Technology can never replace artistry

•March 15, 2015 • 6 Comments

I have been running this whole “Irving papers fire all photographers” story through my head all week.

It’s more than another news story about the decline of journalism for me. Most of these people are my friends and former co-workers, people whose work I greatly respect.

There’s no clearer way to say it than: Photographers make newspapers better. It shouldn’t even need to be said. I know they made my work look better for years, and it’s no different online, where photos are incredibly popular draws.

Just take Viktor Pivovarov’s photo of Moncton mass murderer Justin Bourque during his shooting rampage. Viktor put his life on the line to get a photo that ran around the world.


I remember travelling around New Brunswick with Kate LeBlanc doing a poor man’s National Geographic style series on First Nations in the province. We were both on assignment to tell the same stories in two different ways through different mediums. I remember how her photos captured different elements that I couldn’t or didn’t while doing interviews and writing in my notebook. Kate and I also worked the Bathurst “Boys In Red” tragedy together. She took compelling photos and I was freed up to concentrate on absorbing the community’s grief and conveying it through words. We were pro storytellers by day, sympathetic teammates gorging on junk food to decompress together by night.

And it’s not just the big stories but the little ones that make newspaper staff photographers real pros. They don’t take award-winning photos every day but sometimes the challenge is in juggling a daily schedule to get the school bake sale and the hockey game in tomorrow’s paper, managing to squeeze in a photo of the premier’s press conference and respond to a fire on the scanner.

I’ll tell anyone who will listen the story about Cindy Wilson. I was doing a story about the potential location of a Moncton casino. We needed new art of the parking lot in question and plan proponent/Assomption Vie bigwig Denis Losier arranged access to the roof of Moncton’s tallest building. There is no railing on top of the Assomption Tower and I wouldn’t go near the edge on this cold, windy day. Cindy got down on her knees in a puddle and hung over the edge for no reason but to get the best damn parking lot photo she could. Because she’s a pro. No one had to tell her to do that. In fact I told her not to. The shot was all that mattered.

Photographers are a key part of the storytelling team.

I am a writer. Asking me to take a photo does a disservice to both. If I’m fumbling with a camera to take an average at best photo, I’m not absorbing all the “colour” as a reporter, watching people’s reactions and looking for little details. I’m stressing about getting a useable photo then opening my microphone for a talking head to pour in a can of quotes.

There’s no such thing as “multi tasking” – this just sets up reporters to do neither job to the fullest. It’s like a hockey team laying off all its defensemen because the forwards “have the equipment to play defense too.” The team will be playing short-handed.

This is a crushing blow to those few dreamers who believe they can carve out a niche in a creative industry in New Brunswick.

I fear all the creative people will soon be gone.

I’d love to come back someday but I’m not sure to what.


How far can Raonic go?

•September 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I don’t write about tennis very often but I have always enjoyed the sport. Between finally getting around to reading Andre Agassi’s excellent autobiography, Open (if you like sports biographies and haven’t read it, put it near the top of your list) and watching the US Open while I’m home recovering from knee surgery, I’ve had some time to get back into it. One silver lining about sitting around recovering from surgery is it slows down life a bit and has given me a chance to rediscover a sport I almost forgot I enjoyed.

Milos Raonic is really giving Canadians someone to cheer for, our first ever Top 10 ranked player with a legitimate chance to win a Grand Slam someday. Raonic came agonizingly close (i.e. a match point he hit about an inch long) to making his first Slam quarter-final Monday night, dropping a five-setter to Richard Gasquet. I don’t like to overuse the word “epic” but this one ran nearly five hours with four of the sets taking seven games to win – three by tiebreaker.


With all the tributes to retiring American James Blake earlier in the tournament, I can’t help thinking of comparisons between Canada’s “first great hope” and the man who was sort of the U.S. “next great hope” in the wake of Agassi and Pete Sampras, but never went all the way.

Blake made it as high as No. 4, without ever advancing to a Grand Slam final, or even a semifinal. A fine career, but one I’m sure he would have liked to exceed. I wonder what Raonic would say if you asked him if he’d be happy retiring after reaching Blake’s peak. A world No. 4 would make him Canada’s best individual tennis player ever. But I like to believe he has a Grand Slam in him somewhere and could end up even better than Blake.

My greatest memory of Blake was another marathon – his legendary 2005 US Open quarter-final against an aging Agassi. I was working the 3-11 shift in the sports department at the Telegraph-Journal then, and the match was on when I got home late. Blake had Agassi down 6-3, 6-3. Agassi had always been a favourite, and I remember thinking “Who knows when he’ll get this far again, I’ll just watch this last set and go to bed.”

