Book Burning or Fact Fudging? What I Found Out Researching the DFO “Book Burning” Claims

20140105-110903.jpgI was shocked recently to read an “article” a couple friends had linked to on Facebook about the Canadian Fishieries and Oceans Library and Archives being “simply sent to landfill or burned”.  Why would the government want to destroy centuries of archival research I wondered?  “Article” is in quotes because I quickly realized it was not a work of news, but a blog post, but many people don’t realize there’s a difference.  You’re about to see why there is.

This blog on a site called Boing Boing –which not helpfully links back on its own website, at least when the links actually work –claims there is a Conservative, “war on the environment”, that “An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill”, and disturbingly, “Some of the books were burned”, and also “The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.”

Wow.  Book burning by a major G8 government in 2013/2014?!  This is truly shocking. Decades of research being dumped? Stunning.  Libraries that are just “gone”?  Awful.   But as I kept reading, I realized none of these claims are backed up by anyone.  They’re not attributed to any identified person.  They’re not quotes.  The article contains a boxed link to something, again, not attributed, or linked back to its source that claims scientists are being “muzzled”.  It names someone called only “Hutchings”.  Who is this person?  Why are they mentioned?

So I decided to do a little investigating for myself.  (Incidentally, something I always recommend people do before posting something for all your friends and family to see.) As a journalist, I deal in facts.  Not hysteria, not hyperbole.  When you’re screeching, “The sky is falling!!”, I’m liable to go outside and see for myself, instead of running around with the other people who are now terrified simply because someone told them to be. You can have an opinion, just make sure you’ve done your homework.

Let’s look at the claims made here, one by one, for fact checking:

Claim 1.  “The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.”

Fact 1. I looked at several reputable news sources, and also went right to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website for their handy FAQ on Libraries Consolodation.  While, yes, they are closing both those libraries, they say, (a news article on the Winnipeg closure here) “The Department’s 11 library locations will be consolidated into 4 locations, composed of 2 primary locations, the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney BC, and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth NS, as well as 2 specialized collections residing at the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) College library in Sydney, Nova Scotia and the CCG technical library in the National Capital Region.”

So what’s happening to the collections, you might ask?  From DFO: “Consolidating Departmental libraries will result in minimal change for external users. There will be no changes to the size or scope of the collection,” and “The Department may remove only content that is duplicated at one or more libraries and, in rare instances, materials which fall outside the subject disciplines pertinent to the department’s mandate from its collection.”

The Winnipeg Free Press article linked above also goes on to say, “DFO scientists had already cannibalized what was left of the library, but hundreds of books, journals, maps and reports remain.”  So what appears to be happening, is the good stuff from the library was sent to one of the remaining libraries.  What they didn’t deem valuable was kept by other DFO scientists.  The leftovers were opened up to the public. This stuff is not being trashed willy nilly, from the research I’ve done.  And just as an aside, when scientists and librarians have deemed the stuff not valuable enough to keep, doesn’t that make you wonder if it’s truly as historically irreplaceable as some might suggest?  My grandmother kept years of old newspapers, but does that mean I need to become their custodian when no one wants them?  Might the DFO be getting rid of some stuff, as we all frequently do when years-old bills, used post-it notes and 9 year old greeting cards start to clutter up the home office?  Yes.  Are they dumping their vast collections in the garbage, and are they “gone”?  It would appear not from the facts at hand. They are digitizing and consolidating their collections.

Now, if you’d like to merely brush this stuff off by saying, “the government is lying!!!”, then knock yourself out.  But can you prove it? Merely being distrustful of an entity, government or person, “just because”, is not a substitute for a well-reasoned, fact-based opinion.   I can claim to be 21, and say I have a 23″ waist.  Can I prove it?  Nuh uhh.  In my world of journalism, you have to be able to back up what you publish or broadcast, or you get sued, or fired.

Claim 2.  “An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill”

Fact 2.  It’s hard to figure out where this one comes from, and thus fact check it.  Mainly because it comes with no other information, no source, no proof.  I can find no proof or evidence online this has happened. No one’s mentioned it.  I looked on the website for the HMS Challenger Society.  Surely an organization dedicated to and named after the very ship these logs came from would be decrying this loss of history?  Not a mention.  Then I found an article on that states, ”

“The libraries are home to the 50 illustrated volumes from Britain’s Challenger expedition that sailed the seas in the late 1800s exploring the mysteries of the deep…. history that is being packed into boxes as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “consolidates” its world-class library collection.”

