Taboo topics: politics, abortion and polar bears

There are some topics where writing anything is enough to get people angry. No matter what you say, and no matter how many hours of research you conduct, someone will say you’re wrong, you’re an idiot and you shouldn’t be writing such garbage.

I count among those topics: the Israel-Palestine conflict, abortion, most politics and — after my latest freelance article in the print version of Maclean’s — the Canadian polar bear hunt.

It doesn’t mean these topics should be avoided. No way. Controversy and conflict make a story interesting, and there isn’t going to be only one right side to important debates. For journalists in the digital age, tackling controversial topics also means developing a thick skin and not taking comments on Twitter, comment boards, or other social media too personally.

Here’s my latest from Maclean’s, which was originally published in the March 25, 2013 issue. Continue reading

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More on the future of journalism, going digital and freelance

It’s been a depressing week to be a journalist in Toronto and it’s only Wednesday.

First, the Toronto Star announces it is going to make some major cutbacks in its newsroom. It looks like the radio room — where some of my now-successful friends got their start — as well as much of the design team, is on the chopping block. Or, at least the outsourcing block, when it comes the design of the paper. Reporters responded Wednesday by removing their bylines from the print edition of the paper in a byline strike.

I’ve also been following the back-and-forth between journalist Nate Thayer and The Atlantic website this week, after an editor asked Thayer to rewrite one of his blog posts for The Atlantic website for free. Thayer published the exchange in A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013. Social media users weighed in and then Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal responded with his essay A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013, which paints an accurate picture of the challenges in digital. Continue reading

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An overdue update: My stint at

New year’s resolution: update website. It’s not the end of January just yet, so this resolution is officially kept.

My website updates dropped off sometime around the time I began working in a real office with real people. Despite my best intentions to make a go of it as a full-time freelancer, I made a contact at and, for about eight months (March to September), I was doing freelancing for almost exclusively, mainly covering for another employee who was on sick leave.

Working in a real office with real co-workers for the first time in more than a year was pretty great, except for the commute out to Scarborough. After barely driving for my first two years in Toronto, it was a summer of long, hot commutes in the non-air-conditioned Jeep. I was also working evenings, so my commute started around 2 p.m., during the hottest part of the day.

Temperature at 31 degrees. One of many hot summer commutes in the Jeep.

Temperature at 31 degrees. One of many long, hot summer commutes in the Jeep.

Continue reading

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Absolutely no weapons allowed: Pictures from the Arizona Republican debate

Tea Party supporters sell buttons before the Republican primary debate begins outside the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona on Feb. 22, 2012.

Happy Super Tuesday eve! If you’re a registered Republican in one of the 11 states that’s voting in a primary tomorrow, maybe you’re still mulling your choices.

Will it be the candidate who vows to put a permanent military base on the moon, build a giant fence along the Mexican border and return to $1 per gallon gasoline? The man who doesn’t believe in contraception? The man who is under fire for being too moderate and too rich? Or, the one who wants the American military out of, well, everywhere, except for America?

Decisions, decisions.

On February 22 I was in Mesa, Arizona to watch the Republican candidates duke it out in the final debate before Super Tuesday. Here’s the story I wrote during the debate for iPolitics.

Even more interesting than that, here’s what things looked like on the ground, from the debate stage to the rallies outside: Continue reading

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Doughnuts and vaccines for the Toronto Star and some history in The Grid

In a big life decision, I decided to quit my full-time iPolitics gig and go back to full-time freelance. There are a few reasons for the move, mainly wanting to do more writing, get creative and explore some of my own projects again.

Though the move to give up regular pay cheques an go entirely freelance is a bit scarey, it’s been working well for me so far. The week I started, I filed a couple stories for the Toronto Star and a short story in The Grid. I also took off for a work-cation to Arizona, where I reported on the February Republican primary debate, visited my snowbird mom, and worked on a travel story about hiking in the desert, which will run at a later date. More on that here.

Back to Toronto, where my favourite Star piece was about the trend of upscale doughnuts coming to Canada, and Toronto in particular. Continue reading

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Toronto-Danforth riding looks to replace Jack Layton

It’s so convenient when news happens in my back yard. Or, in this case, in a church a few blocks away.

This month, I’ve been lucky to cover the developing political race in Toronto-Danforth in the forthcoming federal byelection to replace Jack Layton.

The riding is also the one I live in, meaning there is a short commute to get to events.

On Jan. 9, I watched as the NDP elected Craig Scott as its candidate for the riding. Scott is University of Ottawa professor with a long record of human rights work and, if the boisterous meeting held in the church that Layton used to attend was any indication, the NDP is ready for the election with a strong candidate. Continue reading

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Strunk and White Elements of Style rap video

I’ll add this to the things-I-with-I-had-thought-of-first file.

The Elements of Style from Jake Heller on Vimeo.

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A trip to Ottawa, auditor general lock up and reporting on the Hill

An auditor general’s lock up is like Christmas for a journalist.

There are bound to be gifts in the form of guaranteed stories about government shortcomings and misuse of tax dollars.

I spent the last two weeks of November working from the iPolitics office in Ottawa, and my capital visit coincided with the AG’s fall report, released on Nov. 22, 2011.

The day started at 7:45 a.m. when bleary eyed Hill journalists gathered in a lobby on Sparks Street to sign in and wait for the team of bureaucrats who would usher us to the waiting report.

We packed into a great glass elevator and headed upstairs. Continue reading

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