Wordstock 2010: Writing for the ‘web’

Wordstock — the annual one-day journalism conference at Ryerson University Oct. 2, is getting back to basics this year: Writing. I’m doing an hour-long session on writing for the web. (You can register for the conference here.)

Seems simple enough. Except, it’s a huge topic.

So below is where I am so far in breaking this topic, but I’d love your input.

What do you think young/aspiring journalists need to know about writing for the web? Should I focus on SEO, twitter, liveblogging?


1) Search engine optimization: just the basics. Keywords, where they need to be & why. Importance of link text being relevant.

2) Style. Why it matters online.


1) What words to use/not use. Research on what words do/don’t get retweeted (marketers are all over this topic). How to use hashtags.

2) Breaking news: Famous examples and writerly examples. Rules of the road, ethics to consider.


1) Examples  (breaking news, sports events, watching tweets).

2) Doug Smith’s top live blogging tips.


The long way home — for my wallet

This week I went to a Blue Jays game with a few people from work.

It was a good game, good company, beers, fun. Afterwards we all jumped in a cab and went to Bravi on Wellington Street — a fav hang-out of my boss. Next stop reservoir lounge. Final stop, home — around 2:30 a.m. (and that was very unusual). Way too late for a weeknight. That’s FOR SURE.

So morning comes around. I drag myself upright,  get ready for work, grab my purse to go to the office. Huh. Purse feels unusually light.

Right… that’s because there’s no wallet.

Great. Memories of teenaged years. No wallet.

Great. GREAT. Great. Everything is in there. Social insurance card — driver’s license, health card.

On the way to work I’m actually wondering how I’d replace them all, since it included all my ID. Suddenly I have no way of getting money, or proving to the bank I’m actually who I say I am.

When I get to work, I call and cancel things. It seems the only identifying thing I actually HAVE is my mother’s maiden name. Sheesh. Thank goodness for that!

So I called Bravi — they hadn’t found it.

Panic panic panic.

Then I get an e-mail from home.

Subject line: horseshoes.

Horseshoes INDEED.

Dear Melissa, the note began. My brother (Richard) found your wallet last night. He tried to return it to you then. However, no answer when he knocked on door. I tried this morning on his behalf before dropping off at 55 division police.

The note goes on to tell me where the station is, and is signed Marion.

It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? When I get to 55 division later that day I actually feel like there will be some joke — the wallet will be back, but there will be nothing in it or something.

But no — everything is there. Tokens, money — everything.

So thank you to Richard and Marion — Leslievillers extraordinaire.

Swirl: Tiny wine bar in Leslieville charms

I’d been eyeing the entrance to Swirl for some time.

I wasn’t really sure what it was — a stenciled door with a purple light shining on it… at 946 and 1/2 Queen Street East. Was it really a wine bar? Was I brave enough to go in? But  I started to read the odd review wafting around the internet and realized it really was as advertised.

So after much expectation, I went to Swirl last night for dinner.

You walk up the long set of stairs and when you get to the top it feels like you’re in someone’s apartment. Because … well you kind of are. It’s a one-bedroom apartment that’s reportedly 600 square feet and it has been converted into a wine bar. The kitchen — what was once the kitchen — is now the bar where the staff prep things. There are  six tables at the front — most are old sewing machine stands. There’s a large room at the back that could comfortably sit a large party around a large harvest table.

The vibe in the place is  nice. Cool art, great decorating, lots of people chatting. It feels comfortable and cool. It’s  amazing how much they’ve got into such a small space.

First off, I’d say their wine list is really good. They have an interesting selection, many by the glass. And the prices range from $7/glass up to about $12 if my memory serves me. I had a Cave Springs Reisling Dolomite, a Viongier (can’t remember which one!) and a Gewurztraminer, all really nice.

My friend Megan and I went after work — so we were hungry and we came for dinner. Yes, dinner. (Insert eyebrow lift)

I admit I was a little worried because I knew they didn’t have a kitchen. The apartment’s “kitchen” is now the servers area/bar to prepare things.

So you can order “jars” which are small mason jars filled with varying things ($9 each) that come with crackers and fresh baguette. We ordered a stilton jar, a duck confit jar and a chicken liver pate jar. The stilton was the fav by a long shot, the pate was nice — nice flavour and texture. I enjoyed the duck confit less — super rich and not as interesting as the other two. We also ordered a chaceuterie plate. The plate was good — had a really great ham, an italian spicy pork (my fav), a duck (which friend Megan loved) and a summer sausage which was good, but probably would have been better with less olive oil (they marinade it). But that is likely an individual taste thing.