Huh.  So it’s being moved.  Not dumped.

But they’re still burning the books and maps and archival papers, right?

Claim 3.  The Big, Scary one:  “Some of the books were burned”

Fact 3.  Since the blog doesn’t tell me where this book burning went down, finding witnesses is a bit of a needle in a haystack.  And there’s not quote from any DFO employee, even anonymously, that they were forced to incinerate this stuff in the basement of a stuffy old building in Ottawa.  So what really happened? Another round of searches turns up this article from a BC online newsmagazine called the Tyee, whose headline reads, “Dismantling of Fishery Library ‘Like a Book Burning,’ Say Scientists”.

Well.  How about that.  Add the word “Like”, and it kinda changes everything, doesn’t it?  This phrase comes from a quote, from an unnamed scientist.  “I was sickened,” said one prominent research scientist who had worked for the federal government for 30 years, and who did not want to be identified. “All that intellectual capital is now gone. It’s like a book burning. It’s the destruction of our cultural heritage. It just makes us poorer as a nation.”

So I get it.  Scientists say this library consolidation is bad.  And again, having the info online or on paper, keeping a dozen libraries or just 2, those are all separate discussions you can have. All I’m doing here is looking for facts.  And “book burning” doesn’t appear to be one of them.  But hey, it makes a good blog headline, and gets it passed around, right?

Journalism vs Blogs

Now all of this fact checking is just what I had time to do in an hour at my kitchen table.  If I were doing this at work, we’d have people out there doing interviews, chasing witnesses and videotaping everything.  So before anyone discounts this mini investigation as just some internet searching, and says it barely scratches the surface, you’re right.  This is what I spent an hour on a Saturday doing: reading.  Fact checking.  And now it’s time for a glass of wine.    But bring me proof anything claimed in the original hysterical blog is true, and not only will I write about it, I’ll bring it to the major-market TV station where I work and share it with everyone.

Bottom line here, friends, before you repost stuff, do a few things:

1.  Check the facts.  If a neighbour tells you Joe Smith is killing babies in his basement on your street!!!! on Facebook, might you want to call the cops, ask how the tattler knows that, or even knock on Joe’s door yourself, before you join the lynch mob or molotov his house. Google search stuff.  Read reputable news articles about it.  Speak to someone in the know.  When you read something, see if a person has been quoted.  Does that person actually exist? Google them.  Who are they?  What do they do?

2.  Check your sources. Don’t confuse blogs with real news.  Don’t confuse bloggers with obvious agendas and hate-ons as journalists.  Get your facts from real media. If it hasn’t been covered yet, send a friendly e-mail to your media outlet of choice inquiring about it. People who work in media are not omnipotent, we need tips, and to know about what concerns you, our customers. Or–better yet–get the facts for yourself.

3.  Don’t buy into hype.  If something sounds hysterical/unbelievable/insane, it’s probably because it is.  Don’t buy into the also oft-screeched paranoia of “the media are being blocked from covering (insert whatever story here) by the government/advertisers/shadowy men in black.  It just doesn’t happen.  Want one tiny example?  Google Air Canada.  Read all the stories of complaint and troubles and problems that come out monthly about them.  Don’t you think if this media/corporate conspiracy was real, all Air Canada’s news stories would read more like Westjet’s? I’ve worked in three major Canadian markets, for every network, and never once has myself, or anyone I’ve ever worked with been ordered to kybosh a story because a corporation asked.

And yes, I obviously see the irony in writing this on my blog. Comments welcome.


Meet the Producer!


I was asked recently on Twitter, “What does a producer do, anyway?”  It’s a common question I get, so this week’s blog is devoted to the answer.

If only job descriptions could be printed on a business card;  it would mean a lot fewer questions.  I work as a producer, and have been in many of Canada’s largest newsrooms.  But outside these walls, what I do is a mystery.

Journalism schools teach a lot of things; ethics, writing, editing, and even camera operations.  But the one role that is often left out is the one that is, in the end, most key to any TV newsroom; the Producer.  Even within journalism schools, the role of producer is vague and intangible.  Most student hopefuls hold dreams of being a reporter, anchor, or writer; something that puts your name up in lights.  Almost none covet the producer job, yet it is the most common,  and most powerful position in TV. And almost no schools that I’m aware of teach you how to be a great producer.

