While students in Quebec were heading out on spring break last Friday, veteran journalists in two newsrooms were packing their boxes.
Friday was the last day on the job for five journalists and one administrative assistant at the Montreal Gazette. They leave as part of the latest wave of buyouts meant to reduce operating costs at the newspaper, which means they won’t be replaced. Instead, other staff’s responsibilities will be shifted to cover their work.
Sue Montgomery was the Gazette’s justice reporter. She covered the trial of Luka Magnotta and many other lowlifes before him. Reviews of her career inevitably bring up her trip to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, her coverage of the sexual abuse at Les Frères Ste-Croix at Collège Notre Dame, and her work with Antonia Zerbisias to create the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.
She was also very outspoken, sometimes to the displeasure of her employer.
In her farewell column, she writes:
I became a journalist almost 30 years ago, not so much because I loved the craft of writing, but more to give a voice to those who aren’t otherwise heard. I wasn’t interested in the politicians, who never seem to say anything meaningful, or the boring businessmen, incomprehensible sports stars or fake celebrities. None seemed real.
I was drawn to and intrigued by the everyday people like you and me who experience extraordinary loss, suffering and injustice and still manage to somehow carry on. We can all learn from such stories — about the resilience of the human spirit, empathy and strength.
Peggy Curran was the Gazette’s city columnist, returning to a writing job after a brief stint as city editor. Curran wrote in an almost poetic manner about the city and its problems (if I was nearly as good, I could have described her style better), and like Montgomery she preferred the stories about real people.
She has a wicked sense of humour, too. Along a wall of portraits of journalists past and present who have received awards for their work, there’s a photo of Curran leaning on the wall of her cubicle. Below her is a cutout of what looks like a tabloid headline she cut out and posted on her wall: “PSYCHO IRISH BITCH”.
In her farewell column, she worries about the future of the industry she’s leaving:
Being a journalist is a job of great intensity, more so as deadlines have multiplied. The daily miracle is now measured in minutes since the last update.
To do this right requires abundant energy and unconditional love.
Pat Donnelly was the Gazette’s theatre critic (sandwiching a brief time as literary columnist), spending her evenings attending previews and performances, some of which were very good and many of which were very bad. Though in her farewell column, she focuses on the good:
As a theatre critic, I was privileged to witness one of the most exciting periods in Quebec theatre history, when Robert Lepage was first making waves, the Montreal Fringe Festival was born and Montreal’s bilingual Les Misérables won the admiration of the world. Sylvie Drapeau starred in all the best French plays. The Cirque du Soleil went from one triumph to another. Montrealer Richard Monette ruled the Stratford Festival. The biennial Festival TransAmériques, founded by the indomitable Marie-Hélène Falcon, expanded to became an annual hybrid of theatre and dance. And La Licorne, my favourite francophone theatre, began to lead the way with English surtitles.
Though theatre tends not to be on the radar of most people, Donnelly did manage to stir up some controversy, when she highlighted the use of blackface at a year-end review show at Théâtre du Rideau Vert. The story spread for more than a month afterward as people (mostly white) debated how offensive it is for white actors to put on dark makeup in Quebec.
Lynn Moore was a journalist in the Gazette’s business department. She specialized in natural resources until she became the coordinator of the business section, tasked with the thankless job of putting together a section with few journalists and lots of news. She was also responsible for commissioning freelance pieces, including many from me.
François Shalom also worked in business, where he specialized in aerospace, an important beat in the city that is not only home to big industry players like Bombardier, Air Transat, CAE and Héroux-Devtek, but also the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Air Transport Association.
His last day as an employee came on the same day that Bombardier did its first flight test of its CS300 aircraft, though he didn’t get a chance to cover it.
These five people were colleagues, and I could probably write a lot of the same things about all of them: they had a good sense of humour, they cared about their work, they cared about the organization they worked for and the damage it has taken from its reductions in staff and quality, and they were kind people who nevertheless had little tolerance for bullshit.
And the Gazette will be worse off for having let them go. (Matthew Hays articulates part of what the paper is losing in this piece for Rover.)
The Gazette also lost a member of its support staff: Helen Ciampini had the title of “executive assistant” but was effectively responsible, with newsroom manager June Thompson, for all the little things that kept the operation running. The Gazette has lost almost all of the administrative staff it had when I was first hired, and has struggled to cope as a result.
None of the departing staff have indicated any future plans other than vacation.
« Ceci n’est pas une chronique d’adieu »
On the same day the Gazette lost staff with a combined experience of more than 100 years, La Presse lost a columnist who just about matches that by himself. Pierre Foglia announced in his Saturday column that he’s retiring, though he plans to contribute occasional stories about books.
Foglia, who has been with La Presse since 1972, according to Presse Canadienne, has been described as a unique columnist with a poetic style and wisdom that made him the envy of his colleagues.