A Gemini Award nomination

The kid has had to endure his share of skeptical glances and raised eyebrows from Dad about his choice of music as a career. So it’s only fair that Dad should, quite publicly, eat some crow.

Brian Pickett, left, and Graeme Cornies at Voodoo's Toronto studio
Brian Pickett, left, and Graeme Cornies at Voodoo's Toronto studio

Graeme, our second son, never gave up on the music thing. It likely began before he was born, when his mother Jacquelyn filled our home with music while he was in the womb, then carried him on her hip through many choreography sessions and theatrical rehearsals. When we moved back to Canada and her choreography career evolved into that of a troubadour harpist, Jacquelyn’s musicality influenced the development of his own styles of expression.

The passion grew during elementary school, when I lent him my acoustic guitar and taught him a few chords. It continued through high school, when, like many pubescent guys faced with the choice between a sports field and a stage as the place to express burgeoning manhood, he formed a rock ‘n’ roll band with his friends.

It got more serious when he enrolled in York University’s fine arts program. And through thousands of sets in hundreds of smelly bars and clubs, through sleepless nights crowded up against looming deadlines, through nickel-and-diming his way to his next paycheque, he was relentless in the pursuit of that thing that would give him the greatest vocational joy.

If I needed any more evidence that my early skepticism was misplaced, it came this week with a Gemini Award nomination. Graeme, along with Voodoo Highway Music business associates Brian Pickett, James Chapple and David Kelly, snagged a nod in the Best Original Music Score in an Animated Program or Series category. The Toronto company is an up-and-comer in field of commercial music composition; their credits range from National Geographic TV specials to 30-second spots and jingles. Graeme’s credits reflect that growing range and diversity.

So, from a somewhat sheepish dad who also happens to be a huge fan: bravo. Here’s the opening minute of the nominated World of Quest series. In addition to helping score the series’ music, Graeme sings the World of Quest chorus, as he also did in the opening theme of Total Drama Island, farther below. Come to think of it, the Total Drama Island theme is, in some respects, rather autobiographical.

Update (Oct. 20): The Gemini award in this category went to Michael Richard Plowman for his music to computer-animated action comedy adventure series Jibber Jabber. Graeme’s text to me from the ceremony on learning the news: “No dice this time 😦 It’s all good, though :)”

New chief at The Globe’s Ottawa bureau

More changes at senior levels of The Globe and Mail. Ottawa bureau chief Brian Laghi is leaving Parliament Hill to tackle a new career, which he characterized to colleagues as a bid to satisfy a need for change as he turns 50. Sylvia Stead, who editor-in-chief John Stackhouse installed just weeks ago as his senior manager in charge of staffing and training, was at Laghi’s side this morning as he made the announcement to bureau staff.

Ottawa bureau chief-designate John Ibbitson
Ottawa bureau chief-designate John Ibbitson

Replacing Laghi in Ottawa will be columnist John Ibbitson, who former editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon sent packing to Washington several years ago, despite Ibbitson’s dazzling work in the nation’s capital, where he frequently set the agenda for Question Period with his incisive and provocative columns.

Ibbitson has done yoeman service in Washington, covering American politics through the second term of George W. Bush, an intense and scrappy primary process and the historic election and inauguration of Barack Obama. But his posting to the U.S. capital seemed, to me at least, never to have generated the buzz or impact of his earlier stint in Ottawa, where he was a daily must-read. His return there bodes well for national political journalism.

Here’s editor-in-chief John Stackhouse’s memo to staff today:

I am sorry to announce that Brian Laghi, our Ottawa bureau chief, is leaving The Globe and Mail next month to pursue a new career.

Brian was hired in Edmonton in 1995 where he was the Journal’s legislative bureau chief. He was The Globe’s reporter in Edmonton and the north, specializing in politics and the creation of Nunavut. His experience as one of the first journalists in the country to understand and appreciate the grassroots Reform movement served him well when he moved to Ottawa and shone as an expert in the conservative movement. Along with politics, he covered federal-provincial relations, immigration and other issues. He has been bureau chief since 2004, helping direct coverage of two elections, budgets and major assignments and explaining federal politics to our readers. He won a National Newspaper Award in 2002 as part of a team on bank mergers and was nominated with Jeffrey Simpson last year for their profile of Stephen Harper.

Brian will start a new job in September as director of communications and public affairs for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

At the same time,  I am delighted to announce that John Ibbitson will be the next Ottawa bureau chief. In this role, he will report to Sinclair Stewart, the new national editor.

For nearly two decades, John has been a front-row observer and writer of Canadian and U.S. politics. Along with his deep knowledge of politics and government, he will bring to his new role boundless energy and enthusiasm for our coverage of national affairs.

