A few weeks ago, I told one of my best friends that I published 60 blog posts in 2017. Her eyes bulged out of her head. I thought her reaction was comical because, while 60 is certainly a large number (especially considering my posts fall in the range of 500-1,000 words and take a while to write, edit and promote) I don’t think of it as a huge number. Last year, blogging once a week felt very natural to me.
At the end of the year, I wrote about my favourite posts of the year. I had lots to write about, from posts about my life to posts about political news. Thinking back to my winter semester at school, I realized I had a pretty regular blogging schedule. I don’t know how I kept up such a consistent routine of posting but, like I said, blogging became a pretty natural part of my routine.
Towards the end of April, I had a sherinaspeaks first—a photography post! This was really exciting for me because I had a lot of fun taking photos. I continued the trend of photography posts throughout the year. I remember thinking it was really cool that, although I had been blogging for almost four years, I was still finding new aspects of blogging.
In June, I had another exciting blogging moment. A post I wrote largely on a whim was selected for WordPress’s Discover page, resulting in lots of new followers and comments. This traffic continued into July. It was really nice to know that other people connected with my writing and wanted to read more of it!
Since last year was my first year studying journalism at university, I wrote a lot about journalism and what I was learning at school. These are some of my favourite posts because I had the opportunity to connect with other young journalists. I think writing about journalism also helped me learn that I’m really passionate about the inner workings of the field. I’ve continued analyzing journalism through my writing, so I’m glad I developed this interest last year through my blog.
I also really liked the post I wrote for my 19th birthday. Instead of writing hundreds of words about my life so far, I challenged myself to write 19 things I’ve learned. This is probably the blog post that I find myself re-reading the most. As strange as it may sound, I love reading the advice from my past self.
In 2017, my follower count surpassed 1,000. And then it kept growing. Numbers are not the most important part of blogging, but I was (and am) still very proud of, and humbled by, the growing number of people who follow my blog. I still remember the dance I did when I got my first follower, back when I started this blog for a school project. 2017 felt like an amazing year to look back and see how far I’ve come.
I also had two really cool experiences relating to my blog in the fall of 2017. In two separate cases, students reached out to me to ask if they could interview me for a school assignment. I had the chance to speak with a fellow journalism student about my thoughts on journalism and blogging, and I also spoke to a high school class about my journey as a blogger. These experiences felt surreal to me, because I remember being a student in high school and listening to journalists come in to share their experiences. I’m so happy that I can share my knowledge and passion for blogging and journalism with other students.
You may think it’s strange to reflect on 2017 two months into 2018. But as I read back this post, and scroll through my blog’s homepage, I’m incredibly proud of—and inspired by — the growth of my writing in the last year. Reflecting on that growth makes me even more excited for the year ahead. I truly can’t wait to see what comes next.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to hear one of my favourite journalists, CNN’s Brian Stelter, speak at an event hosted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. I was excited to hear his thoughts on journalism in the so-called Trump era—and, very early on in his talk, I was taken aback by his positivity on the subject.
Stelter said he sees Trump’s attacks as an opportunity. “When he calls real news fake, it’s a great opportunity to explain why we do what we do,” he said.
Indeed, many news organizations have taken the opportunity (or should I say abundance of opportunities) to explain how journalism really works. I’ve written before about the Toronto Star’s “Trust Project” which, although probably not directly or solely in response to Trump, shows readers the behind-the-scenes of the Star’s journalism. Even a big-screen portrayal of journalism like The Post can help to inform people about the process of journalism.
The issue, of course, is who is listening to those explanations of journalism. Certainly, some people could ignore the explanations or simply dismiss them as “fake news.” But maybe those people’s minds can’t be changed by any explanation, no matter how truthful. It’s still beneficial to be transparent about the reporting process—and when Trump accuses the media of being dishonest, it’s powerful when the media responds by being transparent about their reporting processes.
It’s worth noting, though, that Trump’s attacks on journalism aren’t harmless. In July of last year, he appeared to encourage violence against journalists when he tweeted a video showing a man beating up another man whose face was covered by CNN’s logo. More recently, a man was arrested after threatening to kill CNN reporters at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta. Stelter called the instance “a reminder of the daily trouble” that journalists can face.
He also talked about the fact that Trump forces people to have discussions about important subjects, like gender, race and what it means to be an American. Many of these conversations have come up in the media; through panel discussions, op-eds, investigative journalism, columns, Twitter threads, podcasts and every other medium out there.