To liken it to more familiar jobs, the producer is not unlike a project manager, wedding planner, or store manager.  If you’ve ever seen Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” you’ll know the kind of crucible you end up in when it’s your job to oversee every aspect of a project.  And in essence, that is what the producer does; we lay out, guide, organize, adjust, write and chase all stories, video elements, as well as evaluate editorial and content decisions in any TV show or news broadcast.  While an anchor or host may be the public face  of what goes to air, by and large it is the producer that leads the charge that makes it happen.  Every piece of tape that plays back, every map you see, whether there is an interview or ‘clip’ from a subject or not, every line of script that anchor reads…comes down to decisions made by a producer.Erin_shawvan_studios


Producers need to fill more roles than any other person in a news room.  They need to be a writer, legal expert, critic, ethicist, counsellor, shrink, troubleshooter, and cheerleader.  They also need to know how each of the jobs that support the broadcast—what it’s like to be in the field reporting, how satellite feeds get from Kandahar to Kelowna, as well as  basic video editing skills, and increasingly, web editing software programs and just about every social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Photoshop… the list goes on.

chopper erinProducers decide which stories go into their particular newscast.  They decide whether a certain story gets a full 2 minute “package” with a reporter to narrate and research  it, or if it gets a “vo-clip”; in essence a quick bit of video and an interview clip that lasts about 45 seconds.

Producers are also often people who mine for stories; talking to the public, trawling websites and events for interesting potential stories.  We make calls, organize interviews, find statistics, or the ‘real people’ that make lasting impressions in stories.  Reporters do this too, but frequently enough it’s a producer who starts the ball rolling.  As a producer, you need to be able to make cold calls without thinking twice; calling up a business owner and asking them about their burned-out restaurant, calling the people living around a train derailment to get an early phone interview from someone who saw what happened, even calling the family of someone involved in a tragedy, and offering them the option to tell their story–and being gracious if they don’t want to.

006956-R1-041-19.Disclaimer time: each newsroom is different.  Some reporters always do all their own research, digging and writing,  Others rely on producers to to most of that, and the reporter is just the ‘hair and teeth’ on the story. I’m providing a bit of a laundry list of what various types of producers do.  It’s by no means meant to reflect how things are at every news station, for individual producers.

20131205-073335.jpgProducers are also often Jacks-of-all-trades; we can anchor, we can report, some of us can even shoot news. It depends on the person, and the kind of professional experience they’ve acquired for themselves.

There’s a definite personality type that is suited to being a producer; the Type-A Go-Getter.  You need to be proactive to be good in this job.  You need to be fearless, have an eye for details, enjoy deadlines, and never, ever panic, no matter the crisis.

There’s a also component of producing that –even if they DO teach you about this job in J-school–no one will tell you about.  It’s being a salesperson.  You need to sell subjects on being interviewed.  You need to sell reporters on a story and its potential for greatness.  You need to sell the news director on the fact that sitting outside someone’s house for two days will yield a lead story.  You need to be able to sell a PR flak on giving YOU a story before everyone else.  In some extreme cases you might need to be able to sell someone on not suing you, because they didn’t like your story.erin top 40

So that’s it in a nutshell.   If you have questions about what the media –or producers specifically–do, please write.  I’d love to tell you more about it.


What you can learn about Time Management from a TV news Producer

There are fewer jobs more stressful that working in television news. The constantly changing stories, last minute breaking news, and the looming pressure of a daily deadline can turn even the most well-adjusted person into a puddle of jello. But the lessons of the newsroom can teach you how to manage your workload, and dissipate stress in real life.


Set deadlines.

In all TV newsrooms there are strict deadlines. The show has to be ready to go at 6pm—and failure, as they say is definitely not an option.

We plan backwards through the day, with mini-deadlines through the afternoon to ensure there’s no last minute crunch. How can this help you? Know how much time you have to get work done, and exactly how much work you have to cram into that time period. Make sure you aren’t overloaded, and if you are, ask for help.

Make your own “Rundown”

In TV news, the list of stories and their order of importance is called the rundown. It’s essentially a list of each story, the facts about it, all arranged in order of importance. We also write down where the story is coming from. Having all the assigned tasks written down helps everyone keep their duties straight, and prevents us from forgetting something. What you can take away from this; keep a “To Do” list of all the things you have to do and prioritize it.


