Bidding adieu to the business

I was lucky enough to start this business about a year and a half ago. It has been almost two years since I left my job as a reporter at a local paper and decided to balance full-time motherhood with full-time writing.

As anyone can guess, that was too much full-time.

This business has given me what I wanted most – a steady income as a writer and time with my youngest son. But he’s ready to move on to the next stage of his life – daycare – and so am I.

No, not daycare. But a new job, a real job, at an office, with people. I’m ready for that.

And so I’m letting go of the dream that was JFE Communications. It turned out not to be my dream, exactly. I missed working with others, and I’m ready to try something new.

As of September, I’ll be looking for a full-time job outside of the home and dismantling the business.

Thank you to all who sent work and tips my way. You were essential to the success of this little experiment.

Also thank you to my friends and family, for picking up the slack when I had big projects on the go, for supporting me when I doubted myself, and for listening when I needed to work things out.

On to the next adventure!


Goodbye, Ross Howard

At the beginning of my first journalism class at Langara, our instructor Ross Howard asked who our favourite journalists were. We each named a few. Ross, grinning cheerfully, explained why the majority of our choices weren’t journalists. Some people had mentioned Nancy Grace. I know I included Gwynne Dyer.

We were all a little deflated. What the hell made a journalist, then?

Ross proceeded to teach us.

He taught us writing techniques, the importance of editing, how to hold the media to account (including ourselves), and most importantly, how to do our jobs ethically.

He did it all with a sense of infectious optimism about journalism, even as the industry struggled. He believed in what journalists did, and he wanted us to be the best at it.

Don’t get me wrong – he wasn’t easy on us. Many of us cursed and grumbled when he merrily tore our most beloved pieces to shreds (metaphorically speaking.) I tended towards tears myself, fearing I’d disappointed him. To me, he represented the best of my chosen field.

And not everyone agreed with his ethical stances. But I had been a little too tied to absolute morals in my youth, so a new professional guidance system was a relief.

He made all of our work better. I think, for some of us, he made us better people, too.

When we graduated, he didn’t simply wave goodbye and forget about us, either. We went to him with ethical dilemmas and he answered us thoughtfully. He was enthusiastic about our futures, and he was sympathetic when we struggled.

He expected the best of us, but he gave so much in return. His work with conflict sensitive reporting training around the world, helping courageous journalists in difficult times and places, was admirable. His frequent pieces and interviews on the importance of good journalism were inspiring.

Last night, I heard that this incredible reporter and wonderful human being had died.

He was my mentor, and I will miss him. But in a very real way, he will always be with me and his other students.

“Are you sure you want to accept a comped trip from the tourism board?” he’ll whisper. And of course, “Tighten – always tighten.”

P.S. I realize that Ross would’ve edited the bejesus out of this blog post. That would’ve been nice.

In Defense of The Media

It is no secret that it’s a difficult time for newspapers. Media execs dream of being media barons, even though it’s clear those kind of profit margins are long gone. So they wring what they can from publications, laying off staff and cutting resources.

Advertising revenues are a major issue, but there are so many other problems as well, including that whiff of contempt from society.

Being a reporter has never been a prestigious position. Unless you make it to a television screen, journalism is not the kind of job that brings in the big bucks. And let’s face it – you often annoy people for a living. You call people during their most difficult moments and when they don’t answer, you knock on doors. It is not the ideal job for making friends or money.

But it is a very important job. Without local reporters, the most important stories in our region would have gone untold. The Air India bombing was covered internationally, but it was local newspaper reporters who stayed on it and broke stories years later – often risking their own safety to do so.

Which is why I cringe when I hear people talk about how terrible the media is. What media? Where? It’s not as if the media holds a conference call every Monday morning, to determine how they’ll manipulate the public this week. Many community newspapers can barely manage weekly meetings to go over who is working on what. They don’t have time to diabolically plan how to misinform the public or quash stories.

And really, most people who are in the industry are ethical people who want to shine a light on the truth. Not all – there are unethical journalists and editors, and there are companies that interfere with what stories go to print (or try to… many try, but luckily most editors are prepared for that).

