Another post about the blog

I’m Caitlin Kelly, author here.

Since my last behind-the-curtain post about Broadside, this crowd has grown! Every day, new followers are signing up, men and women of all ages from across the globe, from Kenya to Indonesia to my hometown of Toronto — now at 2,300.

A few things to know about me, and what you’ll continue to find here:

I’m Caitlin Kelly, a career print journalist who’s worked as a reporter for three major dailies, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News, the 6th-largest newspaper in the U.S. Each of these experiences helped shape who I am as a writer, how I think and how I approach my stories, here and for my paid assignments.

I landed at the Globe when I was 26, with no experience at any newspaper, a fairly unheard-of trajectory. I’d been freelancing for them for seven years already, but suddenly had to meet daily deadlines. The Globe, being the national paper of record, and one with five daily editions, was a terrifying, inspiring, career-making place to work. No matter what the story, their standards were scarily high, even when they didn’t pay for it…like the prison riot in a city a 3-hour drive away that I had to cover, (the competing Toronto Star simply flew their reporters over by helicopter), while I just had to work the phones.

My newspaper staff jobs, which I still miss, taught me the professional values I live by today:

Get it first, run!, do it better, ask all the questions everyone else is too scared to, stay around longer, go places you’re not supposed to. Piss off the powerful. When the press pack turns left, head in the opposite direction. Get the quote! Talk to people with quieter, less-heard voices. Go find them. The perfect is the enemy of the good — just write the damn thing!

Never give up!

One of the reasons I so love news journalism as a training ground is that it forces you to meet and work with a wide range of humanity. You can hold any political or religious beliefs you choose, but you will  cover people who are utterly different from you and it is your job to listen to them carefully and respectfully. That’s a great way to live.

We all have a point of view and the more we listen to one another, the more we’ll learn.

Some of the many people I’ve met and/or interviewed include:

Queen Elizabeth, Rudolf Nureyev, Billy Joel, Olympic golf medalist Kim Rhode, Patty Varone, the NYPD cop who kept New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani alive on 9/11, convicted felons and set designers, professional ice skaters and female chefs, sailors and district attorneys.

I’ve loved the crazy variety, the constant demands of finding/wooing/interviewing people of all ages and interests, from a professor of nuclear physics whose Scottish accent and rapid speech made note-taking almost impossible to the doctors I had to interview, in French, while working in Montreal.

Since losing my Daily News job in 2006, I’ve been working full-time as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and paid speaker on retail work. I write often on business for The New York Times, for their Sunday section. I’ve also written for Marie Claire, Smithsonian, USA Today and dozens of others.

Along the way, I’ve won five fellowships and have written two well-reviewed non-fiction books.

I hope you’ll click the links to these books — you can read a few sample chapters free — and buy them. I know that some of you are teachers and professors. I hope you’ll take a look at them for your classes as both books have also been course-adopted as they’re lively, easy-to-read and fact-based.

I’m happy to write a guest post or do a Q and A with you about any aspect of writing and publishing.

The first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” came out in 2004. I came up with the idea after I discovered a friend and colleague owned a handgun. I grew up in Canada, where civilian gun ownership is not nearly as prevalent and there is no equivalent of the Second Amendment, which many Americans use to justify their gun rights. To research it, I traveled across the U.S., to Ohio, New Orleans and Texas, interviewing 104 men, women and teens about the issue. It was a difficult subject, and I experienced secondary trauma as a result. It happens to journalists (and others) whose work exposes them to others’ trauma, whether sexual, war-related, as victims of crime and violence.

My newest book, which will be published in China in March 2013, is “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” which describes, firsthand, low-wage work in the U.S. It’s rough: part-time, no benefits, little chance for advance scheduling, few raises or promotions. It’s been compared to the best-seller Nickeled and Dimed, in which another writer went behind the scenes to work for low wages.

So when you read and link to Broadside, you’re reading the work of a trained career journalist who plays by old-school rules. You won’t read anything that’s false, made up, exaggerated. When I write about my husband, Jose, a photo editor at The New York Times and a Pulitzer winner, I tell him or ask his permission first. I don’t accept payment for anything I write, nor I do I accept freebies or giveaways or discounts.

I blog because I enjoy it.

I blog every other day, sometimes on the news, often far from it. As some of you already know, I’m passionate about a few things: women’s rights, travel, design, work, living a full and balanced life, emotional connection.

I blog because, more than anything, I want to hear from you!

A lively global conversation is my goal.

Thanks for being here!

The death of an ordinary woman — justly celebrated

One of my close friends works at The Toronto Star, and tipped me off to this extraordinary piece of journalism, about a single, childless, non-celebrity 55-year-old Toronto woman named Shelagh Gordon.

