What is the relationship between journalist and subject in the context of news?

A journalist should, first and foremost, hold their subject to account. That should never involve duping the subject. A reporter must be transparent about their intentions and treat the subject fairly. The goal is to ultimately earn the subject's trust. 

For marginalized subjects who struggle with unfair media representations, that doesn't always come easily. It’s a dilemma I experienced last summer when reporting on Black Lives Matter Toronto. When I first approached the group, I could sense their hesitance. I was a white reporter coming from a paper that caters to a largely white upper-class audience. BLM's wariness was legitimate.  

In my interview request, I tried to be as forthright as possible. I outlined the questions I sought to answer. I acknowledged the gaps in our readership’s understanding of racial issues and asked for their help in cultivating that awareness.

My editor warned me that BLM would dismiss my interview request. But after my email, the group agreed to talk. I met one of their members in a park, and we had a frank and eye-opening conversation. As we wrapped up, the member mentioned it was one of the best interviews she had done in recent memory.

That felt like a small victory. I knew that I was seeing the issues of black people through my purple glasses (drawing on the color theory reference from our last class). But the important thing was that I had listened closely and made an honest attempt in gaining the member's trust. 


"Now that I'm in journalism school, I think of journalism as..."

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of the right word for this statement. But I’m stumped. And I think that uncertainty sums up my j-school experience so far. 

I’ve always seen journalism as something you do rather than study. I got my start in reporting at my student paper, where I took on my first news story never having done an interview and unsure of how to turn on my recorder. But I stumbled through it, survived, and did slightly better the next time. That’s why sitting in a classroom, mediating on journalism, has felt, at times, indulgent.

But j-school has also been refreshing. In a daily news environment, it’s rare that you get to have critical conversations about our industry. Editors don’t have time to critique your work, and it can be intimidating to ask a question to a veteran reporter. The instructors and panelists in j-school have been so forthcoming and genuine in their intent to help us. I've left some classes feeling very appreciative. 

There’s also an optimism in j-school that’s severely lacking in many newsrooms. It’s easy to succumb to the cynicism of your older newsroom colleagues. But my j-school peers are young, bright and eager to learn. Their hopefulness is pushing me to re-think my doom-and-gloom perspective of journalism.  

Hopeful. Maybe that's the word I've been trying to think of. 

My favourite city in Europe

Whenever people ask me “How was your trip?”, I usually force a grin and panic as I think of what to say. My answer tends to be superficial: “Great! So much fun!” To give a suitable answer would mean sitting down with that person for three hours and unpacking the life-changing implications of travel.

A better question, and one that I enjoy answering, is “What was your favourite city?” It’s concise and lets me spout out the highlights of an overwhelming experience. 

So, as to avoid glossing over the really cool stuff I got to do in Europe, I thought it would be useful to rank my favourite cities. I’m starting today with my favourite city, because who wants a depressing intro? The rankings are somewhat arbitrary. Factors like cost, quality of life, culture, food and sightseeing all play a part. But the list mainly come down to which cities I best jived with. Whatever that means.  

1.     Copenhagen

I knew next nothing to about Denmark, and just as little about its capital. Mostly what I pictured came from Instagram shots showcasing its rainbow-coloured harbour and endless army of cyclists. It was one of the few cities I was genuinely excited to visit.  

 Nyvahn Harbour 

Nyvahn Harbour 

I instantly knew the city had potential when I walked through its airport. It was clean and filled with quality stores and restaurants. The metro ride to our Airbnb was conspicuously easy, the train whizzing to the city centre with automated precision. 

I nearly cried when we walked into our Airbnb. It was just so…beautiful. Oh, look, a checkered kitchen backsplash! A mannequin re-fashioned as a coat hanger! Wool blankets casually strewn everywhere!

The Danes actually have a name for this effortless style: hygge. Pronounced hoo-ga, the concept boils down to living life beautifully and comfortably. Aesthetically, that could mean lighting scented candles to ward off the dreariness of a cold winter. It also factors into the way Danes spend their time. Lounging in the park with friends, for instance, is very hygge.

Basically, the Danes try to enjoy life as best as they can. And that feeling imbues all of Copenhagen. A good chunk of offices and shops are closed in the summer so that people can vacation. The transportation is easy, the food is delicious, the clothes are beautiful, the people young and fresh-faced and ebullient. They’ve even somehow managed to turn their cemeteries into gorgeous public parks.

Out of all the cities I visited, Copenagen is the only one I picture myself living in. It has everything I could want and more. The only downside? It’s painfully expensive. I learned my lesson when I paid $50 for a burger and beer in the touristy harbour area. So I’ll have to hold off on my Danish dream for now.