John started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen’s Park columnist, Ottawa political affairs correspondent and, since May 2007, our Washington correspondent and columnist. He’s also the author of the just-published Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper.

Born in the  Ontario town of Gravenhurst, John graduated from the University of Toronto in 1979 with an Honours B.A. in English and from the University of Western Ontario in 1988 with an M.A. in Journalism.

Before joining the Globe, John worked as a reporter, columnist and Queen’s Park correspondent for Southam papers. He’s also published three works of political analysis: Promised Land: Inside the Mike Harris Revolution; Loyal No More: Ontario’s Struggle for a Separate Destiny and The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream. In his spare time, he writes plays and young-adult novels. His latest, The Landing, won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. John’s writing has been nominated as well for the Donner Prize, the National Newspaper Award, the Trillium Award and the City of Toronto Book Award.

John and Brian will be in the bureau together for a formal handover early next month. Please join me in thanking Brian for his great contributions to the Globe, congratulating John on a brilliant run in Washington and wishing them both well in their new roles.

John Stackhouse

T.o.night readies to join Toronto newspaper fray

T.o.night bannerOn Sept. 8, the already crowded Toronto newspaper market will find another brash young comer in its midst. T.o.night will be premiere as an ultra compact (8.5 inches by 10.5 inches), glossy (38-lb coated), free afternoon (yes, afternoon) paper that aims to provide commuters with an information fix as they squeeze into streetcars, subways and GO trains for the ride home.

And if that banner looks rather retro, well . . . exactly. It’ll be a bit of a throwback to the heady days of afternoon newspapers, gone lo these many years, complete with news hawkers on street corners squawking out the day’s top story. And that crescent moon — a little reminiscent of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, no?

The publication’s investors, who include St. Joseph Communications (publishers of Toronto Life, Wedding Bells, etc.), Richard Costley-White (owner of Blackburn Radio Inc. and a former publisher of The London Free Press) and a number other private individuals, think they’ve spotted a marketing opportunity here: Deliver to advertisers the option of a glossy product that can be held in one hand by the hordes of commuters exiting Toronto’s downtown on weeknights, thinking about the evening ahead. The initial press run will be about 100,000.

Jodi Isenberg
T.o.night editor-in-chief Jodi Isenberg

Whether T.o.night’s target audience will indeed roll their eyeballs over the pages of a print product, instead of scrolling the latest headlines on their BlackBerrys, iPhones or other handheld devices, remains to be seen. But editor-in-chief Jodi Isenberg, a veteran of both staid and scrappy forms of newspapering, is naturally excited by the startup’s prospects.

A graduate of Ryerson University’s journalism school, Isenberg spent 12 years in various editorial capacities at the Toronto Sun before joining the Toronto freebie Metro in 2001. She rose to the post of that tabloid’s EIC, helping launch its Vancouver and Ottawa editions in 2005, as well as Calgary and Edmonton editions in 2007. Within weeks of leaving Metro in 2008, she landed a one-year contract at The Globe and Mail, most of it spent as deputy production editor alongside night news editor Ryan MacDonald. When that contract expired, she was picked up by the Toronto Star on a summer contract, where she could be found until about a week ago. Now, she’s working alongside publisher John Cameron, director of operations Tom Hyde and director of distribution Gareth Smith to ensure the success of T.o.night’s launch.

Detractors of the new venture are eager to point out that afternoon freebies in Hogtown have been tried and failed before; that the time lag between editorial deadlines and distribution through boxes at subway stops and hoarse street hawkers, no matter how tight, is no match for electronic information delivery to handheld devices, and that Toronto’s downtown commuting sophisticates will be easily bored by hours-old Canadian Press copy, TMZ-type newsfeatures and the occasional column.

None of which fazes Isenberg, who envisions a companion website down the road. For now, though, she’s focused on the impending rollout. “It’s a really great concept. I think we’ve got a really good shot at reaching people who, just like the morning commuters, are captive. They’re sitting there, they want something to look at,” Isenberg said. “It feels really right. It feels like it’ll be a great success.”

Update (Sept. 29): See CBC Metro Morning business analyst Michael Hlinka’s commentary on T.o.night here.

Amanda Lindhout: a year in captivity

Amanda Lindhout posted this photo of herself on her Facebook page
Amanda Lindhout, from her Facebook page

One year ago today, freelance journalists Amanda Lindhout of Canada, Nigel Brennan of Australia, Abdifatah Mohammed Elmi of Somalia and their two drivers were abducted as they were returning from the Afgoye refugee camp, about 20 kilometres west of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Elmi and the drivers were released from captivity on Jan. 15; they had been separated from Lindhout and Brennan immediately after capture.

