Please pass (on) the salt

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A blogTO post from January 11th has an in­ter­est­ing redi­rect to a site call Lobbythem. Lobbythem is an on­line pe­ti­tion site that en­ables you to sign on and sup­port is­sues that mat­ter to you as a dis­grun­tled Torontonian. And there is a lot to make me dis­grun­tled, specif­i­cally the use of salt on roads dur­ing the win­ter. I’ve racked up many dry-cleaning bills to rid my pants of those telling white stains. How many cans of shoe cleaner/protector have you gone through?

This doesn’t end there. What about the dam­age to cars? The environment?

I don’t know if this site has been suc­cess­ful, but for what it’s worth, click here to show your dis­plea­sure. Your pants will thank you for it.

(Note: you have to reg­is­ter first.)



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My first week of school, or How I learned to stop wor­ry­ing and love the blog

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It is the end of the first week of school and I have sur­vived. No wed­gies, no Uggs, no sea of lap­tops in class.

The fears I laid out in my first post were all for naught. The ben­e­fit of a post-grad win­ter pro­gram is the va­ri­ety of peo­ple en­rolled in it. There are a few stu­dents fresh out of their un­der­grad term at uni­ver­sity but the ma­jor­ity, like me, came from the work­force. We all bring dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to the ta­ble and there has al­ready been a good ex­change of ideas and opin­ions. The size of our class (31) also al­lows for a feel­ing of close­ness and sol­i­dar­ity — we even started our own Facebook group!

The funny thing is, we take the same classes to­gether. Coupled with the fact that our cam­pus served as Degrassi High, at times it feels like I’m back in high school. (I think my locker is near Joey Jeremiah’s but I haven’t been able to con­firm it.) And like high school, the cafe­te­ria food leaves a lot to be de­sired. Thankfully, the Danforth is just a 10-minute walk away.

I have an ad­van­tage over most of my fel­low stu­dents when it comes to cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and P.R. But I’ve dis­cov­ered there is a lot more I need to learn. Like how to write, for ex­am­ple. As I men­tioned in my first post, it has been a long time since I wrote any­thing be­yond a client pro­posal or an e-mail. Back then, I had a ten­dency to­ward the ver­bose and the the­saurus was my bible. Since there is no de­mand for 2,000-word news re­leases, I will strive to learn the seven C’s of good writ­ing: clear, con­cise, cor­rect, co­her­ent, com­plete, con­sis­tent and cre­ative. The CP Style Guide will be­come my new bible.

Another tid­bit I picked up was how to read news­pa­pers. I mean, REALLY read news­pa­pers. I sub­scribe to the Toronto Star and read it re­li­giously every morn­ing. But I tend to skim over most of the ar­ti­cles, read­ing only the first two and last para­graphs to get the gist of the ar­ti­cle. But af­ter my first Media Relations class I be­gan to an­a­lyze the pa­per and no­ticed some­thing: Every jour­nal­ist has a bias. It tends to be ob­vi­ous and ex­pected with colum­nists like Rosie DiManno of the Star and Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail. But the bias of other re­porters tends to creep in “hard” news sto­ries. For ex­am­ple, take this ar­ti­cle in last Thursday’s National Post:

’09 Afghan pull­out too soon, ex­perts say

It is al­ready too late for Canada to with­draw from com­bat in south­ern Afghanistan when the mis­sion ex­pires in 2009, mil­i­tary an­a­lysts said yesterday.

The fed­eral Liberal party made a sub­mis­sion this week to the panel study­ing Canada’s fu­ture role in Afghanistan, headed by for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter John Manley.

In it, the party in­sisted Ottawa should for­mally no­tify NATO now of Canada’s in­ten­tion to end its com­bat mis­sion in Kandahar next year, con­tend­ing it would be a “trav­esty” if the mis­sion con­tin­ued be­yond February, 2009.

But ex­perts warned yes­ter­day that there is not enough time to safely re­place the 2,500 Canadian troops in the re­gion with sol­diers from other NATO countries.

This “news” item is about a sub­mis­sion the fed­eral Liberals made to a panel study­ing Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Post re­porter chose to fo­cus on the opin­ion of “ex­perts” who be­lieve it is too soon to with­draw our troops. This jibes with the Conservative government’s view that Canada’s should keep its troops in Afghanistan un­til progress is made, no mat­ter how long it takes. And we all know how “right” the Post is.

Now take a look at how the Toronto Star re­ported on the same item:

‘Travesty’ to ex­tend com­bat role: Liberals

Canada should re­main com­mit­ted to Afghanistan but the cur­rent com­bat mis­sion in Kandahar must end in just over a year, fed­eral Liberals say.

