conscience

How to be a good journalist

typewriter There is a lot of talk around the Internet (and coffee shops and gyms and office kitchens) at the moment about the failure of the media to query anything, even the most basic of details, about wellness entrepreneur Belle Gibson's claims of surviving countless "terminal" illnesses through diet. As Belle's business and reputation and apparent lies tumble around her, publicly and completely, we are all left wondering, and picking her story apart. WHAT WENT WRONG, everyone wants to know.

And, why didn't anybody ask the right questions?

I'm not going to weigh in on this, other than to say that the whole situation leaves me feeling a bit sick and dirty. Tainted, somehow. And deeply, deeply saddened for everyone involved and everyone whose good nature was callously used. Even for Belle herself, and definitely for her baby boy. I try to put myself in her shoes and I can't but, clearly, something is deeply, deeply wrong.

ANYWAY.

When I started out as a journalist in the 1990s, my first job was in rural commodities. I was a radio reporter, broadcasting daily news stories on scintillating topics like wool futures and cattle markets and whether cotton prices were bullish or bearish (those are real things).

This was a challenge because I felt I could barely count, let alone provide reliable economic analysis and commentary to people who relied upon it for their livings. I think said as much to my Editor, who had taken a massive punt on me in the first place and hired me over more than 100 other applicants.

And that's when he gave me the best advice I have ever received in my entire journalistic career.

Are you ready?

"You don't have to be the expert. You just have to find the expert, and ask the right questions."

It's that simple. To be a good journalist, you only need to do two things.

1) Find an expert. An ACTUAL expert, not a fraud, so do your due diligence. 2) Ask your expert the right questions. Think: what do people need to know? What do people WANT to know? And if you're thinking, "Why does that work," or "How does that work," or simply "I don't get it," then ask those questions, because maybe (probably) your readers will be thinking the same things.

Don't worry about appearing silly, because it's ok. You're not the expert. You're not supposed to be the expert. They are! So just go ahead and ask the right person the good questions and ask them the dumb questions and then put all the answers together into a story that is honest and informative and possibly entertaining and… did I mention honest?

That's it. Now you know how to be a good journalist.

Image credit: Sergey Zolkin, licensed under Creative Commons

Love

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love has no gender

love has no race

love has no disability

love has no age

love has no religion

love has no labels

This video from Love Has No Labels has been doing the rounds of social media lately. Have you seen it? Just from watching, I feel so GOOD about the world. Like there is hope for us. Have a great weekend! Try to hug somebody.

(ps. If you can't see the video embedded below, watch it here)

Mean it

bonfire I want to share with you one of the best and most important lessons I've ever learned.

In my early 20s I used to babysit for a family who had four children under six. [Insert multiple exclamation points and utter parental exhaustion here. How did they survive!?!?]

The parents were (and are) dear friends of mine, and mentors. I’d known them since I was a rather lost and confused teenager, and our age-gap fell perfectly into that in-between state: they were not old enough to be my parents, but old enough to seem all-knowing while still fun and relevant.

As a teenager I looked up to them in every way and, in many respects, I still do.

One night, as they were preparing to go out and I was helping to tuck all the kids in and brush all the teeth and read all the bedtime stories, I witnessed their father breaking up some sort of disagreement between the children.

“I didn’t mean to do it!” cried one child, over some small crime I can’t remember.

“That's good,” their father said, “but you should mean not to do it.”

I don’t know about those children, but that was a lesson in intent that I have never forgotten.

It is one thing to be blameless on intention. To be going about your own life, and not deliberately causing harm. But to swap those two words around is a whole other level: to deliberately not cause harm is a conscious act in intentional kindness that is so much more powerful.

Last week, not far from my house, a young man was killed while cycling to work. And the person who caused his death did nothing more dastardly than open their parked-car door without looking. The cyclist was thrown into the path of an oncoming truck. Death was instant.

In my compassion for the family of that cyclist, I also feel devastated for the person in the parked car. That person is probably a good person. A kind person. Someone who loves their family, and hugs their Nanna, and sometimes buys lattes for their friends at work. All they wanted that morning was to get out of their car.

But they will carry the burden and consequences of the cyclist's death forever.