The story came about the way the very best stories often do, when a reporter’s curiosity was piqued by an obituary privately submitted to the newspaper.

Shelagh was quirky, generous, fun, clumsy. She was not rich or well-known or politically powerful. Her husband and children — she had neither — had not carved out fame and fortune in the world.

Yet The Star decided to devote some of its most experienced career writers to chronicle this woman’s life.

She was, like many of us, simply a private citizen whose love for, and devotion to, the people in her private world brightened many lives for decades.

I’ve included a short excerpt here from this exceptional story.

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The Star dedicated unprecedented coverage to the funeral of 55-year-old Shelagh Gordon – interviewing more than 100 of her friends and family – to show how a modest life can have a huge impact.


By Catherine Porter Columnist

I met Shelagh Gordon at her funeral.

She was soap-and-water beautiful, vital, unassuming and funny without trying to be. I could feel her spirit tripping over a purse in the funeral hall and then laughing from the floor.

She was both alone and crowded by love. In another era, she’d have been considered a spinster — no husband, no kids. But her home teemed with dogs, sisters, nieces, nephews and her “life partner” —a gay man — who would pass summer nights reading books in bed beside her wearing matching reading glasses.

Her relationships were as rich as the chocolate pudding pies she’d whip together.

She raced through ravines, airports and wine glasses (breaking them, that is). She dashed off dozens of text messages and emails and Facebook postings a day, usually mistyping words in her rush to connect.

Then, every afternoon, she’d soak for an hour in the bath while eating cut-up oranges and carrots and flipping the damp pages of a novel.

She called herself a “freak,” at first self-consciously and, later, proudly.

But my sharpest impression of Shelagh that day, as mourners in black pressed around me, was of her breathtaking kindness. Shelagh was freshly-in-love thoughtful.

I love this article and the rare journalistic commitment — in an era of celebrity fawning and faux fame — to celebrating an ordinary woman. I love its depth, detail, intimacy and humanity.

I hope you’ll make the time to read it in full, and share it through your own blogs and other social media.

Even better, please email or write to The Star, (whose editor in chief I’ve worked with twice before), to let him know how great this is. His name is Michael Cooke, 1 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5,Canada.

Having A Lousy Date? There's A New App For That

Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Here’s a useful app — that turns your Itouch or Iphone into a rape whistle. From the Toronto Star:

On Friday, YWCA Canada announced its YWCA Safety Siren app, available free for download at the iTunes store.

The alarm — with a choice of three ear-splitting wails — goes off with either a press of the pink button or a shake, converting an iPhone or iPod Touch into a 21st-century version of the rape whistle.

Not only does the siren sound, but an email is automatically generated while a phone call gets made (if you have an iPhone) to preset emergency contacts. Both can attach a Google map pinpointing your location…

There are other safety apps already available, including an “I’m being assaulted’’ app that sends emails. There’s also an “Am I safe?’’ app that rates locations as go or no-go zones.

But neither combines all the features of the YWCA app, which is more than a siren. Hit the “Safe Date’’ button and there’s info on how to avoid trouble before you step out. The Health icon describes healthy ways to hook up. Dating 101 is a guide to guys, good and bad. Finally, the Geolocations tab will pop up a map showing the nearest health and rape crisis centres.

Even the most charming — often the most charming — of men can turn predatory. I doubt (m)any women are carrying rape whistles or Mace these days.

The wisest move, as every smart woman knows, is to let a friend know where you’re heading before going on a first date and/or avoiding a stranger’s car or apartment until you have some idea who he is. Having ended up in the clutches of a former felon, a man as handsome, well-dressed and chatty as they come, I know well that appearances mean little.

I think this is a smart idea.

The interesting question is what happens after that blast of noise — will anyone come to your aid? Or is it most useful as a distracting device, a chance to give you a few moments of surprise to flee?

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Their Ship Sunk 300 Nautical Miles Off The Coast Of Brazil, 48 Teens Safely Rescued

A tall ship in New York Harbor Apparently at t...
Image via Wikipedia

Terrifying ordeal for a group of 48 high school students and their 16 teachers when their sailing ship, Concordia, suddenly sank off the coast of Brazil.

From The Canadian Press:

The ship’s captain, William Curry, has said although the Concordia’s crew had prepared the day before for what they anticipated would be rough weather, the ship suddenly keeled.

When it keeled again the ship’s sails were exposed to the powerful wind and within 15 seconds the boat was lying on its side and began to sink. The captain said it slipped beneath the waves 30 minutes later.

Reports the Toronto Star:

The rafts were the worst part.

Tattered and torn from a frantic escape, the inflatable remnants of the S.V. Concordia were salt baths, filled with vomit, human excrement, and people.

“You do what you can. We were together, and alive,” 16-year-old Sam Palonek said of the 40 hours she floated in the Atlantic. “We just sang to keep our spirits up, keep us laughing. It was the most important thing.”

Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing,” Disney medleys. Even “Happy Birthday” was trotted out for a boy celebrating the occasion in a nearby raft.

“We started singing “American Pie,” but we got to the line, ‘That’ll be the day that I die,’” she said. “We axed that.”

The Globe and Mail reported:

It was, for most of them, the trip of a lifetime, sailing around the world, keeping up with their math and biology in between. The Concordia is a sturdy, steel-hulled tall ship, stretching 188 feet with three masts and 15 sails. It was built in 1992, specifically to become a floating high school. It had set sail on Feb. 8 from Recife on Brazil’s northwest coast bound for Montevideo, Uruguay, with a mix of mostly Canadian students continuing on from September and about a dozen who were just starting out on a trip with the Class Afloat program.

Tuition wasn’t cheap – about $40,000 for the year – but this was no five-star voyage, as one parent explained Friday. The students attended classes during the day, slept in close quarters and were expected to swab decks and share night-watch duty, and the fire checks and sail manoeuvres that this entails.

“This is the life of a sailor,” one student recounted earlier this month in a post to the web. “It is tiresome, stressful, difficult and unconventional, but it is fulfilling beyond belief.” And certainly an adventure, travelling to ports like Singapore and Egypt and Malta, no sailing experience required.

Air Canada Considers Nut-Free Buffer Zones — Maybe Not The Sort We Most Want

Air Canada A319 C-FYJG
Nut-free? Image by BriYYZ via Flickr

Is this as crazy as it sounds? Air Canada is considering nut-free buffer zones on airplanes.

Reports The Toronto Star:

Air Canada said it is willing to create “nut-free” buffer zones on its flights to accommodate passengers with severe nut allergies.

Passengers with allergies would simply be required to notify the airline 48 hours before they intend to travel to be seated in the buffer zone, Air Canada wrote in a proposal released Tuesday by the federal Canadian Transportation Agency.

Air Canada’s submission is a response to a recommendation made by the federal agency in early January to have a buffer zone on its airplanes, after two passengers complained about the inconsistent and difficult experiences they faced when they asked the airline to accommodate their severe nut allergies.

The airline agreed to the idea of a buffer zone, but said that the zone would not necessarily be on every flight, and would only be created when required.

The buffer zone would consist of the seats immediately adjacent to the passenger with allergies, and the bank of seats in front and behind the passenger. Other passengers in the area would be notified and would be invited “to refrain from consuming” nut products.

“If after the briefing there is objection from other passengers sitting in the buffer zone, the flight crew would try, if possible, to reseat passengers,” according to the proposal submitted to the CTA on Friday, after a 30-day deliberation period.

'Les Quatorze' — Remembering The 14 Female College Students Shot In A Montreal Massacre

When is too much commemoration excessive? So asks columnist Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail — regarding a violent and shocking anniversary that seared Canada.

It won’t have escaped you that Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the Montreal massacre – that horrific day when a man walked into the city’s l’École Polytechnique, separated out the female students, screamed “You are all a bunch of feminists!” and shot them with a semi-automatic rifle, leaving 14 dead. As always, the day was marked by memorials and candlelight vigils across the country, affecting interviews with families and survivors – and a large helping of overheated nonsense.

“Twenty years on, little has changed,” opined the Toronto Star, which cited the fact that women continue to be killed “in their homes, on the streets, on university campuses and on lonely stretches of highway.” It blamed the government, for cutting aid to violence-fighting groups and for voting to scrap the long-gun registry. “But the government is not solely to blame,” it said. So who else is? “We all are.” Why? Because we tolerate a viciously misogynist society.

It’s ironic and sad that Canadian women were among the first to become such victims. It’s an act that still puzzles some and it makes it a little more difficult for Canada to get all self-righteous about those nutty Americans and their guns. Canadians hate that!

Why Being A Dinosaur Is A Good Thing

Reconstruction of a Stegosaurus skeleton in th...
Post-diet...Image via Wikipedia

Called the Toronto Star today with a kick-ass idea, wanting to pitch it to the new foreign editor, whoever it was these days. Used to be a woman I worked with in Toronto at the Globe and Mail. “It’s Colin McKenzie,” the operator told me. “Of course it is,” I said. “Can you please connect me?”

And there was my city editor from my very first days in journalism, back when I was hired at a national newspaper without one minute’s experience at any newspaper and was quite terrified of Colin, a funny, tough, fast-talking proto-journo. How lovely and how unlikely, as almost all the newspaper people we know are being fired or bought out or sitting around scared shitless it’s about to happen to them, too, that we’re working together again.

