We sometimes speak in journalism about ideas of high principle and purpose and why we do what we do to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and speak truth to power – that sort of thing.
Less frequently do we hear about some of the perks of being a journalist that distinguish it from other jobs and makes it a fun gig even for those of us known to thunder from time to time in serious tones about the public interest and such. That’s a pity.
One of the truly great things journalists get to do is be paid to indulge our curiosity and travel places and see things they would not likely otherwise in places they probably wouldn’t go. As a university student, I punched a time clock for hourly-rated factory workers at General Motors in Oshawa, Ontario for five summers. Journalism is a good gig with a lot less heavy lifting than hanging hot copper core radiators on the old North Plant rad room assembly line or working the acid line in the GM Battery Plant.
When I accepted a job as a news editor in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories with Northern News Services (NNSL) I was living in Halifax and it quickly struck me that someone was going to actually pay to relocate me almost across the country from east to west and south to north, from the Atlantic Time Zone to the Mountain Time Zone. I remember thinking I was going on someone else’s dime to live and work in the Canadian North, a part of the country North of 60 most Canadians would never have a chance to visit for reasons including logistics and prohibitive cost. I’ve always thought of that opportunity as a profound privilege and blessing.
After two years in the Northwest Territories (the name alone is über cool, I’ve always thought), I wrote to a friend: “This is a land bigger than the imagination. The Akaitcho say, ‘Denech'anie,’ meaning ‘the path the people walk’ and that ‘we will live on the land as long as the sun shines, the river flows, and the grass grows.’”
Even as a mainly desk-bound editor in Yellowknife, I had the opportunity to fly into Tuktoyaktuk on a Twin Otter in a mid-August snowstorm. In Tuk, I saw one of only a few places on Earth with pingoes and touched the waters of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. Likewise, I passed through the heart of the Sahtu in Norman Wells, where the majestic snow-capped Mackenzie Mountains meet the sky, surrounded by some of the deepest canyons and gorges on Earth.
Sitting in conversation with a notebook nearby (or 2GB Sony ICD-AX412 digital voice recorder) at a kitchen table, be it in Tuktoyaktuk or Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, or Londonderry up in the Cobequid Pass in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, has never gotten old for me.
Just like interviewing 1960’s radical Abbie Hoffman, one of the Chicago 7 defendants, co-leader of the Yippies, and author of numerous books, including Steal This Book, seems as surreal today as it did that day in July 1982. That’s when I interviewed him, as a summer journalism student from the Gananoque Reporter on the Canadian side of the border, in Fineview on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River’s 1000 Islands New York State side, while Hoffman, who had been living under the alias Barry Freed, checked in by telephone with his federal parole officer.
Journalism. Nice work if you can get it. That’s why I remain grateful, or at least try and maintain perspective, if I can’t muster outright gratitude, even on days when Kevlar might well make sense as the para-aramid fibre fabric of choice sitting in this chair.