Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mock-Reporter Reflections...

A picture from one of the favourite stories I wrote during my internship.

My internship at the Free Press is coming to an end. I only have two shifts left, before I head back to the busy state of being a full time student and part time employee.

I've learned so much from my experience at the Free Press; four-and-a-half months of journalism classes didn't seem like enough preparation for this gig; or at least that's what I thought in my first couple of days...

Now that I have almost finished my internship, I think I can safely say that there are no amount of classes that can prepare someone for an opportunity like this. (Don't get me wrong, I learned a great deal in school. My J instructor, Steve Vogelsang, did an incredible job in teaching me, and I did come a long way in that four months...But, the news room is a whole different ball game than a class room.)

I came into the Free Press not really knowing what to expect. -- My work for the Projector (My school newspaper) was rarely edited, and I figured that made me "good." However, once I got to here, to a "daily", things were quite a bit different.

Here are some of the things I will take from this experience...

I learned that all stories are important to somebody. -- For some of the stories and articles that I wrote, I didn't have an instant connection with the subject that I was writing about. Heck, sometimes I didn't know anything about the subject at all! (Take ice fishing, an article that will be in an upcoming issue. When the story was first assigned to me, my initial reaction was: "You have got to be kidding me!" However, after talking to some people who really enjoy the sport, and who have made it their passion, I realized that the story was a good idea! I actually started to enjoy hearing the stories, and meeting the people connected to these stories. I learned quite a bit, and realized that sometimes (if you want to get a good story) you need to open your mind, and look at things (like ice fishing) through the eyes of the people that you are writing for.

I learned that criticism, failing, and rejection is just par for the course. -- Like I said earlier; having my work heavily edited (only sometimes) is a tough pill to swallow. When you have put everything you've got into a piece of writing, only to have it changed, your morale dips. Although, if you can find it in yourself to look at it constructively, and not take it personally, you will learn that it's nothing personal. This is why editors exist.

I learned that people are going to perceive things the way that they want to. -- When I wrote my piece about FASD and car thieves, the response was incredible! I got angry emails for an entire week from people telling me I was wrong, or that I was (essentially) stupid. (Nobody actually called me any names, but there was a lot of alluding going on! -- Perhaps my own unjustified perceptions...) But really, as a reporter your job is to tell a story. You may not agree with it, or you may really believe in it; either way, you have to try and leave those biases out.

I learned that even though this industry is "cut throat", the people who are you biggest competitors are also your biggest allies. -- I know that I am entering into a field that is essentially "dying", and realistically we should all be backstabbing each other to secure ourselves a spot on the sinking ship. But, the journalists that I have worked with have all been exceptionally helpful to me. (I can't tell you how awkward it is to be the new kid amongst people who are good at what you want to be good at; but they have all helped me along the way, and I am ever so grateful!)

I've learned that you are only as good as your last story. -- I was riding high on Christmas Eve with two pieces that I felt so completely connected to, and that I thought were awesome pieces of (barely edited) work, only to stumble in the following days. Sometimes stories are so good they write themselves; sometimes they're not. If you get too cocky in this business, thinking that you cannot stumble along the way, your fall from the pedestal will be hard and painful.

I've also learned that a reporter should be like a girl guide/boy scout, and always be prepared! -- Attending a fatal car accident on highway 9, I wore a dress and little heels. I was FREEZING! I assumed that since it was Christmas Eve, it would be slow, and I wouldn't have to leave the newsroom. I was wrong. Never assume...

I learned that this is not a comfortable job. -- I loved every second of it, but I worked my butt off! It is obvious in my articles (at least to myself) how hard I worked, or how much harder I could have worked, on any given day...

This has been an incredible opportunity, and I am truly grateful for this experience.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: A look back...

Here are some of the incredible things that 2009 has brought...

Nominated for 'Future Leaders of Manitoba' Award, and training for the half marathon starts! After about a week of frustration and "suffering", my endurance came quickly! By the end of the month I could already run for 90 minutes (with two 0ne-minute walking breaks!)

February: Off to Vancouver for spring break to visit 'Lil'Sis'! -- I had some of the best time's of my life in that beautiful city (Got my second tattoo on a whim!) Although, my marathon training went down the tubes for that week, and suffered in the months to come...

