A Little Bit of Journalism

by 38 Concordia graduate diploma students

Montreal’s Folk Festival

My first radio assignment! I hadn’t brought my camera so I had to improvise with the images. They’re not terribly exciting but they give you something to look at. On youtube I list where I got the images (only a few of them are mine).

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August 18, 2009 Posted by | Radio | , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Radomski: comedian

A mini radio documentary

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Radio | , , , | Leave a comment

Jordan Poppenk – Firing on all Synapses

Somewhere between the heart and the brain lies the world of Jordan Poppenk, the multitalented host of The Green Majority (TGM), Canada’s only environmental news hour.

When not involved in radio, the 26 year-old kills time as a neurology PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, a passionate film critic, a cyclist and a swing dancer.  Poppenk’s near-crazed energy for life is enough to make the most self-assured person feel like a disappointment.

The list of his achievements would be maddening if not for his disarming character and his calming radio presence.  To know him is to be sucked into a whirlwind of eclectic activities.  “I’m interested in others’ knowledge and perspectives and so ask a lot of questions. I think people engaging on familiar terrain can put people at ease,” Poppenk said confidently, his charismatic personality complimented by a handsome, sincere look.

The contagion of Poppenk’s enthusiasm is what has made TGM such a success.  Now carried by 13 different Canadian radio stations and on the Internet, the show takes a refreshing look at the environment without becoming overbearing and preachy.  “Our programming is not activist,” he said.  “The Green Majority is a source of news and ideas, but not a campaign.”

While he enjoys cycling and maintains a soft spot for the Lindy Hop, Poppenk’s serious pursuits are decidedly cerebral.  As if taking cues from his neurological research, he uses radio in much the same way that the brain uses neurons: as a vector for information, a way to convey abstract ideas tangibly.

“Radio is personal, and ideal for engaging the imagination,” he said musingly.  “People tune in while they’re on their own doing laundry, commuting to work, times when they have the mind space to really listen and think things through.  Where else in the media landscape can you spend twenty minutes really getting to the bottom of an issue?”

As environmental issues gain steam, and heads become hotter, TGM is unique in the media, an industry innovator.  “Quite organically, we’ve attracted a theologian, scientists, a social justice advocate… all our correspondents are “expert” in their topic area,” Poppenk said.  “That’s surprisingly uncommon in mainstream journalism.”

And TGM runs with a minimalist, volunteer-based budget.  “People are there because they love radio and they’re passionate about the issues,” according to Poppenk.  “We have more fun.”

TGM is refreshing in its scientific, Quirks and Quarks-esque presentation, avoiding the sensationalism and polarized politics that sometimes creep into environmental programming.  “The findings tend to be pretty dramatic on their own,” said Poppenk.  “All we do on our program is give scientists a place to tell their stories and help listeners understand the impact of their findings.”

Even with a research background, though, dealing with the depressing reality of environmental news can be trying.  The usually steadfast scientist has had trouble dealing with the volume of bad news that can arrive at once.  “On those weeks it can be a struggle to put a positive face forwards, but I do my best,” he said

A career as a journalist has crossed his mind, but he said he feels happier volunteering on the radio while pursuing other studies.  “I think there’s a big opportunity for citizen-driven media to make strides in the coming years.”

Despite the incredible amount of effort it takes to produce TGM, Poppenk and company are fueled by a hope that their efforts go some distance to improve democracy in Canada.  He said, “it helps to have a program dedicated to education about green issues and current events – that’s our contribution”

His vision for the community-based stations from which he broadcasts is long term; “I hope to see growth towards community-media models, with listeners providing the substantial funding needed to keep an active news organization humming, and eventually, to fund full-time citizen reporters.”

“For the time being, I’ve found a way to contribute to the best of my ability,” said Poppenk, remaining humble about his own future.  “Regardless of how things turn out, that’s important to me.”

August 5, 2009 Posted by | People, Print | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Circus of Hope

Inspired by Guy Laliberté‘s Cirque du Monde, Cirque d’Ruelle is a self-directed circus school for and by homeless people in Montreal.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | People, Radio | , , , | Leave a comment

Transforming Turcot

Montreal’s Village des Tanneries is a neighbourhood rich in history, culture and community, but now it faces destruction at the hands of the ministry of transport. Residents have been fighting against expropriation and for the continuation of their space. This documentary explores the struggle between community and economy in modern urban centres.  For more information on the Turcot rebuild, check here.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Road to Nowhere: Turcot Rebuild Lacks Vision, Not Funds

Urban planners have spent the last 40 years developing ways of making cities more livable.  The verdict is in: highways are out.

The Turcot Interchange, once a marvel of technology and the pride of Montreal, is disintegrating in front of our eyes.  Like anything man made, it has a life span.  It seems though, that people have been taken by surprise by the structure’s demise, shocked that money needs to be spent in order to keep the city running.

The real surprise though, is that the Turcot’s redesign and reconstruction now feels rushed and last minute.

