by Katrina Rozal
As a journalism student, I felt privileged to experience an audience with Governor General Michaëlle Jean and to be in the presence of seasoned journalists whose work brought light to critical public issues in 2008. I’m thankful I was chosen to be one of several journalism students to attend the Michener Awards, a ceremony honouring journalists whose investigative work benefits the public. It was held Wednesday, June 10 at Rideau Hall.
This year’s award was given to Frédéric Zalac, Société Radio-Canada; Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press and Esther Enkin, CBC, for their collaborative investigation of improper (link to stories) Taser gun use, which informed the public that over 10 percent of tested Taser guns (link to stories) did not function according to the standards set by the manufacturer.
Clark Davey, who served the Michener Awards Foundation for 25 years, and was publisher at the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette, was given a Special Award for a lifetime of working demonstrating “the best in public service journalism.”
The Michener Citations of Merit were given to:
– Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe for their 18-month investigation of corruption at CEGEP of Saint-Hyancinthe, which resulted in the dismissal of the college’s Director General
– the Globe and Mail for their six-month investigation of Canada’s outdated 911 emergency telephone system
– the Hamilton Spectator for their investigation following the deaths of elderly patients at Burlington’s Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, which informed the Ontario government of the necessity to report outbreaks of Clostridium Difficile infections
– the Toronto Star for their two-year investigation of lead content in toys, which led to one of the biggest recalls in Canadian history
– the Winnipeg Free Press for their two-year investigation of First Nations child welfare system, which lead to amendments to make child safety the priority when placing children in care under the Winnipeg Child and Family Service Act
Humour was cleverly injected in presenting the stories on serious issues, especially when the Toronto Star’s David Bruser made reference to the male genitals when he was describing the possible consequence awaiting him for testing lead levels in toys using a radioactive machine.
Hearing the journalists present their work was a moving experience for me, particularly when members of the Hamilton Spectator and the Winnipeg Free Press were nearly brought to tears after sharing their respective stories. Those moments made me think of the Governor General’s remarks in her opening address, that “journalism does not consist merely of reporting the news to the public; it is also a means of holding a magnifying glass up to [the] world rather than a funhouse mirror.”
I admit that while the whole experience was exciting, I was also intimidated to be surrounded by seasoned journalists eating oysters and sipping white wine in Rideau Hall. But the atmosphere was welcoming.
During the dinner reception I had the privilege of talking to the Governor General. While I expected her to be regal, she was more gracious than I imagined her to be. After shaking my hand she held it and said it was important for her to have aspiring journalists present at the ceremony and hoped that we learn from and engage with journalists whose work has benefited the public.
When I asked Clark Davey what advice he would give to young journalists, he told me to “keep working at it until it stops being fun. Once it stops being fun you gotta change your job.”
When I asked Jim Bronskill for his thoughts on the state of newspaper media, he told me that the change in media outlets is inevitable and that I would be part of the generation that will create a new viable medium to channel news.
During a tour of the Governor General’s residence I saw several of her drawing rooms and the dining room where the Queen of England, Bill Clinton and other state dignitaries eat during their visits.
All in all it was a very cool experience. One of the most important things I got out of it was a heightened sense of respect for the profession. I also gained insights that will stay with me long after this experience is over.
After the event, I got in touch with another journalist I met during that evening. Alex Panetta is based in Ottawa as a political reporter for the Canadian Press. Recently, he videotaped the Governor General eating seal heart in May.
When you were videotaping the Governor General eating the seal heart, did you expect it to become so controversial?
I knew that people would complain but I didn’t realize it would become news on such a national and international scale. I didn’t expect to see my work on CNN, nor for a Chinese website to use my material… A Governor General visiting up north and partaking in their food and practices isn’t unique, what’s unique was that her enthusiasm to partake in it was captured on video. I wrote the story and it landed on the papers the next day but it was the video that set it off… At first I was actually skeptical about going on the trip. I wanted to be in Ottawa for the EI talks but my boss told me to go up north. I’m thrilled that I was wrong to be skeptical and that the expense for my trip was worthwhile because it generated such a huge response.