Who I think of on Food Bank Day

Today CBC is raising money for food banks in B.C., for the 25th year in a row. Every year, I’m reminded of a day in November 2004, when I was asked to go report on a family, with children, who were struggling.

Digging complexity: an example

This is a follow up post after my talk to science students at UBC yesterday. The instructor asked for an example of using my science background to make sense of something complex. My answer on the spot wasn’t great, but a better one came to me as the session ended (isn’t that always the way?). So I thought I’d post it here. I have to stress, a scientific background is not necessary — anyone can ask the same kinds of questions. But, for me, the muscles I exercised in science help. I imagine it would be similar for someone with a background in economics or the law, who can skip a couple of steps en route to finding interesting information in those fields. Meltdown in the media After the earthquake in Japan caused damage to reactors in Fukushima, there were a lot of scary headlines about radiation. I remember waking up to a news that the nuclear fuel rods were “exposed” and in danger of melting down. I was tasked that day with explaining to our audience, an ocean away, what that meant. Step one: what does “exposed” mean? Many of the early reports were not explaining that bit, leaving the audience to wonder whether the nuclear fuel was exposed to the outside world—meaning the reactor was totally compromised. So what was happening? The officials were slow to release information, the aerial shots were not clear, and I had no idea what the inside of a nuclear reactor looked like (despite growing up in nuclear towns). So, I needed the help of people who know about nuclear reactors, would pick...

How my science degree helps me in journalism

Tomorrow I get to return to my alma mater, to talk to first-year Science students. This is pretty exciting for me because I really enjoy teaching, and visiting campus brings some nostalgic joy too. They invited me because I use my degree in science in a non-traditional way. Here’s a sneak peek at the Prezi I made for the talk. It’s not that rare to be a reporter with a background in science; we have a few in our local newsroom. But it’s still uncommon enough that when people I encounter on the job learn I studied biology, they’re surprised. Many ask whether it was my plan all along to learn about science, then report on it. (Not at all —I really thought I was going to be a biologist). And, I often hear, “Oh that must really help you on scientific stories.” (Absolutely! But not in the way you might think.) Bring on the data! The fact is, the facts I learned don’t help me much. Even if I remembered every nephron and neuron I scribbled down in a final exam, my information is more than a decade out of date. What’s important about what I learned is it gives me the faith that even complex things can be understood, and it’s my job to make sense of them, and use that information to critically evaluate what people tell me. That helps on science stories, but not just on science stories. Being unafraid of numbers and spreadsheets is good too. I learned Excel spending many hours volunteering in a lab measuring millimetres of stickleback tails. Now on the...

Is TV News Salvageable? A response.

To be fair, I should have known. Look at the title: “Is TV News Journalism Salvageable?” It presumes a thing broken, that may or may not be rescued from the alley before the garbage truck comes. But, I went, because I find it a luxury to step back from the daily panic of doing, and talk about doing better. Maybe there would be talk instead of sanding and refinishing, or a fresh coat of paint. One new path Kai Nagata was headlining, with a critique of TV news, and why he quit his job when he felt more like part of the problem than the solution. He’s a very engaging speaker, but I bristled when he took some cheap shots, mocking CBC News and CTV’s Investigators (one of whom was in the audience) for having flashy graphics. As I said on Twitter, if you’re going to criticize TV news, don’t start by dogging new investment in enterprise and original storytelling (something CBC is also putting more local resources into). Still, he made solid points analyzing one of his own previous stories, describing how he hadn’t the time or freedom in that job to do the journalism he wanted. So, he’s now sleeping in a tent in his parent’s backyard, working on a solution—networking online and across the country to talk about new models of production and distribution. And let me be clear: I don’t take umbrage with that, or with anyone taking risks to tell stories they care about. Is that it? But the discussion that followed left me disappointed, because it turned so cynical, despite the smart people...

Stories from the Sea: Listen here

My radio reports from the International Marine Conservation Congress on sharks, ocean acidification and eco-branding. A scientist recounts her under-cover foray into a black-market fin shop. And, why — cute as they are — otters aren’t for everyone.

Stories about the sea: I’ll be reporting from IMCC

So, killer whales form a pod, fish school, and sharks are said to travel in shivers*. But what do you call 1000+ marine conservation types gathered at once? A “congress,” apparently. The second International Marine Conservation Congress starts in Victoria today. Scientists, policy makers, resource managers, and NGOs are here to share science on our changing oceans, and ideas on how to save them. It’s only been held once before, 2 years ago in Washington, D.C. What I find so interesting is the goal is not just moving the conversation forward by publishing papers in the scientific literature — but also by crafting recommendations that let science inform public policy. I’m here to report for CBC Radio — you’ll hear me talking to Stephen Quinn, host of On the Coast, and Grant Lawrence, guest-hosting All Points West. I’ll be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at about 5:40 or so in the Vancouver area and 4:50-ish in the rest of B.C. Changing oceans It’s not easy to decide what to cover. The program is huge, covering invasive species, overfishing, aquaculture, planning, and many more issues. I’ll be looking for stories that mean something to a B.C. audience. One piece will be on climate change and ocean acidification — there is a lot on it at this conference, and a topic I find really interesting. We know the pH of the ocean is changing as it absorbs excess CO2 we’re dumping into the atmosphere. It seems to already be causing problems for the shellfish industry in some coastal areas. But it’s not clear just how the complex systems of the sea...

Enough for the new year

When I’m travelling, I really enjoy how everything that makes it in the backpack really deserves to be there. (It fits, looks good, works, whatever.) I’m not going to reduce my belongings to a backpack, but I’d rather feel that way looking around my home.