Over the past year, little has been heard from the captors, their hostages, the families (who don’t wish to jeopardize official efforts to free the pair) or government sources. The information that has surfaced is sobering, speculative and unconfirmed.

A poor-quality silent video appeared on the Al-Jazeera TV network within weeks of the abduction. Both CTV News and Omni Television have received frantic phone calls from a woman claiming to be Lindhout, but her identity couldn’t be confirmed. Rumours abound that Lindhout has attempted escape twice, only to be recaptured. Reports of ransom demands have been contradictory. A Somali news website has suggested Lindhout is already a victim of Stockholm syndrome, living happily with one of her captors and a child she bore. Some of Lindhout’s supporters and a few news organizations have been critical of what appears to them to be the lack of a robust response from Ottawa, where terse statements are given that efforts to secure the release of the 28-year-old Sylvan Lake, Alta., woman are continuing through “appropriate channels.” For more details, see this story in the Red Deer Advocate.

Lindhout’s fate and Ottawa’s capacity to deal with her predicament should be of special concern to Canadian journalists. As a freelancer in a foreign country, she simply does not have the institutional support of a major Canadian news organization, as did Mellissa Fung, the CBC reporter captured in Afghanistan. In Fung’s case, it became clear that the CBC was in regular contact with Canadian government officials, senior executives at other Canadian news organizations, and even Afghan intermediaries.

Depending on the business models that emerge for journalism over the coming decade, the number of freelance journalists who work in Canada and abroad as independent contractors to media outlets, both large and small, is likely to increase, not decrease. Multimedia journalists such as Lindhout, who are either self-assigning or commissioned by staff-lean news outlets to prepare specific reports, could rapidly become the norm, not the exception. Therefore, the capacity of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to deal with the illness, incapacity, arrest, detention or abduction of Canadians abroad, including failed states such as Somalia, is likely to become an ever-greater issue — as will be the capacity of organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, which has issued a statement on the grim Lindhout anniversary, to support them.

Update 1 (Aug. 24): The Canadian Association of Journalists today issued a press release calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help free Lindhout.

Update 2 (Nov. 28): Lindhout and Brennan were released by their Somali captors on Nov. 25. The two journalists travelled to Nairobi the following day for medical treatment. Reports indicate a ransom payment of $600,000 (U.S.) was paid by the families.

William Calley and the ghosts of My Lai

Lieutenant William Calley Jr. became of central figure of My Lai
Lieutenant William Calley Jr. became the central figure of the My Lai massacre

Anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War will recall the infamous My Lai massacre. It was a seminal event in the history of that war because of its effect on public support for U.S. involvement there. Millions of Americans who, until My Lai, had supported or wavered in their support for the war turned against it — so stunned were they by the atrocities committed by American troops.

The destruction of the village and the massacre of its Vietnamese inhabitants occurred on March 16, 1968. Although the official U.S. tally puts number of dead at 347, other estimates of the death toll exceed 500. Most were women, children and elderly people. Many were raped, tortured and mutilated. The soldier in charge of the U.S. Army platoon that invaded the village was Lieutenant William Calley Jr.

The events of My Lai may have escaped media and public attention entirely if not for the fact that several U.S. soldiers were so shocked and disturbed by the conduct of their own troops that they wrote letters to President Richard Nixon, the joint chiefs of staff, officials at the Pentagon and others about the incident. The horrors of the My Lai massacre surfaced publicly more than a year later, when, despite official secrecy about the letters, independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story on Nov. 12, 1969. In the months that followed, My Lai remained a major story in newspapers, radio and TV. Calley and more than two dozen of his men were charged, but only the lieutenant was eventually convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison, but served only three and a half years under house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Ga.

Since then, Calley had remained silent about My Lai. Until yesterday.

At a Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Ga., he offered an apology. Read the Associated Press story here; the Telegraph story is here.

A footnote: The My Lai massacre occurred one month after Associated Press correspondent Peter Arnett filed a story, on Feb. 7, 1968, in which Arnett reported, “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a U.S. major says.” The town in question that day was a Vietnamese provincial capital, Ben Tre. Since then, this type of statement has become known as “Ben Tre logic.”

Tornadoes met by avid citizen journalists

Citizen journalists commandeered the front of today's Globe and Mail
Citizen journalists commandeered the front of today's Globe and Mail

Like CITY-TV, they’re everywhere. The grainy photographs of dozens of “citizen journalists,” such as those that appeared on last night’s Toronto-area newscasts and websites, as well as today’s morning newspapers, are often touted as the harbingers of a new form of journalism that will eventually displace the less agile mechanisms of legacy media.

