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Global Investigative Journalism Conference

Thursday, November 04, 2004

EVERYBODY wants to write for the Globe & Mail Patrick 

The Globe & Mail was on our breakfast table every day when I grew up. For a while that was because I had delivered it and 100 or so others on our street. I took to reading the paper while going from house to house and somebody ended up wondering why their paper wasn't mint that morning. That started a life-long habit of looking over the days papers wherever I happened to be and reading the most interesting one from front to back every chance I got.

In the eighties when PC's were just getting started the only way to keep up with the latest developments was to read Byte and PC magazine. One of my favourite columns was Chaos Manor by Jerry Pournelle where he not only talked about PC's but also related some of what a computer journalist's life was like. It was then that I first got the idea of being a journalist.

Three years ago, in the guise of helping a friend get into j-school, I took the test for the Centennial College journalism program and passed. It was already a couple of weeks into the first semester when Lindey Oughtred, the program coordinator, told me I could start right away so I did but I had to hit the ground running.

Things had not been going well for me financially and I was facing imminent homelessness unless I found a new place by the end of that month and had no student loans. I started attending classes, packed my stuff into storage, moved in with a friend who needed a roommate and got the student loans over the course of the next few weeks while continuing to work nights as a security guard. Looking back on it I have no idea how I did it. I do know I never want to do that again.

While in journalism school I told people a few times that I didn't really want a job, I wanted to freelance. I remember discussing this with Stephen Cogan one of the teachers and adding that I wanted to write for the Globe & Mail. Stephen is one of the nicest people in the world and would never intentionally say anything harsh. If you left him a voice mail he would apologize for not having been there to answer it himself. He must have felt a strong message was in order because he overcame his legendary tact and sensitivity to look at me with a slightly hairy eyeball and say "EVERYBODY wants to write for the Globe & Mail Patrick." It was so far out on the limits of his character that it stuck with me and, it must be added, prickled the ancient Irish cussedness that alternates between being my best quality and my worst character defect.

I graduated with decent marks earlier this year and in the last few months have gotten to the point where I can pay around half of my monthly bills on freelance journalism revenue. I have freelanced for the G&M reasonably steadily since before I graduated but it has always been for the globetechnology.com web site. Recently I told Ian Johnson, the G&M technology editor, that, for me, a print byline in the G&M would be the journalistic equivalent of playing hockey for the Leafs.

I hadn't heard from Ian so, when I went to the store that morning, I didn't have any serious expectations of the article making the paper that week after so many delays. There it was on Page B11 of the Thursday, November 4th G&M Report on Business (the technology pages) is my story about venture capital in Quebec.I finally had a print byline in a major daily.

The story has been two months in the making if you count from the planning stage and got bumped by ads for the last three weeks. Ian and I exchanged several emails about when the article was going to run. He kept apologizing and I kept telling him it was OK.

Finding it there was a great moment. To my surprise, when I got home, I started crying in relief and gratitude. I didn't realize the significance I had attached to this. It seemed like the first tangible reward for the years of struggling to remake myself and get through school while working almost full-time.

Fifteen minutes later I had calmed down enough to actually read the article. Then I had some phone calls to make and emails to write. The people who have been following and supporting my personal and professional progress have been waiting for this kind of a breakthrough.

One of the phone calls was to my 88-year-old father. Calls with him are brief and to the point because electronic communications were a rare and valuable commodity when he grew up. He doesn't understand computers or the Internet and I don't bother trying to explain. Today's call was no different, but he gave me a great and surprising compliment. He said he looks for my name in the Globe every day. I cried some more when we hung up.

I can't take full credit for the quality of the copy. Ian had a large hand in that. He gave me one of my first breaks by assigning me a case study and really shaped up the raw material that I gave him. When I look at the final copy I realized that raw is the perfect word. I still have a long way to go.

Editor John Carson and the folks at Silicon Valley North have also been taking copy from me since before graduation and still do. SVN also gave me a great place to do the internship I needed to complete the journalism program at Centennial and graduate. I'm very grateful to SVN as well.

The article is availble online here: http://www.globetechnology.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20041104.gttwqueb04/BNStory/Technology/

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