Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Murray Brewster, defence correspondent for the Canadian Press news wire wrote a book about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan since 2002 called The Savage War. That's the first thing that worked for me about the book, the fact that he wrote it.

I didn't know how involved Canada was in the war in Afghanistan, and I suspect that many other Canadians didn't either. The Savage War opened up my eyes to something I feel was pretty under reported in Canada: that Canadian soldiers were in Afghanistan and they weren't just peacekeeping, they were pretty much involved in a full fledged war.

Canadian bases were targeted by the Taliban. Canadian soldiers had to fear for their lives. They were getting blown up and many of them lost their lives.

Although the book was amazing at telling me things I never knew before, there are some things I would have liked such as a map and a glossary. I'm not super familiar with middle east geography and I think the type of audience that is reading this book isn't either, so a map to all the things referred to in the book would have been very helpful.

Again, as someone who isn't really familiar with the army and ranks, it would have been nice to have a glossary of the all the titles and acronyms Brewster uses such as LAV and FOB. It also would have been nice to have an explanation of the military language often quoted and used in the book.

I didn't like the way Brewster portrayed many of the females in the book. When describing other journalists and media he would say that maybe a male cameraman snored too loud, but when describing female journalists he revealed details such as one didn't close the curtain when she changed and that one claimed she wasn't leaving until she hooked up with a soldier. To me, these are caricatures of women. An example of Brewster stereotyping women is on page 68:

"The fact that Goddard now sat before me in the middle of war zone seemed both remarkable and gently inspiring. It was evident by the conversation that she fussed over them; several times she referred to team as "my crew." 

I don't think he needed to describe her as "gently inspiring." I think if it was a man, he might have been described as just inspiring. Using the word "fussed" seems to devalue he concern for crew as it sounds like a worrying mother. 

Journalists can learn a lot from The Savage War, especially in chapter 20. I learned that reporting on a war can very frustrating, and not just because of what is happening in the war. I thought it was very interesting how much the communications people from the army tried to control the media. The part about a young communications office telling the media that they better write positive stories or else they would lose access to the soldiers was astounding and frustrating. I couldn't imagine being half way across the world, knowing that certain stories need to be told and being threatened not to tell them at the same time. I do think Brewster was very honest about the situation for media in Afghanistan. I learned a lot about war correspondent reporting and I liked those details.

The Savage War made me realize all that I didn't know about the war in Afghanistan and everything that the Canadian army went though. I'm ashamed at my ignorance or something so huge going on with our country. I also felt Brewster's frustration when communications people bullied him such as when they wanted the media to report on reconstruction in the country when he saw there was no plan to.

Recently I've also watched Desert Lions, which is a documentary that was made in Afghanistan during the war. I was skeptical of it since it was paid for the army and made by Mike Vernon, a reservist to the Canadian army. But, I thought the documentary didn't shy away from showing the struggles the Canadians dealt with such as dealing with Afghan culture and even the death of soldiers.

The main difference between the two is obviously visuals. Although I do love the pictures in The Savage War, it's nothing like the shaky video in Desert Lions that really showed what it's like for troops in Afghanistan. The other difference I found was that while Desert Lions based its plots around more personal stories of the stories and their interaction with the Afghan army, the path of the storyline was centered around more politics in The Savage War.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Issues are Issues No Matter Who You Are


Click the link above. It's a story on women coming forward about sexual abuse they've faced on reserves. They say it's a prevalent problem across the country.

"Attawapiskat is just a small representation of what's happening at our aboriginal communities across Canada," said one of the women in the story.

After two brave women came out with their story, more women started to come forward.

According to stats on http://www.iamakindman.ca/IAKM/wisdom.html a study by the Ontario Native Women’s Association found:

8 out of 10 Aboriginal women in Ontario had personally experienced family violence. In other words, Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to suffer abuse than women in society at large. Of those women, 87% had been injured physically and 57% had been sexually abused (Health Canada, 1997);

In some northern Aboriginal communities, it is believed that between 75% and 90% of women are battered;

Children witness more than half of the violence that occurs between the adults in the home and are also targeted for abuse, especially sexual crimes, with up to three-quarters of Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 having been sexually assaulted.

In summary, these statistics estimate that, at a minimum, 25% of Aboriginal women experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner; however, in some communities, that figure can be as high as 80-90%. In most instances, this abuse happens repeatedly and involves serious physical harm, as well as psychological and emotional abuse. It is also important to realize that up to half of the men report that a family member has abused them. They are much less likely, however, to experience physical injury at the hands of their spouses than are women.

Match those stats with the fact that sexual and violent abuse among non-aboriginal girls and women the rate is closer to 20 per cent.

Some results of this kind of abuse are are suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, gas sniffing and more violence.

We discussed this issue with Colleen Simard, an aboriginal columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and a CreComm grad. The topic seemed like a natural progression since her adorable new daughter was with with her.

Simard said she did worry about her daughter, since Aboriginal women statistically are more vulnerable. She said she didn't want what happened to her, abusive relationships, to happen to her daughter.

To me, this epidemic makes me feel the way I did when we went to see Where Are the Children, a photo exhibit currently at the University of Manitoba. The exhibit displays photos from mostly  residential schools across the country. As the curator said residential schools are one of Canada's dirty little secrets, I think this issue is too. Aboriginal women are abused at an alarmingly high rate and many people don't know, just like many people didn't know about residential schools in Canada.

This blog post is supposed to be about an Aboriginal issue for an assignment. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable talking and writing about "Aboriginal issues." I personally don't like defining stories or issues as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. I don't really think about stories in that way. I think when we start to divide stories into Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal we start to make a divide among people, which isn't good.

I think it's also because we've been taught in j school to tell a story about a murder the same way we would a fundraiser, by emphasizing the personal human story attached to the event. Yes, this story is about Aboriginal women being abused on reserves, but I wouldn't identify it as a Aboriginal story. I'd identify it as a Canadian story that we all need to care about and and be aware of.

I understand that it is important to be culturally aware when telling a story that involves or impacts an Aboriginal person, but I think by reporting on the story as one would any other story is the way to go. I think it's important to not be intimidated by "Aboriginal stories" because First Nations, Aboriginal, native, Metis, etc. people are not different from anyone else.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Push...with a Smile

Sometimes great stories just come to you. Sometimes it's just luck. In the words of a reporter I shadowed the other week, "The journalism gods blessed me. This story just fell right into my lap."

But, good stories usually don't fall out of the sky and onto one's paper or into one's camera. What I have learned is that even if an amazing story is easily found, it's always good to push...with a smile of course. Anyone can hear a great story, but what I think a journalist does is push for that extra detail or better shot, which makes the story all that much more compelling.

I've found that it is even more important to push when it seems like there's no more information to be learned while doing a story. I learned this recently when I called the cops for some information on some car accidents and a reported sudden death while interning at a television news station.

I called and the police didn't give me much. With the little information I had I started writing voiceovers. They weren't good. They had no detail and contained nothing for a viewer or person to care about. So, I called back and pushed, with a polite, but firm tone.

I got the information I needed. It was awkward as a young journalist, calling the cops for the first time, surrounded by an experienced news room that could hear my every word. But, by digging a little deeper and taking the time to ask questions I did what I needed to do to make my story better. Not just for me, but for the person watching, which is the whole point of the news.

We've also learned in school that people will often do things if you're firm, but polite. If I need someone to go outside for an interview I know now that I should just ask. There's no harm because the worse they can say is no.

It's often people's jobs to give interviews or give information, so go ahead. Ask questions, in a polite way, and push nicely if you need more.