Newsroom Reflections: Talking diversity in journalism schools

As of earlier this month, I’m officially a journalism school graduate!

Being in Carleton journalism, I’ve always noticed the lack of diversity in terms of people of colour in the program. Honestly, in my graduating year, I can count less than 20. I’m posting this pretty late, but I had the opportunity to talk about diversity as a j-school student in this excellent audio documentary by my friend Arvin, another fellow 2018 j-school graduate and person of colour. He’s now rocking it as an associate editor for the Xtra, a Canadian queer news source. Check it out!

Newsroom Reflections: Lessons from the Opinion/Editorial section

I tweeted this little thought towards the end of my stint as my school newspaper’s Opinion/Editorial section editor.

In all honestly, I thought that the idea of publication of an opinion not being the same as endorsement, was pretty obvious. But, that tweet was the result of coming to a bit of a boiling point after reading multiple comments attacking the journalistic integrity of my newspaper for publishing some extremely unpopular opinions.

Running the opinion section of a paper often means running along a very thin line distinguishing between what’s publishable and what’s unpublishable.

But, as the Opinion/Editorial section editor, I knew it was my job to walk that line. The more I walked it, the more I became more confident in my own judgment to make that distinction. The role of the Op/Ed section is to provoke discussion and awareness of the news and share perspectives that challenge our own viewpoints.

Running the section definitely both challenged and strengthened my own convictions about different issues and topics. Knowing and understanding the ideas that you definitely don’t agree with, certainly helps you define and assert your own convictions. I saw this especially in the outcry of Facebook comments against different opinion pieces published in the section.

In journalism school, you don’t spend very much time writing about your opinions, which makes sense. The point of the profession is to amplify the voices of others–and that mandate is especially important to the Opinion/Editorial section. Journalism is meant to open up conversation, which is why when news broke, opinions came flooding in. My job as the section editor, was to moderate those opinions and keep opening up discussion.

In the process of publishing some opinion pieces, I had to grit my teeth, set aside my own bias, buckle down, and respect the good articulation and argumentation with which writers used to espouse what I personally thought were terrible ideas.

This year, I got a bit of a thrill seeing a Facebook comment box light up with multiple comments after a particularly well-written or especially controversial op/ed article. People were actively discussing the topics of the pieces being published in the section—this meant that I was doing my job well.

Unfortunately, balancing along a thin line also means the perception that you’ve crossed it, which is what led to the aforementioned tweet. Some commenters said some opinion articles, especially those that didn’t align with their own convictions, was bad journalism and got angry at the fact that they was published.

Let’s be clear here: opinion articles themselves are NOT journalism. The aim of any journalistic decision is to raise awareness and understanding of different perspectives and issues. If that was accomplished in publishing an unpopular but well-articulated opinion, then the journalistic aim of publishing aforementioned opinion was achieved—good journalism.

So, a question arises: what made a piece unpublishable?

This question will always come up in the process of putting together an Op/Ed section. Unbeknownst to angry commenters, there were a few times where I felt the need to refuse publication or at least work hard with the writer to make their piece publishable.

I can’t say these guidelines are universal to other op/ed section editors, but in my case, I refused to publish anything that I judged to fall along these guidelines:

  • Anything that outright and/or unjustifiably attacked a particular demographic or individual of the community
  • Anything I judged as not well-argued or factually justified
  • Anything that seemed to give off a skewed picture of statistically proven facts

And what may seem clearcut in your own guidelines/convictions about what’s publishable and what’s not, are often challenged by the writers and articles you encounter.  These guidelines are still up to interpretation for anyone who holds this kind of editorial position.

I’ve learned that even if you become confident in your own judgment to make and follow criteria for publication, some will never be okay with your choices, and that’s just the way it is.

Being the editor of the Opinion/Editorial section is akin to walking a tightrope above the flaming pit of public opinion. It’s thrilling and scary sometimes, but eventually, you learn to find your footing and walk confidently to the end of the line.

Newsroom Reflections: The final j-school days

The first day of school is always somewhat nerve-wracking, but stepping into an auditorium filled with 189 fellow hopeful, aspiring journalists is an especially intimidating experience—particularly with the fact that about half of the present company, myself included, may not make it to the second year.

Sept. 4, 2014 blog post assignment for JOUR1000: Foundations of Journalism

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A photo from my first-year journalism lecture in my first semester of university! (The girl on the last seat of the third row from the bottom, with the glasses and terrible haircut—that’s me!)

 

Fast forward to April 11, 2018, where, in true IDGAF fourth-year journalism student fashion, I turned in my final j-school class assignment about half an hour before the deadline closed. In anticlimactic 21st-century classroom style, I turned it in via email from the comfort of my bed at home.

