the plane touched down were rows and rows of palm trees. Malaysia is a major exporter of palm oil, which they produce monoculturally.

The second, as I walked outside, was that it is hot. But I expected and welcomed that.

My third observation was that KL is a city of malls. They are simply everywhere, which is convenient for my needs, but not so much for my wallet. Shopaholics beware!

My fourth observation came when I was trying to shake the jet lag with a quick nap an hour or so after I had arrived at my home-stay. I was dozing in my lovely air conditioned room when I was jolted awake by the loudest thunderclap I have ever heard. I jumped out of bed and opened a window to find a literal downpour outside. Rain, rain and more rain can be expected throughout my stay here.

After a weekend of fighting a cold and sightseeing (The National Museum, Central Market, Chinatown), I was definitely ready to get on the job this Monday.

From my homestay it is about a ten minute walk to the Malaysiakini office. The past three mornings I have arrived and had tea with some of my coworkers at a little outdoor restaurant/cafe right next door.

My first day at Malaysiakini was spent meeting people and looking for a story. My second day was spent calling people for interviews for said story. While the atmosphere in the editorial/print office downstairs is tense and serious (which seems to work well for the journalists down there), the TV office is a creative and fun environment.

Today I tailed a videographer/video editor and a journalist to a press conference and a protest. The press conference started late (do they ever start on time?), so the journalists assembled had time to smoke in the hallway of the government office and watch an Indonesian soap on the TV in the tiny room where the podium was set up.

The protest was interesting, but not as interesting as one would hope. It was hot, and though the police had formed a barricade, nothing particularly special happened. All told the real part of the protest was done in about 10 minutes, and then the organizers posed for pictures. Some of the journalists there, however, seemed more interested in taking pictures of the foreigner (me) than the protest and police. I was asked if I was from CNBC or BBC, and seemed to let them down when they discovered I was a lowly intern.

On another note, lunch didn't come till 4pm- a good reason to pack water and granola bars when you are on assignment. Sunscreen and a extra batteries never hurt either.

Tomorrow I will be interviewing people from several NGOs about how they are dealing with baby dumping, which has become a major concern for Malaysians. Unwed mothers in this country are unaware of their options and often feel ostracized and shamed. Some of them are choosing to abandon their babies in public places. We will be investigating a new initiative called "baby hatches," where mothers can leave their babies in a safe and caring environment without having to reveal their identities.

That's all for now. It's getting late and tomorrow morning will come early.

Disclaimer: any and all views expressed on this blog are the opinions of me, the lowly journalism intern/student, and not my university, Malaysiakini or my supervisors.