Spot the “top story”

We often have a lot of news to choose from—we have to evaluate each story, and see how it fits into our lineup. We have to know if it’s lead story material, or if it really isn’t newsworthy in the big picture. Obviously not every story can fit into limited amounts of time, so we have to prioritize. And leave out the stuff that’s just not as important. what you can learn from the producer here; Take a look at your daily lineup of chores and obligations. Something may have to be cut.

Schedule carefully

The worst time to try to phone or talk to a TV producer, reporter or technician is in the hour before their show goes to air. That’s when all the last minute stories are coming in, new details are emerging and any emerging last minute crunch is happening. You’re likely to get the brush off if you try to wedge a request or even a dinner invite into that part of the day. It’s helpful if you can know when is the best time to approach people –and when not to. Know this about yourself too. Don’t’ try to take care of unpleasant or critical chores first thing in the morning, if you’re a mess before noon.

Clear your head

TV news is a lot like a roller coaster. There are ups and downs all day long, stories that pan out and some that don’t. Each day, I use the phone as a reminder to breathe and take a few seconds to be calm; before I answer the phone, I take 2 deep breaths before picking up. After the big newscast or your big, busy day at the office, take some time to transition to being “fun you”, or “at-home you” again. Everyone has bad or just plan stressful days, so take a few minutes to put the work day behind you. Hit the gym, go for a walk with the dog. Play loud music on your way home in the car or on transit. Whatever you can do to distance yourself from the day will make you happier.

-Erin L is a Canadian TV Producer, hobby silversmith, world traveller and imaginary gourmet chef.

Journalism: How to Pitch Your Story to the News

So why does some news get covered and some doesn’t? That’s a whole blog post in and of itself.  But I can say with certainty that getting a story–any story–covered starts with a good pitch.
breaking news2

Got a big event happening and want to invite the news?  Grandparents celebrating their 60th Anniversary and you think it deserves to be on TV? Community golf tourney, BBQ or fundraiser?  Maybe you’ve been the victim of a crime or a rip-off.  It you want to get the word out to the media there are some simple do’s and dont’s.

(Disclaimer:  I work in TV news, so most of my suggestions are geared at pitching to MY industry)

First: Does Your Story Fit The Key Criteria? The DO’S

Stories should :
-be unique; something that doesn’t happen daily, weekly, monthly or commonly
-should involve real people
-be new, happening NOW, or soon (not days or weeks old)
-have people willing to be on camera, on the record, or otherwise willingly go public, or be in the public eye

-is there CONFLICT? All good stories have winners & losers, heroes and villains, tension, injustice, outrage, or a battle.  It could be as simple as “woman fights parking ticket error”, but there needs to be something.

-Should be relevant to a large number of people in some way, or be directly affecting a large group

Where’s this happening?

All good TV stories need a visual location.  Boardrooms are bad, factory floors are great.  You actually working in your environment (Falafel shop, shoe repair man, chef) is even better.  And all pertinent people should be available together or at least on the same day.

Is this an Ad for Your Business?

If that’s all you’re looking for; airtime about a product or service, then my TV newscast is not for you.  There are limited exceptions, but your pitch about why YOU should get one, better be really really good.  See above. And below.


The When/Where/How of Getting Me Your Pitch

The When:
If you’re calling a TV station; do a wee bit of research; don’t call while a newscast is on the air.  Staff is usually busy at that time and won’t have much time to hear you out.  In most newsrooms you can ask for the assignment desk–those are the folks tasked with assigning news stories.  You could also try pitching a reporter directly, but they’re much, much harder to get in touch with.

When calling the assignment desk, call mid morning.  Early morning, we’re trying to get the reporters out the door and get up to speed on the day’s events. That’s usually done by 10am.

EVEN BETTER: e-mail us.

All stations have a viewer response, or story ideas email addresses.  Give it a short, catchy, descriptive headline in the Subject field that will grab our attention. “News Release”, “Big Story”, or “Important News Event” are lame, amateurish grabs that rarely get opened.

The benefit of using email is that we can read it when we have time to focus on it; and if it has a good headline, we will.

In the body of the email:

-keep it short; a page is more than enough

-Don’t give me details I don’t need

-Include the 5W’s of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How if relevant.

-Include contact info including a cell phone so we can reach you.

Pitching Don’ts:

Don’t tell me “all your friends are interested in your business, event, problem  or product, so you think all my viewers should be too”.  Of course they are, or they wouldn’t be your friends.  I get hundreds of pitches a week; yours has to be truly unique, not just popular among your friends.

