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Posted by Shannon

The B.C. Supreme Court has granted Vancouver publisher Douglas and McIntyre a 45-day extension to file a creditors’ proposal, the company said in a news release.

D&M Publishers caught Vancouver’s book community off guard October 21, when it filed a Notice of Intention under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, which put the company under protection from creditors until Nov. 21. That period has now been extended to Jan. 4, 2013.

D&M is working with a trustee, the Bowra Group, to find an investor or purchaser for its assets and will be accepting offers until 2 p.m. November 26. The company remains in operation until then.   - Read more

Posted by Shannon

It’s odd when someone we never knew dies and leaves a huge gap in our lives, but for many of us the death of writer Nora Ephron, 71, is like that. 

Perhaps it’s because for almost 50 years Ephron wrote our lives while writing her own. Her death prompted my writer pals, male and female, to reminisce on their favourite  works and what they’d learned from them about writing and life. 

Heartburn, her hilarious and thinly veiled roman a clef about one half of Woodstein cheating on her while she was pregnant with their second child, taught us that writing well is the best revenge. Her husband, she wrote famously, was “A man who was capable of having sex with a Venetian blind.”

She was good at big, memorable comic lines like that but she also had a knack for spotting small, significant truths. That book taught me not to take it personally when, after a divorce, certain married friends drifted away. As Ephron observed, “Couples date couples.”

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Posted by Shannon

Poison PenmanshipPoison PenmanshipIf I could have only one journalism book on my shelf it would be Jessica Mitford’s Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking.

Witty, acerbic Mitford was a British investigative reporter working in the U.S. through the 1960s and ‘70s and because she’s such fun to read it’s easy to forget how significant her work was.  Her breezy magazine articles and books took down corrupt companies and whole industries while making everyone laugh.

In Poison Penmanship --  which should be subtitled the best journalism education anyone can get -- she tells us how she did it in an essay following each piece. She spills it all:  how she did the digging, how she set up the interview questions to progress “from kind to cruel” and (the best part) what she learned from what she did wrong.

This roster of articles includes the forerunners of what became The American Way of Death, a remarkably funny investigation into the corrupt funeral trade that made her career. The 1963 book exposed how cynical undertakers exploited the grieving public and spurred changes in legislation all over North America as well as sparking a boom in memorial societies.

The book also includes my favourite investigative piece -- “Let us now consider Famous Writers” – a 1970 article in which she takes on celebrity writers who lent their names (and their mugs) to advertise one of those overpriced correspondence schools. Ads for the Famous Writers School were a staple in most magazines of that era and their travelling salesmen were bilking money out of little old ladies who might (charitably) be described as functionally illiterate.

The piece itself is a delight, detailing the publicly traded corporation’s greed in glorious, mind-boggling detail. But it’s the backstory about how wealth and power kept the article lingering in limbo for months that is the real eye-opener.

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Posted by Shannon

And Terry Fallis just keeps amazing us all. Since posting this, he beat out marquee names like William Gibson and Margaret Atwood to make the final cut for this year's Canada Reads panel.

Publishers love to blame the Internet for their declining business but the success of Terry Fallis suggests that the real problem is that they no longer offer the service that used to be their stock-in-trade – finding good books, and getting them to readers.

I wrote about Terry, who is something of legend in Canadian literary circles for doing an end-run around those out-of-date gatekeepers. He took his first book, The Best Laid Plans, directly to the audience after he failed to get so much as a rejection letter from the professionals. He promoted it via free weekly chapter-by-chapter podcasts and self-published books.

Fifteen hundred copies and one Leacock Medal win later, McClelland and Stewart decided he might just be worth adding to their roster. His bestselling first novel then sold 10,000 copies.

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Facebook Faux Pas

22 Aug 2010
Posted by Shannon

What used to be considered a social faux pas is now a Facebook feature.

Last week Facebook added “Places,” which is a variation on the creepy FourSquare social networking site that allows you to announce your presence everywhere in the real world. Merchants give points for mentions, which can be turned into rewards of dubious value.

But Facebook manages to make it creepier, by ensuring that people who have never signed up for such an invasion of privacy are now subjected to it. Unless you opt-out, you can be photographed and tagged by the overzealous idiots on your friends-list and have your whereabouts reported across the grid.

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Posted by Shannon

Over at the Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt is wondering if technical tricks are replacing artistry in ballet. 

And while I’d like to contemplate this question along with her, I was much too distracted by YouTube videos of things that (20 minutes earlier) I would have said were humanly impossible.

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Posted by Shannon

TheSmartSet.com, an online magazine, first caught my eye because the name was an obvious steal from a mag that flourished in my favourite era in modern history, the 1920s. Back then The Smart Set paid a buck a word to writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway for the short stories they penned to keep them in champagne and Paris flats while they produced the great American novels.

Naturally, they went out of business paying writers that kind of dough.

Today’s Smart Set is the product of Drexel University in Philadelphia, and it offers a compendium of witty, thoughtful, insightful features and commentary pieces on just about anything you’d like to name.

While the factory model took over most journalism outlets a good 40 years ago, creating assembly lines for copy that was increasingly yawn-inspiring, TheSmartSet.com is crafted by writers for readers. It has the one quality I’ve long argued is the single most significant one in journalism: Surprise.

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Posted by Shannon

The San Francisco arts blog Lies Like Truth notes that as news outlets cut budgets, arts journalism has turned into a career like acting, dancing, or painting – you have to spend a lot of time waiting tables in order to be a theatre critic.

While I’m all for arts journalist Chloe Veltman’s argument that cultural commentators working in this climate should be eligible for arts grants, I think her observation that if they’re not covering classical music they must be doing odd jobs, inadvertently hits on the real problem. Arts journos have long been seen as expendable in newsrooms because so many aren’t journalists at all – real journalists can always change beats. The arts writers who can no longer get work are the arts insiders who were only looking for a way to publicize themselves and their cronies.

News outlets themselves have blurred the distinction between public relations and news to such an extent that many of us have forgotten there used to be a difference between journalism and propaganda. To be clear, journalism is news-gathering done on behalf of citizens, and it’s done in the public interest – it’s not a promotion to serve special interest groups. That’s called PR. - Read more

Posted by Shannon

A U.S Press Club panel suggests that out-of-work journos may be able to pick up a gig with the CIA or a host of other intelligence agencies, which have been forced into the news biz.

With all the dying newspapers cutting their foreign bureaus to save money, spooks have been left scrambling for intel. So they're hiring journos to gather it for them. 

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Posted by Shannon

Jeanne Robinson, 1983 (photo Greg McKinnon)Jeanne Robinson, 1983 (photo Greg McKinnon)  Globe and Mail, June 7 2010 - Choreographer and author Jeanne Robinson, 62, took her final bow in North Vancouver on May 30 surrounded by friends and family including her husband of 35 years, novelist Spider Robinson.

Although her death was expected – she was losing an 18-month battle with cancer  – friends say they can’t believe the driven artist with the pioneering spirit is gone. She founded Halifax’s first modern dance company, Nova Dance Theatre, and was working on a lifelong project to develop dance in zero gravity.

“I loved her gorgeous impatience: she was fierce. Determined. She hated to give up,” says Pamela Anthony, who worked as Nova Dance’s manager, and later (at Robinson’s urging) became a dance critic.

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