And that was it. Four years of undergraduate journalism school officially finished after one hastily written email.

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A Snapchat from the road while chasing after one of my third-year radio same-day stories.

In four years, I’ve interviewed academics, nonprofit professionals, government wonks, cartoonists, barbers, aspiring actors, and many different people in between. In four years, I’ve chased after stories about protests, fires, university policies, mental health, Indigenous communities, and so many more topics.

I’m grateful for the gruff, lovably crass journo professors who passed on their knowledge and passion of the trade, who forged the path before us in legacy media.

I have so much appreciation for my own classmates, with whom I’ve weathered late nights in editing suites, felt the pressure of down-to-the-minute deadlines and suffered elusive sources. I’m in awe of the classmates have gone on to take leaps and bounds in their own career paths by breaking into the sports media world while in school, publishing in nationally acclaimed media outlets, and even starting up their very own publications and video collectives.

I’ve heard journalism can get ridiculously cutthroat, but my experience at Carleton has definitely not been like that. The camaraderie generated by newsroom stress—from swapping stories for last-minute proofreading to helping each other with finding sources—was definitely a special bonding experience, one that can only be really found from going through common struggles.

And alongside my j-school peers, I’ve learned so much about how big our world can be.

There’s one rap lyric that really summarizes how breathtakingly big this world feels to me after bearing witness to so many stories: “How impossibly big it be, this symmetry / This brutality, and beauty and synergy” (Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 3, by Watsky).

If there’s one major thing I’m taking away from j-school above anything else, it’s the age-old adage from Michelangelo that I first heard from my old high school English teacher: “I am still learning.”

The business of journalism is the business of learning—learning from our colleagues, learning from the people and places we encounter, and helping those around us learn more too.

Journalism has taught me that you can never stop learning about this big world—there’s just so many people, places, and stories to learn from.

And now, entering the world of work—I am so excited to learn even more.

AUDIO: Co-hosting Charlatan Live

I stepped out of my comfort zone as a section editor for The Charlatan, my university’s independent student newspaper and temporarily stepped into the role of co-host of the newspaper’s radio show with my classmate and friend Emily D’Orazio, since one of the regular hosts, Sydney, was unavailable. I helped write a small part of the show as well.

Check it out by clicking the image below!

Charlatan-live

Making education better by the numbers: What can be done to increase math success in Ontario?

It’s a Monday night in the living room of the Meroy family, and Grade 6 student Levi*, 12, helps his sister Laura*, 9, with her Grade 4 math homework: making patterns with shapes and numbers. Both kids go to Our Lady of Mercy Elementary, a school under the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga, Ont.

Math is Levi’s favourite subject. He says he doesn’t find it challenging, saying he’s not nervous at all about the annual test happening at the end of the year for Ontario sixth graders.

In contrast, Laura struggles a bit more with her Grade 4 math. Their mom, Leah, says she’s enrolled Laura into Kumon, an after-school tutoring program for math and literacy, to help build her practice and knowledge in basic math skills like multiplication.

“Some of her teachers are very concerned she’s having a hard time catching up with some of the basics,” Meroy says. “She gets more practice doing that in Kumon.”

Laura’s struggle with math is familiar to many elementary school students across Ontario, as shown from declining math scores in provincial tests.

According to a report from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), the organization administering the provincial assessment of math and literacy skills, students’ success in mathematics has been declining across the province in the last five years.

Along with the provincial government, educators and academic experts believe change is needed to improve Ontario students’ math skills.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of Grade 3 students meeting provincial standards for math dropped from 68 per cent to 63 per cent, says the report, released in 2016. The percentage of sixth-grade students meeting the standard dropped even more: from 58 per cent in 2011 to 50 per cent in 2016.

In April 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Education funded $60 million towards a new plan aimed at improving students’ math abilities, but experts are at odds as to what improvements should look like.

Key strategies in the plan are to require schools to allot 60 minutes a day towards grades 1-8 math instruction, training three teachers in every elementary school to be math specialists, and professional days for teachers to get training on teaching math.

However, opinions among experts vary on whether provincial initiatives will actually help math learning.

Students need to be taught to have a stronger handle on basic math skills, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, according to Frances Agro, manager of outreach and teacher support of JUMP Math Ontario.

The organization is part of JUMP Math Canada, a non-profit group that provides math programming and resources to educators and parents to further an enthusiasm and understanding of math in students. JUMP Math programs have been implemented in over 400 schools across Canada and the United States.

“Mathematics is a cumulative subject, meaning that every new skill builds on a previously learned skill,” Agro says.

According to her, students should master foundational math skills like understanding the value and relationships of numbers in order to be able to solve harder problems later on.