If you find yourself blaming the media for society’s ills, ask yourself – who in the media? Is it that one columnist you can’t stand? Or that paper that always seems to publish people you disagree with? Irresponsible newspapers or blogs publishing salacious stories that aren’t substantiated?Absolutely – call them out. Name them by name. But make it clear to yourself and others when something is published that you don’t like versus something that is incorrect or misleading.

Get clear on what’s in a publication – a column is very different from a news story. Are you reading news, or an opinion piece? Being informed about the media should come before criticizing the media. Though believe me, we all know criticism can be warranted.

But celebrating the demise of newspapers, and hating on the media as a whole, leaves us all much more vulnerable to being manipulated by powerful people who don’t have our interests at heart. They like misinformation. They thrive on it.

Today, the editor of the Mexican newspaper Norte announced the paper would be shutting down because it could not keep its reporters (or editor) safe on the job. The Committee to Protect Journalists states that at least 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, due to the work they do – as reported in The Guardian.

To put it in the simplest terms, the bad guys want the media to die. They will actually kill to stop it. They smile when you say, “newspapers are dying.” The death of newspapers and journalists is something they celebrate.

Help reporters fight to expose the lies and misdeeds of the powerful – whether they be drug lords, politicians, police, business leaders, or a local strata council gone astray. You can help by supporting them with your voice, your dollars, and your own efforts to inform yourself. Support those who speak to you and for you, and those with whom you disagree, but can at least admit they make a damn good argument.

Whatever you may think of particular outlets and journalists, good reporting is very, very necessary. We can’t let it die off due to an amorphous distrust of the media. There are so many places in the world that want the kind of free media we have. They desperately need it. It would be a disservice to them and to ourselves to take our media for granted.

Written by a former journalist who is married to a journalist, the daughter of a former journalist and editor, and who is admittedly fond of well-researched information.

Back in business

I’ve been working for about a month now and it is amazing. Busy, but amazing.

This is incredibly geeky of me, I know, but editing brings me great joy. I love reading over a piece and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Catching each error – whether punctuation, spelling, or verb-tense agreement – is fun for me.

Some people do crossword puzzles. I look for extra commas.

Writing is a little trickier. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing. But when you’re frequently reading pieces with a critical eye, it can be hard to keep the pen moving.

I’m trying to take it all in stride, though. Lin-Manuel Miranda talks about writing the rust out, so I’m doing a lot of that. I mean, if it works for the creator of Hamilton, there has to be something to it.

I’m pretty sure my journal entries and random musings aren’t going to hit Broadway any time soon. But that’s not really the point. Writing for its own sake generates rewards that go far beyond the idle dreams of the writer. It strengthens the voice, allows stories to form and bloom in the mind, and it invigorates the imagination.

So I’m working at it. Daily dabbling with the pen to get my writer’s voice, my writer’s mind, back on track.

The greatest gift of all of this is, of course, that I’m playing with words – both as a profession and as a hobby. I think I forgot that writing is supposed to engage and entertain the writer as well. If I’m not interested in what I’m writing, no one else will be, either.

It’s good to be back.


It is nearly mid-September. I intended to post this on Sept. 1, but that’s how things have gone this summer. I plan, and then I panic and freeze.

This has been my life, days slipping away from me in a cloud of confusion and worry.

I worry a lot. I worry about not completing things. I worry about completing them but doing it wrong. I worry about what I say and what I don’t say. I worry about what will happen when I leave the house (there are so many possibilities.) I worry about watching my life slip away like this.

I’m especially worried about writing this post. I don’t know if I should. Many people with mental illnesses only write under pseudonyms. It isn’t safe to say your mind is sick. Careers can be ruined, rights taken away. I hear about it often.

But I have never been a person who could keep a secret. And I don’t believe this is something I should have to hide.

I have bipolar disorder. I’ve had it since I was a teenager, though I didn’t believe the diagnosis then. I’ve since had the diagnosis confirmed.

Though bipolar disorder gets a lot of bad press, I prefer it to other illnesses because there can be long stretches when I’m fine. I have episodes – mania and depression have hit hard in the past – but I’m able to manage them fairly well now with medication.