Don’t send a press release or e-mail out and then be unavailable, or unreachable.  If I call you, its likely because I’m going to want something on the day you reach out, ie. TODAY.
Don’t go on and on on the phone.. practice giving me your pitch in 3-4 sentences.  If you can’t do that, I’m going to have a hard time giving it to my viewers in the minute or two that we have on TV.
KNOW who you’re pitching to.  I can’t tell you how many free cd’s I get mailled to me, with follow up offers to have a band come on my newscast.  We don’t run music news or entertainment. It’s good practice to watch the newscast you’re pitching to and make sure there’s a fit.
If not, check around for other programs that might be suited to what you have in mind.
Don’t take rejection personally. I get hundreds of pitches… so the bar is pretty high.  If I don’t like your story, ask if you can send me your contact info to be kept on file.  We often call people about future stories.
Don’t pitch a feature on a busy news day, ie Election Day, or on a day when there’s been a triple murder.  BUT if you have something relevant to a breaking story today (ie. you’ve witnessed election fraud or ballot box stuffing, or know the victims in that murder)–call in. Please!
NO JARGON!  Distill your story down to what would interest regular folks…  If I can’t understand your release or e-mail, I can’t expect my viewers to either, and  I’ll probably file it under “g”.
Don’t expect veto power, or for the story to turn out as you expect.  Journalists almost never let people see their stories before they’re done.  If you’re concerned about how you’re going to be included in the story, ask the reporter to clarify.
Don’t Spam me. Please don’t send a copy of the press release, or your email every day, and/or call every day.  That gets annoying, clutters up my inbox and my voicemail, and takes me away from other work.  Me personally, I like one email, and I’m ok with one call on the day-of. The media will always call you if we’re interested– If you’re phone’s not ringing, it’s likely because we’re not.

Also, don’t expect a reply to your request, email and/or news release.  We get literally HUNDREDS of requests for coverage each day.  We can’t possibly reply or RSVP to each one. Sorry.

How to use Social Media to Pitch the Media

I troll Twitter all the time.  I will frequently Tweet out when I’m looking for a person, someone who’s had an experience related to a news story that’s in the works,  so follow me (@TVChick13), and other journalists and engage with us.  And again..if I tweet today, know that I probably need it today.  Be available… or suggest someone else that might be good.  Another good way to be in touch with the media is to “Like” media FB pages, as frequently we ask for input there too.

One final note; always take photos and video of news you see, problems you’re having, battles you’re fighting or other important happenings.  Examples would be, you find black mould in your hotel room, you see a house fire, you think someone’s trying to pull a fast one on you, or you find a finger in your chili.  Photos and video make the story MUCH more than it would be if it was just your words after the event is over.  You know the saying, “a picture’s worth 1000 words?”  It ain’t a cliche for nothin’.


-Erin is a Calgary-based TV News Producer.  I’m happy to answer your questions on this subject.  Please post ’em in the comments section.

Why that package you ordered to Canada costs so much – Saving Yourself Money on Shipping/Brokerage


If you LIKE paying more than you should for things, stop reading now.  If you think brokerage fees are a terribly blatant overcharge, carry on.

For those of you who receive packages from the US particularly:  did you know you can save a lot of money on your shipments relatively easily?

Major shipping companies like UPS, FedEx Purolator, etc all routinely charge Brokerage fees to clear your shipments through Canada customs.  These fees (for me personally) have ranged anywhere from $10-$50 or more on things like small hand tools, metals, clothing, food or or craft supplies, depending on the total value of what’s shipped, and what’s inside the box.

I feel like brokerage fees are a rip off; especially since I now know what’s involved in clearing a package through customs myself. After all, I’m already paying $20-50 in shipping charges for these folks to get me my package; am I really to believe that the 2-3 minutes of work for a shipping company employee is worth THAT much money??

What Brokerage Gets You

Essentially, the shippers are charging you a premium for getting your paperwork stamped. Yup.  That’s it.  And for collecting the duties and taxes on behalf of our lovely federal government.  This is something you can quickly and easily do; I’ll even tell you how.

How To Clear Your Own Shipment – in YYC – in 6 Easy Steps

If you live in Calgary Alberta, as I do, here’s what you do:

1. If the shipment arrives at your door, ask the driver to detail the fees. (You’ll likely be paying duty, taxes including GST and a Brokerage Fee.  Get that info BEFORE you sign for and accept the package.  If you can’t get it from the driver, refuse the shipment, and call the shipper’s  head office with your tracking number to get details.)

