On Ben Bradlee

21 Oct

Bradlee and Woodward. It’s the photo everyone seems to be using. It’s a good photo.

I never met him. I’m not sure I know anyone who did (but it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out I do).

But there’s no denying his influence in my career choice.

As most of you know, I’ve come to journalism a bit late – it was the notorious career change at age 30. Notorious because everyone changes their career, or so we’re told, not because it’s been a bad change.

It’s been the best change – but again, most of you know that.

So much of my interest in being a journalist goes back to Watergate. I wasn’t alive for it, obviously, but All the President’s Men has been one of my favourite movies since the day I first watched it. I don’t know when that was – high school? – but it’s from well before I even had an inkling that journalism might be the thing. It deals in issues that have always been important to me: about what’s right, about informing readers, about contributing to the theatre of ideas, about speaking difficult truths.

Over the years, I’ve added to my understanding of the affair. But I always find myself drawn back to Jason Robards’ masterful and well-regarded portrayal of Bradlee.

He’s the guy steering the ship. He’s the guy who believes in his young guys. He’s the guy doing the teaching, about what journalism must be and how it must work. Get it right. Be aggressive. Tell stories. Sloppy isn’t just unacceptable, it’s dangerous. Even in today’s world of ‘get-it-done-now’ journalism, these are essential. In many ways, I find myself hearing these ideals bubbling back into importance. Fast is important. First still counts. But getting it right still reigns supreme.

With that in mind – three things I’ve read about Bradlee tonight. The first is the Washington Post obituary. It paints a picture of a very driven man, who made friends with powerful people but who also pressed his reporters to do good work. He held strong principles – and he believed they were important for America.

Second is a note from former Washington Post staffer Ezra Klein, now editor-in-chief of Vox.com. Bradlee was long retired when Klein started at the Post in 2009, but Bradlee was still about. He also seeped through the institution – a good thing, Klein suggests in his piece, called “What is was like to meet Ben Bradlee.”

Last is a fun list from Vanity Fair, written two years ago, of various barbs, zingers and other correspondence from and about the desk of Bradlee. It’s witty and instructive: I’ll leave you with the final entry, from a 1973 letter:

As long as a journalist tells the truth, in conscience and fairness, it is not his job to worry about consequences. The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.

Some amazing video from the #OccupyCentral protest in Hong Kong

29 Sep

A compelling 7 minutes. It’s not continuous but there’s plenty to be pulled from it.

The Western Way of Life, as told by one of John le Carre’s spies

24 Sep

“I reserve the right to be ignorant – it’s the western way of life’ – Alec Leamas

Loved the book; loved the movie.

Capital leaves, then the people: meet the city of Detroit, ‘urban prairie’

15 Sep

There you go. Amazing to see, isn’t it.

From left to right: 1949, 2003, 2011.

Higher resolution image here.

Hunter S. Thompson on 9/11

12 Sep

You’ve probably seen this already, but my thought:

You think of Hunter S. Thompson writing a long time ago, but here he is, writing on September 12, 2001. Which doesn’t seem that long ago, but maybe it is?

Anyway, he the modern world pretty much nailed. It’s…an odd feeling reading this.

From ESPN:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

The idea of walking distance

13 Aug

I really like Around the Horn. I like the banter, I like the intelligence of the arguments, even if they are presented as sound bites.

The show’s producer, Aaron Soloman, host, Tony Reali, and staff do a great job of sharing behind the scenes odds and ends on YouTube.

On Wednesday, they posted a video riffing off of ex-Clippers owner Shelly Stirling’s perks. Stirling is getting a fan’s golden parachutes as she and her estranged husband take leave of their team.

The chatter? About media perks and what is most important.

It’s all about being able to park. Only at the end does Bob Ryan make even a mention of the what should be the easiest solution to their problem – not having to park at all. But of course, when it comes to football stadiums especially, that’s often not an option.

That we’ve landed in such a spot, that makes me sad.

Norm Macdonald’s amazing story about Robin Williams

12 Aug

For those of you not on Twitter: Norm Macdonald is pretty excellent at the medium.

We all know how funny he is. His wit, his ability to set up even the simplest of lines, is among comedy’s best. He’s aware of his skill and shares ideas and concepts in a way that demands much of his audience but makes it easy on them at the same time.

You listen, you anticipate, you melt with laughter.

He also knows how to make a point. On Twitter on Monday night, the Canadian comic shared a story about the man Russell Brand described as “a geyser of comedy.” (Seriously, if you’ve missed Brand’s piece for The Guardian on Williams – go read it next. It’s remarkable.)

It’s a series of tweets, which I’ll link below:

Thanks, Norm. Hugs to you all.

Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas and a fear of change

28 Jul

Fluto Shinzawa wrote a really great piece for The Boston Globe this weekend, called Toronto president Brendan Shanahan a forward thinker. I’m going to let it stand for itself (that’s why I’m posting it here) and not write much on it.

This is why teams repeat mistakes at the draft table, in trades, and on the free market. There are too many people who think about hockey the same way and don’t challenge each other to see the game differently.

There are no women. There aren’t many people of color. There are few who’ve worked in different sports, to say nothing of other industries. There are even fewer who haven’t played in the NHL. On-ice experience is just about a requirement for clubhouse entry.