My episodes returned this spring and summer after a long period without them. I am getting over the last mixed episode (mania and depression combined,) and I feel much better now that autumn is arriving. I do better in the autumn and winter.

One really bad episode in April centred on my writing. I became convinced that I could not be a writer, that it would kill me. Rejection would kill me.

While I am out of that headspace now, I still struggle to write. It’s as if I flicked off a switch inside of myself, and I can’t seem to reverse it yet.

Which brings me to the point of this post. From now on, I’m going to have to manage this website, as well as my business, carefully. I’m making a slow return, and I plan to get back to work in the next few months.

I’ve regained my memory and my reading comprehension – who knew those could be affected by mental health? – and at this time I’d like to focus on editing and proofreading projects.

I’ve started by taking on a few volunteer tasks, such as proofing for Megaphone magazine and the Hope in Shadows calendar.

Once I feel more comfortable writing, I’ll take on articles again, too.

If you’re considering me for a project, I’d like to reassure you that I will only take it on if I know I can complete it, and do so well. That is why I took a hiatus over the summer – it is extremely important to me to only put out my best work.

I hope to work with you soon.

Bike sharing

The subject of a bike-sharing program in Vancouver has recently taken off again, with plans to launch it this coming summer.

I first encountered the topic seven years ago this week, when I was interning at the Vancouver Courier. At that time, the plan was to have a program in place before the 2010 Olympics. Clearly, that didn’t happen. Bike rental businesses brought forward their concerns. A number of providers were considered and found wanting. Bixi, the service provider in Montreal, went bankrupt in 2014. Helmets were also an issue.

Anyway, after nearly a decade, it looks like it’s going to happen! Here’s a piece by Dan Fumano at the Province about the new program. It’ll be interesting to see how it works here compared with other cities.

Here’s my first article on bike sharing from those many, many years ago:

Council peddles public bike sharing concept; Program could place 3,000 bikes at depots around town

Vancouver Courier
Wed Mar 25 2009

Vancouverites could be riding shared bicycles throughout the city by the summer of 2010, according to Vision Coun. Raymond Louie.

Louie presented a motion, seconded by Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs, to city council on Tuesday, March 24 to start a public bike sharing program in Vancouver, with a large scale demonstration of the project in time for the Winter Olympics in February 2010.

We hope to have a system in place by winter 2010,” Louie said, adding he wants the program fully established by the following summer.

The program could place 3,000 bikes at depots around downtown Vancouver and over the bridges between Kitsilano and Commercial Drive up to 16th Avenue, according to Louie.

The primary goal is to make bikes easily available to the public without having to buy or store them, so more people might be inclined to ride short distances instead of driving. “The underpinning is to have little or no cost to our citizens,” Louie said.

The program would be funded by advertising, corporate sponsorship or a user pay system.

It would likely be a combination of all three,” Louie said.

According to the president of the Vancouver-area Cycling Coalition, a shared bicycle program would need to be combined with better cycling infrastructure in the city, such as the proposed Burrard Bridge bike lanes.

The City of Vancouver’s goal is to increase cycling trips to 10 per cent [of city travel including driving and transit] in 2010. The combination [of an improved cycling infrastructure and the shared bike program] will make it happen,” said Arno Schortinghuis, the group’s president. “That kind of combination, it’s a synergy. You have to have both.

City council is considering a plan to convert one or two of the six lanes on Burrard Bridge to bicycle lanes for a trial period. City staff drafted a report on the lanes to present to council but so far that presentation has been delayed.

Schortinghuis spoke to TransLink’s board of directors when it was preparing a feasibility study on bike share programs last year. NPA Coun. Peter Ladner requested the study and was behind an effort to establish a shared bike program with TransLink.

The study, which came out in March 2008, recommended eight regions of B.C for a shared bike program with Vancouver as the best option.

But TransLink has decided not to be involved with the project because it is concerned about the economy, according to Louie.

TransLink is not inclined to consider it any time soon,” Louie said.