Canada should in­stead look at other roles for the mil­i­tary, such as train­ing the Afghan National Army and po­lice, pro­tect­ing Afghan civil­ians or lead­ing re­con­struc­tion ef­forts, the party said in a pa­per re­leased yesterday.

We be­lieve Canada and the rest of the world have an oblig­a­tion to the peo­ple of Afghanistan,” the Liberal party says in its sub­mis­sion to the fed­eral panel now study­ing the fu­ture of Canada’s Afghan mission.

And in a news re­lease ac­com­pa­ny­ing the doc­u­ment, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he’s open to “other pos­si­ble mil­i­tary roles in Afghanistan.”

But the party says it would be a “trav­esty” to con­tinue the cur­rent mil­i­tary role in Kandahar un­der the guise of a “train­ing mission.”

Instead, the Liberals say, the Conservatives must im­me­di­ately in­form NATO that Canada will end its Kandahar mis­sion in February 2009, adding that as long as al­lies be­lieve the mis­sion is “open-ended, they will never pre­pare for our departure.”

The Star fo­cused on the view­point of the Liberals, who want an early with­drawl of our troops. This isn’t sur­pris­ing, given the Star’s leftist/Liberal lean­ings. The point I am try­ing to make is this: there is no real ob­jec­tiv­ity in the me­dia. While this is hardly new in­for­ma­tion it has made me think of how ob­vi­ous it is and how it doesn’t mat­ter any­more. With the tech­nol­ogy avail­able to us, we have ac­cess to raw in­for­ma­tion and can ar­rive at our own con­clu­sions in­stead of hav­ing it spoon-fed to us. We can also draw from a huge pool of opin­ions re­gard­ing the lat­est is­sues and de­cide which ones ap­peal to us. (For the record, I like mine with a lit­tle satire and Jon Stewart’s snarky, sexy grin.)

In the early term of George W. Bush’s pres­i­dency, the tra­di­tional me­dia was shame­less in their un­wa­ver­ing, hy­per­pa­tri­otic sup­port of the war in Iraq (“Bush Lies, Media Swallows”, Eric Alterman, The Nation). The dearth of cov­er­age on any op­pos­ing view­points and the grow­ing savvy of the pub­lic (or more so the left-leaning in­tel­li­gentsia) has led to the rise of cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism (or “new me­dia” as some call it).

It would neg­li­gent for me as a fu­ture com­mu­ni­ca­tor to ig­nore this. If the role of pub­lic re­la­tions is to “…es­tab­lish and main­tain mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ships be­tween an or­ga­ni­za­tion and the var­i­ous publics on whom its suc­cess or fail­ure de­pend” (Center and Broom, Effective Public Relations), then giv­ing lit­tle cre­dence to the “new me­dia” would be invit­ing dis­as­ter. There are nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of how the “lit­tle guy” brought down “the man” (or an­chor­man, in Dan Rather’s case) and it’s not go­ing to end, folks. All of which leads me to be­lieve that when Time named their 2006 Person of the Year as you, they con­firmed what we all know: opin­ions are like a – holes — everyone’s got one. And they will blog about it. And the world will notice.

Jon Stewart


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Playing with dolls

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I was pro­cras­ti­nat­ing in set­ting up this blog un­til I saw this item:

My Fake Baby: Living Doll

(Click on the link above to view the clip and see if your jaw doesn’t drop.)

This a new British doc­u­men­tary about adult women who buy hand­crafted dolls (called “Re-Borns”) and treat them like real in­fants. Sort of like men who buy those Real Dolls (see Lars and the Real Girl) and treat them like sex toys girlfriends.

As a sin­gle woman who dodges the same ques­tions over and over again (“Why aren’t you mar­ried yet?” or “Why no kids?” My an­swer: Just lucky, I guess) my take is this:

Are you kid­ding me?

Does any­one think to per­haps steer these women to ther­apy? There must be a huge, gap­ing emo­tional hole in their lives for them to PLAYING WITH DOLLS. Yes, even though they must cost a small for­tune (I’m guess­ing half the cost of a Real Doll) they are no bet­ter than the “life­like” Thumbelina doll I had when I was seven years old.

Why is it that a sin­gle woman can­not feel com­plete un­less they shoot out a kid? I es­pe­cially like the re­ac­tions of their parters. Not only are these women child­less they will soon be­come di­vorced, too.

To my dear­est friends: if I ever be­come mad and buy one of these, and if you do care deeply about me, shoot me in the head. Please.

Note: School– and industry-related posts will be­gin next week.


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Welcome to my blog.

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bon mot [bon moh; Fr. bawn moh] a witty re­mark or com­ment; clever say­ing; witticism.