We caught up, commiserated over health issues and the tattered remains of the Globe, a paper we both once loved a lot and where he most recently was one of its top editors — then negotiated a news story I’ll cover for them this weekend (and blog here, of course once it’s up.) Thank heaven Toronto still has four viable newspapers, which is three more than many American cities these days (OK, one, The National Post is in deep trouble right now.) Many of my newsroom colleagues from 20 years ago there still have jobs. The New York Times will bump 100 people within the next month.

It’s one reason many journos feel so deeply ill at the current chaos of our business. People inside journalism get it and those outside it think we’re a little nuts, clinging to the shards of splintered wood that still float amidst the icy waters — aka our careers in newspapers and the people with whom we’ve broken national stories. One of the reasons I stick around, still thrilling when I can write for a real, dead-trees paper to the adrenaline rush of writing and filing to deadline, is the equally intense pleasure of working with people I’ve known, worked with and appreciated for decades. And vice versa.

Will the new(est) generation of journos, the ones in J-school now piling up mega-debt to join what’s left of our ranks, be as collegial with all their peers after 10, 20 or 30 years? What will their tribe look like? I suspect by then, we’ll get our news directly through embedded brain-chips wired to pre-selected channels, reported and “written” and “edited” by robots — no vacation! no overtime! no pee breaks!

Will today’s junior journo’s enjoy this specific pleasure of long, deep association with smart, demanding bosses? I wonder. Whatever the medium, we all need a Colin who scares the hell out of us while pushing us to standards we didn’t even know were possible.

I am Stegosaurus. Hear me roar. (Colin gets to be T. Rex)

Why Is Legally Protecting Overworked Nannies So Difficult?

Mary Poppins (film)
Image via Wikipedia

It still hasn’t passed — a New York State law to protect the rights of 200,000 domestic workers such as nannies, housekeepers and elder-care givers, more than 90 percent of whom are women of color or immigrants.

“This bill, which has been battling its way through the New York State legislature for five years, aims to provide basic protections to many of the estimated 200,000 nannies, housekeepers and eldercare-givers who labor in New York State. Backed by a diverse coalition of labor and religious groups and even employers, it calls for severance and overtime pay, advance notice of termination, one day off a week, holidays, healthcare and annual cost of living increases, among other fundamental rights. By most accounts, it should have passed in June, but an epic power struggle in the State Senate halted all business for a month. Now domestic workers are hoping their bill will pass in September”, wrote Lizzy Ratner in The Nation.

It’s now almost November — and still no bill.

The legislators in Albany are a regional and national laughingstock as it is, our Governor now garnering the lowest approval ratings of any New York governor in decades. Come on, boys. For once, do the right thing.

A new bill in Ontario, Canada has also been introduced this week, to protect domestic workers there. The Toronto Star reports:

“Nanny recruiters would face a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to a year in jail if they get caught “directly or indirectly” charging foreign caregivers a fee to work in Ontario under legislation introduced Wednesday.

The jail term is the toughest penalty in Canada in such cases, Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said after revealing details of the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act.

Premier Dalton McGuinty described the legislation as an overdue helping hand to those foreign nannies who uproot themselves to find a better life here.

“Ontarians feel the responsibility … that you’ll be treated fairly, that there will be rules in place that respect your human dignity.”

I don’t have kids, so have never employed a nanny, but I know people who’ve done that tough and demanding job. Just because someone is working in your kitchen, laundry room or backyard doesn’t mean they don’t need and deserve the same legal rights and protection as other workers. These are the women, and it is overwhelmingly women, who wipe your baby’s bum, cheer up your demented and aging father-in-law and ferry your treasured teens to soccer practice. Treat them with the respect they deserve.

If employers can’t figure this out, we need laws to compel them.

Newspaper Misstates Charges Against Teacher — Who Commits Suicide

One Yonge Street - Current newspaper offices
Image via Wikipedia

It is every writer and editor’s worst nightmare to make an error, but one that may have pushed the person named in the story to suicide?

Today the Toronto Star is dealing with having gotten it wrong and what role, if any, their story played in this tragedy. After his photo and name were published, David Dewees, 32, lay down on the subway tracks Saturday and waited for the train that killed him.

(The Washington Post wrote last week about the trauma this creates for train drivers.)

The editor of the Toronto Star, which mistakenly printed the news last week that this Toronto high school teacher had been charged with assaulting 13-year-olds, Michael Cooke, is a man I’ve worked with twice in my career, at the Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News. He arrived to run the Star last year after being the top editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. (disclosure: I freelance occasionally for the Star.) Whatever happened in the newsroom, I know Cooke as a decent man and I am horrified on many fronts by this.

A good friend of mine teaches at the high school where Dewees worked. In too many ways, this is a story that hits home.

And, in the sort of irony any thinking editor equally dreads, here’s the Star’s first award to top teachers, a new feature they recently began.