Friday, January 06, 2012

Readers have made all the difference

My final TC column! Weird. Come to our farewell party/fundraiser next week to say goodbye - Jan. 11, 6-10 p.m. at the Garry Oak Room of Fairfield Community Centre, 1335 Thurlow. 

Folks, it has been an amazing ride.
But 14 years have passed since I was first given the privilege of writing a regular column for the Times Colonist. I’ve written 1,800 or so columns, and logged 1.4 million words on a vast number of subjects.
And it’s time to go.
I bless my lucky stars for a series of bosses who let me write whatever the heck I wanted all these years. I’m grateful for the sheer luck of living in a time and place where our governments know they have to tolerate people like me nipping at them in the name of free speech.
But mostly I’m thankful to you, dear reader. Your willingness to share your opinions, criticisms, encouragement and life stories with me has made all the difference.
 Back when I was writing four times a week, readers’ tips accounted for at least half of my column topics. On my own, I couldn’t possibly have found even a fraction of the crazy, funny, tragic, inspiring and touching stories that my readers brought me over the years. I’m the medium - the story-teller - but they’re the real deal.
The great joy of journalism is that it bestows on curious people like me the right to ask nosy questions of virtually anyone. There’s nothing saying that people will answer your questions, but it’s striking how often they do.
And as they talked, I learned.
About the cruelties of the human condition. The limitations of our systems. The breaking points and vulnerabilities. The impact of unintended consequence.
But I also came to see that most people are good, and that virtually everyone can be brilliant if given the chance to shine. What a wonderful gift that has been, to know that.
From talking to so many disparate personalities in so many states of wealth, health, freedom, rage, humour, vulnerability and frustrated powerlessness, I came to be comfortable with anyone, and happy to hang out in all kinds of scenes. That’s been a whole other blessing.
And now my partner Paul Willcocks and I are off to Honduras, and to new stories yet to be told.
I know I’ll keep writing. Journalism soaks into your bones, and observing the world is now a passion of mine regardless of whether I’m getting paid for it. It won’t be easy to walk away from work I’ve been doing since I was 25. But truth be told, I’m ready.
I’ve been in the business long enough to have seen the way news cycles. A critical issue rises up in the public consciousness, lingers in limbo for a very long time while people argue about what to do about it, and with luck ends up “fixed” after much effort on the part of all concerned.  
But then budget cuts, public apathy and a heartbreaking lack of institutional memory eventually eat away at the gains. A decade or so later, the original problem re-emerges, and the cycle begins again.
It’s just not possible to muster the same energy for a fight when you know how the story ends. I find myself growing cynical and discouraged. But I’ll still miss my front-row seat on all the action, and the doors I’ve been able to nudge open in the name of people’s right to know.
I’ve loved being a journalist in a free country under six companies that all valued a free press.  It’s become fashionable to make a fuss about corporate media controlling the news, but that has not been my experience.
Even journalists sometimes forget the significance of that. Such freedoms are far from a guarantee in this world, including in the country where I’m headed. I feel our own governments’ growing reticence to stay open to scrutiny, but I trust Canadians will keep their feet to the fire on this one.
Regrets? I’ve had a few. Sometimes I’ve been too pushy and strident, other times naive. I thought my writing could play a role in changing things, but came to see that the readers you most need to attract when striving for change are the ones least likely to read you in the first place.
Nor do I get much feedback from readers anymore, perhaps a signal that I’ve overstayed my welcome. It has felt lonely tilting at windmills on my own.
But all in, it’s been a blast. Thank you for being the best part of that. Stay in touch.


Don Duvall said...

Jody, you will be missed. I've always enjoyed your colume and your voice for the less fortunet. Good luck in all your endevours. I especially new you were a good person when I saw you at John Prine concert in Vancouver a few yrs ago. All the best,
Don Duvall

Spvictoria said...

I would recommend reading Linda McQuaig's "The Trouble with Billionaires" for an excellent, well researched book on increasing income disparity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your many years writing columns for Times Colonist readers. You brought so many important social issues to us and made us feel the importance of doing something on a personal level. I never wrote to you during those years but your columns about PEERS opened my eyes to a social issue I had never paid any attention to before and now I am one of their supporters. I encourage other people to both donate money to PEERS and take things that are needed as listed on their web site.
Good luck in Honduras and with your Spanish! I say that as someone struggling to learn the language.

G. Grimes said...

Your writing about the then growing crisis for people with disabilities in BC, was the first to bring to light that the government and Community Living Living BC were not living up to their responsibilities. Families and community living agencies knew what was going on (or rather, the lack of what should have been going on)but CLBC and the government lied about the crisis, acknowledging there was a problem only after months and months had gone by when, through their own mismanagement the problems systemic in the system, became a subject of the nightly news.

You have no idea how many families welcomed your columns that continued to point out the growing crisis keeping it front and center while the various ministers responsible denied there was a problem. Thank you so much for sticking with it, column after column. In the end you did prevail and made a huge difference in how services will proceed for the near future anyway. Unfortunately, you are correct; the cycle of government neglect and denial, and sometimes solution, continues on through generations of cabinet ministers from the government of the day. Were it not for you however, this particular issue would have remained buried, while those in charge smiled and told us all to 'move along, nothing to see here'.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Jody - I am sorry to see you go, though the next stage in your life seems so right for who you are.

Your articles have always been one of my favourite sections in the paper. I appreciated your insight, your willingness to take on issues, your doggedness in following up and your extraordinary caring for your fellow human beings.

Those of us with adequate means are often too far removed from the social issues. You have given many of us cause for thought and encouraged our participation in finding a solution.

A big thanks to you. All the best in your future (and Paul's).

Dan said...

Jody - I wrote you an email in response to your last column but it bounced right back. I guess the shaw email address is no more. How can I send you this email? Dan Fraser

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there is one reason that you haven't been getting much feedback lately.

I and other people tried to interest you and other Times-Colonist staffers in horrific stories about nursing homes that are almost beyond belief but you didn't even respond. Just weren't interested. Didn't even want to know the details. Ordered not to touch these stories? Wanted to protect your paycheque? Just didn't care? Who knows. You and the Times-Colonist didn't bother to respond.

As a result of such media silence, complicit authorities and enforcement continue to permit many, many vulnerable people to be deliberately harmed in ways that beggar belief, right under our noses, with our own tax dollars. And to get away with it.

Everyone who keeps quiet about these crimes is simply helping to create a lawless society where official thugs can run rampant. And before long, we will all be at the mercy of these thugs who will act with utter impunity.

So enjoy your Central America sojourn but remember, your kids and grandkids will suffer the consequences of the ever-more brutal society that has taken hold in BC.