People all over the news this week are talking about penalties for opening car doors in cycling lanes. They want stronger legal consequences because otherwise how will the rest of us learn, and remember? I'm going to stop here because this is getting too heavy and too sad but the whole horrible incident reminded me of my friend's advice to his small children, all those years ago.

Dear friends, let's consciously do good. Every time.

Too often, we stop at intent. We like to say it's the thought that counts, but we let the lack of thought go without remark.

Mean to do it. Mean not to do it. But don't ignore it.

Folks, let's mean it!

Image credit: Joshua Earle Photography, licensed under Creative Commons

Flowers for the bees

Flowers for the bees Swaying in the morning breeze,
 Growing sunflowers for the bees. Loving the buzzing in the open air,
 In the flower garden bees are everywhere.

~ From "Flowers for the Bees" by Gregor Hacska & Zanni Louise

On the weekend I showed Madeleine and one of her little friends the green and growing things in our vegetable box. "These are baby tomatoes," I told them, "and these fuzzy yellow flowers are baby strawberries."

We talked about how plants needed sun and water to grow big and strong, and how we had to be patient before we could pick the ripe fruits and gobble them all up.

I think it is so important that we teach our children about where their food comes from, and how to care for the world in which they live.

Yesterday, my bloggy friend and children's book author Zanni Louise, and her musician husband Gregor Hacska, launched a fantastic online resource that will help get our children thinking about and enjoying these ideas.

They have created The Quincys, an interactive world of music, storytelling and ideas for children. Every month, you can use The Quincys as a resource to entertain and teach children (and yourself): Week 1 they will release a new song and video; Week 2 they'll tell a related story; Week 3 they'll suggest a fun activity; and Week 4 they'll share some fun resources and facts for learning more.

After breakfast this morning, I'm going to play their first song "Flowers for the Bees" for Madeleine, then take her into the garden and we will have a little chat about how bees need flowers and flowers need bees.

You can take a look at The Quincys here, and keep up on Facebook here

{Beautiful illustration from "Flowers for the Bees" supplied by Zanni Louise, and used with permission}

Celebrate

Party How is it possibly even Monday again? I mean I know it's a cliche to talk about the weekend going by so fast but I HONESTLY think I blinked and missed it.

Approximately two hours ago (in my head) it was midday on Friday and one of my best friends in the world, Cara, was due to arrive any minute on a visit from Sydney. Then she DID arrive and I couldn't even go to the tram stop let alone the airport to meet her, because a) I didn't have a car and b) Harry was sleeping upstairs in his cot. Poor Cara made it to our place in between showers and hailstorms and... we think that was SLEET. What? How cold was it in Melbourne this weekend!?! I kept seeing friends' feeds on Facebook of frolics in the snow basically just outside town and it was all so beautiful.

Cara and a bunch of our other friends joined us at the Epworth Gala Ball on Saturday night, which was organised by Mr B and his team. Just us and more than 1300 other people, raising money for medical research. (Cara was adorable because she's from Sydney and the cold weather was killing her so she wore thermals under her dress. She is a stunner so she could get away with it, but I still thought it was pretty funny). And permit me a little boast but I am so incredibly proud of Mr B and the people who work with and for him because that night they raised $5.6 million to go to medical research. That is INSANE. There were two people on our table who pledged a million and 1.2 million each to this cause. When the first woman announced her gift - a lovely lady in her 80s - you could literally feel 1300 people hold their breath. We were all thinking, "Did she actually say what I think she said?" and then the whole room erupted in applause.

The ball had a "Rio Carnival" theme and later we were all up and dancing to cheesy Latin music, including the 80-something-year-old lady. I want to be like her when I'm old. Not just rich and generous (although that would be nice), but also fun and cheeky and celebratory and go-get-em fun-loving. She has lost her husband, and battled cancer more than once. She and her late husband made their money by sheer hard work. They weren't tycoons or heirs, they were hard-working, careful-saving, and smart. And now she gives and gives and gives again to charity, because she genuinely cares. Then she laughs and cracks a slightly-blue joke, and tears it up on the dance floor.

Another highlight of the evening was when, during the Latin-style dancing, they announced a conga line. I said to Mr B "Let's sneak away," because there is NOTHING WORSE than a conga line. And he agreed. So I started to walk back to our table and he had his hand on my waist and the next minute we looked behind us and there were six or more people all holding onto us and it turned out WE HAD STARTED THE CONGA LINE. Which was horrifying and hilarious in the same moment.