The presentation is adorable — the jars come with little labels and you open them yourself.

I really enjoyed Swirl, and since it’s right around the corner, there’s no doubt I’ll be back. I don’t think I’d go after work on Friday when I’m really hungry, but I’d go with girlfriends for a drink and munchies. Serving that function, it’s a fantastic place. Great ambience, yummy munchies, good wine list. As a place for dinner — not so much, but really Swirl isn’t trying to be that …

Campus media – how will they survive?

My old alma mater — the Queen’s Journal — asked me write a piece for their last issue of the student newspaper. I loosely knew I wanted to write about the future of campus media, and then started to read up on what’d been happening on campus. Gabe King, the long-suffering den mother of the Journal said — as I suspected — that both readership and advertising were down.

But I was also struck by how little innovation was actually happening. Shouldn’t universities and campus media be the hub of innovation? Weren’t university students the ones who protest, have sit-ins?

My Queen’s Journal article here.

I’ve got to say, while the piece calls for people to start innovating in their media before it’s too late, in the build up to writing the piece I came across one prof at Queen’s doing lots of innovating. If you haven’t already, you should really check out the work of Sydney Eve Matrix at cyberpop.

What newsroom leaders can learn from GM and Toyota

I love This American Life.

Even if you’re not a big podcast person, you need to listen to this one. I’ve been a fan for a long time. This weekend I was catching up on my podcasts, and I listened to the one from last week — Episode 403, NUMMI.

The podcast was about GM and Toyota and a plant in California where the two companies, long ago, joined forces. That experiment could have taught GM a thing or two and helped keep it alive, the podcast argues.

Before its current problems, Toyota’s leadership style was based on a collaborative approach — one that rewarded employees for innovation, one that valued employee input and even allowed workers on the line to stop the line so a problem with a car could be fixed. The result was a better car — a more reliable one. And the result of that? More market share.

By contrast, GM had a command and control leadership style. The production line was kept going at all cost so cars were produced with flaws and problems and that eroded market share. Company executives didn’t seem to notice the erosion was happening.

Remind you of another industry?

While on the surface the podcast was about dueling car companies, it had a lot to say about change-ready industries and leadership.

I don’t think newspapers are the next GM but they’re not exactly (the old) Toyota either. It was interesting to hear how the Toyota leaders gave bonuses to employees who found efficiencies. Toyota respected its employees and realized the path to a better company was in their hands.

I’m not sure how many leaders in the newspaper industry live that ideal. I was talking to Torstar Digital president Tomer Strolight recently at a leadership session and he talked a lot about the importance of employees, of thinking of their careers and of including them in the company’s important decisions. It not only makes sure the best choices are made, it tells an employee that he or she matter.

The best resource I can provide on this issue is the Learning Newsroom, a three-year project that gave executive-style training to everyone in the 10 newsrooms selected to take part. I was lucky enough to be at the Hamilton Spectator when the program was running in that newsroom.

I don’t think media leaders talk enough about leadership styles or how leadership will or won’t lead us into the future.

If you’re a newsroom leader looking for a little inspiration on the collaborative approach, listen to the podcast.

How to get a job in online journalism

I spoke last week to a small group of George Brown students taking a journalism course. It was a fun session (because they were really engaged) and when I did the test case, brainstorming how to cover a large local news story (I give them the scenario) they brainstormed a list of ideas I think many big media newsrooms would be hard-pressed to match.

After the session two of the students came to chat to me.

The question? How do I get hired.

I get that question a lot. They weren’t asking how they’d get hired at the Star, but in general. One had significant experience in Germany (no Canadian experience), another was trying to make a career transition INTO journalism (ie full-time job, hard to leave!)

So here’s my top 5 things people wanting to be a professional online journalist need to do.

1) You need to understand what’s under the hood of a website — not how to change the transmission, but how to put in windshield wiper fluid. To be in online media, you need to be a solid journalist. But that’s not all. You have to understand the online medium, be excited about and know the basics of what makes a site work. Make sure you have the right skills.

2) You need journalism schooling. I cringe when I say that because when I showed up at Ryerson University I already had two internships at daily newspapers under my belt (Barrie Examiner and Kingston Whig-Standard) and thought I should be able to jump directly into a career. But going to Ryerson (beyond teaching me stuff) opened a lot of doors. It got me job interviews. I don’t think it has to be at a university — there are quite a few good journalism programs at colleges — but you need it. Very, very few people don’t go to J school these days. And maybe you’re Oscar Wilde, but if you’re not — you need some help with getting your foot in the door.