As Trump’s time in office has gone on, we have seen more and more of these conversations unfold. Journalism has become an important platform for public debate over controversial topics (take the recent CNN Town Hall on gun control, for example). Journalists have also started a lot of these conversations through their own reporting and investigations, helping to hold truth to power and inform the public about the actions of their elected officials.
It’s a challenging time to be studying journalism, but also an incredibly rewarding one. I was inspired by Stelter’s talk and, as a self-proclaimed optimist, I enjoyed the positive spin he put on Trump’s attacks on the media. It’s easy to look at Trump’s attacks on journalists and see storm clouds. But, as Stelter’s remarks show, there can be a silver lining.
I saw something on a newspaper’s website this week that made me turn my head. I screenshotted it and made a note to reexamine it later. I came back to it today, a few days after I first saw it, and I’m still slightly perplexed. What caught my eye was a headline which read, “Rose McGowan’s rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein ‘a bold lie,’” lawyer says.” The article was in the paper’s entertainment section.
Obviously, the subjects in the story are celebrities and it’s an article about something that’s happening in the entertainment industry. But placing the article in the entertainment section seemed a bit strange to me—because rape allegations are not entertaining in the slightest.
This instance stood out to me, but it’s hardly the first time I’ve seen something like this. More and more, when I look at the entertainment section of a website I see articles about #MeToo, #TimesUp and the anti-sexual harassment movements that are sweeping Hollywood.
What I find interesting is that it is often entertainment journalists (who are accustomed to covering TV, movies, music and celebrities) who are writing these stories. I don’t want to make a sweeping statement about entertainment journalists—most are excellent at writing about serious topics relating to entertainment (even if I take issue with the placement of the article in the entertainment section). But it’s interesting, nonetheless, to note the intersections of entertainment news with, well, non-entertainment news.
In this vein, The New York Times made an effort to cover the red carpet differently during the Golden Globes. In their Jan. 7 “The #MeToo Moment” newsletter, they explained their approach: they sent a photojournalist to cover the red carpet like a news event; and they sought to report on “smart, critical quotes from celebrities” instead of anecdotes about their outfits. The shift towards covering an entertainment event more like a news event is a fascinating one; and one which, in all honesty, is probably long overdue.
Still, not all coverage seeks to make those changes. A recent SNL skit mocked fashion shows in the wake of the #TimesUp movement. As a panel critiques photos of women on the red carpet, one panelist declares, “I am going to say she looks empowered.” Another says, “I don’t even see a dress. I see a CEO.”
The intersections of different areas of news are what I’ve come to think of as a widespread case of “shifting beats” (in case you don’t know, a beat, according to Poynter, “defines what you will cover” as a journalist—a beat could be sports, fashion, politics, or even something more specific. The Associated Press recently announced their plan to introduce a marijuana beat.).
Beats aren’t just shifting in entertainment reporting. I’ve noticed it a lot in sports reporting, too. A few weeks ago in one of my journalism classes, we discussed an Associated Pressarticle about a woman who said she was sexually assaulted in a bathroom during a Pittsburgh Penguins game. The last sentence of the article gives the final score of the game. In my class, we discussed that the writer may have been a sports journalist, so accustomed to including factual information about the game that they thought it had to be included. Regardless, the sentence is strikingly unnecessary, and its inclusion trivializes the issue of sexual assault. The story isn’t about the game, or the score. It’s not even about sports (unless it was tied into a larger issue of sexual assault happening at or during sports games, which it wasn’t). The story is about sexual assault, plain and simple.
The intersection of sports with other forms of news was also especially apparent a few months ago, when NFL players took to kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black people. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!” Many others commented on the players apparently disrespecting the American military, while ignoring that the true cause of their protests. This issue was hotly debated, and it became a compelling example of the crossroads of politics and sports.
Some argued that sports have no place in politics; others responded that sports have always been political. In my opinion, it’s hard to look at what is happening right now—former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser being sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing over 200 women and girls; Adam Rippon, an Olympic figure skater who is gay, criticizing the decision to have U.S. Vice President Mike Pence lead the American Olympic delegation because of his track record on conversion therapy—and say that sports don’t intersect with political issues.