2.  Decline the shipment by telling the driver you wish to clear the shipment through customs yourself. You can also do this by calling your shipper of choice if you’ve received a delivery notice (as I did), or even before the package arrives to your door.

3.  The shipper will be required to give you a copy of the waybill or itemized packing slip, and this should include the country of origin itemization for each item.  In some cases the shipper will ask you to come and pick it up (if they want to make life difficult for you).  In my case, they offered to email it to me.  This did me the kindness of saving me a trip.  Another time I tried to self-clear, I had to ask for this information specifically, and for it to be e-mailled to me. fax is also an option the shippers seem to prefer.

4.  Take the waybill/invoice to Canada Customs/Border Services Agency  (**UPDATE:  they’ve MOVED from  2588 27 St NE to a NEW location MUCH CLOSER to the shippers up by the Calgary Airport New Address (and it’s a new street some online maps won’t know yet) 22 Aero Dr NE). Take a number. I have yet to see a lineup in this office first thing in the morning when I usually go.  The CBSA agent will input your stuff into their computer, calculate your taxes and duty and hand you a bill, that you take to the adjacent cashier and pay.

While in 95% of cases, I’ve saved a LOT of money self-clearing (saving anywhere from 15-, there was one occasion I came out basically even. My shipper told me my bill was :Taxes: $33.00, Duty: $1.56 and Brokerage: $24.60.  CBSA told me my bill was Taxes: $34.02, Duty $20.21, and of course zero brokerage fees.  So my total bill from the shipper was about $59.  From CBSA: $54.  I’ll get to why that is in a sec, but first the rest of the steps for my friends in a hurry.

On another package pick-up attempt, I was asked by CBSA to provide “Proof of Payment” on a dress.  The agent politely but firmly said the shippers often “make up generic packing slips” and “lie about the value so duty is avoided.  They think they’re doing the customers a favour”.  She was insistent I provide either a copy of my credit card bill,  bank statement, or a receipt.  Since I had none of those (as they’d be INSIDE the box I was hoping to get cleared) I had to improvise.  A quick phone call to the company I purchased the dress from and they were able to e-mail me a receipt that showed the value.  Though it wasn’t technically a receipt, the CBSA agent was able to use it and verify what was on the “generic packing slip”.  My total: $39 in tax and duty, and total avoidance of the additional FORTY DOLLAR brokerage fee UPS was going to tack on!

5.  Take your paid bill (the CBSA agent will stamp it again as proof you’ve paid and they know it; Ahhh, yes,  red tape and paperwork in triplicate!) and drive to your shipper’s headquarters near the Calgary Airport in the NE.  This is now a 2 minute drive from the CBSA office.  Go inside, present your shipping notification or tracking number, along with the completed/approved/stamped paperwork.

6.  Getcher package, and drive all the way back across the city home.

And there’s always a but…

So WHY on that one occasion did I end up paying pretty much the same bill in the end by doing all the work?  Well,1) it could be a CBSA mistake; getting them to re-calculate the duty “just to double check” did NOT go over well. And let’s be honest, they don’t have to justify anything, and won’t.  Arguing with a federal agent is truly a waste of time and really just buys you a cavity search.  2) The CBSA agent could have been a little overzealous in applying the duty, or really just sticking to the EXACT letter of the law.  3) My shipper could also have miscalculated and undercharged me on *their* bill. Or 4)  perhaps there is some kind of arrangement with the shippers and the federal government that the shippers can legally charge Brokerage Fees, in exchange for slightly lower duties?  I have no knowledge of why, and not really a lot of desire to begin navigating several levels of government to find out over that particular $4 difference.

On another occasion, there was another odd wrinkle in my plans; when I went to pick up the package, UPS told me it had been “re-addressed”.  The package  had been forwarded to another random person in another random city in Alberta ( by “someone”, they don’t know or wouldn’t say who).  I don’t know if this was a genuine mistake, or a cute joke to delay me further, or (if I were the suspicious, malicious type) if someone was giving me payback for cheating a giant multinational out of their brokerage fees and talking about it on Twitter.  But I digress.

Bottom Line

So out of the one dozen times I’ve now done this, I come out waaay ahead in 95% of the cases, like I said.  If you want to be sure, you could try calling CBSA to get an accurate assessment of the duties BEFORE opting for self clearing, just to be sure it’s worth it.

