Posts in Canadian University Press / Campus Plus
Jeffery Simpson at #Nash72: the sessions recapped

From January 14th through to the 18th the Canadian University Press (CUP) held their 72nd annual national conference [cup] bringing university and college newspapers from around Canada together.  After a few years away I returned to the conference, this time as a guest speaker.  Here are the sessions I gave and what you may have missed either by not attending or because you were hung over from the night before.


Title: Managing PR in Tech Writing
Speakers: Matthew Atwood (Senior PR Manager for Bioware), Jeffery Simpson (freelance tech writer for, The Georgia Straight)

Summary: This session had started off just being about tech writing, and I had a talk which I'd previously given twice at regional conferences in Vancouver prepared to give.  The main focus of what I was going to say is that tech writing is one of the more stable fields in writing, and that it's not as difficult as it might appear from the outside.  You don't need to know the coding behind Twitter to write about it, and just because you can't build an iPod doesn't mean you can't cover its development.  I was also going to talk about how tech writing can be done really well by focusing less on the technology and more on the impact to its users, and how it can be done badly such as when writers focus rumours or pundits above reputable sources.

However since the conference was being hosted by The Gateway which is the student paper at the University of Alberta, and because the conference was actually hosted in a hotel connected to Bioware's headquarters and because Gateway alum Dan Lazin works for Bioware as a producer, CUP managed to get MattAtwood to join.  That transformed the tech speech into a talk on how to deal with press relations department when working on tech stories.  Having written stories involving Google [tgs] and Mozilla [tgs] I've some experience dealing with pr departments, and Matt was able to offer a view of the other side.  

Take aways:

  • be honest when dealing with PR firms
  • don't be a dick and remember that pr people are people too
  • be able to articulate what you're looking for and how working with you is in the company's best interests
  • look at dealing with a pr department as a relationship that could and should extend past just one article

Title: New Media Panel Discussion
Speakers: Bryan Murley, Jacques Poitras, Mathew Ingram, Matt Frehner, Jeffery Simpson

Summary:  Even before the new media panel started we were trying to pin down exactly what new media meant.  Does having a blog make me a new media outlet?  If The National Post has a Twitter account are they now new media?  With so many people on the panel there was no real preparation beyond the initial discussion.  I also don't know if we accomplished much during the session apart from pointing out that most "old media" still doesn't understand the internet though we did not really have any specific ideas for how to make money from being online.  I think my role on the panel was to argue that as exciting, and useful, as tools like Twitter and Facebook can be they're not exactly reinventing the wheel.  The standard rules of how to conduct yourself still apply.

Take aways:

  • build your own personal brand so that you can bring your Twitter, Facebook followers with you to where ever your work is
  • don't Tweet drunk
  • ummm...

Update: Bryan Murley provides a much better re-cap of this panel on his own blog [iicm] that is not coloured by my own views on new media nor my stage fright.

 Title: Freelancing and finding a job panel
Speakers: Karen Unland, Erin Millar, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, McMillan Elizabeth, Iain Ilich, Jeffery Simpson

Summary: I think at some point this was a panel on freelancing and then it turned into how to parlay a freelancing gig into a job.  That worked for people like Iain Ilich who parlayed a freelancing career into a full time post with The Edmonton Journal, but it wasn't a particularly good fit for me who has parlayed a side-career in freelancing into a side-career in freelancing.  Apart from a few jokes about selling organs on the black market and working in my kitchen, I actually learned more about freelancing than I think I taught.  

Take aways:

  • file on time
  • check a publication's articles against its masthead to see how much of the content is written by freelancers versus staff writers
  • network
  • be reliable and easy to work with for the editors
  • proof read your own work

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The Onion knows us former CUP types too well #Nash72


Seriously though, Don Iveson mentioned this article [on] last night and it hits far too close to home.  It reminds me of how I felt talking with Christopher Poon [tgs] about CUP conferences at The Georgia Straight's Christmas party this year.  Titled "Former Editor Can't Believe Shit College Newspaper Is Printing" it hits far too close to home for a lot of I think.

Bartell's fears of a decline in journalistic integrity were further augmented by a profile of the new dining-services director, which failed to include information about the recent increase in meal-plan fees and the new two-pieces-of-fruit-per-student policy. 

"[New Editor-In-Chief] Casey [Aclin] has been a real disappointment," Bartell said. "In a story last Monday, instead of saying 'Dean of Students Charles Baker,' it just said 'Dean Baker.' That's a blatant disregard of Free Press style rules that never would have flown on my watch." 

"Never," he continued.

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Returning to my halcyon days in the student press


My two sessions at the Canadian University Press' 72nd annual national conference went pretty well.  