What ended up happening was one of the most memorable matches in history, as Agassi battled back to win the third and fourth sets by identical 6-3, 6-3 scores. The Disney ending featured a fifth-set tiebreaker, with Agassi ultimately gutting out the win. I remember staying up past 1 a.m. Atlantic Time, glued to the TV as the Americans grunted their way through jaw-dropping point after jaw-dropping point.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, the whole match is on YouTube here

If you don’t, at least fast-forward to the end for the tie-breaker, when both players are pouring out all they have. Agassi retired a year later and many looked to Blake to be the next American star. It never really worked out that way for him, despite a fine career he should be proud of. While 2005 v. Agassi was a fantastic match, I’m sure he’d rather be remembered more for his wins than his losses.

At 22, Raonic is four years younger than Blake was as the time. Achieving Blake’s ceiling would be a great accomplishment, but it will be fun to watch and see if he can achieve even more. Maybe Raonic can take the next step and be remembered for a win instead of an “epic” loss.

Ten random thoughts from my first swimming world championships

•August 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I just got back to Canada after a three-week trip to Spain for my first FINA World Championships with the national swim team. While taking some much-needed downtime, I wanted to share a few thoughts from my first experience at worlds. Hey look – it came out to an even 10:


Working with Ryan Cochrane and the Canadian swim team is awesome

  1. For some strange reason, there were lifeguards there. Wondering if “Lifeguard at swimming world championships” is the boringest job in history.
  2. When I was able to catch the team bus it was pretty cool to see some of the people who got on as we stopped at other countries’ hotels. For example, I shared a seat with Katie Ledecky the day after she set a world record, and played Tetris on my iPhone while surrounded by Russians.
  3. I am often surrounded by incredibly fit people in this job. Also, since they are wearing swimming garb, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to wear flip-flops to work.
  4. I met someone who had never heard of Wayne Gretzky. No, really. He had never heard of Wayne Gretzky!
  5. There are as many kinds of BO as there are countries.
  6. I don’t represent our country in competition, but I’m still proud to pull on Canadian colours, even if it’s only to sit behind a laptop in a golf shirt. When I was really tired before a couple of sessions, I reminded myself how lucky I am to do this and that I’m still a representative of Canada in the way I go about my business.
  7. I don’t like being referred to with the word “anymore” as in “you’re not X anymore.” This specifically bothers me when a journalist I know says “you’re not a journalist anymore” as though I’ve crossed some great chasm. Yes I work for a specific organization and have a vested interest. But I still perform similar (often more) tasks with a high level of skill and ethics. And I still support my family doing it. Some friends understand this tension in an evolving media landscape. Others working in the “traditional media” sometimes act like they’re looking down from a high place as though their media outlets don’t have their own interests. It’s not so black and white as defining communications as “the dark side.” I wish you wouldn’t be so condescending “anymore.”
  8. When you’re living out of one bag for three weeks you stop sweating the small stuff.
  9. Swiss Air has the best airplane food ever.
  10. Hearing the word “DaDa” in person for the first time in three weeks is pretty awesome. But I also realized you can’t “make up for lost time.” Everything we do with our time is a choice and you only get to make it once. I choose this kind of work, and I often love it, but there’s also a sacrifice to be made. My little girl was taking her first wobbly steps when I left, now she’s gallivanting across rooms. I can’t go back in time, but I can make the most of the time I do have. Those three weeks are gone, but I can still get down on the floor and play with her today.

Putting concussions in perspective

•December 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Why is it I only get time to write when I’m injured? My latest DL stint is with a torn meniscus, so I won’t even be able to work off the extra Christmas turkey with some pick-up hockey over the holiday.

On the bright side, I have noticed I can actually remember things better lately. Every time I have a concussion this problem gets worse for me. I’ve developed the coping mechanism of having to write everything down as soon as I think of it. It can be very upsetting to think of a good idea or something you’re supposed to do, then seconds or minutes later, be at a total loss. Recently though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I can actually remember the things without checking, a good sign that the post-concussion symptoms of my last concussion (fall 2011) are wearing off.

According to this graphic from Masters in Health Care, 1 in 2 people affected will suffer post-concussion syndrome.
Concussion Infographic

I’ve personally found after about a year concussion-free the lingering symptoms start to ease, but I imagine it’s different for everyone. And after my last one I wondered if they’d ever go away. The most frustrating part is that, even with so much awareness growing about concussions in the past few years, some people still don’t understand. I once had an editor at the paper I worked at tell me to “suck it up” when I was dealing with severe, debilitating headaches. Maybe I should take up swimming.


Has Moneyball brought new “Curse of the Bam-Beane-O” on Red Sox?

•July 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I picked up Dan Shaughnessy’s 1990 book The Curse of the Bambino at a Salvation Army thrift store the other day. That sums up how current the idea of the Boston Red Sox being cursed is. Some “pink hats” probably haven’t even heard of the mythical hex that supposedly doomed the Sox and became spookily more and more believable as the team found new ways to extend its run of World Series futility to 86 years.