We stayed in a hotel that night and Mr B didn't get in until almost 4am and I didn't sleep much before that because babies and hotel rooms don't always go well together, and we all four of us ended up in the bed together. Thank goodness for luxurious, king-sized hotel beds! When we woke the next morning, bleary and tired but on massive highs from the night's success, it was so beautiful. Everybody smiled at each other all at once. Madeleine threw herself across my body to kiss Harry, and Harry exploded into giggles. Then we ordered a big breakfast and ate it in our room overlooking the city.

I strapped Harry to me in the Ergo and walked out into Melbourne's coldest morning in 16 years. Cara texted me. "It is 1 degree!" and I said "Isn't it great?" and she simply responded "ONE DEGREE." I guess she was glad of those thermals. Harry and I were each others' hot water bottles so he quickly fell asleep and we were fine as we walked from Crown Casino to Gertrude Street where we met Cara, and Madeleine and Mr B caught up with us. By this time the day had warmed up to one of those perfect sunny winter's days that are like peering at the world through the finest layer of ice and nothing is more clean.

Madeleine was a trooper despite the night of broken sleep and no nap, and only had one meltdown all day. So we all rocked up to yum cha before heading home, where Madeleine and I picked and washed lemons to make preserves while Mr B and Harry had a nanna-nap together.

And the next minute the kids were both asleep in bed and Mr B and I were watching something cheesy on the TV and the weekend was over just like that and I SWEAR everything I've just written only happened a couple of hours ago, and the weekend is about to begin.

Melbourne dispatch - Kinfolk Cafe

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There is a hand-drawn sign just inside the door of Kinfolk, a little social enterprise cafe on Bourke Street in Melbourne, and this is what it says.

rules of kinfolk

allow yourself to BE you...open up to receiving generously and giving generously...

teach others with your smile, learn to let your heart sing, your soul

dance... savour every mouthful. give thanks. Take praise. DO

what you do best and enjoy it. Share. Care... sit a while... and come again...

I've been wanting to share Kinfolk with you for literally years. It was one of my favourite places to go eat and read a book when we first moved to Melbourne, before I had kids and had to factor pram-parking into my eateries of choice. You'll find it right down the bottom of Bourke Street, near Southern Cross Station, so it's also where I used to meet friends visiting from interstate or overseas, giving them somewhere lovely to relax after they stepped off the airport bus and before we had to board the tram.

Run with the help of up to 30 volunteers, Kinfolk is a not-for-profit space, directing its income between development projects for communities in need in Rwanda, Ghana, Palm Island and Melbourne. Customers can choose where they would like the profit from their meal to go by popping a coffee bean into a jar, or trust Kinfolk to distribute it where it's most needed.

As you'd expect, the food is seasonal and wherever possible organic, biodynamic, locally-sourced and fair-trade managed. Oh and delicious. What you see on my plate is a chicken tagine with seasonal vegetables, but there are always vegetarian and vegan options on the menu too.

Last year they ran a crowd-funding campaign and successfully raised enough money to lease the space behind the cafe, enabling them to install a commercial kitchen, build on the catering side of the business, expand the menu, add 30 percent more table seating, and increase trading hours. Through all of this, they are now able to raise more profits for their project partners.

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The Food Justice Truck

market-produce truck-asrc-justiceIt's no secret I'm a fan of a good food truck. I've been slowly eating my way through a good number of them, and you can share that journey with me if you want to, here. But this may well be the best food truck idea yet.

Called the Food Justice Truck, it is a social-enterprise initiative of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), and the goal is to make fresh, healthy food available to asylum-seeker communities who could otherwise simply not afford it.

Riddle me this. On average, it costs $130 a week for an Australian adult to eat well. Most asylum seekers have about $20 a week to spend on food. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that you have $110 worth of hunger and chronic malnutrition going on right there. In our back yard. On our watch.

The Food Justice Truck will buy locally-sourced, ethically and sustainably produced fruit and vegetables, then resell them in asylum-seeker communities at a 75 percent discount on the rates they'd pay in the shops. In effect, asylum seekers will be able to buy $80 worth of healthy food for themselves and their families, for $20.

