/Observe and report

Observe and report

By Jim Poling Sr.

This week marks a special anniversary. It’s of little interest to anyone but me, but I’m writing about it anyway.

Sixty years ago this week I walked into the second-floor newsroom of The Sault Ste. Marie Daily Star and was assigned a desk as its newest journalist.

I got there through a skillful piece of deception. 

I was passing through Sault Ste. Marie, where my mother lived, enroute to visit an uncle, who was a reporter at The Sudbury Star. The hope was that he would get me a reporting job in Sudbury.

“Why drive to Sudbury?” my mother asked. “The Sault Star is looking for a young reporter. It was in yesterday’s paper.”

Off to the newspaper I went and was greeted in the newsroom by a woman who turned out to be the Women’s Editor and a member of the Curran family who owned the paper.

“Someone gave you bad information,” she said. “We specifically advertised for a young woman to work in our women’s section.”

I was mortified. I flushed red and stammered. She turned away me from but instead of returning to her desk, she went to talk to a stern-looking gentleman at the main news desk.

“I don’t need anyone who looks like a scared little rabbit,” he replied when, pointing at me, she asked if he needed a new reporter.

She said she had a good feeling about me, and so it was that a couple days later I took my place in that newsroom.

No sooner did I get seated than everyone in the newsroom got up and left. Did I smell? Or, was this to protest my hiring? I learned later that the first edition deadline had just passed and everyone went to the coffee room for morning break.

I was left alone in the newsroom except for a sleepy looking guy bent over the wire desk, where national and international news chattered incessantly on The Canadian Press (CP) and United Press International (UPI) teletype printers.

I walked over, introduced myself and asked how he liked working there.

“Beh, beh, beh ter ter tha. . . an . . . ,“ he stuttered. I can’t tell you the rest because it was pornographic, obscene and simply not very nice.

He was drinking from a coffee cup, which I noticed was half filled with a clear white liquid, which was not water.

There have been many changes in the news industry in the 60 years since. Some good. Some bad.

Hundreds of newspapers have closed in the past 10 years and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. Many news operations now are controlled by companies more interested in revenue and balance sheets than good journalism. 

More people now get their news and information from non-reliable sources such as social media platforms. We live in a broken media environment polluted by toxic talk, rumours, misinformation and disinformation.

Hopefully, this is just a phase and changes are coming that will fix the fractured media environment. There are signs already that news consumers are becoming more aware of, and concerned about, the dangers presented by the decline in fact-based news and information.

It’s not likely that we will see the return of the days of families sitting and reading in-depth newspaper stories. But, maybe growing concern about fractured media will result in positive changes.

One thing that should never change is the lesson learned in my early Sault Star days: The role of the reporter is to observe and report. Accurately, honestly and fairly. To produce news stories that are balanced and put into context.

Good journalism is not about awards, citations or wearing an Order of Canada pin on your lapel. Good reporters leave their egos at the newsroom door. 

The only thing that matters is the story and getting it right. 

Helen Thomas, a UPI reporter for 57 years, said many years ago:

“We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”

That was a good day 60 years ago this week. The payroll clerk who came to my desk to enroll me as an employee later became my wife.