March: Kennedy turns 1! -- She may not be my kid, but I love her like she's my own! This was a milestone month! My marathon training is staggered...

April: Second year of university ends, and it's also the Big 3-0 for me! -- I came home to a rainbow coloured in chalk on the sidewalk leading up to my apartment with the words: "Happy 30th Birthday Shelley", followed by a delicious dinner of Thai food with close friends in the village. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my day!) Marathon training still suffering!

May: My Grandma turns 90, 'Lil'Sis' graduates from UBC Law School, Heather, KJ and I go to Vancouver (for a week) to watch 'Lil'Sis' receive her degree, and marathon training heats up! (Only a month till the big day!)

June: Completed my first half Marathon (13.1 miles) with two good friends and a bummed knee! (Scratch that off the 'ol bucket list!)

July: OVERTIME at work! (Gotta work as much as I can to make sure that I have enough money socked away for school...) -- I think I had three days off this month...

August: MORE OVERTIME at work! -- I think I took about five days off from work. We (My awesome work crew and I) also planned a charity bake sale (which raised $500 for the Rainbow Society) and a car rally! CreComm starts on the 31st! (A dream come true, just to be in this program!) By the end of the 2 months I accumulated 261 hours of banked overtime!

September: CreComm! -- I didn't know what to expect; this program is intense, but I have gained so much from it!! My first time being published in a printed publication! (The Projector) Also, completed my first 10k run in Treherne Manitoba! (Bummed knee again...Turns out I have tendonitis...)

October: Mom Graduated from UofM with her PhD!!! Also, I received the first ever John W. Dafoe Scholarship from the Free Press! ($600 and an internship during Christmas break!) I'm working hard to achieve my dream, and it feels GREAT!

November: Volunteer opportunity at Manito Ahbee! (I got to hobnob with incredible Aboriginal artists, and get a taste of the PR lifestyle!)

December: INTERNSHIP AT THE FREE PRESS! -- It's been incredible! They have been awesome to me, and I have had such a great time! -- The experiences that I have had in the little time that I have been there have been truly amazing!

Bring on 2010...

Monday, December 28, 2009

You know you're old when...

Here is the picture that was on the front page of the Free Press today. When I first saw it, I was like; "Why is this young girl and her older brother on the front page of the paper today?!" But then I read the caption and realized a couple of things...

A) This is not a girl. Nope. This is tween heartthrob Justin Bieber.
B) Apparently this kid is a pretty big deal...
C) That's not his big brother, that's his dad! (His mighty fine-looking dad I must say...)


This picture just solidifies that I am old. Really, really old.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Well, I wrote my first "super controversial" article. The reader feedback has been astounding; mostly negative, but insightful none the less.

There are issues that people take seriously -- Like car thieves -- and feel compelled to argue about; but I am quite surprised at the amount of people that assumed because I wrote the article, it reflects my personal opinion. My inbox was buzzing yesterday, with angry emails from people who took the time to tell me that I was wrong.

It was quite neat actually.

the article that I wrote, was a woman named Liz Wolfe's opinion on why the number of auto thefts could be rising; she thinks that it might have something to do with many of the auto offenders who have FASD acting out because of their grief over the violent murder of their friend.

Wolfe works closely with level four auto offenders in a rehabilitation program; she has an insight that many of us are not privy to. though I am not certain that I agree, or disagree with her logic, I can see her point. (I was lucky to be assigned this story though, because my mom specializes is neurological brain disorders, and knows a great deal about FASD; she has taught me a lot about it over the years...)

But, I can also see why many people are mad. -- They're fed up, and nothing seems to be changing; cars are still being stolen, and the justice system appears to have a revolving door.

Personally, I think that the "lock them up and throw away the key" mentality -- which was the main consensus among people who commented -- is something that is ineffective in stopping car thieves. I believe that people who commit crimes should pay retribution for their actions, but I also think that justice can be served in other ways. -- Jail is a form of punishment, it does little in the way of rehabilitation. For many people, rehabilitation is needed in order for the crime to stop.