In the afternoon I met up with Matt Atwood who works in media relations for Bioware [wp].  After I signed a non-disclosure agreement he showed me around their Edmonton office, which is conveniently connected to the Radisson hotel that the conference is being hosted in, and then we went over the game plan for the first session.  The session had morphed from me doing a solo thing on tech writing to a talk about tech writing and dealing with corporate PR firms as a part of that.  

It was a really good seminar I think and I even learned a few things that will help me further down the road.  Matt was really friendly, had some cool Mass Effect 2 swag to give away to people who asked questions and I think that everyone in the session kind of wanted his job by the end of it.  

The next session was right on the heels of that, in the same room, so I missed the first bit as I was talking to Matt afterwards.  It was a four person panel though, so my absence probably just helped keep everything coherent for the first few questions until I returned.  We had not really prepared anything, though I think it went all right.  

The subject was "New Media" and I was glad that we all seemed to agree that there's a false distinction between "new" and "old" media that gets in the way of actually talking about it.  Since it was four people talking instead of just one or two there was not much to do, and since most everyone else had achieved more in both old and new media I tried not to talk too much.

That night while the delegates went to a bar in Edmonton, I headed off with some former Gateway types Dan Lazin, Matt Frehner (who was also on the New Media panel) and Don Iveson and went to a pizza / coffee /gelato place for dinner.  It was good to see both Dan and Don again, and to get out into the city as opposed to stay trapped in the Radisson.  Afterwards Dan and I came back and went to Bioware for another tour of the studio and so Dan could do some work that I'll just assume is covered under the NDA I signed earlier in the day.

Then to bed and up early to claim the free bacon I was told that there would be.  There was none, just eggs and sausages.  

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And I arrive in Edmonton
On the Canada Line to YVR

It was a typical Vancouver day when I left.  Walking from my apartment to Waterfront station to catch the Canada Line up to the airport I was soaked to the bone.  Thankfully my Timbuk2 bags tend to stand up to the rain pretty well, and by the time I found the proper place to catch the new Skytrain line and actually arrived at the airport I was dry for the most part.  The flight itself was uneventful, I slept through take-off and read through the rest of the flight, and I arrived in Edmonton at nine.

Edmonton is cold.  It's been awhile since I've experienced a real winter.  As much as Vancouver is wet and kind of miserable during these months, it's not actually that cold.  Sure you never feel dry, but there's a definite lack of biting cold that I noticed the minute I stepped out of the airport in Edmonton to flag down a taxi to take me to the Radisson where I'm staying.

Once I'd gotten a room I was about to go out to get some food.  Being cheap however I wanted to avoid cab fare, and yet it was late and I wanted to catch Late Night with Conan O'Brian at 12:30 so I did not want to set off walking anywhere.  At first I tried to go to the pub in the hotel, though walking in I realized that I had forgotten that I was here to speak at a Canadian University Press (CUP) National Conference (Nash).  A CUP Nash is a quick way to jump start the economies of any nearby pubs or bars, and the hotel's bar was packed with students.  Not feeling social I retreated to my room where I ended up ordering Boston Pizza delivery.  

The internet in the hotel is hit and miss, apparently having a student journalist conference hosted there is overwhelming their ability to provide access to the web.  So while I had thought to be blogging as much as I can, I might not be able to as much as I had hoped.  

Now it is late, by either Vancouver or Edmonton's standards, and I have to go to Bioware in the morning to work out what exactly I'm going to be saying at the first panel.  Still there is a made for television movie on the CBC about the 1972 Summit Series where professional hockey players from Canada and Russia met for the first time [wp].  That is tempting.  So very tempting.

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The Jeffery Simpson World Tour 2010: Whereby the world is defined as Edmonton
EdgeFest '98 // Edmonton

Live and on stage you can see me doing the public speaking thing that I used to win awards for back when I was in grade four and five.  Granted my voice has broken and I've gone through puberty since then so I will warn you that it's not quite as melodious as it once was nor will I have a graphic of the human heart to refer you to.  However I will probably have had my hair cut before then, at least if Lydia has her way.  So that should add some kind of fashion flash to the proceedings.  No graphs though.  Sorry.

What will I be talking about?  How much are tickets?  Will there be punch and pie?  Are there any audience participation chants or songs that will be needed?

To go you'll need to register at a Canadian college or university and quickly get a job at the student newspaper before this weekend because I'll be talking at the Canadian University Press's 72nd annual conference this year titled Natural Selection [cup].  I'm actually doing a few sessions, to help justify the cost of them flying me out there.  The first one, and main one, I'll be talking with Matt Attwood who works in Bioware's [wp] media relations department on tech writing and how to work with PR departments of tech companies.  Next I'll be on a panel discussing new media with Matt Frehner, Matthew Ingram, Bryan Murley and hosted by CUP's Chris Berube.

