Thoughts of a Toronto-based PR consultant. A focus on the PR profession and the charitable sector, with forays into arts, society and politics.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A holiday lesson from a child

"The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children." --Mahatma Gandhi

This week in his Macleans blog, Andrew Potter posed the questions "What percentage of your income do you give to charity, and why?"

He cited some figures: According to the Fraser Institute's yearly study comparing generosity in Canada and the US, 24.0 percent of Canadians give to charity each year, and we give, on aggregate, 0.73 percent of our personal income. We are much less generous than our neighbours to the south.

When I reflect on what our family gives, at 1.4 percent of our income (and since my husband and I mainly work for charities, our income is likely lower than it would be in the for-profit world), I generally feel satisfied that we are doing our part. Possibly even smugly so. But the stats out of the US are shaming-- in Utah, for example, residents give 3.66 percent of their aggregate incomes to charity. Are we really so noble?

I was recently taught an important lesson on generosity, courtesy of my eldest son Lucas, who is seven. (Yes, this is a proud mother launching into brag mode. Indulge me.) Each week we have given him $1 for discretionary spending, plus $1 for savings and $1 for "helping kids who need it," the phrase he coined when we first explained charity to him. In September we decided to increase his spending money to $3, in recognition of some new responsibilities. But he has never accepted this. Each week he resolutely puts the extra money in his "helping kids" jar, and each week I gently remind him that he is not obliged to do this, that the extra money is for him. He had trouble articulating why he wouldn't accept the extra money until last week. "I NEVER can put more money in my spending jar than in my helping kids jar," he said. "Those kids need food and medicine more than I need Hot Wheels, right?" The logic, and love, of my darling boy is impossible to refute.

So, this year, in honour of the many people we cherish, our family has substantially increased our annual gift to UNICEF to assist children affected by HIV/AIDS. To be honest, it's a dollar value that makes me gulp, and as I filled out the online form, I truly did hesitate. But then I thought about the lesson taught to me by my son's loving heart. We are blessed, and so we give.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tolerating Twitter-lite, for the tweets that rock my world

There are times I rue ever venturing into the Twitter universe. So many of the tweets are so light, so ephemeral... do I really need to know that a fellow PR-type here in Toronto really enjoyed the grilled fish at some restaurant that probably waived his bill for the mention?

But then there are flashes of brilliance, that demonstrate how rich the universe of Twitter can be. I followed the Iranian democracy protests via Twitter, and I now avidly track the tweets by Nicholas Kristof, the extraordinary foreign correspondent for the NY Times who with his wife and fellow Pulitzer-holder Sheryl WuDunn (wouldn't you love to sit at their dining room table??) wrote the stunning book/wake-up-call to the world "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."

Last week Kristof's tweet read thusly: <<A Kenyan girl's question echoes in my mind: "Should I keep sleeping with the man who pays my school fees?">> That 140-characters-or-less statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Her simple question says so much about this upside-down world. I just can't shake thinking about her, and the millions of other children in the world facing equally awful dilemmas.

And now, my admission: despite my lifelong love of the NY Times, despite my interest in women's rights in the developing world, I had never heard of Kristof until Stephanie Nolen's tweet sent me to him. I now read his columns in the Times avidly, and my copy of "Half the Sky" is on order. I fully anticipate that it will rock my world.

So I'll continue to tolerate the annoyances of Twitter-lite, for these flashes of brilliance.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beauty, eh?

This Tuesday, November 3 is Art with Heart at the gorgeous Carlu. It's Casey House's biggest fundraiser, a 16-years-strong auction of contemporary art raising funds for their services to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Toronto community.

This year's collection has a fun, edgy Canadian slant we're dubbing "Contemporary Canadiana." The art is absolutely glorious, and the bidding spectacle always makes me giddy.

Want a feel for the night? The event website includes a promo video that I co-produced with the amazing Lisa Lightbourn Lay.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This just in: Pigs DO fly...

Last Friday night while on our New York adventure, hubby and I snapped this photo of the Fox News pixelboard near Times Square.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Strunk and White

Pictured above, from the NYTimes: E.B. White’s original typewriter and manuscript are pictured with William Strunk Jr.’s original version and the 1959 edition of “The Elements of Style.”

Today's New York Times Room for Debate blog includes a tribute to Strunk and White written by five grammarians and their ilk. Fun reading, and they do tend to pooh-pooh the ongoing dedication on the part of so many English teachers through the years, mine included. It seems Messrs. Strunk and White have not aged well. To quote the hilarious entry by Patricia T. O'Connor:

"... 'six persons' is not better than 'six people.' Show me a guy who invariably says 'six persons' and I will show you a fathead. But Happy Birthday anyway, Strunk and White."

Still, I do love this admonishment from ol' Strunk & White: "Interesting. An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction. Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so."

Words to live by. (Or is that, "Words by which to live?")

Friday, April 10, 2009

No kidding.

What I find troubling about polls like this is the way they artificially segment ideas that are really intertwined.

I mean, how exactly do you separate any of the other issues people spoke about ("Education," "The Environment," "Healthcare," "Gas Prices," "Deficit") from "Jobs/Economy"?