The motion put forward on Tuesday also directed staff to send out a request for proposals from private companies for the bike share program.

Bidders would need to meet requirements such as providing bikes that are sturdy, well made and theft proof, as well as dealing with the question of helmets. In Paris, France, where a similar program started in 2007, there are no helmet bylaws. But in B.C., helmets are legally required, and riders may not be willing to bring their own.

Louie suggested helmet kiosks could be a possible option, as well as liners for hygiene, but said bidding companies would have to includepossible solutions in the proposals.

We’re hoping proponents will come up with ideas,” Louie said.

While the project demonstration planned for February 2010 is not intended to alleviate traffic flow for the Olympics, Louie said it could be one way to deal with transportation problems.

Conceptually it could be,” Louie said. “But it’s not intended to be an Olympic project.

Montreal has a similar bike sharing program, Bixi, which is being run by the city’s parking authority, set to start in May. Helmets are not required in Montreal.


Keep it clean

The written word has power. It has the power to compel, convince, cajole and comfort. It can change an opinion or spread entirely new ideas. It just has to be used correctly.

On Wednesdays, I’ll be posting tips on how to make the written word work for you, so you can share your story with others effectively.

 Keep it clean

I’ll start with the most basic, most necessary element to successful storytelling – clean copy.

It may seem like it’s less necessary these days, as publications lay off copy editors and blog posts get no more than a cursory glance before being published.

But typos and errors are stumbling blocks for your readers. Whatever the medium, a mistake will jolt your reader and disconnect them from the message you’re trying to convey.

When I was an intern fresh out of journalism school, I was incredibly nervous. My biggest fear was making a mistake in a story, and this fear actually blinded me to the errors I was making. I made many at first. I was afraid I would be fired.

I tracked down a copy of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech by Craig Silverman. It included an accuracy checklist. That checklist saved my internship, and it saved me from a lot of embarrassment, as well.

Reporters need strong copy editing skills, but so does anyone who writes anything, from novels to business brochures. It is easy to be blind to your own mistakes. Here are a few tips to help you check your blind spots:

  1. Print it. It’s easy to type away on your computer and then post or publish whatever you’ve written without ever holding it in your hands. Don’t do that. Print a hard copy and go over it with a pen or highlighter.
  2. Check twice. Double check names of people and businesses, including your own – those make for the most embarrassing typos. Double check facts and figures, too. A small typo in a figure or statistic can completely invalidate the information you’re trying to convey.
  3. Get help. Have at least one other person read your copy before you share it with the world. I recommend two, as almost everyone misses something.
  4. Step away. Walk away from your project for as long as possible, and then look at it with fresh eyes. If you’re on a tight deadline this can mean a 15-minute break, or a half-hour, if you can manage it. You’ll be surprised how even a few minutes can give you a better perspective, and you’ll catch things you couldn’t see initially.
  5. Follow up. By the time you post or publish whatever you’ve written, you might not want to ever look at it again. But you should. Read it in an hour, or even the next day. If you catch something that can be corrected, do so as soon as possible. If it has been sent to the printers, make a note of the error to ensure it doesn’t make it in again.

Most importantly, if you don’t feel confident in your ability to catch your own mistakes, hire a freelance copy editor or proofreader for the project. A skilled professional can be a huge help, and it’s a worthwhile expense when it comes to presenting your material professionally.

Sharing stories

We all have a story to tell, as individuals, businesses and communities. We have ideas and wisdom to impart, products to offer, good work to do, and we need to find a way to share that information with others.

I am here to help you tell those tales, whether the purpose is to connect with readers, customers or donors.

I recently left the newsroom to strike out on my own as a writer. While I love writing fiction, I  also love helping others hone their own stories.

I started JFE Communications for this purpose, and to round out my creative endeavours with my more practical writing skill set – nonfiction writing, editing and proofreading.

Previously, I was a business and civic affairs reporter at the Burnaby NOW. Like my fellow reporters, I was also a proofreader and a copy editor. I filled in for the editor and assistant editor as needed.

These are the first days of my business, and I expect my own story will change. I look forward to filling you in on what I learn as I go.