By using the truck to get around to communities where the greatest numbers of asylum-seekers are congregated, they estimate they'll be able to help bring healthy food to 2000 asylum-seekers a month. This little video helps explain it all.

If you think this is a great idea, too, you can donate to help them buy a truck and get started via their crowd funding page. If you can't afford to donate but still want to help, how about spreading the word? Let's help get the Food Justice Truck on the road!

Image credits: food truck is a screen shot from the promo video above; market produce is by Natalie Maynor, licensed under Creative Commons

What makes you happy?

1391845680Take a look at this fabulous street art project about spreading gratitude. It's called "The little things." How it works is that you and I will be able to submit photographs we've taken that represent something we're grateful for. Rain over thirsty grass. A kiss from a baby. Freshly-picked strawberries, still warm from the sun. Then Hailey Bartholomew (of 365 Grateful) will select her favourite photographs, print them out as giant polariods, and post them up all over town to inspire everyone else to stop and think about the little things that make them happy. Lovely, oui?

Hailey has launched a Pozible campaign to fund this project, and she could sure do with your support to help make it happen. Plus, there are some rather nice rewards on offer for everyone that makes a donation (even a little one). You can learn all about The Little Things (and help out if you have the motivation and means) here.

{Photo is from Hailey's Pozible page. First seen via Meet Me At Mikes}

Kindness craft project - 124 birds

Kakapo1 Kakapo2There are only 124 Kakapo birds left in the world. Native to New Zealand, the Kakapo is the world's heaviest, flightless parrot, and it is critically endangered. There are so few birds that every Kakapo has a name. To me, 124 sounds like an almost impossibly-small number. But it is actually a wonderful improvement: in the 1970s, there were only 18 birds.

To celebrate the recovery of the Kakapos from near-extinction, as well as the resilience and unity of the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, after the devastating earthquakes they have suffered, Melbourne-based "guerilla kindness" artist Sayraphim Lothian is planning a unique public art project in March.

"I will travel to Christchurch to install a number of soft sculpture Kakapos around the city. These birds are then left for the people to find and move, hide, remove, adopt or throw away," she says.

The project, called Journey - The Kakapo of Christchurch, is about "recovering communities, helping hands, and of being surprised by joy."

Sayraphim contacted Kakapo Recovery, a conservation group organisation dedicated to saving the Kakapos from extinction, to tell them about her project. "Wouldn't it be great," they said, "if you made 124 of them, one for each Kakapo alive today?"

So that's what she is going to do. Sayraphim will spend the next two months making 124 Kakapos, then leave them for the people of Christchurch to find. "Part participatory art project, part game, part scavenger hunt and part social media check in, Journey invites people to get involved with an art project on a very personal level," she explains.

The two-week art installation will also be supported by free craft workshops on two weekends.

Sayraphim has launched a Pozible project to raise the funds she needs for bird-making materials, flights, accommodation, publicity, and materials for the free craft workshops. If you'd like to take a look or help her out, go here (there are some pretty special rewards for people who donate, too).

ps. If Sayraphim's name sounds familiar, that's because I featured another of her "guerilla kindness" projects in Melbourne here.

1000 steps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave I told you? Mr B is going to China in a week's time. He and Madeleine's biggest sister Meg will join a team of others walking the Great Wall of China to raise funds for cancer services. Pretty amazing huh? I'm so proud, Mr B and Meg have already raised almost $12,000 to support this cause! When they're done walking, Emily will join them for a little holiday in Beijing. Madeleine and Baby B2 and I will keep the home fires burning, unfortunately not yet in our new house (although we may move just before they get home. Eek!).

So a little while ago Mr B and some of his charity-walk teammates met up for a bit of a training session on the 1000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, in the Dandenong Ranges.

For my non-Aussie friends, the Kokoda Track (actually in Papua New Guinea) is the very famous site of a WWII battle in 1942. It is considered one of the most significant battles fought by Australians during that war and, tragically, more than 600 died in that jungle, and another 1000 and more were wounded. The walk in the Dandenong Ranges commemorates the courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice that characterised that battle.

Once again, Madeleine and I kept the home fires burning while the others walked, since being pregnant with a back injury doesn't lend itself to carrying a 10 kilo child up several kilometres of stairs, especially at "training speed."

These are some photos we took while exploring around the entrance to the walk. Apparently it's very beautiful once you're inside!