“If kids leave primary school without that foundation, then everything they learn from grades three and up becomes a surprise every day because they’re not building on that foundation,” she says.

Levi echoes the need for building on a foundation as he helps Laura with her homework.

“Sometimes the new things we learn we don’t really know because we weren’t prepared from last year,” he says.

A report by Anna Stokke, a University of Winnipeg mathematics professor, gives several suggestions for improving math foundations and thereby math scores.

Stokke proposes teachers use a “direct instruction” approach to teaching math, as opposed to an “experiential-based” approach.

The experiential-based approach, she explains, is having the teacher act more as a guide on the sidelines, allowing children to figure out answers to math problems through various means, like using visual and hands-on materials.

Direct instruction, however, is when the teacher takes a more proactive role, teaching specific methods of math and having students practice these methods over and over again to retain them, she says.

Stokke argues that school boards push for experiential-based methods to be used in teaching math, which contributes to the failure of students to retain basic math practices and ideas.

While Jamie Pyper, a Queen’s University professor of math education, sees the value in direct instruction methods, he also says educators shouldn’t underscore importance of experiential-based learning in the classroom.

He says learning math is more than just a one-way path, that students will more likely retain the skill if they know the reasons behind learning skills, and discovery-based methods give those reasons.

“There needs to be a focus on the environment in learning math, not just the actual content,” Pyper says.

Pyper also says it is important to have an “ongoing review process” for math curriculum in schools, paying particular attention to the depth of what students are learning, not just the range of content.

“It’s nice to learn something really well before moving on to something else,” he says.

Stokke supports the province’s new requirement of 60-minute math instruction, the first time Ontario has mandated a specific amount of time to teaching a subject, but she expresses doubt about whether the initiative will change much if the methods of teaching are the same.

“If it’s just the doubling down on what’s already been going on and not working and causing the decline in scores, then it’s not going to help,” Stokke says.

“More important is that the government concentrate on what’s actually going to improve outcome instead of just throwing money at the problem without thinking about whether it’s going to have a positive impact or not,” she says.

Both Stokke and Pyper say school teachers need to have a better education in mathematics in order to give effective math education. They say the amount of required hours for mathematics in teachers’ college should be increased.

In the classroom, teachers face the challenge of teaching a variety of different province-mandated subjects alongside accommodating the social and emotional issues of students with different abilities and needs, according to Agro.

“Teachers are almost left having to make decisions every single day about what’s going to fit with all of their needs,” Agro says. “Inevitably, something gets lost.”

The Conseils des Écoles Publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), a French school board in Ottawa, already has implemented math specialists in its schools before the provincial government’s plan was created.

The CEPEO is an outlier in statistics of EQAO scores. From 2011-2016, the percentage of Grade 6 students passing the provincial standard for math in EQAO rose to 86 per cent from 84 per cent.

Jean-Pierre Dufour, CEPEO superintendent of education, says his school board already invests in hiring teachers specifically in charge for helping students with numeracy skills for each school.

Dufour says the board analyzes EQAO data and local observations of every school to see specific strengths and needs for support for every student.

“We do a specific plan for specific schools on the reality of the particular school,” he says.

Dufour emphasizes how the school board collaborates with school staff on creating a plan to help students. In addition to student-specific support, he says the CEPEO has a “pedagogical counsellor” who provides training and support at the school level for teachers to teach math.

“We put money in for a good reason, for the wellbeing and success of our students,” Dufour says.

Back at the Meroy house, Laura moves on to addition in her homework, drawing out different squares to represent big numbers. Her mother says she’s going to keep Laura in Kumon for now, as she’s improving in school because of the extra time she spends on concepts she had difficulty with.

“Math is everywhere. You cannot skip math,” Meroy says. “I don’t want them to suffer later on when they’re in high school, in college, if they don’t know much in math.”

*Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the children, at the request of Leah Meroy, their mother.

AUDIO: Hosting Midweek on CKCU 93.1 FM

I had the chance to be a host for Midweek, a current affairs show broadcast across Ottawa and produced by graduate and undergraduate journalism students in their final year of study.

In addition to hosting, for this show, I also co-produced a Q&A piece previewing the 20th anniversary year of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (4:37) and spoke on a report released by Ryerson University on diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (32:07).

Check it out!

AUDIO: Potential podcast pilot – Diaspora Dialogues: Gold and Trains

I created this short radio piece for my final history project, and I really enjoyed researching, narrating, and editing together this little mini-episode. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a bigger project, as I’ve had the idea for a podcast featuring people’s migration stories for a while. Have a listen, and I hope you learn a little something about a little-told part of Canadian history!