All the things we want to know

“The problem with reading journalism online,” a colleague pronounced over the cafeteria table, “is that you only read the things you want to read.”

I forked up my fries: gravy, ketchup, extra pickles on the side. Copies of the Winnipeg Sun scattered underneath styrofoam, a ink-smeared receptacle for wasted ketchup packets. “Yeah, well, the problem with reading journalism in print,” I replied, “is that you only read the things the editors think you should know.”

I felt very self-righteous in this, at the time.

Now, two years later, I’m coming back to it anew. For two weeks we’ve been thrown into this debate, online offline, pay for your things, pay for our jobs, pay to read, to think and to know, and how do you make them pay — I don’t know, I don’t know. I only know this much: that bird, the tactile word, has flown. This is how things are, now.

And I know this: the success of Kickstarter proves that people, essentially, want to pay for content.

They desperately want this, even, want it bad enough to throw money at something yet unmade and for the most part unseen. A two-minute teaser trailer, a hint of an idea, a message the maker wants to send.

But now the old debate echoes through the silence of my condo: you only read the things you want to read.

Am I guilty of this? Maybe, probably, yes. It is not something to be proud of, but it happens almost without noticing. This too, like so much else, is psychology: we tend to seek out others like us. We seek out writing and content we already believe we agree with. We want to belong to a tribe.

My reading list: feminist blogs, Gawker media, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, museum websites. More than those but all in their way the same. Mostly social issues, lots of international affairs. Mostly American politics and psychology and stories of life. Oh, and sports. And I read a lot of history: atrocities, mostly, and how they happened. A lot of stuff you rarely see in the newspaper.

But now, unmoored from my daily work at the paper, I can feel my eyes start to drift away from the minutiae of civic politics, the details of economic policies and taxation. I used to read it every day, and try at least to keep up with the times: garbage carts, frontage levies. I did this even as a teenager, nose buried in the paper to escape another lonely day.

On Kickstarter, we fund the things that carry messages we believe should be shared.

There is power in this, if ideas must be spread with money: there is power in being able to assemble outside the margins of the page and raise cash to spread messages about the environment, about science, about being better people.

But there is also this: will we become this narrow, then, even when the world is at its broadest?

I don’t wish a return to the days when only a few outlets curated and channeled information to the people.

I don’t wish a return to the days when newspapers could be used so unchallenged as agents for the state, whipping up war frenzy,  complicit in drawing out the dark instincts of our evolution.

Dad, I said: do you know that while you were alive, almost one in five Americans wanted to nuke Japan more?

“At the time,” my dad replied, squinting to remember the blaring headlines of a childhood owned by a war he barely knew, “Everything, all the newspapers, were telling people to hate ‘the Japs.'”

I like to imagine now that most people would hear otherwise, if it happened again. That there are more voices and they are more unfettered.

But still, is it just inevitable at this stage that nothing again can hold us to look at things we don’t really want to know? And where does this go, and how does it end? The Internet was supposed to bring us together. But it is also world of a million tribes, flowing, growing and declining again. Maybe we are growing further apart.

So I concede now, two years after the conversation began, that my coworker had more of a point than I wanted to believe.

I will try to hire an editor for my head. To make me read the things she thinks I need to know.

Meet Your New Chief Funancial Officer


The first time I met Ace Burpee, I was 19 and having a drink with a friend at Bar Italia, when a man I’d never met walked up to the table and gave us both a thunderous high five. He told us he was about to try out for the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team.

“Ace, I didn’t know you played baseball,” my friend said.

And Ace? He laughed. “I don’t. I’m terrible. After that, I’m going to try out for the Blue Bombers.”

At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of human hurricane had just blown into my life, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a hell of a storm. And you know what? It was, it has been, and 12 years later it just keeps rolling.

The day after I got laid off, Ace Burpee was the first person to reach out to me, on Twitter:

A friend texted me to ask if he was joking. “God no,” I said, even though I hadn’t talked to him or even seen the Tweet yet. “Ace would never joke about something like that.”

So it is with great pride today that I announce I have accepted a deliciously ridiculous new gig as Chief Funancial Officer at Virgin 103.1 in Winnipeg. Check out our press conference. I rapped. I also learned that Colin apparently works for the Globe & Mail and never once offered me a job. Shenanigans!

There will be quarterly fun reports. We are looking to diversify our fun streams and isolate new opportunities to be awesome. And we’re raising money for charity while we’re doing it.

Just to be clear: though I like to think of good times and good causes as a 24/7 type of job, this isn’t a full-time gig. Not even close. I’m still wide open for opportunities, folks — I mean, whatever I can fit in around my busy unemployment schedule of Netflix, blogging and napping.

But being CFunO does mean that we’re planning a pretty epic karaoke contest on Oct. 22 at the Park Theatre to benefit youth outreach charities in Winnipeg; more details on that coming up soon. We’ve got plans, and they involve lots of sparkly hats.

For me personally?

It means that everything comes full-circle. Ace is a rockstar and someone I endlessly respect. It doesn’t get much more legit than a guy who puts this much energy into raising money for charities; and it doesn’t get much more legit than a guy who, having meet a teenage kid in a whirlwind at Bar Italia, comes back a dozen years later to help her out when she needs it most.

Thanks for that, buddy. Sorry you never made the baseball team, but the city is better off this way.

Last Ones In, First Ones Out

In the days since the Winnipeg Free Press layoffs, much imaginary ink has been spilled about the union’s seniority policy in determining who was cut, and the purpose of that policy, and the fallout of it on us and on the paper.

I’m not going to rehash that discussion here. It’s too personal, too close for me see it clear: my nose has been rubbed right in it, twice. It’s not my problem anymore. Besides, everyone has their own path to take. Maybe it’s better for me to be set free in this world right now, than someone who is not so comfortable navigating its new demands.

But there is this, which is a little bit different.

Last Tuesday, the Free Press laid off, by my count, 14% of its total writing staff. But those cuts also slashed fully a quarter of the women writers at the paper, reducing the number from 12 to nine. If there are any future editorial layoffs, and they too follow a seniority priority, the next two cuts — possibly three if I remember correctly — will all be women.

This is a small sample size, and a quirk of demographics.

But in the last week, many people reached out to me. They wanted to share that they’d been through much the same thing, in one industry or another. And as I chatted with people about the circumstances of their layoffs, one common theme emerged.

Anecdotally, across industries and across provinces, many people told me that when mass layoffs affected union shops that exercised seniority priority, the people who lost their jobs were disproportionately: women; people of colour; First Nations; Metis; Inuit; openly trans people and people who otherwise belong to groups that have long struggled to gain access to professions and industries traditionally dominated by white men.

Before anyone bristles, let me make it crystal clear: I am not accusing unions of being discriminatory.

Seniority-based layoffs don’t take demographics into account. Nor am I necessarily making an argument that they should, or how that aspect might be considered, balanced and included if it were. Besides, many unions have done meaningful work securing equality in their spaces.

But what I am saying is that if unions hold “fairness” as a value, I would hope that they would at least consider how that can be reconciled with a blanket policy which can have the unfortunate byproduct of affording more job protection to those who, by the twists of history, had the most privilege in the first place.

Just a thought.