On Journalism 32 results

Thoughts on the nature, ethics, practice and present state of journalism.

When reporters and politicians rub elbows

Tribute: Bill Bennett A labour reporter looks back on an oddball friendship with a right-wing leader, and the good old days when labour reporters still existed By Rod Mickleburgh VANCOUVER -- For some reason, Bill Bennett seemed to like me. In the few times we encountered each other, we got along. Goodness knows why, since, as a labour reporter, I had little time for the wealth of anti-labour legislation that came down the legislative pipe during Bennett’s 11 years as premier of British Columbia, topped by his outlandish, 26-bill “restraint” package in 1983. It went far beyond “austerity”. One of the bills gave his government the right to fire public sector workers without cause and lay them off without regard to seniority. Among the first to be shown the door was BC Government Employees Union vice-president Diane Woods. Nor was that all. On that single unforgettable day, the government also wiped out the Human Rights Commission (employees fired on the spot), gave ...

Dating, illness and the survival instinct 

The Sick Days: Part 17 I relished the feeling of safety... Perhaps that wasn’t enough to build a relationship on, but I was enveloped in the narcissism of illness and fearful another flare would strike at any time. By Shelley Page He’d cared for me before diagnosis, pulling me out of snow banks when I fell. Later, he rode the prednisone rollercoaster with me, as my spirits sunk then soared and I dealt with a swollen face and ripped skin, immunosuppression and insomnia. During the three years we’d worked in different cities, we saw each other every few months and vacationed together. He’d take my woeful phone calls, reminding me, “You can do it.” When he was posted to Toronto, we decided to move in together, without much thought. In marriages involving chronic illness, divorce rates are said to be more than 75 per cent. A study I found in the Journal of Oncology reported that spouses are actually lonelier than their ill partners and have lower levels of ...

Reporting behind bars

The Sick Days: Part 16 Journalism 201: Remember to bring your prednisone to prison By Shelley Page “Don’t forget to take their picture.” As I’d find out, not the best advice for a reporter sent to sneak into a third-world prison. I was heading to Trinidad to interview two imprisoned teenage drug mules who had attempted to smuggle three suitcases of marijuana back to Canada. Both 17, they’d been sentenced to eight years in an adult prison, filled with murderers on death row. The Star wanted the boys’ story. It hadn’t started out as my story. A new hire, a summer student heading to Columbia University’s journalism school in the fall, had been following the case and already called the prison warden asking to interview the boys. Although she had a hunger for foreign assignments and a passport filled with stamps, she was too green to go. Instead, I was assigned to show up at the prison, say I was a cousin, get their story and a photo: proof of life for ...

The Sick Days: Part 15

Heart burn Contemplating the 'therapeutic value of style' while struggling with serious illness By Shelley Page While dying of prostate cancer, New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard wrote about “the therapeutic value of style.” In Intoxicated By My Illness, he observed: “It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness. I think that only by insisting on your style can you keep from falling out of love with yourself as the illness attempts to diminish or disfigure you.” I’ve long envied literary men who write boldly about their various afflictions, fatal and otherwise, knowing that their ability to do their job is never in doubt and they relish the protection that their reputations afford them. This is not the case for shift workers, dishwashers, desk jockeys that fill boxes with numbers for a modest salary, or almost anyone else. And not for girl reporters trying to figure out how to work sick. I am currently ...

The Wolf in Hiding

The Sick Days: Part 14 "I was sick of feeling like a stupid girl who didn’t know enough to manage her own illness." By Shelley Page When the pain came, I carried it on my shoulders as I waded through the polluted, dirty water of Lake Ontario. When I made it to my desk in the Toronto Star newsroom, I  wrote the final words on Vicki Keith conquest. “Five down. None to go.” I followed her in a boat across Erie, Huron and Superior, Ontario (twice), and almost Michigan, and that’s the best lede I could come up with. But at least it was brief. My knuckles were swollen, my fingers bunched into fists. They looked like boxer’s hands. I punched gingerly at the keys, wincing. It was like repeatedly hitting a block of cement. I did not go to emergency, as I had when I was in third-year university. I calmly called my rheumatologist at Mount Sinai and asked for an appointment. His office manager did not see the same urgency that I did, and so she booked me the ...

