Power of the press
By Mike Foster
Something about the hubbub of a newsroom, the clickety-clack of keyboards, the blood, sweat and tears put into crafting perfect sentences under deadline pressure, builds a special kind of bond.
All former reporters, editors, art directors, stringers and photographers – anyone who contributed to the English-language student newspaper The Fulcrum since it was founded by the English Debating Society in 1942 – are invited to an event celebrating the newspaper’s 75th Volume on May 9.
We caught up with just a few of the many talented, aspiring newshounds who passed through The Fulcrum’s HQ on King Edward Avenue over the years to find out where they are now. We asked them how their days in student journalism influenced their careers.
André Picard (BAdm ʼ86), who is one of Canada’s top health and public policy journalists with The Globe and Mail, said he probably would be an accountant today if it were not for The Fulcrum. He was a business student when a friend convinced him to write some reviews of records (yes, vinyl ones). He went on to become the Fulcrum’s art editor and then, in 1983, editor-in-chief.
“I tend to remember the stories that had an impact,” says Picard, remembering a campaign to install a traffic light on Laurier Avenue, which runs through the campus, after a student was struck and killed.
“We organized protests. We’d go out and block traffic in the morning. In the end, we got a light,” recalls Picard. “That’s a little thing, but it reminded me how powerful the press is.”
Another issue Picard covered while at The Fulcrum was AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which was a big issue on university campuses before it was covered by the mainstream media.
After working for the Canadian University Press, including as CUP president, Picard got a job as a business reporter with The Globe and Mail in 1987. However, his past experience writing about AIDS soon put him on the general news beat.
“I knew something about AIDS – not much – but at the time, mainstream media didn’t cover that topic at all,” he says. “I remember the editor saying to me ‘Didn’t you say in your resumé that you worked on AIDS before?’ I said ‘Oh yes, I covered that in university.’”
Picard’s coverage would lead to stories about Canada’s tainted blood scandal and the federal government’s turnaround to compensate victims. He won the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service Journalism in 1993. In 2002, the Pan-American Health Organization recognized him as the top public health reporter in the Americas by awarding him the Centennial Prize. He is the author of best-selling books The Gift of Death: Confronting Canada’s Tainted Blood Tragedy, and Critical Care: Canadian Nurses Speak for Change.
And another little known fact: Picard says he was born on the uOttawa campus – he used to live on Henderson which is now student housing. And what’s more, he and his wife, Montreal Gazette reporter Michelle Lalonde, who was also a Fulcrum editor in the late ’80s, were married inside Tabaret Hall.
“For many years, I would tell people that [the student press] is the place to get practical experience that is more valuable than your journalism degree. I later did a journalism degree and didn’t learn as much in that year as I did at The Fulcrum,” says Picard.
Kate Heartfield (BSocSc ʼ99), who is the editorial pages editor at the Ottawa Citizen, was a volunteer reporter at The Fulcrum in 1998 and 1999, and co-news editor in 1999/2000.
“I have a vague memory of writing something about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. At the time, I didn’t realize that opinion-writing would become my career,” writes Heartfield in an email. “The Fulcrum taught me several basic skills about reporting, tight writing and editing. It taught me the value of camaraderie and that the paper comes out no matter what – there’s no such thing as writer’s block.”
Clippings of the articles she wrote also helped her get accepted into the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University, which she completed in 2001. A summer internship with the editorial board of The Ottawa Citizen in 2002 eventually led her to a full-time position there in 2004. She has been editor of the section since 2013.
“I still run into many of the same ethical decisions I first confronted at The Fulcrum. For example, the first time a source tried to bully me into showing them an advance copy of my story for approval happened at The Fulcrum. It still happens today. I learned how to say ‘no’ with confidence and I still do, of course,” says Heartfield.
Ian Capstick, former press secretary for Jack Layton, now a managing partner for Ottawa-based MediaStyle, has been a guest on CBC’s Power and Politics and has written opinion pieces for several Canadian newspapers. From 1999 to 2002, while studying communications at uOttawa’s Faculty of Arts, he was an office assistant, arts editor and managing editor at The Fulcrum, and later served on its board of directors.
“I think I arrived on campus with a real desire to get involved in something. The Fulcrum seemed like a natural fit once I met the people there. That is what a campus paper is all about. It’s about the people who inhabit that crazy spot over on King Edward – it is a family, and a family that stretches back generations,” says Capstick.
“My first story was about a hot dog war. I was made fun of for four years at The Fulcrum because of that,” he recalls. “Right across from Tabaret Hall, there were sometimes two, or three, or more hot dog stands there. At one point, way back in 1999, they had a fight, they had a war. It was my first story for The Fulcrum and had more exclamation points than an entire year’s worth of Fulcrum editions.”
Capstick adds: “I wouldn’t have my career if it wasn’t for The Fulcrum. It is that simple. My work at the campus paper directly informed my understanding of the intricacies of the Canadian media business, my awareness of how conglomeration was going to affect coverage, and it also helped me spell better. There are skills you learn at a campus newspaper that you just don’t learn at a university – how to write journalistically, and how to write story. We were kind of like the outliers. We were the ones who wanted to be involved in journalism but weren’t studying it.”
Bill Beahan (BA ʼ67; MA History ʼ72; and Ph.D History ʼ80), was Fulcrum sports editor from 1964 to 1967, travelling by bus with the Gee-Gees football team to Windsor, Guelph, Kingston and a slew of other Ontario towns. Two other reporters covered the hockey and basketball teams.
“It was a very collegial atmosphere and a fun place to work,” says Beahan. “We were playing Guelph one time and beating them something like 58-0 and we still had a quarter to go. The other coach stormed over to see Matt Anthony, who was our coach, and told him to send in replacements. Matt didn’t pay any attention. He just kept jacking up the score.”
Beahan recalls an April 1 issue called ‘The Foolcrum’ to celebrate April Fool’s Day, which was filled with satirical stories.
“Our lead article was ‘Gatineau Man Cuts Finger’. It goes on to say ‘A Gatineau man serving with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Europe with NATO cut his finger while opening a C-ration the other day, getting ready for the pending Soviet attack in western Europe’,” says Beahan, laughing.
Beahan was a historian with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and in charge of Strategic Partnerships and Heritage, which oversees the famous musical ride, before he retired in 2004. He went on to work for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, helping them improve relations with Aboriginal and ethno-cultural groups. His writing skills came in handy when he wrote Red Coats on the Prairies: The North-West Mounted Police, 1886-1900, as well as his personal memoire, Encounters on the Camino del Santiago: Natural, Human and Divine.
“Writing has been my love all my life and I spent my life doing it. Definitely, my time at The Fulcrum helped hone my skills, because they needed honing,” says Beahan.
So if you were a past contributor to the paper, there is still time to sign up to attend the reception in your honour and see the unveiling of The Fulcrum’s Volume 75 exhibition.
Students in the mid-1980s enjoy an edition of The Fulcrum. Photo: The Fulcrum / University of Ottawa Archives.