At the beginning of my first journalism class at Langara, our instructor Ross Howard asked who our favourite journalists were. We each named a few. Ross, grinning cheerfully, explained why the majority of our choices weren’t journalists. Some people had mentioned Nancy Grace. I know I included Gwynne Dyer.
We were all a little deflated. What the hell made a journalist, then?
Ross proceeded to teach us.
He taught us writing techniques, the importance of editing, how to hold the media to account (including ourselves), and most importantly, how to do our jobs ethically.
He did it all with a sense of infectious optimism about journalism, even as the industry struggled. He believed in what journalists did, and he wanted us to be the best at it.
Don’t get me wrong – he wasn’t easy on us. Many of us cursed and grumbled when he merrily tore our most beloved pieces to shreds (metaphorically speaking.) I tended towards tears myself, fearing I’d disappointed him. To me, he represented the best of my chosen field.
And not everyone agreed with his ethical stances. But I had been a little too tied to absolute morals in my youth, so a new professional guidance system was a relief.
He made all of our work better. I think, for some of us, he made us better people, too.
When we graduated, he didn’t simply wave goodbye and forget about us, either. We went to him with ethical dilemmas and he answered us thoughtfully. He was enthusiastic about our futures, and he was sympathetic when we struggled.
He expected the best of us, but he gave so much in return. His work with conflict sensitive reporting training around the world, helping courageous journalists in difficult times and places, was admirable. His frequent pieces and interviews on the importance of good journalism were inspiring.
Last night, I heard that this incredible reporter and wonderful human being had died.
He was my mentor, and I will miss him. But in a very real way, he will always be with me and his other students.
“Are you sure you want to accept a comped trip from the tourism board?” he’ll whisper. And of course, “Tighten – always tighten.”
P.S. I realize that Ross would’ve edited the bejesus out of this blog post. That would’ve been nice.