Charles Lynch award
This has been an excellent past few days for women at the Toronto Star. One of my colleagues, Michelle Shephard, has a film credit as associate producer for the documentary, Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, which is on the short list for an Oscar nomination. Another, columnist Rosie DiManno, was honoured at the Conference of Defence Associations banquet with the 2011 Ross Munro award for her reporting on the military. Meanwhile, my colleague Tonda MacCharles has an excellent story in today's paper.
And on Saturday night, at the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, I was stunned to discover that I was the recipient of the Charles Lynch Award, which is handed out to mark career-long achievement in political reporting. The two presenters, my old friends Don Newman and Rob Russo, said I'd been chosen because of my particular enthusiasm for democracy.
As Newman and Russo were describing the winner of the prize, I had been sitting at my table, wondering who they were talking about, and looking around the room for likely candidates. And when they said my name, there was a brief moment there when I thought it was some kind of mistake, or trick of the audio. So when I did give the "speech" (I'm not sure you could call it that), I blurted out some top-of-mind non-sequiturs, thanked everyone and quickly beat a retreat to my seat.
I think I remember warning the audience that I was a print journalist, more comfortable expressing myself in writing than in impromptu speeches. So I thought it might be a good idea to put down in writing some things I should have said, or said a bit more articulately.
First, about Charles Lynch. When I learned in late 1987 that I was being sent to cover Parliament, a good friend of mine, Ann (a friend from high school, who's remained my cherished friend lo these many years), gave me a signed, Charles Lynch book as a sendoff present. She had been at a talk he gave in Toronto, and thought I should aspire to be a political journalist like him. She was sure I'd like him. And she was right. Lynch was mostly retired from daily politics by the time I got to work on Parliament Hill, but whenever I met him, I admired his obvious passion and fun he got out of politics. I'm delighted to receive an award in his name.
It's not easy these days to bring passion and fun to politics. There's been a lot written about the disappearing middle in politics of late -- the declining middle class, the shrinking of the moderate middle in a polarized political climate. It's worth remembering that "media" comes from the same family as "middle," and all the pressures on those other middle places are on us too. There's pressure to do political reporting in polarized fashion too, choosing sides, and declaring friends and enemies. There are pressures to push the reporters out of their neutral spectators' seats and on to the political battlefield, where they'll be portrayed as defenders or threats to the government. Neutrality doesn't mean dispassion. We do have causes to defend: truth, facts, evidence, fairness, access to information. That's the passionate middle, and we shouldn't be afraid to keep standing up for all those things that define our jobs, and which give us our privileged spot in Parliament. One of my favourite things said about me on this score came from Russo's boss, actually, a few years ago, when the Star, the Globe and Canadian Press were in the midst of trying to sort out access issues on Parliament Hill I believed to be crucial; worth a showdown. Rob's boss and I had a conversation and he reportedly asked Rob later: "Is she Sicilian?" (The PMO's new director of communications, Angelo Persichilli, who addressed the crowd in Italian last night, might smile a bit at that joke.)
Luckily, I work in a world where most reporters I know share those values, and will suit up for service in defence of them. I was looking at a lot of those fellow scribes last night from the stage, all sparkling in their black-tie and evening-ware finery, and I was truly proud to be among them. I am also proud to work around politicians and politicos from all parties -- I wish the Canadian public who loves to denounce them could walk a day in my shoes and see them through my eyes.
There is also something wonderful and special about getting an award from one's peers, and I think that's because the reward is for effort, rather than achievement. It's about trying, and being judged on one's own terms for intent, as opposed to result.
And if you'll permit me, one side note of acknowledged bias: Because I am a female reporter, who knows how hard we still have to keep running to stay in the same place in this world, I am delighted to hold this award in our name too, and all those strong women who came before us, and will come after the women journalists of my era.
Now... some other particular, shout-outs. Pardon what will be a necessarily long list -- I've been here a long time.
The others who have also won this award are truly distinguished company; and I can't tell you how proud I am to have worked with these people through the years, often on Don Newman's Friday TV panel, which I loved doing and still miss. Previous Lynch award recipients include Newman, of course, the amazing Rob Russo, Craig Oliver and Daniel L'Heureux, formidable women reporters Julie O'Neill and Susan Murray, my old friends and mentors Jeffrey Simpson and Hugh Winsor, and the late Jim Travers, who I missed acutely last night (we often sat together at the dinners, which meant automatically I was at the most fun table. I thought about saying something about him on stage last night, then decided it probably wasn't all that good for my already shaky composure.)
Next, a word about my bosses through the years. Many of them were sitting in the immediate vicinity of the stage -- the Star, first and foremost, where I work now, and present last night were Torstar chairman John Honderich, editor-in-chief Michael Cooke and national political editor Colin MacKenzie. Not all journalists are lucky enough to have bosses like these; I include John Cruickshank, our publisher, who couldn't be there last night, but like those others at the table is a journalist first and foremost who stands staunchly for the idea of journalism as public service, not just a business. I'm fortunate to work for such people; not all Parliament Hill reporters can make that claim, and I feel sorry for those who can't.
As happens in this tiny world, Colin has been my boss at least four times in my career. He was the city editor at the Globe and Mail when I became a reporter; the managing editor for much of my parliamentary reporting career at that paper, and now he's my boss again (happily for me; I'm not sure for him.) Also within my line of vision last night was Canada's official languages commissioner, Graham Fraser, who has been my colleague at the Star and Globe, and taught me a lot about the art of taking politics, and politicians, seriously. Whatever I've done in terms of political reporting, I've done with the blessing, encouragement and more than occasional patient indulgence from these folks. I owe them a lot.
But the same goes for just about everyone in that room last night, who are all colleagues in those trenches. Especially, though, my current colleagues in the Star's bureau and national section: bureau chief Bruce Campion-Smith, fellow reporters Les Whittington, Tonda MacCharles, Joanna Smith and Allan Woods, columnists Tim Harper and Chantal Hebert, as well as Richard Brennan (who left the bureau earlier this year) and Chris Carter, who went to CBC last year (depriving me of his vast knowledge, not to mention an audience for my rants or stupid jokes.) We've had a rough year in our bureau, losing Jim, dealing with the craziness of a federal election and the usual political turmoil on the Hill and in the media industry. And yet, that office is home and a refuge in a crazy world. On top of the above-mentioned values I will fiercely defend, don't get me riled about them, I should also add these people -- you should see these folks work. They are also very funny. The makeup lady at CTV sometimes wonders on Monday nights why my eyes are red -- it's often because I've walked across the road still laughing about some hilarity inside our bureau.
And last, of course not least, is my real family and friends-who-are-pretty-much-family: my parents, my brother and Andrea, Susan, Shaun and Jackson, Greg. My husband, Don Lenihan, is not of the political or reporting world, yet his advice and counsel make me a better political reporter every day. These are the people who most make me want to make the world a better place, which is an annoying trait in a reporter, but without which it would be much less of a job.
There. That's the speech I should have given. Many thanks to Don and Rob and all those who judged me worthy for the award.