 Tivoli at night

Tivoli at night

Tivoli: An amusement park located smack dab in the centre of Copenhagen. Outfitted with kitschy pastel landmarks and thousands of lights, it reportedly inspired the likes of Walt Disney and Michael Jackson. The rides had me sufficiently screaming my face off. My favourite was the tower swing that offered a breathtaking view of the city. Admiring the sea of twinkling lights as the park closed down was the perfect way to cap off our trip.

Shopping: The fashion in Copenhagen is ridiculous. Everyone is so well dressed, and not in a pretentious way. The clothing is simple and pragmatic (you’ll see plenty more sneakers than heels). Summers in Copenhagen are mild, which offers people more variety in their attire. And it’s also made the city a breeding ground for trendy stores. It took me two days to get through my list of shops to visit — and that was just for menswear. I now aspire to dress like a Dane.

Bike tour: Bike-riding for hours through the winding streets of Copenhagen was that postcard moment of my trip. It was almost laughably picturesque. I felt my mouth hanging open as I biked across Copenhagen's bridges and stared at the tranquil canals (which, of course, are clean enough to swim in). It also helped that we had a crazy, 60-year-old Danish man leading our bike tour. Every so often, he spouted some musing about the Danish way of life that struck me with its insight. Thanks, Mike!  

 Hey, its me! With a bike! 

Hey, its me! With a bike! 

Tomorrow, my number-two pick of European cities features a brunch so good it was spiritual and a live sex show that made me question humanity. Stay tuned.  

Before I Saw the Tower

Before I saw the Tower of Pisa, I saw a Subway ad mutating the revered monument.

On the sign, the tower looked like a mozzarella stick, swarmed by submarine sandwiches in angelic light. Tourists gaped at the restaurant, their eyes buoyed with glutinous visions. Behind them, in the clear-skied horizon, sprang the tower.

A mascot ahead waved at the crowds. It was a moving, living submarine sandwich, known as Subman, according to the logo embossed above its six-pack. Layers of lettuce, meat and tomatoes bordered its cartoonish expression. Peering down, I noticed the stained sneakers and forested legs of a man.

Before I reached Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli, where an unknown architect had completed the bell tower in the late 14th century, I zigzagged through a blockade of selfie sticks.

The dark-skinned merchants hunted the street in packs. They studied and circled the tourists, waving the contraptions at them like flimsy wands. Sightseers whose eyes locked on the devices fell victim to rapid-fire sales pitches. Most visitors refused; a handful, often pasty and sporting a garish visor, caved in. Perhaps because of my height, or the stern look of my Wayfarers, the merchants dodged me.

Before I slipped out my phone to snap a shot of the tower, I photographed three pairs of tourists, who all thanked me profusely when passing me their cameras, then issued faint smiles when studying the overexposed shots.

I scrutinized the revelers who posed with the tower and took advantage of its optical effect. The assembly line of models was a strange sight. Their arms and knees all bent at the same angle as they sheepishly pretended to support a 14,500-ton structure. I pictured mustached researchers in tweed suits scribbling notes about the odd trend.   

Before I bought an eighteen-euro ticket to climb the tower’s stairs, which an Australian couple on the train that morning had sworn was the only way to enjoy Pisa’s splendor, I stumbled into a nearby gift shop.

Shelves of angled tower mugs, shabby key chains and disposable cameras smothered the walls. The cashier stared blankly when I asked for the cost of a pocket-sized guidebook.

Quindici euros,” she said.     

When I strolled in to the neighbouring bathroom, my wallet noticeably lighter, the attendant shot out his arm. “Eighty cents,” he said, blocking my path.

Before I entered the tower’s base, built atop a mere three-metre foundation set in unstable soil, I gave up my belongings. I slipped under the rope that marked the empty queue for lockers. As I inched toward the locker room, a vested woman with fat ringlets trudged out, her stumpy arms raised and thick brow crumpled. She motioned to the sign at the front of the queue: “Please wait for attendant.” She stuffed my daypack in the locker and slammed the door, warning me not to lose the key.

Before I clambered up the tower’s 296 steps, a tour guide offered my group a five-minute introduction in sixty seconds of broken English. I studied the sign behind her. Before the completion of an eleven-year restoration in 2001, the tower had leaned at a perilous angle of 5.5 degrees. It now titled at 3.99 degrees. Experts had declared the structure safe for another 200 years.

Before I reached the peak of the tower’s 55-metre height, an American couple sandwiched me up the stairs. Sweat pooled against the back of the man’s polo. His waist rebelled against his belt, squeezing rolls out of his khaki shorts. “Shoulda practiced our steps before coming here,” his wife puffed behind me. They cut their journey short at the seventh floor, steps below the bells at the peak.