This girl probably A. Doesn’t believe in curses B. Has never heard of Calvin Schiraldi

Of course 2004 changed all that and Bill Simmons has added Now I Can Die in Peace to the literary lore of the thrift store. After two World Series in four years much of the Sox fan base has evolved to become a “Yankees Jr.” They actually expect – or rather, impatiently demand – their team to win rather than find creative and spectacular new ways to come so close before breaking their hearts. This is the kind of crowd that participates in pretend sell-outs and other such nonsense that has come with the new era.

But some of us “true fans” have returned to the hand wringing that defined us pre-2004.

My first memory is my emotionally distraught father cutting a family road trip short at a roadside motel after experiencing the 1986 “Buckner game” on the radio. “Daddy’s favourite team is going to win the World Series” turned to groans of disbelief punctuated by steering wheel pounding that conditioned me to believe in Curses… just a little.

So I submit to you a new supernatural theory for Red Sox ineptitude that dooms them to the bottom of the standings: I’m calling it “The Curse of the Bam-Beane-O.”

I’m not suggesting Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is surreptitiously poisoning umpires a la Russia circa 1972 when Boston visits the Bay Area. In the spirit of a good curse, however, I am blaming a completely unrelated, unquantifiable and implausible factor for recent Red Sox runs of ineptitude.

Since the Moneyball movie made its impact on pop culture, something is going wrong with the Red Sox when they come into contact with the A’s. As the aforementioned film made famous, the Sox tried to lure Brad Pitt… er, Beane, away from Oakland, and the A’s have been Kryptonite to Boston’s Superman since the trailers began running.


It’s Brad Pitt’s fault.

With the launch of the long-anticipated movie around the corner and promotion for the film in full force the Red Sox encountered the A’s for a series in late August 2011. Boston actually won two out of three, improving their 2011 record to 82-52, making them shoo-ins for a playoff spot. They followed up by dropping two of three to the Yankees, and every series for the rest of the season, going 8-20, leading ownership to buy every player expensive headphones for some reason and earning the top Google search result for “epic collapse.” That includes four straight losses after the Moneyball movie premiered Sept. 19, part of a 2-6 finish when things were still salvageable.

Throw in a 4-10 start to 2012 and the Sox went 12-30 after their Oakland encounter, 6-16 immediately after the movie premiere. Just after new manager Bobby Valentine said the team had “hit bottom” the Sox seemingly righted the ship, going 6-1.

Their next date with the A’s, however, set off a stretch of eight losses in 10 games in early May. Starting May 11, Boston put together a 30-18 run until another eerie similarity – you guessed it – a visit to Oakland. The A’s swept them, keying off a five-game losing streak.

Maybe it’s the ugly yellow uniforms.


Seriously, those have got to be distracting

Maybe it’s the worst offense in the American League.

Maybe it’s that half of the A’s used to play for the Red Sox and are out for revenge, but encounters with Oakland have spelled immediate doom the past two seasons.

Boston won yesterday, so it remains to be seen how long this post-Oakland swoon will last, but there is definitely a weird trend going on here.

Brain on the brain

•January 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Sitting at home with a back injury today, it’s the brain I have on the brain.

The athletic pursuits of Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard, who hasn’t played hockey in a year, amount to coaching kids and going for walks, as he waits to get better. He says kids today “are frightened about concussions”


As someone who has suffered multiple concussions, and works in sports daily, it’s a good and bad thing to read at the same time. From the stories on Derek Boogaard earlier this year – I challenge you to read that and take a hard line on keeping fighting in hockey – to the extended absence of top skill players like Savard and Crosby, head injuries have been brought to the forefront.

Boogaard isn’t coming back and, as we wonder if Savard, Crosby or Chris Pronger ever will return to the ice, I, like many sports observers, have been giving a lot of thought to how important our brains are. It’s kind of ridiculous really that we have to be reminded of the importance of our brain, but so often we leave it out of the equation when we think about the physical body and athletic skills. Even with the supposed “increased awareness” of head injuries now, you still saw in the Rangers-Flyers 24/7 series on HBO how Peter Laviolette pressured Claude Giroux to return because he “looked like a million bucks out there.”

You wonder if this level of awareness of head injuries in sports would have changed things for a guy like Muhammad Ali. If you haven’t watched the “Muhammad and Larry” episode from the ESPN 30 for 30 series, get a hold of a copy. Ali still looked good physically, in the mirror, but his brain was a mere image of the greatness that had been. He couldn’t operate that physique at the same level and he took a pummelling he shouldn’t have.

It’s not concussion-related, but more bad news regarding an athlete’s brain.

The National Post reported that Hall of Fame baseball player Gary Carter’s brain cancer is getting worse.


My family used to spend part of Spring Training in Vero Beach, Fla., and I remember a young Carter winking at my mom when she was trying to get me his autograph. It’s hard to picture him dealing with this inoperable tumour at age 57, losing his balance and dealing with severe headaches.

Sorry for the depressing theme today, but my prayers go out to any athlete who once accomplished great things with their bodies that is now being severely limited by a brain condition.


•January 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment


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