This is the panel that a fist fight is most likely to break out in, since I tend to be a bit crotchety about the term "new media" and the idea that "old media" is dying.  Newspapers might be dying, but I don't think that's what people mean by "old media". 

The next day I'll be a part of a panel discussing freelance writing with Iain Ilich, Erin Millar, Elizabeth McMillan, Karen Unland hosted by Nick Taylor-Vaisey.

These are all names that I'm going to have to Google in the next day or so. 

Meanwhile I've come down with the sort of head cold that used to kill people back in the middle ages.  It essentially feels as though someone has stuffed my head full of phlegm and at night it starts leaking out my nose.  It's quite a mess.  Of course given that I'll be exposed to CUP Conference SARS this weekend probably means that I should work on my will.  A combination of head cold and whatever ailments a few hundred university students fighting their livers with weapons of mass intoxication are carrying will be a most interesting experience.

Now if you'll excuse me, my face is leaking.

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The Kindle and some tech writing


It seems like since I've gotten back from my honeymoon I've been kind of on the ropes and running behind on everything.  I picked up swine flu somewhere in Maine on our trip and was incredibly sick when we returned.  However having missed two weeks of work already for the trip I headed back, only to pass the flu onto at least one of my co-workers and possibly two.  After a few days, and a definitive doctor's diagnosis of H1N1 [wp] I ended up back at home for nearly another week.

I was just over that and back to work when I got the news about David [jks], and so blogging has certainly not been my top priority.  Add to that two articles that I've finished off for The Georgia Straight, and I actually don't feel bad about ignoring this blog.  Besides apart from an accounting of the honeymoon I've not had much to write about up until recently.  Ironically when I have blogged it's been for the Straight and that has been about the new Kindle I got for my birthday [tgs].

Well actually I combined a few of my gifts into the Kindle, using the money my parents and my brother gave me to order it from Amazon.  Since the Kindle was only available in America when I bought it I had to get it sent to a business in Sumas that specializes in receiving packages for Canadians.  Since then the Kindle has begun shipping to Canada [tgs], though I've heard that it does not have the web browser.

I've also blogged about Indigo/Chapters' moves into the ebook market [tgs] for the Straight. While I was on my honeymoon my article on Facebook games for The Georgia Straight as well [tgs].

I'm also likely going to be speaking at the 72nd annual Canadian University Press (CUP) National Conference in Edmonton this January.  It's being hosted by the University of Alberta student paper The Gateway, where a number of my closest CUP friends worked at, and though it's been awhile since I've been to a CUP conference it should be fun.  I've not gotten all the details nailed down, but I appear to be listed as a speaker [cup] so that's always a good sign.  The last CUP conference I spoke at ended up with me writing for the Straight, so hopefully this will also be a good networking opportunity.

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Vancouver internet start-ups in The Georgia Straight

One of the things I told students at the Canadian University Press conference

that I spoke at was to always take any assignment offered [jks].  The life of a freelance writer is such that we really never know what will be our last job, and saying no to work is always a risk especially when you're trying to build a relationship with a publication.  While I've been writing for The Georgia Straightfor over a year the spacing between each article is long enough that I'm always a little concerned that maybe they'll forget about me.  The technology section only really has one regular writer (Blaine Kyllo) and having heard enough stories about freelancers who said no to one job and had publications just assume that they were no longer interested in writing, I pretty much say yes to anything and everything. 

Boris Mann & Maura Rodgers. Taken by Stephen Hui for The Georgia StraightLooking back on it I probably should have said no to an article being due just over a week after my wedding.  However I had been pitching the story since I first started writing for the Straightand it was the fall technology issue so it was hard to say no.  I also completely underestimated how much work a wedding was, and moving my wife into my apartment would be.  Which is a long way of being honest and saying that tech editor Stephen Hui had to do a lot more on this one than normal and so while I think the interviews went well the structure of the article is mostly thanks to Stephen, in however good it is.  Anything wrong with it is my fault.

The article is in the Straighttoday and on-line [tgs].  It turned out well in the end though I think if I ever do my song and dance for mold-able minds, I'll ad weddings as an exception of a time when begging off an assignment is probably a good idea. 

A last note about the article that

I feel I should mention is that I did a lot of interviews with people that did not make it into the finished article.  It turned out that I just had too much material and given that it takes at least 100-300 words to introduce and give details about a start-up company, some of the ones I spoke with had to be left out in order to keep in the assigned space.  Those interviews however aren't going to be lost, and I'll be turning them into short pieces for The Georgia Straight's website's tech section [tgs] over the next week or two. 

