Coming up in Media magazine
J-Source's new Ideas section editor David McKie introduces himself, plus gives you a preview of what you can expect from Media magazine's upcoming issue, a Canadian Association of Journalist's publication, and a J-Source content-sharing partner.
There will always be a place for journalism that makes a difference
As editor of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Mediamagazine, I occupy a front-row seat to inspirational and thought-provoking stories. Such is particularly the case in the upcoming special edition, a collection of behind-the-scenes accounts that some of the most recent CAJ award winnershave graciously agreed to write.
I will use this space as the editor of J-Source’s Ideas section to not only precipitate thought-provoking discussions about some of the big issues affecting what we do for a living, but also to provide another platform for some of the stories that regularly appear in Media magazine, a publication I’ve had the privilege to edit for several years and counting. Hence, part of my role will be to provide a bridge for the content that appears in J-Source and Media magazine.
It seems only fitting that my first column is about the edition of Media magazine that provides the most instruction on how to conduct meaningful investigations and the inspiration to keep going when it would seem easier to quit and do simpler stories.
The accounts in the upcoming special awards edition of Media are instructive, in that they take us behind the scenes, explaining how the journalists got the idea, key obstacles they encountered, their stories’ impact, and tips for those inspired to conduct similar investigations. I’m often struck by the determination of these journalists to dig for the truth in the face of extreme obstacles, their ability to carve out time to do the research while juggling other assignments, and their creativity in dealing with editors and producers who may be impatient for results or lukewarm in their support.
If you want to get an idea of how severe those obstacles can be, you’ll be able to read Steve Bonspiel’s account of the pressure he faced in his community of Kahnawake, Quebec, after producing Mohawk Council Turns up the Heat on Non-Natives, anexposéon a scheme to evict non-Natives from the reserve.
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake had penned more than 30 so-called “eviction notices.” Steve writes that there was one story of “a paraplegic man whose girlfriend was there to help him do everyday things, to feed and bathe him, to take care of his needs. She received a letter telling her to leave. They refused to comply and defiantly said no on the front page of our newspaper.” Steve continues. “One chief even told me off the record that another chief said ‘I don’t give a shit if he is in a wheelchair, she doesn’t belong here.’”
The issue was divisive. Steve and his wife endured hostility as editors and publishers of The Eastern Door, the paper that serves Kahnawake, and as members of the community. But the perseverance paid off. The girlfriend of the paraplegic resident and others facing evictions were allowed to stay. Aside from winning the CAJ award in the Community Newspaper category, Steve was nominated for a Michener Award.
Perseverance also paid off for the crew at CBC Television’s the fifth estate. They told the story of Ashley Smith, the troubled teenager who chocked herself to death with a strip of her prison gown in a federal prison as guards simply watched; they were told not to intervene. Ashley Smith’s story had made news, but the show took us behind the headlines to expose disturbing truths about the treatment of inmates with mental illness. In her piece for Media magazine, fifth estate producer Marie Caloz writes:
“Smith was just one of the estimated 25 percent of federal inmates who suffer from a mental illness and her death only one of a growing number of disturbing deaths in Canada’s correctional system. Smith was not a killer, nor a hardened criminal. We wanted to know how her 30-day sentence had stretched to more than three years. Why had a mentally ill teenager been locked in solitary confinement without the barest of necessities for years on end?”
In Out of Controland Behind the Wall, the program held microscope to the justice system, posing legitimate questions about a world few Canadians know anything about but are constantly told is in serious need of reform.
The stories also made it easier for journalists to obtain court exhibits, which Marie points out “can only be denied if there is strong evidence it would cause a serious risk to the administration of justice and if the benefits of denying access outweigh interests such as freedom of expression.”
Not only did Out of Control and Behind the Wall win the CAJ’s Open Television Greater than five minutes category, but it also won the Michener Award.
What’s exciting is that these two examples are among the many that will grace the next edition of Media magazine, which I expect to have posted by the end of October.
We are constantly being told that investigative journalism is dead or dying. These accounts prove that as long as you have journalists determined to dig for answers, this kind of reporting will always find a home.
So please stay tuned for the next edition. You’ll be inspired.