This is nonsense.

Is the big key. It’s 100 per cent true. It’s something that baseball finally sorted out in the last decade. Soccer and rugby have examples of ‘trying something different’ in their recent pasts. Will hockey be next? If Shanahan and Dubas are successful – maybe.

Anyway, give it a read.

A very, very interesting concept from Pittsburgh sports writer Dejan Kovacevic

21 Jul

Dejan Kovacevic, one of Pittsburgh’s most trusted names in sports journalism, is taking his personal brand in a new direction: he’s detaching himself from the Steel City’s legacy news outlets and starting up his own site.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Business Times, Kovacevic, who’s accumulated 55,000 Twitter followers, is convinced that the following he’s built over the years, writing for both the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review, will go with him to his new site.

“I believe in the readership that I have,” said Kovacevic. “They’d followed me once from the PG over to the Trib. And I believe that there’s enough of a connection there that the more diehard Pittsburgh sports fan will follow again to this platform.”

The key here is that he’s going to charge a subscription rate, running between $1.50 and $4 a month, depending on how long a subscriber signs on for. He’s taking a huge gamble, hoping that the people who’ve come to know his work – many of whom were likely getting his work for free – will now be willing to fork over a small sum to keep it going.  (He’s also going to sell ads, but there’s still so little money in those that his subscriptions will have to pay the bills in the short term.)

But like many, he’s going with the metered paywall model, allowing readers to access up to 10 articles per month. Depending how much he files, that could be as much as a third of his monthly output. Most beat reporters these days write 1 or 2 stories per day, five days a week, so Kovacevic’s plan to write 3 or 4 columns per week plus bits and pieces seems a little light but he’s clearly putting his money where his mouth his, believing that what he has to say is much more important than how often he says it.d

Speaking from a web-traffic point of view, he’s got a chance. Given how many page views he’s suggested (in the millions, which seems accurate), he’s not unlike several of my colleagues here at the Province, who we’ve learned drive traffic as much by their name as they do by their stories. There are a couple easy traffic-driving tick-boxes for us: one is name, the other is team. A Canucks story will always do best. Lions and Whitecaps are well beneath the hockey team, even in the dead of summer, while everything else lies far beneath. Every once in a while a compelling story with a good headline grabs our readers’ attention, but it’s the authors, on the whole, who drive traffic.

This is a project worth watching.

A quick thought on this “Day of Honour”

9 May

Reading the Globe and Mail this morning – yes I still get it delivered – I found myself contemplated a full-page ad for Lockheed Martin.

LM, in case you missed it, is one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers.

“Today we join all Canadians in the recognition of the strength and courage of our Canadian Armed Forces and the families of the fallen who sacrificed so much in the pursuit of peace and stability in Afghansitan,” the message reads.

Is that what the campaign was about, in the end? At some point it was about regime change. Then it had something to do with eliminating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Then it was about securing Kandahar in general.

It was in “pursuit” – which is a fine way to say, “well, that didn’t really work.”

Hardly as noble as the purpose of the Second World War; or for the muddled peacekeeping period.

There was a notion for a time of nation building, that at the end of all of NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan, a new, thriving nation would exist. It’s fair to say that’s not the case. Afghanistan is a mess. For much of its history its been a mess. There was something of a golden age in the 60s and 70s, before the Soviet intervention began a 30-plus year period of chaos, full of foreign meddling, but even that was far from a dream period.

We are left asking – what was the point? Was the Taliban removed from power? Yes. That’s a good thing. Was Al-Qaeda fundamentally altered in its behaviour? Sort of. Its power structure was radically altered but extremists of their ilk continue to exist the world over. They’ve mostly been displaced.

Are Afghans better off now than they were in 2001? Sort of. As it stands, women aren’t faced with draonian laws. But there are plenty of examples where women’s rights are a joke.

So why did 158 Canadians lose their lives? We live in a world where working for what’s right is never easy. Canada’s motivation was mostly virtuous. The execution of that virtue is debatable, but the spirit was there.


Back to that original statement, the “peace and stability in Afghanistan” angle. I’ve not been there, I’m only going off reports, but is Afghanistan more peaceful than it was before Operation Enduring Freedom? It doesn’t sound like. Is it more stable? Well, there’s a national government but there are still plenty of ethnic divisions. There’s certainly more infrastructure than there was – but how long will it stay in good repair? How long until corruption destroys all the good work?

You can’t assess decisions by their results – you can only assess them by their process. The original move to join the US-lead invasion by the Chretien government was the right one. I agreed with it at the time. I agree with it now. It’s what came after that I always questioned. It’s awfully hard to argue that guns could deliver peace – and make no mistake about it, that was the approach here.

Maybe there was no choice. Security had to be established. The only way to do that was to use the finest fighting forces available; that wasn’t really a choice, given all the weapons the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were hoarding. It was either the repression of everyone by extremists or having those same extremists take pot shots at NATO soldiers.

What an ugly choice.


Is the nation further along? Again, look at that pairing. I suppose it is. But the cost was heavy. Maybe we should talking about how hard this all is, and remember our dead for that.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,701 other followers