Perhaps. One need only look at the front page of today’s Globe and Mail to recognize the impact that hundreds of thousands of cellphone-toting Canadian consumers are having on the daily record of local events, especially weather. Aggregated into a whole, they’re doing what traditional media could only have hoped to do as recently as a decade ago.

The difference is the proliferation of relatively inexpensive cameras, either tucked into cellphones or standalone units. They’re cheap, they’re within easy reach and they’re everywhere. (The latest iPhone 3GS, for example, can shoot stills or video, though at only three megapixels.) Combine that with Canadians’ enduring fascination with extreme weather and the result is the kind of pervasive storm coverage Ontarians have witnessed in the past 24 hours.

The increasing reliance of Canadians on citizen journalists, however, also brings risks, the most serious of which is digital manipulation of sound, video and still images. Photo enhancement and editing software now makes altering photographs as simple as, say, moving the image of a photo-crashing squirrel into an existing shot. Which, I suppose, raises the question: Were any of the photos among the plethora of images that swamped media outlets last night fakes instead of the real thing?

The most memorable case in recent Canadian journalism history of a hoax of this nature is, arguably, the 1985 case of the Toronto Star and a front-page photo of a tornado that its editors believed had swept through central Ontario. Given that good photographs of tornadoes were still relatively rare, the Star paid a teen hundreds of dollars for the photo. Only later was it revealed that the teen had photographed an image of a U.S. tornado from a back issue of the Barrie Examiner. Red faces abounded in the Star’s newsroom.

The proliferation of tools for journalism among tech-savvy citizens has enormous potential for democratizing and popularizing information flow. But it also comes with risks. And in an age of pixel-by-pixel manipulation of video and still images, to say nothing of audio and text, spotting the pretenders will be much more difficult than it would have been for the The Star to spot the phony handed it. Sadly, even some “professional” journalists have given in to the temptation to manipulate and fabricate information, in text and in images. With the rise of citizen journalism, news consumers will have to be even more cautious and aware of the growing risks.

Spielberg film to boost Tintin’s worldwide profile

Hergé's graphic novels are most popular in Europe.
Hergé's graphic novels are most popular in Europe.

To say Tintin inspired me to become a journalist would be an overstatement. He was, after all, merely a cartoon character who lived inside the covers of my favourite books at the local public library. As a child, I checked out those volumes again and again.

But it probably was Tintin who established the notion in a young, impressionable mind that some people were, by vocation, reporters. Tintin was such a person, even though, throughout his “graphic novel” existence, he never filed a story, content to criss-cross the globe solving mysteries and pursuing crooks, accompanied by the colourful cast of characters that were his friends. Illustrator Georges Remi, who adopted the pen name Hergé (the French pronunciation of his initials, reversed) had me in his spell.

It hasn’t yet made many waves in North America, but in Europe, anticipation of Steven Spielberg’s 3D treatment of the young reporter’s adventures is already arcing upward. The Spielberg project is in post-production, slated for release in the fall of 2011. It stars Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and Daniel Craig as Red Rackham. Given that Spielberg’s first Tintin film follows the plot of The Secret of the Unicorn, speculation is already rampant about a sequel, which would naturally be Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Born in Brussels in 1907, Remi’s first drawings appeared in a scouting magazine when he was only 14. Six years later, he’d been hired by the daily newspaper Le Vingtième siècle to be editor-in-chief of Le Petit vingtième, its children’s supplement. The Tintin series was launched in 1929.

Remi managed to spin nearly two dozen tales of intrigue and adventure featuring Tintin, his mostly incompetent allies and a notorious collection of villains, before the illustrator’s death on March 3, 1983. As remarkable as the stories, however, were Herge’s illustrations. At a time when newspapers were just beginning to grasp the reader appeal of the funnies, Tintin’s creator took the art to new levels. Scenes were rendered in great detail compared to the work of his contemporaries; foreign landscapes, besides being vividly appealing, were topographically correct. The plots, too, were fairly complex: spies, arms merchants, smugglers, capitalists and communists, thieves, traitors and assassins abounded, always to be exposed by our hero and his pals.

Today, Hergé’s legacy is carefully guarded by his estate and its conservators in Belgium, who operate the official website. A small band of Tintin enthusiasts worldwide collects trivia and monitors developments, including the international team of bloggers, programmers and moderators at Tintinologist.org, among them Simon Doyle (@tintinologist on Twitter), and British webmaster Chris Tregenza (@TintinMovie on Twitter), who runs TintinMovie.org. An Hergé museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, opened earlier this year.

Below, a short clip in which Hergé draws his famous hero and dog Snowy.