I’d love to hear your stories and input on this.  Good experiences or bad, let me know!

Debunking those Troubling e-mail Forwards: Why I do my homework

targetDid you get an e-mail about what a terrible company Target is?  And how they hate veterans, and they’re French owned?  Maybe the email suggested to you Canadians that since Target is about to open HERE, you should consider not taking your business to them. 
I got that email, but before I forward emails, I like to check them out. So here’s the original e-mail.  Read this first, then follow me along…

Subject:  Target Stores Coming to Canada Soon – Please Read!

 Good to know

Target Stores what a surprise!  Wasn’t it last Christmas that Target refused to let the Salvation Army ring their bells in front of their stores?  Dick Forrey of the Vietnam Veterans Association wrote.Recently we asked the local TARGET store  to be a proud Sponsor of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall during our Spring recognition event.  Remember there are Canadians occupying space on these walls. We received the following reply from the local TARGET management:Veterans do not meet our area of giving. We only donate to the arts, social action Groups, gay & lesbian causes and education.  So I’m thinking, if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and
Veterans in general, do not meet their donation criteria, then something is really wrong at this TARGET store.  We were not asking for thousands of dollars, not even hundreds, just a small sponsorship for a memorial remembrance.As a follow-up, I emailed the TARGET U.S. Corporate Headquarters and their response was the same.  That’s their National policy!!!  Then I looked into the company further.  They will not allow
The Marines to collect for Toys for Tots’ at any of their Stores. And during the recent Iraq deployment,they would not allow families of employees who were called up for active duty to continue
their insurance  coverage while they were on military service.Then as I dig further, TARGET is a French-owned corporation.  Now, I’m thinking again.  If TARGET cannot support American or Canadian Veterans, then why should my family and I support their Stores by spending our hard earned American or Canadian dollars in their stores???  And, have their profits sent to France.Without the American and Canadian Vets, where would France be today?

They, most likely would be speaking German and trading in Deutsch Marks.Sincerely,Dick Forrey
Veterans Helping Veteransps:Please send this on to everyone you know to let Target know we don’t need them either! we’re all in a position to reduce sales to these stores as soon as this gets around….SO THERE IS POWER IN THE PEN AND THE COMPUTER EMAILS!!  NOW THESE PEOPLE ARE INTRODUCING THEMSELVES TO CANADA – WOW !!!

No virus found in this message.”

So, here’s the TRUE story:
This email was written by an American man in 2004. And he’s since recanted it. 
Most of the points he makes in it are FALSE.  Such as: Target is NOT French owned, it’s a publicly traded company (Target Corporation NYSE: TGT). Even if “France” owned Target, which is doesn’t, France is NOT “Muslim Controlled”; what does that even mean?.
Target is not anti-charity, in fact they’ve recently pledged to donate $1million to Canadian charities:  here’s the story from a reputable news site.
The one thing that IS true is that they have decided to no longer allow the Sally Ann kettle folks outside of their stores.  But plenty of other companies (Home Depot, Best Buy, etc) do not allow this either; mainly because they have total “no solicitation” policy which prevents ANYONE from asking you for money, including the homeless, and fringe charities, or the Scientologists, for example.
Here’s a LEGITIMATE news article about the Kettle ban and the reasons for it.
And here’s a link to a website that debunks urban myths like this one.

Now, this all took me about 15 minutes to check out and write up.   It’s not a full scale investigation, but it gives you a good idea of how important it is to do your homework before spreading misinformation.