3) Get experience. It is way WAY more important than your marks. No one has ever asked to see my degree. Honestly, I don’t even know what my grades at Ryerson were anymore. What I do remember is the great front-page story I got on the Toronto Star working as a student in its radio room. I remember the summer internships (I got because of Ryerson). And it was the internships and portfolio that got me a full-time job. So you should try and get your foot in the door anywhere — part-time, contract, internships, where-ever and when ever you can. Times like during Olympics and elections are great to get that chance because news organizations often hire people on short-term contracts.

4) Twitter. It’s a great place to hear about seminars, Toronto-based camps (CampVJ is coming up!). It’s the perfect networking tool … not in the slightly irritating Linkedin way, but in an engaging, interesting way. If you’re well-read and post interesting links, you’ll find others like you.

5) Blog. Go and do it. I’ve found many impressive blogs by students and wannabe journalists. Here’s an example of a UWO student going out there and doing it. People who are involved in the online community get the online space. That’s why they make good hires.

Opening night at Ruby Watchco – Lynn Crawford’s new Leslieville restaurant

I’ve been really, really (ok – just one more time… REALLY) excited about a new restaurant opening in the old Citizen

Lynn Crawford (left), Lora Kirk and me.

building on Queen East, just east of Broadview. The windows have been covered over for weeks. Word had it, it was opening Tuesday night.

The excitement? Well, the Queen East strip is really up and coming. It has lots of restaurants, but I would argue still looking for an top-tier restaurant (don’t get me wrong there are three to four I’d go to every week if I could). I was hoping (am hoping) Ruby Watchco will take Queen East to the next level in food sophistication.

And, by my judging last night, it does that.

I snagged a reservation on opening night. Everyone knows you shouldn’t judge a restaurant on its first night. But there’s a rush about an opening night — staff are excited and none of the reviewers are there so us normal people can be left in peace and quiet.

While the food and decor are sophisticated, none of it is austere or snooty. Really interesting light fixtures, very cool Ruby Watch Co sign. The guy next to me grew up in this space — his father named a clothing store after him in the same spot.

That type of comfort actually imbibes the space. The food is sophisticated but it’s still distinctly a neighbourhood place.

The interior doesn’t look anything like its predecessor. The best part is actually at the back, it’s an open galley kitchen with a massive butcher’s block, of sorts, in front. That’s where Lynn Crawford was all night, plating everything as it came out of the kitchen. All of the sides come out in Le Crueset mini red pots.

When you call to make a reservation they’ll ask you if you have any dietary restrictions — be honest. This is NOT a restaurant with a menu. It’s a prix fix ($49). You don’t pick what you’re eating. You eat what they’re making. And, frankly, I love it. The menu changes every night. At first I just said oh yes — everything is fine, but I called back to whimper out, when I realized it’d be prix fix, that I didn’t eat red meat. They totally took it in stride and accommodated, but be honest at the outset.

The servers were courteous, knew what they were serving, and were very knowledgeable about the wines, which I definitely appreciated. The wine list is impressive with quite a few options by the glass.

Dinner started with Ruby’s chicken caesar with red romaine, pulled chicken, egg, avocado, and a garlic comfit.

The main course for my friend Catharine was grilled flanked steak. I had grilled pickerel — which was good (crispy skin, not over-cooked) if slightly bland. But really, the meal was all about the sides (which came in their own small red pots).

The smoked mushrooms with caramelized onion were divine. The parsnip fries were actually hit and miss — some were undercooked (ok, they were raw) while others were nice and crunchy. But it’s opening night. I’d definitely forgive that.

The cream spinach and leeks could be my breakfast every day if I wanted to weigh 300 pounds.

The main course was followed by a really great cheese course, with 10-year-old Ottawa Valley cheddar, a home-made balsamic and onion pickle with honey and walnut bread. (The combo of pickle and honey was amazing).

The desert was a lemon tart with a lemon thyme sweet cream. The tart involved probably the best lemon curd I’ve ever tasted — and I make lemon curd myself.

I’ve got to say the two most refreshing things about this meal was nothing was overcooked (hurray!) and the seasoning was immaculate.

Lynn Crawford was chatting to everyone and as I said to her last night, I don’t think Leslieville would have been ready for this restaurant five years ago. But it is the right restaurant, at the right time, in the right place.

I’ll definitely be back.