Category Archives: BLOG
A few weeks ago, I was working on a light story about why eerie flocks of seagulls have been circling over buildings, sometimes for hours on end. To give the story a voice, I needed regular people on the street to say they’d seen it too. (Depending on where you live in the anglophone world, these folks are known as “streeters”, “MOSs”, or “vox pops”.) Most of my streeters had seen it too, and many said it reminded them of the Hitchcock movie The Birds. Although gulls were not attacking anyone in Fredericton, the movie reference was a perfect excuse to have some fun with the story.
A few days after it aired, I spoke again to a bird expert whom I had consulted (not the guy featured in the story). We’ll call the other guy Tim. Tim said it was a shame I referenced The Birds; the insinuation being it trivialized whatever was upsetting the gulls. I understood where he was coming from, but at the same time, I needed to engage more people than just bird spotters.
Then, last week, I got a tweet from a colleague in Toronto, who said she heard my voice on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 show on CNN. It turned out Cooper used part of the report for his spoof segment, The Ridiculist (@ 1.56 below). Cooper also said “parts of New Brunswick, Canada have been invaded by a flock of seagulls.” Oh.
With a quick Google, I discovered that the report had also been syndicated to local stations across the U.S., re-voiced by some American news lady, and given a new “invasion” twist to suggest that Freddy Beach was under attack.
What did I expect, right? But it’s a lesson learned, that as soon as you publish a story, you never know where it will go and how it will morph.
All a bit of fun, of course. I just hope Tim wasn’t visiting Tyler, Texas on February 3rd. You can watch the KLTV segment here.
In 2013, I worked as a journalism trainer in Sierra Leone. The four-month JHR program included a period at Radio Democracy in Freetown where I worked with three reporters including Mabel Kabba.
In April 2014, Mabel was named Best Female Reporter at the 8th Annual National Media Awards. No surprise to me – given her abilities and work ethic – but a pure delight that I got the chance to give someone like her a few pointers along the way.
Following the reports I filed on the expenses of New Brunswick MLA Greg Davis in March (including exclusive details of a party loan and how it remained secret), the province’s Legislative Assembly has introduced new legislation to ensure MLA expenses are reported more frequently and more transparently.
When it comes to Olympic gold medals, Canada knows how to make history. The world’s second largest country is the only nation to have failed to win a gold when hosting a Winter or Summer Olympics. It actually managed to do so twice; in Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988. Then, four years ago in Vancouver, everything changed. Canada won more gold medals than any country has done, in any Winter Olympics.
Until the 14 golds in Vancouver, Canadian media outlets generally sorted medals tables in the same way the U.S. media do – by the total number of medals. Countries tied on that number would be then sorted by gold, then silver and finally bronze. Of course, the flaw in this system is that winning five bronze medals puts you ahead of a country that wins four golds. And for Canada, the use of this system, dulled it shining achievement, putting it in third place behind the U.S. and Germany.
Outside of North America, the convention is generally to first sort by gold, then silver, then bronze. It awards champions, and by this system Canada “won” Vancouver 2010. But again, it has the flaw of not reflecting strength in depth. Winning just one gold medal would put you ahead of a country that wins a dozen silver and bronze medals.
The IOC does not officially rank countries, and prefers to stick by its creed: “The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”
It’s understandable then, that in the wake of Vancouver 2010, Canadian media have begun to reassess how they measure success. It started in London 2012, when some outlets began ranking by golds. Unfortunately, for those who switched, Canada won 18 medals, but just one gold.
But a more marked change can now be seen in the medals tables for Sochi. The official broadcasters, CBC and Radio-Canada are now sorting by golds. Other TV networks and websites are using those tables under a licence agreement, or are using the same system for their own tables. Among them are networks who, just last week, were displaying the Vancouver 2010 table sorted by total medals.
On the other hand, almost all the print editions of newspapers are sorting by total medals, while some of the websites for those same papers are sorting by golds. You can understand why sports fans might get confused.
Nonetheless, come the buzzer at the end of the Men’s Hockey gold medal game on February 23rd, there’s little doubt that Canada will be at the top end of the medals table. Canada may even make history again. It just depends how you want to look at it.
Like many broadsheet newspapers around the world, The Sunday Telegraph in the UK sees quite a diverse range of subjects discussed in its Letters to the Editor section. From events of global importance, to the most trivial of topics that only concern the smallest slivers of society. The latter was never truer than on February 15, 1987.
Keith Rodger from Wilmslow in Cheshire wrote: “I note that the first of October this year, 1. 10. 1987 will read 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 in reverse. This must be a very rare occurrence. Is it worthy of note?”
“Who cares?” I hear you ask. Well, one of the few people who did care was a Mr. Kenneth Robert Imeson of Cambridge. The then 78-year-old retired teacher, was still a man who loved numbers. He had yet to finish his 1989 book “The Magic of Number“.
Evidence of his love dates back to 1947. As a Cambridge graduate and headmaster of Sir Joseph William Mathematical School in Rochester, Kent, he wrote, in vain, to University College London asking that biologists get better mathematics training.So on that February Sunday in 1987, Imeson took on Rodger’s challenge and penned a letter detailing some past occurrences: 1.10.198, 5.4.321, 9.8.765, 2.11.1019 & 21.1.1019; along with the next time he figured it would happen: 6.5.4321.
The Sunday Telegraph printed his letter on February 22nd – something which would have made him proud, were it not for the short letter, from another reader, that followed it. It read: “What about 5th of April, 3210 – 5-4-3-2-1-0?”*
An embarrassment for the old teacher for sure. But the Sunday Telegraph’s editor decided to hit him with a sucker punch, and included the reader’s age: 9.
Yes, that reader was me. My one-line letter came up in conversation last month, when I was home in Ireland for Christmas. My dad spent hours trying to find the clipping, but couldn’t locate it before I returned to Canada. He mailed it to me this week. It’s the first time I’ve seen it since 1987.
What had actually happened back in 1987 was that my dad read the original letter from Keith Rodgers, and challenged me to figure out when such a date would next occur. I remember sitting down to do it. When I was done, he told me to write to the editor, but “keep it short!” I did.
The following Sunday morning I heard the paper come through the letterbox. (My dad, who lived in the UK in his 20s, still reads at least one Irish newspaper and one English newspaper every Sunday). I leaped down the stairs, checked it, and saw my name. I ran back upstairs to wake dad and show him. I remember him laughing, noting the number of times he had written to newspapers, sometimes without being published.
I had always wondered who that other man was. I felt sorry for him back then. It was a simple mistake. This week, having researched his life, I feel even worse.
Imeson died aged 85, in April 1994, just weeks before I sat my Leaving Certificate state exam at the end of my five years of secondary school. My only A was in mathematics. I suppose it was partly because I accounted for zeros. It’s easy to miss what’s not even there.
*An even closer future date, albeit with a shorter sequence, is: 3.1.2111. Turns out I wasn’t so smart after all.