Quebec’s Ministère des Transports has known about the need to eventually rebuild or refurbish the highway since the day it was built.  Engineers working for the ministry are intelligent people, who build room for error and life expectancy into their blueprints.

The mistake of not seeing further ahead does not lie with the designers but with politicians; unfortunately, not many infrastructure projects work on four-year cycles.

Hurriedly rebuilding a structure worth more than a billion and a half dollars is not just silly; it is suspicious.  Questionable, too, are the plans hatched by the ministry to rebuild the highway at ground level, increase the number of lanes by 50 per cent and raze 400 people’s homes in St. Henri, all without a thought about increasing public transit options.

Some say that other designs such as tunnels and newer aerial bridges would cost too much, but initial cost should not be the deciding factor in Montreal’s future.  As Canada’s second largest city, there is money to be had.

Roads built here should cost more than roads in the countryside; they are built with funds drawn from a larger pool.  A road built within the city of Montreal directly affects the quality of life of several million people, whereas one carrying the same traffic in the countryside is built under very different circumstances.  With space at a premium, how could it be appropriate to use it up with bigger roads and parking lots?

There are few things that can destroy a city’s vitality faster than a highway.  Compare Los Angeles with Paris, for example, and the problems with the car-heavy model become obvious.  Los Angeles is a divided city, carved up into blocks of territory only accessible by car.  Paris, on the other hand, is renowned for it’s public transportation and not its automobile access.

While European cities were built before the car craze came along, Montreal bought in to automobiles.  With gas prices rising and car manufacturers going bankrupt, it does not take a genius to know that change is coming to cities everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means an inevitable and comprehensive redesign of our transportation networks.

By ignoring the issue of the Turcot Interchange for the past 40 years, city and provincial politicians have swept a mountain of concrete under the rug.  Now, with the deadline fast approaching, politicians and planners ought to be working hard to create an inspiring vision of the city.  But in the lead-up to this year’s municpal election, Montrealers have received only received short sighted and cowardly attempts to court voters.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Print | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Jean Baptiste Day: Portrait of a Pilgrimage

Whatever an authentic Quebecer is, there is no better place to find one than Quebec City on St. Jean Baptiste Day. Every June 23, pilgrims from around the province migrate to the capital for the national holiday, yet the boundaries that define the nation are as blurry as the origins of the day itself.

Having been celebrated for so long, for so many different causes, the holiday’s significance has become a moving target. “Summer solstice was first a pagan festival before it was taken over by the Pope,” said Priscilla LaMontagne, a guide at the St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church in Quebec City.

Sometimes seen as a separatist celebration in Quebec, nationalist connotations to the festival did not begin until 1834, and it was only in 1908 that John the Baptist was made patron saint of French Canadians by Pope Pius X. Confusingly, St. John is also the patron saint of Newfoundland, where June 24 is celebrated as Discovery Day.

Advance publicity focused on tensions between francophone separatists and anglophone residents of Quebec. Debates raged over whether English music could be allowed in Montreal festivities. Anglophone university students in the province were warned not to approach anyone in English, lest they set off the hair-trigger of rabid nationalistic violence.

Finally, on Tuesday, the highly controversial religious holiday turned province-wide piss-up drew a congregation of over 250,000 to the Plains of Abraham. Bonfires and fireworks were lit over the ancient battlefields until dawn. The next morning, the plains were littered with clumps of bodies; many sleeping and others still nursing their remaining beers.

Despite the ominous warnings issued, there was little doubt, in the dark intoxication of the night, that every one of the revelers was an authentic Quebecer.

“There used to be a lot of riots, because police enforced an end to the celebration on the Plains of Abraham by midnight,” said a tour guide at the St. Jean Baptiste Catholic church. “Now, because people are allowed to stay as late as they want, there are rarely any problems.”

The difficult decision of exactly who should be celebrating St. Jean, and for what reason, was effectively sidestepped by exaggerated alcohol consumption and a lax security presence.

While most boozed away national tensions, Manitoban punk-rock quartet Propagandhi used St. Jean as a springboard for highly politicized songs from their new album “Supporting Caste.”

Propagandhi’s anglophone, anti-establishment, anti-nationalist music was a bold choice for the night. Still, the concert was sold out. “I’m a citizen of the world,” declared front man Chris Hannah, the sweaty crowd erupting into cheers.

Though hardly subtle, the band’s message was clear: “Fuck Zionism. Fuck militarism. Fuck Americanism. Fuck nationalism. Fuck religion.” Fans seemed to feel the same way, viewing nationalist tensions as old fashioned.

St. Jean is “nothing more than a reason to get drunk any more,” said a fan from Montreal standing outside the show.

Despite the holiday’s progression from paganism to Catholicism to nationalism, and now to alcoholism, an undertow of spirituality could still be felt. How else to explain swimmers’ impermeability to pollution in the St. Laurence, or to account for the superhuman endurance of revelers with no regard for tomorrow? How else, other than by some divine power, could Quebec be united for one night?

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Print | , , , , , | Leave a comment