Thursday, November 12, 2015

At the risk of being petty… The Fonz was at We Day?

Prime Minister Trudeau spoke at We Day. 16,000 students and teachers from over 500 schools at We Day Ottawa, a concert-style event that champions public service in Canada and abroad. 

OK, cool. He was not originally scheduled. Still, pretty cool. The Prime Minister (who is also the Minister for Youth) makes a surprise, inspiring visit. 

Who else was on the list?

Bruce Heyman, U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Rick Hansen, the former Paralympian and activist for rights of the disabled.
Lilly Singh, a YouTube personality.
Simple Plan, a Montreal rock band.
Kardinal Offishall, a Canadian rapper.
Shawn Hook, a singer from B.C.
Spencer West, a motivational speaker who lost both legs to a genetic disorder as a child.
And… Henry Winkler, an American actor.

The Fonz? Really?

I am being petty, I admit. I don’t know what Fonzie had to say to 16,000 young people. I am 50 and he was my hero. Happy Days was popular when I was younger than the people who attended We Day. I assume that Winkler has crafted a brilliant stump speech that is really appealing and inspiring to young people. It’s just that on this list of speakers and performers, Fonzie sort of jumped out. A little out of place.

It did result in an awesome conversation with my son Oliver (16). He knows what it is to “jump the shark” but he did not know the origin. Warning... it's hard to watch.

And, maybe Fonzie is more iconic with young people than I realize. Oliver recognizes a thumbs up accompanied by, “Ayyy.” Also did not know the origin.

Love you Fonzie. Love love love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

“Terrorism” may no longer have any discernible meaning

I remember a conversation, on-air, on Oct 22, 2014 – the day that Micheal Zehaf-Bibeau killed Nathan Cirillo. To the skepticism of the host, I commented that “this is not a terrorist attack.” I have changed my mind. But, I suspect there are many who have not and there are still others who first thought of it as a terrorist attack but no longer do.

Last night I attended a public discussion between Mohamed Fahmy and Neil Macdonald, CBC senior correspondent. Fahmy is the Canadian journalist jailed in Egypt in 2014, and recently released.

Macdonald noted that Fahmy does not use the word “terrorist” preferring instead “violent extremist” or other iterations. Broadly, it was pointed out that “terrorism” is experienced subjectively. An individual experiences terrorism as “violence you don’t agree with." Fahmy was very clear in his utter condemnation of al-Qaeda, ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, etc. This part of the conversation was not about who is or who is not a terrorist. Rather, it was about the complexity of the word.

I think this is correct. “Terrorism” has become such a value laden term that I am struggling to figure out how to use it as, indeed, journalists in general are. 

In the 24 hours following Cirillo’s murder, Canadian journalists were restrained in their use of the term. American journalists, not. This tells us more about the national narrative in our countries than anything. Americans believe they are locked in a mortal struggle with terrorists, Canadians aren’t as sure. We are fighting something but we’re not as binary as our American neighbours. We are less prone to divide the world into "good" and "bad."

Define “terrorist.” Michael Zehaf-Bibeau will almost certainly meet whatever definition you adopt. But, introducing the term to a discussion may tend to derail the whole debate into jingoism. "Terrorism" is at risk of becoming some version of Godwin's Law.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My greatest contribution to journalism and the written word: How to write web addresses and email addresses in written work. Go ahead, world. Take it. It’s yours now.

When I created Canadian Poker Monthly in 1996 I wrote a style guide for my writers. None of them paid any attention to it but there was an actual guide – two whole pages. Therein documented was my greatest contribution to journalism and the written word. It has been widely ignored and little noted but I feel certain that this is only because nobody knows about it. I give it to you now. Take it. Spread the word. Let this be my legacy…
Yesterday I had occasion to email John Ivison, Andrew Coyne, and Christie Blatchford all at the Naional Post, as well as Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail. Their email addresses are what you would expect: 

Pretty standard stuff. But, did you know that email addresses and website addresses are not case sensitive? 

Back in 1996 I started capitalizing the first word in names, initials, and words in digital addresses. It makes these things much easier to read. Not to mention long hashtags.

There. Isn't that better? Nicely deciphered at a glance.

Just stop writing long strings of characters in all lower case. Throw in some capitalization. It’s easier to read. A lot easier. #DoAwayWithLongHashtagsThatAreAllLowerCase. 

This also avoids the awkward need to never use a web address to start a sentence. Now you no longer have to write, “You can buy books at” Instead you can write, “ sells books.” Voila! As a side note, don’t capitalize “com” “ca” “org” or whatever just ... well just because it looks funny. Trust me on that one.

And another thing, stop capitalizing “internet.” It’s not a specific thing. Capitalizing “internet” is like capitalizing “highway.” 

How are you getting to Toronto? Are you going to drive on the Highway? All of the actual proper noun highways are interconnected into, oh I don’t know, you might call it a network of highways. An internet of highways. Specific stretches might be proper nouns (Highway 416) but the whole network is not. A highway. It’s like the internet (don’t let the “the” throw you off).  

When future generations write I hope they remember my contribution.