Success–what works for me

-Adapted from a presentation I gave at an women’s networking event. I was asked what some of my own “Secrets to Success” are, and how I’ve gotten ahead in life and my career.
Many of us know that hard work and sacrifice are some of the keys to success.  If asked, we could probably name a few more.  But all too often it’s the “little things” that help pave the long, cobbled road to success, that we forget.
Don’t underestimate the way you dress, how you write an e-mail, the way you speak, and your attitude towards those smaller,  even menial tasks, as small steps to making a great impression.
ru tired of not knowing WTF is up in msgs?  hrd 2 decifer thoz emails? 
As we struggle to get more done, faster, and with less, it’s all too easy to dash off a quick note to someone sans capitilization, without spell-checking, and with the ubiquitous smiley face.  This is not professional.  If you want to be taken seriously, write like you did back in school; properly punctuated, spelled correctly, and in full sentences that make no mistake about your meaning. Doing otherwise may make you seem rushed, unfocused and minus attention to detail. I’m not saying pull out your CP Stylebook, but put it this way:  you’ll never be faulted for perfect e-mail-writing skills.  You could be for sloppiness.
“Like, I thought I’d be anchoring the 6pm news by now.”
If your job came with a fully-written job description, Congratulations!  Most of us don’t get so much clarity.  While you’re likely clear on the basics of what your job entails, make sure you don’t draw any lines that may put you at a disadvantage.  Case in point; We had a 20-something intern  in our newsroom who was there to ‘learn the ropes”.  Our newsroom manager– whose job also consists of taking viewer phone calls and sifting out story ideas–was sick, so we were all swamped and had to pitch in answering the phone.  As it continued to ring off the hook with most of us already on a line, I asked the intern to please pick up the phone.  She looked at me and gave me a huge eye-roll, and mumbled “I’m pretty sure I’m not here to be a receptionist” before reluctantly picking up.
She made a classic misstep… elevating herself above what she thought was a meaningless task, when in fact story sifting is a huge way we get new and enterprise news stories.  And this girl was hoping to be a reporter.
Bottom line; don’t assume something is beneath you.. especially when you’re learning a new job, company or career. 
Her debut flip-flopped
We had just hired someone to run an aspect of our newsroom.  A newly created position, the job was evolving with the employee.  As she stepped into our first news meeting and flopped into a chair, her sweatshirt-grey yoga pants and flip-flips said it all.  This was a job, not a career.  It was something keeping her from the sofa at home, not a position that she could use to work herself into a promotion.
You may think no one cares what you wear, but it makes a huge impact.  The above mentioned outfit says you’d rather be lounging, not “I’m here to make this new job kick-ass!”  Similarly, if your toddler spilled juice on you and you just can never be bothered to change, or mop it up, it says you don’t care about how you present yourself.
Yes & No
Successful women know to say yes to new challenges and opportunities.  Volunteer to learn new things–especially things you think are impossible to learn.  In my line of work, TV is an extremely complicated technology.  I’ve tried to learn as much about the technical side as I can.  It benefits me in that I can carry on a discussion or contribute to troubleshooting with an engineer or technician and really get a sense of why something’s not working, then help make suggestions in how to fix it.  In one case my new-found technical knowledge allowed me to save a live national broadcast because I found a way to hook up the news anchor to the control room using a blackberry instead of relying on the crashing technology on board the remote satellite truck.
So maybe you don’t need to know that much.  But can you fix your own e-mail when things go wrong?  Can you pull your own computer out from the blue screen of death?  There are easy things you can learn or have your IT expert show you so that next time you can save yourself… or maybe even others in your office. Your value increases exponentially with each new skill you learn.
“No.  Well I mean I could, but it’s just that I have to go to the doctor and pick up a back rest for my lower spine, I well… ok yes.  Yes I can. I guess”
Knowing when to say yes to is important.  But knowing HOW to say “no” is equally important.  Have you ever been asked to work overtime and tried to say no, then felt so bad about why you were saying no that you relented and ended up working?  Don’t offer excuses .  If you can’t do something, say no, plainly and firmly.  You don’t need a reason, an excuse, or a story.  Just a firm, “No, sorry, I’ve made other plans,”  with a follow up, “No, I really can’t change them” if required is all you need.  I’ve heard so many women launch into a full story about why they can’t do something, and it only undermines them.  People at work don’t need to know your life story.  Just say no and get on with it.
Be on PAR
No matter what you do; if you work in an office, a lab, or if you’re at home with your kids, you’ll be successful at what you do if you remember to be Polite, Appropriate, and Respectful. In any situation if you don’t know how to act or react, remember those three things  You can never go wrong. I got this advice from a mentor and it’s served me well.
Keep Calm and, Well, You Know…
One other thing has served me personally very well:  be the voice of calm in the storm. There’s rarely ever a reason to freak out, swear, raise your voice, or panic. Always keep your tone, even, calm and measured.  Being the calm, reasonable, thoughtful person in the midst of chaos calms others with a ripple effect, and says that you’ve got things under control.
Lastly, in the middle of  a frenzied day, each time the phone rings, take two deep breaths before you pick it up.  The oxygen will help you think clearer. The relaxed voice you answer the phone with will say you can handle anything.
-Erin is a TV producer & task master, writer, silversmith, and former newsroom manager and reporter/anchor in Canada.