I think entertainment and sports are two places where we can clearly see beats interchanging, but it’s happening everywhere. As a journalism student, I’m fascinated by the ways that news organizations are responding to this—and as a consumer of the news, I’m also interested to see how organizations and individual journalists rise to the challenge of covering ever-shifting, intersecting topics.
If, when life hands you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade, when the beat changes, you have to adapt in the best way possible. The example of The New York Times’ new approach to entertainment coverage is a good example of this—but including the outcome of a sports game in an article about sexual assault? Not so much.
I didn’t want to write about U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Fake News Awards.” I really didn’t. When I received an email alert from Fox News about the full list—a list, it is interesting to note, which contained no stories or reporters from Fox—I was, honestly, stunned. I didn’t expect the “awards” to be posted on the GOP website. Although the site crashed almost immediately, the fact that the list was posted there—and not, as I had expected, in a series of tweets from Trump’s account—added an air of seemingly-needed legitimacy to the whole thing.
As a journalism student, journalist and strong believer in the indisputable importance of the freedom of the press, I didn’t want to legitimize Trump’s open attack on the media any further by writing about it (if only to my audience). But the more I thought about Trump’s anti-media rhetoric, the more I was reminded of the new movie The Post, which I saw recently and really enjoyed.
The Post tells the story of the tough decision faced by The Washington Post editors and publisher Katharine Graham in the wake of TheNew York Times publishing, and subsequently being barred from publishing, stories about the Pentagon Papers in 1971. (The papers revealed the scope of U.S. involvement in the war, and notably the fact that four U.S. presidents who served at the time of the war did not think America would win, yet kept sending more troops.) Should The Post publish stories about the papers, even though they would face almost certain legal action?
Legal action wasn’t the only concern in deciding whether to publish the stories. Graham had political friends who would be impacted by the stories, like Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defence. Her husband had been close friends with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Ben Bradlee, the Post’s executive editor, was also friends with Kennedy, among others. The Post’s eventual decision to publish marked, at the time, a shift from journalists being friends with politicians to journalists taking on more of a watchdog role (or perhaps simply choosing to uphold this role despite existing friendships).
I won’t spoil too much (although it is based on history, so it’s technically not spoiling anything) but the end of the movie shows then-president Richard Nixon in his office, angrily discussing his disdain for the Washington Post and saying that no Post reporter would ever be allowed in the White House again. The audience in the theatre tittered—Nixon’s words, of course, are ironic considering The Post’s Watergate coverage. But there was another underlying amusement in his words. The words—and the enraged tone—sounded not too different than the current occupant of the Oval Office.
To me, The Post was a reminder of all of the behind-the-scenes work journalists do when working on a story. Trump’s attitude towards the media suggests he thinks certain journalists and news organizations are out to get him, and will publish any claim to try to bring him down. Nixon may have thought something similar. But in The Post, we see the work of journalists to verify the information they’re receiving—and we see the immensely difficult considerations they must make about what information to publish. Both in the movie and in real life, the decision was made to publish the Pentagon Papers stories because the public has a right to know about what their government is doing.
In seeking to hold truth to power, some journalists make mistakes. As Vox points out, the reporters and outlets listed in Trump’s “Fake News Awards” almost always issued corrections (in one case, reporters and editors resigned followed the publication of a story which turned out to be false). There are certainly lots of examples of unequivocally false stories on the Internet, but the ones Trump listed do not fit this category. In denouncing the press for their mistakes, Trump demonstrates a profound ignorance of the true role of journalists in a free and democratic society. Maybe he should watch The Post.
With the end of 2017 just days away, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my favourite posts from this year. As I scrolled through my blog, jotting down post titles, I realized that narrowing it down to nine posts (as I did in 2015, based on the “Instagram top nine”) would be difficult. I wrote a lot of blog posts this year—over 60, in fact.
Looking back, I’m amazed that I was able to write so much while being in school for most of the year (and having a 9-5 job when I wasn’t in school). But I love writing blog posts, so throughout the year I always made time to write—meaning I have lots of posts to choose from. It wasn’t easy to pick, but here are nine of my favourite posts from this year!
This post was one of my first from this year. I wanted to use my personal experiences as a journalism student to give some perspective on Trump’s attitude towards the press. As I wrote, “Being a journalism student in the age of Trump means a lot of good discussions and valuable learning experiences. But it also means preparing for a profession which the president of the United States of America frequently bashes, and one in which the public does not have a great deal of trust.” The post was also published on HuffPost.
