A Good Home, Journalism

Change The Things You Can

 

Timmy Fletcher was five years old. He lived with his family in a small town in Ontario.

He was bright. Charming too, in that confident way of young children who are loved by those around them. He zipped around in his wheelchair, beaming.

Timmy had one big wish: to go to school, like the other kids.

A new law allowed children with disabilities to attend their local schools. But the school and Timmy’s teacher didn’t think they could handle a paraplegic child.

I empathized with the teacher’s concerns.  But the law was the law. And so I went to the school and kept asking: Why won’t you let Timmy into school?  

I was one of two journalists who wouldn’t let up.

When the school finally changed course and Timmy went to school, my cameraman and I were there.

Timmy was back on the news that evening, a big smile on his face.

~~

Journalism came alive for me when I realized the power of “Why?”

“Why” and “why not” are powerful questions, especially when posed on the local evening news. Traffic lights get installed at a busy intersection; care improves in a senior citizens’ home; regulations are changed or followed.

Asking “why” can actually change lives.

~~

One of my last stories as a TV news reporter was about the lack of female firefighters in Toronto and most of Canada.

Asking “why” led me to two women at City Hall – Mary Bruce and Pat Henderson. They ran the Equity office.

They would love to see a woman firefighter, they said. What’s more, the fire chief did too. But all candidates failed the physical test.

Hmmm… I thought. 

“With weight training, could a woman ever become strong enough to be a firefighter?” I asked the woman who ran my weight-training gym.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied.

“Is there an applicant who has come close?” I asked Mary and Pat. “Could you ask the chief?”

Before I knew it, the three of us were having lunch with Diane Oland, a smart woman who had repeatedly aced the written firefighting test. Diane was physically strong, but not strong enough.

~~

“I know a woman,” I told my weight trainer. “She wants to be a firefighter. Could you train her?”

“I’ll do better,” she replied quickly. “My husband runs our other gym nearby and he used to be a firefighter in London.  I’ll call him.”

My trainer’s husband felt he could get Diane ready to retake the test within 6 months or less — if she really wanted it. She did.

“We’ll all support you,” pledged Pat, Mary and I. 

So she did, he did and we did.

The day Diane aced the test, I wasn’t just a journalist. I was undoubtedly one of her supporters.

~~

I always tried to keep my own emotions out of my stories. But “why” and “why not” are dangerous questions. Sometimes, after asking them, your sense of justice gets seriously triggered and before you know it, you’re invested in the outcome.  

~~

Someone called my TV news station.  A cameraman and I rushed to the scene.

The landlady showed us the disheveled room.  “I kept screaming that they had the wrong man! They got the wrong room. They wouldn’t listen to me!”

Ronald Jackson.

It’s been three decades, and I ‘ve never forgotten him. 

This was a case where “Why” and “Why not” were simply not enough.  

~~

That afternoon, Ronald had lain on his bed in the rooming house where he lived, reading his Bible. Ronald Jackson was a practicing Christian.

A group of strange men burst in and attacked him.

Ronald did what any reasonable person would do: protest; fight back; try to save himself.

But by the time the plainclothes policemen stopped attacking Ronald, he had been badly beaten.

Meanwhile, the guy the police were really after made a swift escape.

~~

Ronald Jackson did not get an apology. He got arrested instead. We later saw Ronald ourselves – his white undershirt stained with blood, his skin bruised. He looked dazed. 

A lawyer who saw my report on the evening news offered to represent Ronald, and he got his day in court. Or should have.

Just before the court date, Ronald’s lawyer told me, police officers in Toronto shipped Ronald off to Montreal, supposedly because of an old traffic ticket. He was in jail when his case came up.  

I had lost touch with this case, and only learned the above when I finally called the lawyer to ask how it had all turned out. He bluntly added: “He’s not the same man you met. He’s gone crazy.”

I could have wept.

(Ronald Jackson is not his real name.)

 

 

 

 

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58 thoughts on “Change The Things You Can”

  1. I rejoiced with you reading about Timmy, and wept along with you regarding Ronald Jackson. He may have lost his day in court but the ending of that story is still untold, and perhaps still unfolding. “Why” and “Why not?” are not dangerous but they are important questions, often leading down sleepless pathways.