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The Georgia Straight Christmas party

Our hero goes to a Christmas party, drinks some beer and talks about how awesome the past was.

With Lydia no longer working full time at the hostel, and my work deciding that in the year of the iPhone money was too tight to afford a Christmas party, the only Christmas party that I got invited to was the Georgia Straight's.  Having written a number of articles for the Straight, with another two still in the can, I guess I'm not considered a regular freelancer and thus worthy of two free drinks and some appies.

The thing is unlike most jobs where you know the people you work with as a freelancer I've never been to the Straight office and apart from Stephen Hui who I know from my years in the Canadian University Press (CUP) I'd only met the Editor Charlie Smith once over a year ago for about five minutes. So since Stephen wasn't there when I arrived I basically stood in a corner picking at food as it passed by carrier by waitresses with trays. Thankfully Amanda Growe, the Straight's copy chief, and her boyfriend, introduced themselves and were my party Sherpas for the first while. Eventually they introduced me to my fellow tech writer Christopher Poon [gs] whose also an intern at the paper. Stephen showed up a little later, and the next few hours were spent reminiscing about our days in CUP, and trying to explain what CUP was to Christopher.

Normally I don't really like Christmas parties, staff gatherings or parties at all, but I had a good time. I met a lot of people who had clearly did a better job of planning their careers than I had, and so that was slightly depressing. Also hering about old CUP people who had gotten high powered media jobs, including Stephen, was nearly enough to send me to the bar to buy myself a few rounds of drinks. I didn't though, and as I said I had fun. It was almost had a CUP feel to it, though since nobody peed in anything inappropriate so it never quite reached that same fever pitch.

Because what's a party where nobody breaks health codes?

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Going straight

Powerbook keyboard

Back in October of last year I spoke at a Canadian University Press (CUP) conference up at Simon Fraser University hosted by their school paper The Peak.  I'd a long history with The Peak both through CUP and Campus Plus but also because when I'd visit Graham during my reading week I'd often do guest articles for the paper.  They had me in to speak about tech freelancing, which was ironic since it was nearing the end of when I was actually doing freelancing for the Kelowna based publications.

At the same time as my talk, which I'd like to think went well, Charlie Smith of The Georgia Straight [tgs] was also speaking, and we got to talk a little bit after the presentations.  He mentioned that they were looking at updating the Straight's tech coverage and gave me his card.  Of course at the time that was awesome news, and I promptly went around saying things like, "Oh yes I'll be writing for The Georgia Straight soon."

Because I'm a bit of an idiot who career-wise was getting a bit down about not really progressing.  The fact that I'd started my freelancing career at the biggest publication that I've yet to write for, which at the time had over 8 million monthly readers, was making everything else seem a little anti-climatic.  The cocktail party explanation that I wrote for papers in Kelowna was getting old and blogging for free over at Metroblogging Vancouver [mbv] is fun but not as impressive as I'd hoped.

I kept persisting but eventually I gave up as I was not making it anywhere near the insides of the paper.  Until Stephen Hui who I knew from CUP, got a job there and then got put in charge of the yet to be revamped tech section and got in touch with me.  I sent him some articles, he seemed to think they didn't suck and this morning we met at Starbucks.

So I'm doing a few articles for The Straight, and that also doesn't suck.  This might be the equivalent of bragging it up at a party back in November, since it's going to be a bit before they actually come out, but I feel good about it. 

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From film to digital: concert photography

I was taking pictures at the Bell X1 show that we went to at The Plaza last week [mbv], and I realized that it was the first time that I had been at a show with the powers of an official photographer since I've switched from film to digital.  Which says a lot both about how long it's gone since I've had a photographer's pass, and also how quickly the world has moved from film to digital.

I used to feel bad about how many photographic fuck ups I made while covering concerts, until I saw some professional photographers running through an easy dozen rolls of films per song.  The fact that I spent $50 on film and development might have hurt my wallet, but seeing what the rest of them use the fact that I could get a few great shots from that was a nice ego boost.

For the Bell X1 show I ran through about 500 shots easy, most of which spent about five minutes in iPhoto before getting deleted.  The bulk of those were either out of focus, blurry or just plain terrible.  Then I ran through those that were left and cut them down to just the best ones, the ones that if I had a page to fill I'd be happy using and those were the ones that made it to Flickr [fkr], which according ot Lydia was way too many.

The one legacy I have from the film era is a few photo albums of pictures in storage that need scanning in, so that I can get them onto Flickr.

Edit:  The first two pictures in the slide show above are actually from my film camera and were scanned in.  The rest were from various digital cameras including my two Canon Rebels, various cell phones and other smaller digital cameras.

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