The question then becomes one of semantics, of top-of-mind word choices and categorization, rather than a measured analysis of public opinion regarding complex issues. Have we not all clued into this thanks to the disrobing of the George W strategy?

So what is one to take home from a chart like this? The words "Jobs/Economy" are our hot buttons right now. Yes. Got that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Newspapers still capture eyeballs

From today's NADbank release...

NADbank Releases 2008 Readership Study

Weekly readership has remained stable indicating that daily newspapers continue to be a relevant source of news and information for Canadians. Almost three quarters of Canadians (73%), 13.7 million adults 18+, read a printed edition of a daily newspaper each week. Canadians continue to turn to daily newspapers as a source for local news (73% of readers usually read local news) as well as other news and arts and entertainment. (more)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Abandoned boxes

Photo of disused newspaper boxes in San Francisco, from the Silicon Valley Insider... I felt sad to see it at first, but then realized that I now read more news than ever.

I can see the logos of the Onion and The Oakland Tribune--both are still publishing online, and probably saving themselves a bundle not having to print and distribute the former contents of these boxes.

While I do love the visceral feel of a world-class newspaper in my hands, I have to wonder... assuming that publishers will find a way to monetize journalism in other media (and assuming the quality of the information remains good--a leap of faith, I know)... then is the loss of print newspapers really such a tragedy?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Update to Journalismism

Just read the excellent blog posting by Clay Shirky entitled "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable", reminding us that what's really valuable about journalism is not the mechanism by which it's delivered, but the knowledge and ideas it conveys.

Are the traditional media platforms dying? Shirky asserts they're already dead, but that journalism itself will survive.

(Thanks to my sweet hubby Bri for the link!)

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Today I read the thoughtful analysis by Paul Starr in The New Republic. And I read the whole thing online, paying nary a dime. The irony is of course painfully obvious. And this irony is compounded by the fact that the magazine is owned by Canada's very own floundering media empire, CanWest (for now, anyway).

Starr makes some very good points, including:

"If newspapers are no longer able to crosssubsidize public-service journalism and if the de-centralized, non-market forms of collaboration cannot provide an adequate substitute, how is that work going to be paid for? The answer, insofar as there is one, is that we are going to need much more philanthropic support for journalism than we have ever had in the United States."

Here in Canada, we have the CBC, which despite its flaws and foibles (and infuriating clannishness) has been known to produce some pretty fine news and has had a long history of (inconsistently) terrific investigative journalism. They've also managed to lead the way in using new technologies: I was reading CBC news on my Palm device ten years ago, and CBC Radio continues to lead the pack in distributing podcasts (for free, of course- there's the rub). I'm confident that CBC's attention to online journalism will continue to grow, assuming they are adequately funded of course: no guarantees there. But CBC.ca's online coverage has far to go. Right now it feels more like an aggregator or news feed, lacking the in-depth analysis that is the hallmark of print journalism at its finest.

What makes me yet more uncomfortable is a trend that all the online versions of our traditional news media participate in, without exception. They all index stories based on what is most emailed or most recommended-- shades of "Journalism Idol." I'm all for exploiting the opportunities the web offers for viewer/reader feedback, but I'm loathe to turn journalism into some kind of online popularity contest. There is some news that people don't want to hear about, but should anyway. We're talking oatmeal vs. Lucky Charms. My worry is that complex information will be bottom-shelved or dropped altogether because it can't compete with simple, cheaply produced stories about crime or consumer recalls.

*("Journalismism" is a term coined by the ever-entertaining Gawker.com)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Enthralled by Obama

I spent some time on the phone yesterday afternoon trying to pitch a story to journalists-- a foolish attempt, as of course all eyes and minds were on Obama's visit to Ottawa. So I took a break and watched the coverage myself. I love this image of Obama and Michaelle Jean sharing a laugh as he got off the plane- consider the early lives of these two people, and look where they are today.

But my favourite image of all? People standing on the giant snowballs they'd rolled to get a better glimpse. We're resourceful up here in Canada. Try and do that with rain, Washingtonians!

You can't help but be mesmerized by Obama. boingboing has posted a wonderful diagram created by Garth Risk Hallberg. It's such a treat to be able to meaningfully dissect finely crafted speeches, to take a look at the anatomy of complex and well-built rhetoric. Dare we hope that Canadian speech writers are doing the same?

And today, Rick Salutin in the Globe and Mail provides an entirely different perspective on Obama, a what-if-we-could-see-through-his-eyes analysis. I think it's spot-on: "Imagine Barack Obama waking up yesterday. Already, for hours, thousands have been astir, focused on his day, making his breakfast, welding manhole covers shut in Ottawa etc. It dwarfs the Roman imperial cult." Obama has written extensively of his respect for the poor and his faith in the power of ground-level community organizing. So Salutin asks, how does he reconcile his ideology with the enforced opulence of his present-day life?

And this just in... he likely didn't even eat the beavertail that seventeen-year-old Jessica Miller sold him. Awwww...

Now back to pitching... let's see if anyone is listening today.