A common theme for my political pieces this year was Donald Trump. After one of my friends remarked that I often write about Trump, I took a step back to reflect on why this is. Although I’m not even American, I’m deeply interested in U.S. politics. In this post, I essentially write about writing about Trump—and I conclude that because his words and actions matter, I will continue writing about him.
After driving through the end of a rain storm and witnessing a beautiful rainbow, I arrived home to see that Mother Nature was not done. The setting sun made for a beautiful sky, so I grabbed my camera and started photographing the sky and flowers, which were still wet with rain drops. I compiled my favourite photos into this post; my first-ever photography gallery on my blog. After the success of this post, I made a point of continuing to take original photos—you can check out more of my photo galleries by following this link.
Speaking of photography, this post was inspired by witnessing beautiful scenes and feeling unsure if they’d be captured on a camera. I wrote about the tendency that some of us have to try to make moments “immortal” when really they are fleeting, and how our instinct to take photos impacts this. This was a fun post to write because I tied together a few moments—a stunning sunset, an impromptu fireworks display and a serene day on the lake—and tried to tell a bigger story.
When Trump didn’t immediately condemn the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, I knew I wanted to write about his reaction. “Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong?” I wrote in the opening of the piece. This post was another one which was featured on HuffPost.
While reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened, I started thinking about how, despite the time that had passed, some people (including myself) are still so curious about the 2016 U.S. election. I wrote about my interest in the election, as well as some of the reasons why it has a lasting impact (like the fact that Trump still holds “campaign rallies”). This was another piece featured on HuffPost.
When my family and I ended up on the wrong path during an autumn hike, I immediately thought of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. In the post, I wrote about trying to find the right path in life. The post also features another photography gallery, because the trees, lake and fall leaves I saw on the hike were too pretty to not share.
This was another post inspired by nature. On one Thursday in October, I woke up to a sunrise, and saw a sunset as the day dwindled into darkness. I wrote about the colourful skies that “bookended” my day, and talked about what I did throughout the day. Sometimes, life feels like it is passing by quickly—but this post was a reminder that taking the time to treasure small moments, like sunrises and sunsets, can help ground you in reality.
This post was my first “experiment” on my blog, and it was so much fun. As the title suggests, I relied on email newsletters as my only form of news consumption for a week. (I subscribed to 34 of them.) It was an interesting experience, especially relying on newsletters to update me on the Alabama Senate election and net neutrality vote. At the end of the week, I had a lot of insights about newsletters, to say the least. And in case you are wondering, I’m still subscribed to all 34 newsletters. Whether I read them all now is another story…
There you have it! Nine of my favourite posts from this year. While looking through my blog to narrow down posts for this list, I was reminded of how much fun I had this year, challenging myself with new post topics. I’m so proud of everything that I wrote in 2017 and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!
My name is Sherina Harris, and I love Twitter. I first downloaded the app in 2015 as a way to promote my blog. Since then, I’ve changed the purpose of my account; I follow friends and use Twitter socially, but I also follow journalists and news organizations, using it in a more professional sense. I’d venture as far as to say that Twitter is my favourite social media app.
Last week, as you may have seen, I got my news exclusively from email newsletters. Typically, I get a lot of my news from Twitter—so for my experiment to work, I decided to delete the app for the week. In my post about the experiment, I focused more on the newsletters than on the fact that I deleted Twitter. I wanted to write about that today because, surprisingly, I didn’t miss Twitter nearly as much as I thought I would.
I realized during the week that one of the reasons I check Twitter so often is because I’m afraid I’m missing out on big news stories. But when I knew that I would find out about those stories through breaking news emails, I didn’t have the urge to check Twitter to see what the big news stories were. Now that my experiment is over, I’ve turned on my breaking news alerts from news apps, too—so I know that if something important happens, I’ll get those notifications, plus email alerts sent to my phone. This means I don’t feel like I have to constantly see what people on Twitter are talking about.
As a journalist and blogger who writes about current events, going on Twitter feels less like a casual activity (like responding to Snapchats, for example) and more like “work.” On Twitter, I follow a lot of journalists and news organizations, so when I scroll through my feed I am constantly on the lookout for trending stories and new perspectives on old stories.