Ahhh this is a big debate that I am not sure that I am ready for (on my blog) -- Although, I have a sister who is a lawyer, and a mom with a PhD in brain disorders, so I feel that I am lucky to have a broad insight into why this is a far greater issue than it appears.

Perhaps I will try to reformulate this post, when I am more awake, to get my opinion across better...

Time to get ready for the news day!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The first fatality...

Today I got my first truly tragic assignment; a fatal car accident on highway 9.

I wasn't prepared to leave the newsroom today, as I assumed it would be a slow news day. (I have since learned that you can never assume anything in a news room...) I was wearing a dress, and did not have a spare change of warm clothes in my car, as Mary Agnes suggested before I started.

The roads were snowy and slippery, as I made my way up highway 9 looking for the scene of the accident. (I already knew there was a fatality going into it, and the whole way there, I told myself that this was my job, and I had to take the human aspect out of it.) I have only been an intern for ten days, yet here I am, going to the scene of a fatality...

I am not sure how seasoned reporters do this, but my method was to take away the human factor. (I only saw the carnage of the vehicles, and did not see the victim; I think that helped...Plus, my other job has exposed me to some pretty tragic situations, and has kind of hardened me to a degree.)

Hardened or not, stories like this are sad no matter how you look at it.

My thoughts are with this man and his family...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Me and the one and only Miss Lonelyhearts (photo: Matt Preprost)

I am having such a great time at the Free Press! I have met some truly awesome people there, and the experience has been so incredibly valuable to what I want to do with my life. (I worked harder than I have ever worked on my yesterday's story, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that it was the cover feature this morning...It was just an incredible feeling all around!)

During my first couple of days at the Free Press, I was nervous as hell! -- My six inch stories ("blurbs") took me upwards of four hours to complete, and the final product was always mediocre at best! -- Though I still have a long way to go in my abilities, I have to admit that a week in the newsroom has been some of the greatest education I could ever ask for! (Bring on the Streeters next semester!)

I am living my dream, and even if it's just for another week or so, I am so thankful for the opportunity!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A, (Links to the) Articles I have written for the Free Press

12 Days of Christmas - The Welcome Home

Same Stories, different mediums:

Happy Holidays

Happy Holiday's, here's an adorable picture of the kid. (My pseudo baby). Isn't she awesome!?

B, Big Deal.

So I have been a "big deal" with all of my friends and family in the last couple of days. (I don't actually think I am, but I'd be a sucker not to enjoy the attention while it lasts...)

A few years ago I would have never thought that I would be in CreComm (A program that many people with incredible talent have gone through, and are currently going through), and I never would have imagined that I would be writing for the Winnipeg Free Press.

This internship is only two weeks, so I am going to enjoy the long work days, and the "out of my league" feeling. -- I get frustrated with myself on what seems to be an hourly basis because I feel like such an ammature. Everybody hates feeling like an ammature. Everybody.

But, like I said, I am going to enjoy it.

As cliche as this might sound; in the last three years I have realized that anything in life is truly possible. I have lived more, and have achieved more, in the last three years of my life than I did in the 27 years before that.

I don't know what's in store for the future, and I am sure that tomorrow will knock me back into reality (when I realize that my apartment is a mess, I have no clean clothes, and my fat pants are getting tight) but right now, I am so thankful for this life I live.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The FP: Day 1

Well day one was a barrel of excitement! -- My first story is tiny (if you don't look hard enough for it, you'll probably miss it...It's what we would all probably just call a "blurb".) But I am A-OK with that. -- It took me a lot longer to write than I thought it would, and I started to get really flustered in the process.

But it was my first day, right!?

Sitting at my little intern desk, there were no creative juices flowing, I was trying way too hard to make it good, that I couldn't even think straight. I was nervous as all hell!

Alas, I finished, and it will be in the paper tomorrow! (I hope...)

I got my "mugshot" taken today as well, with a little write up about me, and the John W. Dafoe internship. (That is going to be in the paper as well...Tomorrow?!)

It's really neat, and I am really excited to be there, but I would be lying if I said that I feel so very out of my element. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a learning process, and that I am not going to be awesome right off the bat. (Seriously, my story should not have taken as long as it did to write, and as I sit in my apartment now, I realize what I could have done to make it better...)