Why, hello there. Thanks for drop­ping by. This is my first foray into the ex­cit­ing world of so­cial me­dia. Oooh, my ex­trem­i­ties are al­ready tin­gling. You must have many ques­tions for me, such as “What do you have to say that is so im­por­tant?” or “What do you have to say that isn’t be­ing said by mil­lions of other blog­gers?” or “What are you wear­ing?” Good ques­tions. My an­swer? Probably not much. (Har har.) But since I am ad­vanc­ing my ca­reer in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and p.r. in­dus­try it is on good ad­vice from ex­perts that I start a blog as a form of per­sonal ad­ver­tise­ment. Thus, I will blog.

A lit­tle about me: click on the About tab. It’s pretty much all there.

So, what can I add? Well, my mother cer­tainly thinks I’m bril­liant (smart woman, she is) and my friends tell me I’m funny (lean­ing heav­ily on the “ha ha” sort rather than the “weird” so that’s a good sign) so I’m hop­ing to bring a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on life and its per­ver­si­ties. But I think my “an­gle” will fo­cus on the fact that I am re­turn­ing to school. What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me tell you why it’s a big deal:

  • I’m in my late thir­ties and just gave up a full-time job with four weeks va­ca­tion, an ex­pense ac­count and health benefits.
  • The last time I com­posed an es­say it was done on a type­writer. An elec­tric one, mind you, but there is no Spellcheck on type­writ­ers. Actually, that is not true — I did com­pose an es­say on a com­puter. In Word Perfect, DOS ver­sion.
  • I have a fear I may be­come Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy, try­ing to fit into a world she long es­caped from. Will my low-rise jeans be low enough? Should I buy the pink or baby blue Uggs? Is my crush on Zac Efron so, like, over (yes, I know he is half my age and prob­a­bly gay, so shut up) or should I be pin­ning mag­a­zine clip­pings of the Gossip Girl cast to my locker?

I’m kid­ding, of course (well, mostly kid­ding). But you get my drift — I am in for a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than the one I have been liv­ing for the past 15 years in the work­force. It will be a fun and ex­cit­ing time for me and I hope to re­gale you with tales from the (school) front. But mostly I would like to share my per­spec­tive on com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pub­lic re­la­tions from some­one who has been in the in­dus­try for the past nine years on the other (darker) side. Coming from CNW (the nation’s leader in– oops! Sorry, I some­times for­get I don’t work there any­more) I have been ex­posed to the needs of the com­mu­ni­ca­tor and the me­dia. Will this give me a head start? Here’s hoping.

Which leads me to an­other rea­son to blog: so­cial me­dia is new me­dia and ac­quir­ing mem­ber­ship in the web and blog com­mu­nity puts you far ahead of the rest. For those naysay­ers (and there are some in the in­dus­try, be­lieve me) here’s a cool fact: There are now one mil­lion users on Facebook from Toronto alone (The Toronto Star, Jan. 2/08); we are the first North American city to achieve this goal.

I have sev­eral friends who post news and in­for­ma­tion on their pro­file — in other words, there Facebook pro­file is their blog. There are oth­ers who get their news and in­for­ma­tion from the web. (When is the last time you used a map in­stead of Google Maps, Mapquest or GPS? I thought so.) The 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be run pretty much through YouTube and can­di­date blogs. (Of course, I pre­fer get­ting my news on U.S. pol­i­tics with a side of cyn­i­cism (I miss you, The Daily Show) but I di­gress. Today’s jour­nal­ists are not only writ­ing for the print and elec­tronic ver­sions of their pa­pers but are pro­duc­ing video con­tent as well. Information is be­com­ing more ac­ces­si­ble than it was be­fore. This means there are new ways to com­mu­ni­cate out­side of the stan­dard news re­lease and press con­fer­ence and the web is the new place to look.

The web is also the new soap­box. Bloggers are peo­ple who have some­thing to say and a pow­er­ful tool with which to shout it from the moun­tain­tops. Case in point: Dell Hell (Jeff Jarvis vs. Dell: Blogger’s Complaint Becomes Viral Nightmare”, Online Media Daily, August 2005) and other p.r. hor­ror sto­ries. As a fu­ture com­mu­ni­ca­tor, I would be do­ing a dis­ser­vice to my­self and my fu­ture em­ploy­ers by not be­ing aware of so­cial media.

I can go on and on but my point is this: the web is not go­ing away; it is get­ting stronger and more in­flu­en­tial; and those who have em­braced it will reap the re­wards. Kind of like com­pos­ing an es­say on a lap­top ver­sus a typewriter.

Stay tuned for more…

Jerri Blank


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