Almost subconsciously, I am taking note of how journalists are asking questions about the day’s news, and even things like the structure of people’s Twitter threads. I also do this when I read articles that people post—my brain is constantly analyzing the structure, use of quotes and everything else I’ve learned in journalism school. In this way, Twitter is a valuable learning tool for me as a young journalist. But it also means that scrolling through my Twitter feed is not exactly a relaxing experience.
During my week without the app, I realized that Twitter isn’t as great as I thought it was. I mean, I did call it my favourite app; but it was something that I often clicked on, almost without thinking, and scrolled through, getting caught up in everything and feeling like I needed to get to work on new articles and blog posts and ideas.
It took a week without Twitter to help me realize that it’s not necessarily as “fun” as I had thought—and that life can go on if I step away from it for a while. Although Twitter was the only app I deleted for my experiment, I think the same can be said of most other social networking apps.
Instagram, for example, can be a fun place to share photos—but it’s also a “highlight reel” where most people share the best moments of their lives. This can lead to a distorted view of people’s realities and might make you feel worse about your own life. Similarly, a 2013 study from the University of Michigan suggests that using Facebook made people feel sad and less satisfied with their lives. We think we’re having fun on social media, but this might not always be the case.
The thing about social media is that it can be almost addictive. You want to keep refreshing your feed—whether to avoid missing the next breaking news story (as is the case for me) or to make sure you’re caught up on your friend’s lives. But if you force yourself to take a break from social media, even just from one app, you might be surprised to realize that you weren’t enjoying it as much as you thought you were. And that’s a thought worth tweeting about. (Kidding.)
As a journalism student, I’ve always been fascinated by the different ways that people consume news. I love talking to people about not only what sources they derive their news from, but also how they get that news. Is it from a print newspaper, or from a Facebook feed? Do they make a daily effort to actively seek out the news, or do they just see it at random intervals? With these considerations in mind, I decided to stage an experiment for myself—I wanted to see what would happen if I changed the way I consumed news for a week. So last Sunday, I logged out the place I most often go to see the news—Twitter—and asked my family to hide the morning newspaper and turn off the news when I walked by the room. Then I made a new Gmail account and signed up for 34 email newsletters.
I ended up with a pretty good variety of newsletters. Although I had a lot of general news updates and politically-focused sources, I also subscribed to newsletters focusing on entertainment, opinion, women’s rights and sports. Mysteriously, the sports newsletter never arrived. (I realized today that I may have forgotten to confirm my subscription. Oops.)
The main purpose of my week of relying on newsletters for news was really to see if email newsletters are a viable substitute for conventional news, or if they’re more of a supplement to other sources of news. I was curious about the benefits and challenges of relying on email newsletters as a sole source of news. What stories did they prioritize? Did I feel like I was missing out on the news? How much international content was I exposed to? Were breaking news email alerts effective?
On Monday morning, the official beginning of my experiment, I woke up to a deluge of emails. From 6:20 a.m. until around 9:00, my inbox steadily filled with morning updates. I read each newsletter in its entirety. My first impression of the newsletters altogether was that it was really nice to read slightly more in-depth explanations of the news, as opposed to shorter tweets. I liked the simplicity of scrolling through a newsletter and having all of the main stories presented to me, instead of searching for them on my busy Twitter feed (which, thanks to Twitter’s algorithm, often doesn’t actually present tweets in a timely, or “newsworthy”, order).
However, in reading about the stories in newsletters, I was only reading the facts. Sure, I could click on the linked articles to read the full story, but I still wasn’t being exposed to the variety of voices and perspectives that I would see on Twitter. This was one of the main pitfalls of relying on email newsletters for my news; I was only seeing what the people writing those newsletters wanted me to see. I was missing out on the conversations surrounding the stories.
This was especially apparent on Monday when I received an email from Fox News telling me that, according to a poll they had conducted, Doug Jones had a 10 point lead over Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election. It seemed like a strange reversal from the general consensus of what other newsletters had said that morning. But without being able to rely on social media to show me the conversation around this poll, I had to wait until that evening’s newsletters arrived to hear other perspectives. The Vox Sentences newsletter cleared things up for me—it mentioned Fox’s poll, but also mentioned other polls that had Jones up by nine points. I probably would have seen this “counter point” of sorts earlier, had I been seeking out news on social media.