I have to get rid of these jitters; I have no idea why I am so nervous...

alas, tomorrow is another day.

Don't forget to buy the paper tomorrow (I don't think my story is going to be online...)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

F, Free Press

Tomorrow I start my internship at the Free Press. I am nervous and excited about this awesome opportunity that I have been given! (I have wanted to be a journalist for so long, and now that I am actually able to intern for a newspaper that I have read for so many years, I am sort of in disbelief!) Life is good.

I am not really sure what to expect at the Free Press, but I will blog about my experience (as it goes along) so that I can look back in a couple of weeks, and just take it all in...If you know what I'm sayin...

I guess I better get to bed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Story I read (most of) at Aqua Books

Sarah’s Spirit Walk


Shelley Cook

On the day that Sarah died, I thought the whole world was going to fall apart. I was just thirteen years old when Uncle Bennett came storming into the house to tell us that Sarah had hanged herself from the big crab apple tree by Nelson Bear’s house.

“They did this to her,” my uncle sobbed, and he sank into a chair at the kitchen table, and lowered his head. “The fucking white man, he did this.”

At that moment, it seemed as though everything just stopped for a moment or two. We were all in shock as soon as the horrible news was spewed out of Uncle Bennett’s mouth, so we all just kind of froze.

There was an eery sense of calm in the house for the rest of that day; mom started burning sweetgrass and tobacco, and she told my younger brother Darien to go and get Chief Sinclair, and bring him to the house. Dad left, to find solitude and answers away from the darkness that surrounded the house. And I just stood there, watching my uncle, a strong warrior, break down at the kitchen table.

“She didn’t have to do this,” he cried. “She didn’t have to do this...”

Sarah was my younger cousin by seven months. She was a small girl with long brown hair, and the blackest eyes you’ve ever seen. At 12-years old she was like a tiny adult, who was wise beyond her years. She was the only girl out of Uncle Bennett and Aunty Fern’s eight kids, and because of that, and her terrific beauty, she was coveted like a treasure in the Prince household.

Everybody liked Sarah. Everybody did.

At her wake, Sarah’s tiny handmade coffin was dressed in a traditional star blanket composed of the four traditional colours; red, black, white and yellow. Her hair was done in braids, and she was wearing her favourite dress that nana made for her for her last birthday. She didn’t look like herself; her lifeless body looked rubbery...Empty.

Her coffin that lay in nana’s crowded foyer, looked like a claustrophobic box; a pine prison away from eternity.

Suicide wasn’t unusual here, not even by someone at the age of twelve.

The sound of of the drum was think in the air, competing with the chants of the singers who were sitting in a circle, pounding on the drum hide. The smell of death and sweetgrass and tobacco loomed around us, bringing back painful memories of all that had gone on before Sarah. Old people cried, and stroked Sarah’s rubbery face, as though trying to invoke her sleeping spirit. Young people, we cried; out of heartache and fear of our own mortality. Many of us have seen more funerals than birthdays.

Elder Thundersky, dad’s cousin, spoke, of the Creator who called Sarah home.

“She has embarked on her journey home,” he said. “The Creator will light the path, as she takes that journey home...”

He told the rest of us that we were the future, and that we needed to find a better way within the circle rather than a way to escape it. “You’re circles must be bigger,” he said. “You are the future, you must continue to respect the life that the Creator has given to you...The life of our culture. If you die, a piece of it dies as well...”

We listened through our pain, realizing that Sarah’s death was a reminder that we didn’t learn from the last one, or the one before that. There were too many dead rez kids, and we all looked around wondering whose pain and sorrow would get them next.

Even through our sorrow though, we all understood why Sarah did it; we’ve all considered it before, as a way out of the hopeless conditions that plagued our people. -- Even if we made it through our teenage years, the hopelessness would still remain; just another Indian, striving to be human in a foreign society.

Sarah was sick of not being human; of not understanding the culture that was stolen from her long before she was born. She was sad and hopeless, like so many of us who unwillingly traded in our childhoods for this reality.

