A chance to be the editor…

I love the Toronto Star’s annual You be the Editor survey. And I like reading the follow-up results even better.

It’s an opportunity to make real-life editing decisions with no risk of fallout. It’s a learning opportunity, too.

Here are a few points I found particularly interesting. No, let me rephrase that, because I found the whole column particularly interesting. So I’ll just highlight a few of the questions.

Public editor Kathy English described #10 as “a tough one.” It had to do with a business profile of Heather Reisman. Most readers who completed the survey would have chosen not to publish the cited excerpts, which describe the Indigo CEO’s appearance. I probably would have omitted the reference to her “slim, lithe figure,” but I would have retained the phrase “petite frame belying the power she wields.” I’m always intrigued by contrasts and unexpected impressions – I think they make articles more interesting to read, and may help readers question their own assumptions. In this case, I believe the phrase is relevant to Reisman’s role. English asks a key question: would a male CEO’s appearance be described similarly?

#11 dealt with a column that referred to former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug in strong and unflattering language. A resulting complaint to the Ontario Press Council was dismissed. A lot of people that I meet aren’t clear about the difference between a column and an article. Columnists – as I learned in one of the first writing courses I ever took – are “queens” of the business who write their opinions. Journalists don’t “editorialize” in their articles.

“Paddy wagon” (#6) is a term I don’t recall ever using, and I don’t think I’m likely to use it in the future. But finding it in the survey served as a reminder that the phrase might be considered offensive.

More importantly, it’s a reminder that every word counts.




Thoughts on celebrity, and Dr. Ruth

I had a few ideas for what to write on my blog today, but scrapped them when I read Judith Timson’s column in today’s Toronto Star. She wrote about the influence celebrities have on our lives – a timely topic, prompted by the buzz around the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends on Sunday. But it was Timson’s own thoughts as a journalist that struck a chord with me. “Up until this year, as a journalist, I did not have one picture of myself with a celebrity,” she wrote. She now has one, which she has “shamelessly” framed.

As a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News for 22 years, I never asked for a picture of myself with a celebrity (it doesn’t sound like Timson did either), but I do have one or two.

In 1999, I interviewed Dr. Ruth Westheimer at her hotel over tea, when she was in Toronto for the Canadian Booksellers Association trade show. We talked mostly about her then-newest book, Dr. Ruth’s Pregnancy Guide for Couples, but I ended the article by writing, “Unlike some celebrities, she loves bme & dreing recognized. ‘It’s nice to be Dr. Ruth,’ she said.”

The world-famous sex therapist, a child survivor of the Holocaust, was a delight to interview – articulate and candid, with things to say that were worth hearing. Her trademark giggle and impish humour made her a lot of fun to talk to. She told me at the time that she wasn’t computer literate yet, but I googled her this morning, and see that she is now on Twitter.

I believe she was the one who suggested taking a picture of the two of us, although it could have been one of the hotel employees. If she didn’t suggest it, she definitely encouraged it. Who was I to argue?

Before we sat down for our interview, a passerby recognized her, and requested a picture of the two of them together, which Dr. Ruth cheerfully agreed to. “You’re an icon,” the woman said.

I didn’t shamelessly frame the picture of me with Dr. Ruth – it’s in an album – but I am (shamelessly, or not) including it in this post.