On Monday morning, I also received two breaking news alerts (one from CNN and one from Fox News) about the bombing in New York City. The breaking news alerts continued sporadically throughout the day—with less frequency than I expected, in all honesty. I used to subscribe to several breaking news app alerts, and I felt like my phone was always buzzing with these notifications. The email alerts seemed less frequent, but I still felt like I was “in the know,” so to speak.
Monday ended with a false sense of security—I thought I was in a good place heading into Tuesday, AKA the day of the Alabama Senate election. But after Tuesday morning’s newsletters, I waited the entire afternoon for an update on the election. I knew that, had I been on Twitter, I’d be bombarded with poll numbers and statistics and commentary and opinion. Because I’m so interested in politics, I wanted to have lots of information and alerts in the run-up to the results. But at 6:30 on Tuesday night, my dad was telling me he knew the results of the exit polls and I was refreshing my email inbox to no avail.
While I was waiting for an update on the election, I realized that newsletter authors must assume that readers are also getting news from other sources. Newsletters don’t necessary bill themselves as a complete substitute for typical news sources. In my mind, newsletters are designed for people who are too busy to spend a lot of time searching for the news; so maybe for this reason, it makes sense that they would only send alerts when the results were announced, and not in the run-up. They probably didn’t want to send too many alerts, I thought.
But I was desperate to know what was happening. My family was watching the news, seeing live updates, and I was sitting on my bed, a forgotten novel on my lap as I continued to refresh my email inbox. At 10:07 p.m., Fox News sent an alert about the Mueller investigation. Jones must be up in the polls, I joked to myself. At 10:25 p.m., I was scolding myself for not subscribing to more breaking news alerts. Finally, at 10:33 p.m., a TIME breaking news alert (which I didn’t even know I was subscribed to) told me that Doug Jones won. Finally able to stop refreshing my email inbox (although a few more alerts followed the first one), I wrote a note to myself: “I really wish I had Twitter to see everyone’s opinions on this unexpected and big moment. People will still be talking about this next Sunday… right?”
The Wednesday morning newsletters were filled with coverage of the election. I especially liked Politico’s Playbook newsletter—their analysis of Jones’s win looked more at the bigger picture, which was the kind of content I wanted to see. I wasn’t surprised that almost every newsletter made Jones’s win the lead story that morning, although from a journalistic perspective I was interested in their editorial decisions on this. Some newsletters framed it as a victory for the Democrats, especially moving into the 2018 midterm elections, while others focused on the loss for Republicans, and particularly the impact for Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.
I was also curious to see which newsletters mentioned net neutrality this morning, seeing as the vote was to be on Thursday. In my mind, it was a big story, and I thought the format of most newsletters would allow them to explain the topic in a way that might make it more accessible to readers who may not otherwise understand it. Not many newsletters mentioned it until the vote actually happened, though, which surprised me.
Throughout the rest of the week, I became more accustomed to relying on newsletters. I came to expect a full inbox in the morning and at night, and random updates throughout the day. A lot of the time, I felt like I was missing out on the news because I couldn’t just get an update anytime I wanted it—I had to wait until the next newsletter appeared, and even then there wasn’t a guarantee that the topic I was interested in would be mentioned (as was the case for net neutrality). Still, I felt generally well-informed, and I was able to have conversations with friends and family about the news without feeling like I was missing out on anything major that was happening.
Before the week really started out, I wrote down some predictions, including that “I’m probably going to miss a lot of local, and even national, news.” I was 100 per cent correct about this one. It was partly my fault, having only subscribed to one Canadian-based newsletter; but it made me wonder about the market for hyper-local, community-based newsletters, especially in an age where local print newspapers are fast dying out. I really only saw Canadian stories in The Globe and Mail’s newsletter—and even in that, I would say the majority of the stories were about provinces other than my own. Again, I could have subscribed to newsletter updates from the major city newspapers; but in terms of my local city and surrounding communities, I certainly lost out on coverage of those stories.
As of today, I have officially been relying on email newsletters as my sole source of news for a week. Overall, I feel pretty well-informed. I’d say that newsletters are a great supplement to my typical news consumption—they’re an especially fitting addition to getting news from social media and digital news apps, and they’re a refreshing break from print newspapers. But my week was not without its challenges, like waiting for an update on the Alabama Senate election results.