We sat there, through the darkness of night, waiting with Sarah’s body, as her spirit took its journey home.

For three days we waited in nana’s foyer. The journey to the other side was a three day course. In those three days, we prayed, offering tobacco to the Creator, asking for Sarah’s journey to be a safe one. We paid respect for her life, and guided her though our prayers and songs.

On the third day, Sarah’s brothers, Bennett Jr., Franklin, Morris, Cecil, Archie, Tony and Daniel hoisted her tiny coffin, out of nana’s foyer. The procession followed, wandering to the edge of the reserve, where all the others were buried. A sea of homemade wooden crosses poked out of the earth, and even from a distance we all knew exactly where each of our friends and family lay.

Uncle Bennett and Aunty Fern wept, as the singers followed with the bittersweet sound of the death song. Dogs howled, as the coldness of winter burned our exposed skin. The sky was grey, and the wind was calm but chilling. Children, still oblivious to the sacred moment of this sombre goodbye, complained about being cold. Mothers ignored them, instead offering their care and attention to my dead cousins parents.

In death we were all a family, united by tragedy. Though our hearts are broken, our spirits run high; men partake in sweats, and therefore must abstain from everything, and cleanse their bodies. Women care for the dead, and their broken families. We have become so good at this routine; creating a path to the spirit world for the ones that have gone before us.

They put her into the ground, in the late afternoon in November, and she was no more. Another tragic ending to years of abuse and neglect of an already broken culture. -- If her death was deemed important, a white woman would come and talk to us about her. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. I was pretty sure that they would with Sarah, she was just the kind of story that they liked; pretty and young, and shockingly abrupt to meet her demise.

When people across the invisible Indian line would find out, they would say her act was tragically selfish, and that her parents must be to blame. But they didn’t know what life was like on this side of the world, they’re far too oblivious to look at what it’s like from this angle.

On the long walk home, past the apple tree in Nelson Bear’s back yard, the only sound that could be heard was the crunching of the hard snow beneath our feet, and the quiet whimpers from Sarah’s parents. Even the kids, after watching the pine box being buried deep into the ground, seemed to finally understand the sadness of this day.

Mom grabbed my hand, and walked quietly back into real life with me, squeezing it so hard, as though she never wanted to let me go. Dad marched behind, protecting us from the darkness that loomed behind us in the overpopulated cemetery. Nana, at 87-years old, walked in front, clutching to Elder Thundersky, who led the procession home.

And when it was done, and we all returned to our shabby little homes, the stench of death was still upon us. Mom burned more sweetgrass and tobacco, sending our prayers to the Creator, and to Sarah. Dad, went out with Uncle Bennett, and Uncle Gordy to chop down the old apple tree in Nelson Bear’s back yard; and I sat near the wood stove with my brother, trying to escape the chill that had seeped into my bones.

In the days following Sarah’s funeral, life around the rez was almost tranquil. Nobody spoke, and the silence almost made it appear like Sarah never left. Mom got back to her daily work of making traditional ceremonial regalia, and moccasins. Dad left the day after Sarah’s funeral for a 10-day hunting trip, and Darien and I just sat, afraid to talk, for fear of disrupting the silent denial that blanketed the community.

Uncle Bennett and Aunty Fern stayed hidden away in their house for a really long time. The boys were the only vein of life left in that house. They would come around every now and again, putting on a tough facade for everyone who was watching them so intently. But Aunty Fern and Uncle Bennett rarely saw the light of day anymore. Not since Sarah died.

Sometimes mom would send me over with some baking or homemade cooking for the boys, but after she became annoyed with my begging and pleading not to have to go to what I explained to her as “the house of horrors”, she started to send Darien instead. He’d do it. He was too young to really appreciate how depressing the situation had become, and he really liked playing with his older cousins. He didn't realize how tragic and haunted Uncle Bennett and Aunty Fern's house was.

There were more suicides after Sarah; younger, older, it didn’t matter, there were just more. The hopelessness that claimed Sarah’s life was still very much alive, and with each generation it encountered.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Three more days until Christmas vacation!

This is kind of what my mind looks like right now; I don't even know if I have anything left for the last three days of school.


