Thursday, September 22, 2005

The best journalist in Canada

This story is not exactly a follow-up to my earlier post, Take back the night, although it addresses the same subject matter. It concerns the murder of another young woman in Ontario.

I share this story primarily because of the very moving account published in today's Globe and Mail. The author, Christie Blatchford, is a very talented writer; in my opinion, she stands head-and-shoulders above any other journalist in Canada.

Regular readers of the Globe and Mail may be surprised by my opinion. Ms. Blatchford usually covers the crime beat, and might be reflexively dismissed as a practitioner of tabloid journalism. In fact, she began her career with a tabloid chain.

My perspective on her is similar to my perspective on Stephen King. I think King is a brilliant writer, notwithstanding (a) the dark and sensational subject matter of most of his books; and (b) his unapologetic commercialism. Like King, Blatchford writes for the masses; and, like him, she is a supremely talented writer whatever subject she turns her attention to.

Of course, Blatchford is writing non-fiction; the stories may have a sensational element to them, but they are legitimate news items, too.

In this instance, Blatchford is writing about 25-year-old Alicia Ross, who lived in Markham (a suburb north of Toronto) until she disappeared shortly after midnight on August 17.

Two days ago, the family's next-door neighbour turned himself in at a local police station. Apparently the murder was not premeditated but occurred as the result of a dispute. The perpetrator has now been charged with 2nd degree murder.

Ms. Blatchford's column starts out a little melodramatically, in my opinion, but thereafter it's a good example of her craftsmanship.

Given the subject matter, it's a tough read. The tone is set here, with a quote from the victim's mother:
"If God had said to me, 25 years ago, 'I have a baby for you, and you will love her and she will love you, for 25 years, but then you'll have to give her back,' knowing Alicia and what a beautiful woman she became, I would have said 'Yes,' …"

"But God didn't give me the choice, and I wasn't prepared to give her back, not this way."
From there, Ms. Blatchford skillfully depicts the broken hearts and shattered lives of all concerned.

When I refer to "all concerned", I am not excepting the murderer. Unlike many murderers, his conscience was too sensitive to bear the burden of his guilt. That's why he turned himself in.

But Ms. Blatchford's art comes out most clearly in her depiction of Alicia Ross. In just a few paragraphs, we are given a window into the very soul of this woman. We didn't know her in life but, courtesy of Ms. Blatchford, we know her in death.

Sensational material? Yes. But outstanding journalism too.

btw, I notice that the Globe and Mail has appropriated a trick from the blogosphere:  they now invite readers to post comments in response to their articles.


At 9:05 PM, September 22, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

I, too, am an admirer of Ms. Blatchford. I am constantly struck by both the quality and the quantity of her writing. The quantity alone would be sufficient to impress: that it is uniformly of high quality is doubly so. Even when I disagree with her analysis, her arguments are sound and compelling.

I am always struck by the respect she expresses in her writing. I think of that religious patriarch type fellow - who was he, again? - in his bizarre commune with his dozens of teenage brides and still more dozens of offspring. I can't imagine that an intelligent, independent woman wouldn't have been offended by the man and his way of life, and yet she wrote without sneering, without going for the easy digs.

She writes about hard and harsh aspects of reality, and she does it head on, without flinching, yet without sensationalism. And with respect and even with compassion.


(Gee. I think this is the first fan letter I've ever written in my life!)

Guess I'd better go read that article now.

At 7:05 AM, September 23, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Mary P. is referring to Wiebo Ludwig, the leader of a fundamentalist commune who sabotaged sour gas wells because he believed they were causing harm to his family and his livestock.

btw, here's another Blatchford column which makes passing reference to Wiebo Ludwig. It's another fine example of her journalism: she professes herself to be a-religious, but speaks admiringly of evangelical Christians, and argues that there's nothing wrong with Christians who seek to further their agenda through politics.

You never know what unlikely position Ms. Blatchford is going to champion.


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