Now that my experiment is over, I actually want to subscribe to more newsletters to try to cross those gaps of more Canadian or local stories. I’m not going to continue to read every single email that pops up in my inbox, though. I’ll continue to subscribe to all of the newsletters, but I’ll be a bit more selective in what I read—some newsletters that stood out to me this week were Vox Sentences and Politico Playbook, so I will definitely keep reading those.
If there’s one thing I learned this week, it’s that there’s not one “best” way to consume news. You can get morning updates, evening updates, national updates, sports updates, political updates—you name it, there’s a newsletter for it. I’m glad I took this chance to change up my news consumption; but now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go log back onto Twitter.
“What would our first-year selves think if they saw us right now?” my friend asked as we set up a camera and tripod to film an interview.
“They’d be amazed at our confidence,” she said, answering her own question.
“I would definitely be amazed,” I echoed.
It was a short conversation, lost in the bustle of the interview, but this moment stood out in my mind because it is something I’ve been thinking about lately—what my past self would think of my current self. I know for a fact that my friend was right: my first-year self would think it’s crazy that I am so much more confident in all aspects of journalism.
I wrote last year about the fact that studying journalism forced me to jump out of my comfort zone; and as the year went on, I became comfortable with being outside of my comfort zone. I know that if I feel nervous about an assignment or task, that’s a good thing—because it means I am going to learn from it. This is a mindset that I didn’t always have during my first year, but it is something that I think my first-year self would really admire now.
But let’s take it back further than my first year of university. My high school self might be surprised that I’m still blogging. She’d also be surprised, I think, at all of the amazing friendships and opportunities that have come out of my experiences at university. I have an incredible group of friends who encourage me to be a better journalist and a better person. They help me expand my comfort zone both in writing and in other things, like trying new foods. I tried octopus the other week (OK, one bite, but still). Trying new foods at new restaurants in the city with friends is something my high school self would think was super cool.
I also think my high-school self would also be surprised at how hard her work paid off. At the end of my grade 12 year, I found out that I received a major scholarship to university because of my academic, extracurricular and creative achievements throughout high school. If my past self could see me now, continuing to work hard to maintain my scholarship and achieve new things, I bet she’d be proud.
And my elementary school self? Well, sixth-grade Sherina would be pretty amazed that the article I had published in the local newspaper as a result of joining my school’s writing club had resulted in a desire to pursue journalism as a career. She’d also probably think it’s pretty cool that her future self is writing for thousands of people on the Internet to read. Back then I could only dream of sharing my thoughts with the whole world—so I’m pretty lucky that I get to do that now, through this blog.
So, to answer my friend’s question: What would my first-year self think if she saw me right now? I dare say that she’d be happy and proud—and, strangely enough, that makes my current self feel the exact same way.
When powerful figures try to dissuade the public from learning the truth, facts matter. A new CNN ad attempts to make this point with fruit (yes, you read that correctly). “This is an apple,” text underneath a shiny red apple reads. As an image of an apple continues to show, the text and voiceover explain that, no matter how hard some people might try to convince you are looking at a banana, the fruit in question remains an apple.
The ad is obviously, and perhaps quite smartly, targeted at U.S. President Donald Trump. Since his days on the campaign trail, Trump has consistently made claims at odds with the truth. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, fact-checks Trump. The sheer number of inaccuracies is startling—most recently, Trump broke what Dale called “his one-week record for dishonesty,” making 57 false claims.
In a literal sense, there is nothing but the truth—our world is made up of scientific, real truths. But our own biases and perceptions may mean that we all have different truths, even when data tells us differently.
It is this that, in my mind, complicates CNN’s ad. Yes, the fruit in the image is an apple. But if enough people begin to say it is a banana, doesn’t it kind of become a banana? If everyone believes it is a banana, does it matter that it is really and truly classified as an apple?
In Trump’s presidency we’ve seen, for instance, him employ rhetoric insisting that Muslim people are dangerous and should not be allowed into the country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that the data shows that “more Americans have been killed by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners,” as Vox reported. Trump says, over and over, that Muslim people are dangerous and pose a threat to American security—and despite the facts proving otherwise, some people believe him. We are looking at an apple, but some people are convinced it is a banana.
The premise of CNN’s ad is correct: facts matter. But more and more, we are seeing that they might not matter to an alarming number of people. As I’ve already written, emotions, biases and perceptions can impact what we believe to be true. That right-wing media on his side are further perpetuating incorrect ideas about Muslim people only helps Trump’s case in convincing people of something that is not true.