    1. I don’t know what became of him, Lavinia. It was a very busy time in my life, and maybe I was also too chicken to find out. I hope the ending was a good one for him, but I don’t know.

  2. Been there for the first two, fortunately, not for the third. It is a great feeling when you get a decision overturned, one that matters to little people that has been made by someone in a nice warm office. I wonder how much campaigning journalism goes on these days.

    1. That’s true: a great feeling. But you know, I think our mainstream journalism would be better if journalists asked “why” more often, and “why not”. They are essential to good journalism. I am thankful to my editors who allowed me to follow my training and go around asking such questions. The results were often well worth it.

    1. Ugh! Your US election with its manufactured stories was awful. Trump manipulated the real media, and inspired much of the fake media with his lies. Cable TV news got lazy and entirely too dependent on easy talking heads. A bad day for journalism, but it does force the profession to take a good hard look at why it exists, and what it does when a candidate knows how to manipulate it so easily, and to convince many people that his lies are truths.

  3. I was thinking recently … seriously … why doesn’t Cynthia write a book about her life as a Canadian journalist? Co-incidence? It would be a great tribute to yourself, plus other like-minded/hearted journalists. The article is wonderful. Tell us more. Tell us more.

  4. I didn’t know you were a journalist–it sounds like you were an amazing one! I wonder if journalists today see the possibilities for change inherent in their work or if the media focus on capturing an audience and making a buck has changed things.

  5. Warm and caring stories, although the unfairness of the last one hit me with rage and frustration. I asked myself ‘why’ and didn’t like the answers I came up with. Indeed, change what you can.

  6. Inspirational stories Cynthia and the last one so sad. Why oh why can we not treat everyone with the respect they deserve – at the end of the day we are all equal.

  7. It must have felt good to be able to help others with your questions. ‘Why’ and ‘why not’ are definitely questions we should all be asking regularly. The authorities get bogged down in rules and regulations and we assume that nothing can be changed. With a little persistence you proved that things can be improved and people can get a better deal.
    Your last story is a sad one. Evidence of what can go wrong when not enough research is done (this time by the Police) and harm is done to innocent people.

  8. I love that you stood up for Timmy and Diane, and used not just the power of journalism but the power of YOU to help them in ways that truly benefitted everyone. Asking `why’ or `why not’ – maybe even just wondering – can start change, and can also be a way of challenging ourselves. As you know. Sometimes we are unable to help, and I know from experience how heartbreaking that can be. I think just putting the good energy out there makes a difference, even if we never see how.

  9. Wonderful human interest stories that do make a difference. As I started out in journalism I was both upset and annoyed at the negative attitudes towards the profession as it is so vital for society and democracy as a whole, able to make a difference on an idividual level and national and international too. Thank you so much for sharing. 😀

  10. You may not be a working journalist anymore but you do continue to change the things you can, whenever you can. Your blog, your writing, your community spirit are testament to that.

  11. I suppose the question for the last story is “Why did someone else suffer for the mistake the police made?” If we asked that question often enough, perhaps the mistakes would happen less often. My mother was one for asking why, not as a journalist but as someone concerned about justice and fairness, and the results were sometimes far-reaching. Long may we celebrate all those who ask “why?”; thank you for being one of those.

    1. Margaret, your mother sounds like a remarkable woman. The question of justice is showing up in my mind, journals and blog more these days and that’s a good thing. I felt so helpless for so many years that I stopped even considering these things.

      1. My mother was a remarkable woman. And I am glad you are able to turn your attention to the question of justice. It makes such a difference to feel ready to step into the world again.

  12. I love your power Cynthia. I have the same beliefs in things I advocate for. Why not? And where’s the justice? I don’t work at a news station but I try to leave my mark wherever I go, and always rooting for the underdog to overcome.

  13. The political issue on our Island is because I asked our Town Board “why” they are allowing sport trapping of coyotes who are trapped for hours before being terrorized by pictures and finally meeting their demise by the trapper (a 17 year old boy) on public land with the approval from our elected officials. This has consumed me with trying to raise awareness as 24,000 residents didn’t even know it was happening. So I understand this post well with the “Why” taking you on your next course. Great post!

    1. I’m so glad you are raising awareness of these issues, Tina. I’m proud of you! And wishing you the stamina to keep asking “why” till the question is answered fully and appropriate action taken.

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