M, Mrs. Woods

Since the Tiger Woods scandal broke, more and more women have been coming out of the woodwork, claiming that they too have had an affair with the golfer.

Right now the mistress count is at eleven.

Eleven! -- Twelve if you include my friend Catherine, who claims that she is one of Tiger's ladies...


Though I still stand by my original Tiger Woods post (about him being like a kid in a candy store) I can't help but feel bad for his poor wife Elin, who has to confront this gigantic scandal head on, with pictures and firsthand accounts...

I dated a Winnipeg Tiger Woods once. (Well, except for being a billionaire golfer, this guy was a broke pothead; and he wasn't really anything like Tiger Woods except for the cheating aspect...But still!)

Anyways, I feel bad for poor Mrs. Woods because not only did her husband cheat on her (with numerous women), but now she is bombarded with the tell all accounts of many of these ladies. (Didn't anybody ever tell them that it wasn't lady-like to kiss and tell?!)

Elin, honey, I feel your pain!

I don't even have anything more to say about this...I am just curious to see how many more women come out of the woodwork...

Anybody feel like betting?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

S, Social Networking in class is #1...

In my PR class, we are actually required to blog and twitter. (Pinch me, this seems too good to be true!) -- Alas, I have to admit, I am still a little weary of having my whole life out on display for everyone to see, but I guess I have been blogging for a thousand years already, so I should be used to it.

I love (legally) blogging and twittering in class.

T, Tiger, Tiger

Oh Tiger, Tiger, Tiger...

Squeaky clean golfer Tiger Woods has been caught with his pants down, so to speak.

Last week US Weekly broke the story about Woods having an affair with a 24-year old cocktail waitress, and now the media frenzy surrounding Woods is a complete gong show! (Do you expect anything less?!)

Since the story broke, Woods has gotten into a single-vehicle car accident, with his wife smashing in the windows of his Escalade; text messages and a voicemail that he sent to his 24-year mistress leaked to the media; and a number of other women who have come out of the woodwork claiming that they have also had an affair with him. (last time I checked, there were three.)

The thing that gets me is how shocked and surprised everybody seems to be about this; call me crazy, but the guy is a fairly good-looking billionaire, who, although he is married, likely has millions of hot women throwing themselves at him every day?!

I'm not trying to justify his behaviour, but logically speaking, most people -- including "squeaky clean celebs" -- are only as faithful as their opportunities. (Woods is like the proverbial kid in a candy store, who bought the kit-kat, but could afford to buy the whole damn store...)

I dunno.

I know that he is a public figure, who has managed (until recently) to maintain a very good image within the media; but he got caught doing something he shouldn't have, and now everybody is taking every opportunity to persecute him.

The guy is probably paying the heftiest punishment at home. -- If I were his wife, I don't even know what I would do. (It's too bad she has to be scorned in such a public light.)

KICK, sports chick.

"Good morning you're listening to 92.9 KICK FM, I'm Shelley Cook, and this is sports..."

So I have been doing the sports briefs on my college radio station this week; it's been fun (Thanks in huge part to my friend Lee who has helped me write my sports reports) but it has also been super-duper hard because I know almost nothing about the sports that I am reporting...

And the names of the athletes...Don't get me started!

I love being on the radio though; I am so lucky to be in a program that allows me to do stuff like this; I am having so much fun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

H: Happy Retirement Mr. Earle

One of my supervisors, Dave Earle, has retired. -- I know that this doesn't really pertain to my blog, but in a sense it does.

You see, although my life is consumed by CreComm, I do still spend 21 hours of my week at work. -- Two days a week, at 10.5 hours each...It gets pretty brutal sometimes...

Anyhow, tonight I went to Dave's retirement party. Dave has been working for my corporation since 1994, and is essentially a fixture in the large crown corporation. (He has been there longer than many of the people who are running the show!)

When I first came into the department that I am in now, Dave and I were already friends. However, we quickly became "enemies" for about two-years, because he wouldn't take my shit. (Future employers, I assure you, I have changed!)

In the last three years, Dave and I have been quite close, and I am truly sad to see him go!

Good luck Mr. Earle, enjoy your retirement my friend!