But while some of us see sites like Breitbart and InfoWars as those perpetrators of false ideas and stereotypes, it’s important to remember that many people see centre and more left-leaning media organizations in this way, too. No media organization is perfect. I think it’s crucial to remember the role that journalists and media played in helping to elect Trump; both by giving his rhetoric sensationalized coverage, and by overplaying stories about Hillary Clinton such as her email scandal.
Still, the fact remains that many people see CNN and other similar news organizations as—to borrow one of Trump’s favourite terms—“fake news.” CNN may be calling apples apples, but when a large number of people (influenced by powerful politicians and media outlets) believe those apples to be bananas, we have a severe disparity in opinions.
I may just be a journalism student, but in my opinion, it’s no longer enough for media organizations to say, “This is the truth—this is an apple and you should believe us because we are honest and value facts.” Some level of public skepticism in journalism is healthy (it is, after all, an imperfect institution). However, a recent poll suggests that 46% of Americans believe Trump when he says that major news outlets make up stories about him. As journalists, we need to do more to show the public why they can trust us, instead of just stating that that trust should exist.
One way that I see this happening is by creating a culture of transparency in journalism. I see a lot of news organizations taking steps towards this already. The Toronto Star, for example, launched a “Trust Project” to take readers behind the scenes of the newspaper.
These articles from the Star show how certain reporters take on their responsibilities, and even things like how the paper chooses when to publish a breaking news story, how they write headlines and how they correct mistakes. It’s hard to call something from the Star “fake news” when you read about the actual processes they use to ensure accuracy. This model of writing about the inner workings of the paper is enlightening to readers.
More transparency about how journalism is done can show the public why they should trust journalists when we say that an apple is, in fact, an apple. This is all not to say that CNN’s apple campaign is for naught, however. The ad is engaging in its simplicity and, if this lengthy post shows anything, it is certainly a conversation starter about facts and public trust in journalism. I hope that we continue to have these conversations as both producers and consumers of the news, because CNN is right—no matter how many times someone screams “BANANA” at an apple, the truth matters.
My day yesterday was bookended by pink skies. I woke up early to do some work before class and saw, through my blinds, colourful clouds. I haven’t seen many sunrises recently, so I eagerly opened my blinds and soaked in the sky as I worked on my assignments. It was a lovely beginning to my day.
I met up with a few of my friends for breakfast. I ate what were quite possibly the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. We all laughed when our one friend learned that orange pekoe is not a tea flavour, it simply makes the tea orange—she discovered this after sticking her nose in her mug, trying to sniff the flavour.
Then we went to our journalism lecture and to our lab afterwards. I spent my afternoon editing a video with my partner for an assignment—it was time-consuming, but I learned a lot about the video editing process, and we had a lot of fun while doing this. I didn’t expect that we would finish the video today, but we did—and crossing it off my assignment planner felt amazing.
After exporting the video, I went shopping with one of my friends and then had dinner while watching this week’s episode of Riverdale on Netflix (if you haven’t watched Riverdale, I would highly recommend it). Then I did some more work planning an essay and brainstorming topics for a journalism assignment.
As night fell, I looked down the street and noticed a pink hue—just like I had seen in the morning. With a darkening sky, bright headlights from passing cars and a colourful background behind tall buildings, it was a gorgeous scene. Watching the sky, I thought about how lucky I was that I got to see a beautiful sky not just once, but twice over the course of a day.
I saw a quote recently that has stuck in my mind: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Being a student, my days tend to be filled with classes, assignments and writing (I am studying journalism, after all). And in between these things are co-curriculars, going to the gym, hanging out with friends and, of course, relaxing. In the midst of all of these things, my life happens.
Sometimes I feel like life is moving too quickly—not necessarily that it is passing me by, but just that it is speeding along while I am busy with school and other things. But that quote reminds me that those things are my life. The essay and article writing, the laughing with friends over delicious pancakes, the learning how to edit videos and watching Netflix in bed—my life is made up of these moments. If I acknowledge them, then I feel less like life is moving too quickly and more like I have a solid grasp on it.
Seeing a beautiful sky—either a sunrise, or a sunset—always grounds me in a moment of reflection and awareness. Yesterday, seeing both helped make me mindful of all of the moments in this life that I am so grateful to be living. Life may be what happens while you are busy with other things, but you can be fully present in your life if you embrace the moments that make every day special.