Kathy Vey talks about her favourite pieces of journalism
Kathy Vey is editor-in-chief of OpenFile, Canada’s first collaborative local news site. Vey grew up in Toronto’s east end and has worked for The Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Sun and Canadian Gardening magazine. She also spent many years at the Toronto Star, holding positions like deputy city editor, restaurant critic and assistant national editor. She credits a fellowship she had at the Knight Digital Media Centre in summer 2009 in Berkely, CA, with helping her decide to make the jump online.
Gene Weingarten: “Fatal Distraction” (The Washington Post, 2009)
“This piece is not easy to read at all. It was published two years ago by a staff writer at The Washington Postand won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. The thing is, I know this writer primarily as a humour columnist. He still does a lot of offbeat pieces, but in this one he tackled the issue of people who accidentally forget their children in the backseats of their cars. Whenever this sort of thing happens everyone stops and asks, ‘How could you do that to your child?’ This is a truly gut-wrenching story, and I don’t recommend it to anyone who’s having a bad day.
The research on this piece is really quite remarkable, though. And he doesn’t demonise these people. ‘Fatal Distraction’ is really an unflinching look at the horror of what these people have done as parents, as humans and how they come to terms with it…or don’t. Your child is gone; your child has died in one of the most awful ways, and you’re the cause of it. It’s not the sort of thing we as a society tend to examine. I think we’d rather not think about it, but this is a really admirable piece and it deserved the Pulitzer. I think journalists should read it to see what you can accomplish by examining stuff that, at first glance, you would probably resist examining.”
Markus Schwabe: Beaver Attack (CBC Radio, Dec. 5, 1997)
“This CBC piece is the story of a trucker in Northern B.C. who had a fateful encounter with a beaver one rainy night. Essentially all the interviewer had to do was ask the opening question. Then this guy, Penn Powell, just runs with the story. It’s the sort of thing you pray for—one great quote after another, and it’s delivered in this robust Canadian accent.
He’s got a couple of great lines in there about the beaver going for his ‘honeymoon jewels.’ There’s another spot where the trucker is doing hand-to-hand combat with this attacking beaver and the trucker says he reached down and the beaver’s ‘got no ears on him.’ Every time I hear that I just lose it because it’s colourful, it’s tailor-made for radio. It’s a classic.”
Paul Pritchard: Robert Dziekanski tasering footage (2007)
“Photographers used to have this saying, “F/8 and be there” (F/8 refers to the camera’s aperture). It means sometimes news just happens and you just have to be there to witness it. So no matter how much digging you do, no matter how much running around or how great your sources are, sometimes it just doesn’t matter. This piece, which you can find on YouTube, is an example of that.
Paul Pritchard wasn’t a journalist, but he managed to catch all of the RCMP encounter on his camera. He was just shooting video not knowing what was going to happen. News just happened and he happened to be there; but because was there, and because he was a witness, it changed the way tasers are used in Canada. In fact it ended up changing his life. He was awarded the first citizen journalism award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. The last thing I heard was that he’s attending journalism school in Nova Scotia. He wasn’t a trained journalist, but it’s still an important piece of journalism.”