For a brief spell, I nursed my aching calves while admiring Pisa’s lush terrain. A pleasant breeze filtered through the webbed fence.

I suddenly noticed, with unease, that I couldn’t make out the tower below. Adjusting my balance, I staggered back to the piazza. Nearby stood the Pisa Baptistry, which cast a swath of shade on the manicured lawn. I dropped my daypack and collapsed on the grass.

Lounging in the square, in quiet reverie, I saw the Tower of Pisa.

Under Another Sun

Affixed to the stone wall of the Piazzetta Pescheria is a tourist sign that details the loggia’s architecture and history. The front stone parapet, the sign notes, was built between the end of the 17th century and the start of the 18th century. It now overlooks Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona’s main square and the nucleus of this remote Tuscan town.

Beneath the passage is a quote from Under the Tuscan Sun, the 1996 novel by American author Frances Mayes:

“From here, you can see a loggia on the level above across the piazzo, where the fish market used to be. Now it’s terrace seating for a restaurant and another perch for viewing.”

Since the publication of her first memoir, Mayes has cast a rosy light on what she calls the most “civilized” town on the globe. The creative writing professor famously stumbled on Bramasole, a neglected, 200-year-old Tuscan farmhouse nuzzled in five unkempt acres. Her five-year renovation of the house produced a New York Times-bestselling memoir and inspired droves of young women to pursue similar quests of self-discovery.

I've yet to venture to the farmhouse that Mayes still inhabits. The maps doled out to the daily busloads of tourists plot a two-kilometre trek from the centre of Cortona. Admirers have confessed to nearly missing the edifice on their walk, although Mayes maintains that most end up finding her home and gaping at it.  

“I’m at my window right now and I can see three of them,” she told The Telegraph newspaper in a 2010 phone interview.

 Bramasole, Frances Mayes's refurbished farmhouse, is about two kilometres away from the centre of Cortona. 

Bramasole, Frances Mayes's refurbished farmhouse, is about two kilometres away from the centre of Cortona. 

Mayes’s airy portraits of a mythical, sun-bathed haven triggered a wave of narratives about crumbling houses in the Mediterranean. Critics cheekily dubbed the genre “brick lit.” Women, Mayes affirmed in her interview, were most swayed by her dreamy notions of renewal and freedom. Of my Canadian classmates in Cortona, forty-five are female and six are male. Several of the young women in the group have confessed to watching the film before their departure. The town, I’ve learned, is stubbornly romanticized.

I study the flowery lettering on the sign post: “An Enchanting Walk Under the Tuscan Sun.” Mayes’s passage is accompanied by a still from the 2003 movie adaptation. It shows Diane Lane, who plays Mayes, and a smitten Italian man sitting on the stone parapet. They are flanked by pots of blooming flowers. The buildings behind them are awash in brilliant sun-bathed contrasts.

More than a decade later, on a May afternoon, the sky is blotted with charcoal clouds, as if the stone square has shrugged off its residue. A gang of pigeons above circles in a screeching vortex. The growl of construction work slices through the piazza.  To the left of the spot on which the actors once sat is the weathered wall of the two-arched terrace. It is an easel for deviant minds. “Out House” is inscribed twice in shaky toddler scrawl, punctuated with twisted pigeon feathers. Two Italians in bug-eyed sunglasses stroll by and tap their cigarette butts on the commemorated spot.    

Mayes’s twenty-five-year relationship with Cortona has frayed. Several years ago, she and her husband protested the installation of a pool near their farmhouse. The editor of the local newspaper slammed her interference and a smattering of residents turned against her. She awoke one day to a grenade in her garden. Like the growing crack in her farmhouse, which tourists have observed with sadness, Mayes has come to acknowledge the disjuncture between myth and reality.

“The reverberations of that time are still going on,” she told a reporter. But, as if reminded of her amorous persona, she praised the hospitality of her Cortonese neighbours. 

Unlike Mayes’s Hollywood counterpart and romantic interest, the couples that stroll in the piazza this afternoon are fixated on its winding streets and impossible design. One man in mint-green pants drowns in his map. His baggy-eyed wife sprawls over the first stone step of the fourteenth-century City Hall and lifelessly scoops her gelato. For minutes, neither shares a word.

Another couple, hunch-backed with their swollen camera bags, stops to read the sign post. Realizing their discovery, the woman asks the man to photograph her. She seats herself on the stone parapet, the same spot on which an actress was once wooed over innumerable takes. The camera’s shutter clicks and the man turns his lens to the piazza. The woman, unaware of her partner’s new pursuit, sits still, her fragile smile frozen.