Playing with the boys

The Sick Days: Part 13 How one young reporter ended up shouting at the Queen Mother from the sidelines of a horse race while dodging the pig sty theatrics of One Yonge  By Shelley Page When I joined the Star’s downtown general assignment pool, all the reporters’ desks had been shoved into rows as they renovated the newsroom. It reminded me of a Grade 8 class at an all-boys school. Loud-talking guys in wrinkled dress shirts, loosened ties, sitting jowl-to-cheek, ego-to-ego, as they pounded out their stories on 1970s computers, in late stages of decay. I was seated, temporarily, beside a bulldog of two-way man (meaning he both wrote and took photographs), who immediately showed me the collection of girlie photos he’d amassed on the job. He’d somehow convinced numerous women to pose for photos with their shirts off, and kept a file in his desk, mixed in with pictures of his children (clothed). He showed me this collection, I guess, to see how I’d react. ...

The Sick Days: Part 12

The mantra, the mental spellcheck and a call to the show The suburban beat suddenly gets grisly when a serial rapist starts stalking Scarborough, leaving a young reporter haunted by a narrative loop of horror that demands spiritual healing, while her body slowly tapers off high doses of prednisone By Shelley Page A suburban monster, he overpowered her from behind, dragging her into the backyard of her parents’ Scarborough home. There, he strangled her with an electrical cord, while viciously raping her for almost an hour. He left her tied to a fence with her own belt like a dog. The details in the press release were spare, stark. The victim was 19. I wasn’t much older. I quickly typed up the brief and filed it to the senior cop reporter based at One Yonge, Toronto Star headquarters. Reporters are observers. That is our blessing and our curse. We know we can’t help, but we’re uncertain what or how to feel, as though it were a professional liability. Repo...

The Sick Days: Part 11

It was the Last Drink on the Table The rush of daily journalism faces off against the need for a daily dose of prednisone as a cub reporter tries to make it from the all-male east bureau to the doors of One Yonge By Shelley Page A tip came in that had front-page potential, handled right. I begged the bureau chief—who held a scrap of paper covered in sketchy details as if it was a treasure map—to let me check it out. It was my first week as a full-time reporter at the Toronto Star and I needed something out of the ordinary. As I raced down Brimley Rd. towards the Scarborough Bluffs, the steering wheel of the 1978 blue and white ‘Star car,’ quivered like I was pushing a power mower. I had to keep pulling to the left to keep it heading straight, straight toward the lake. The tipster, Bill Shillabeer, waited at Bluffers Park, a sandy beach beneath the towering bluffs. “Where is it?” I asked, breathlessly. A reporter must strike a balance between ...

The Sick Days: Part 10

A serving of self-loathing, with a dollop of death wish An autoimmune diagnosis suggests something self-inflicted, and the fact that the 80 per cent of the 50 million American sufferers are women fuels the idea that there is a substantial psychological component. Forty-five percent of women suffering autoimmune disease were first labeled hypochondriacs. By Shelley Page Before I knew I was the proud owner of an immune system that couldn’t tell self from invader, doctors pushed sedatives on me. They hypothesized that my buffet of bodily dysfunctions — stabbing pain around my lungs, clawed hands, ruddy and hot joints — were provoked by overwork and exams, stress or anxiety. Something of my doing, or my response to something of my doing. Then I found out I had an autoimmune disease. And if we’re going to get all psychological about it, it’s like having the mutant spawn of Hannibal Lecter, the self-cannibal of all illnesses. We sufferers allegedly have an acute ...

Obscure illness gets star treatment

Thanks to Selena Gomez's recent revelation that she suffers from Lupus, the world knows a lot more about an illness that once stood like a wallflower at the high school dance of diseases By Shelley Page The world’s teenage girls just got a crash course on lupus. Selena Gomez has 34 million Twitter followers, 47 million Instagram followers and 58 million Facebook followers. And she has lupus. Suddenly, the obscure has become front-page tabloid fodder. I feel horrible for her, but oddly happy for those of us who suffer from the fatigue-inducing, organ-destroying autoimmune disease. October is one of those months when there are walks and talks for many major diseases. October is Autism Awareness Month. Ditto for Brain Tumor Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness, Eye Health, Learning Disabilities, Psoriasis Awareness, SIDS Awareness. And Lupus Awareness Month, at least in Canada. It’s an obscure illness that doesn’t attract big banks as sponsors or celebrities ...