I've Never Wanted to do Anything Else

Joel’s Journal - January 11, 2018 - Volume 3 - Entry #11

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A chemical smell rises from the carpets of the van. The cold wind that pushes around the empty Tim Horton’s cups and plastic wrappers behind 275 Wentworth Street pulls the odour from the vehicle’s open doors.

Laura Green, standing beside her vehicle she’s just treated for bed bugs, the pests having found their way from her apartment on the bottom of a shoe or clinging to an article of clothing, stares at a set of numbers on sheets of paper


This is the beginning of an article I wrote in 2015. 

It was part of an investigation that would go on to win an award at the Ontario Community Newspapers Association Awards a few months later. 

However, standing there at the time with Laura, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I was standing behind one of Oshawa’s worst-kept apartment buildings, a building filled with people who were suffering on a daily basis, people who were trying to have their voices heard, but had a slum landlord who didn’t care. 

Laura and her autistic son had been dealing with a myriad of issues inside the building. I’d seen some of them first hand, walking through the halls and seeing the mouldy ceilings, seeing the cockroaches skittering around the baseboards, and seeing the general signs of a building not aging well. 

Every so often there are certain stories that remind you as a journalist why you got into the profession in the first place. 

For me, I never wanted to do anything else. Sure, as a kid I wanted to be a palaeontologist because I thought dinosaurs were the coolest thing, then later I discovered sharks and wanted to be a marine biologist. However, when I discovered writing, that was it. 

And I’ve never looked back, never really questioned it. 

Even during weeks like this, when we have a front page with a deadly house fire that killed four people, and a dismembered teenager (today we also had our first homicide in Oshawa of 2018). 

Even then, when the news gets heavy, even when the work piles up and there’s stress twisting my stomach into knots and the deadline is approaching and things still aren’t done. Even then, I still love this job. 

Because telling those stories that make a difference in someones, or changes the community for the better, make it all worth while. 

I mention all of this for two reason. 

The first, I got home from a long day today and collapsed on the couch. I noticed that Kill the Messenger is on Netflix and immediately settled in to watch it. M, having started her new job, was studying away in the kitchen. 

Now, if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about journalist Gary Webb, who while working with the San Jose Mercury News, uncovered that the CIA was either part of, or turning a blind eye to the fact that a Nicaraguan rebel group known as the Contras, was smuggling cocaine into the United States in order to fund a civil war. 

Following the publication of the investigation, Webb was discredited by the CIA, other newspapers, perhaps upset at being scooped, published articles noting Webb’s story was filled with holes. This was all in 1996, Webb later resigned from the newspaper, and in 2004, he was found dead in his home with two gunshot wounds to his head. It was ruled a suicide. Later, documentation would come to light showing that Webb may have indeed been onto something, and the CIA was rescued by the awful state of mainstream media at the time. 

With that said, Webb was, and is still, perhaps one of the most controversial figures in journalism along with his Dark Alliance reporting series. The film is very sympathetic to Webb and portrays him as the hero. 

Anyway, these types of journalism movies always get me fired up about reporting and the impacts it can have. 

The second reason I mention all of this is because I talked with Laura Green again today, the woman I wrote about back in 2015. While it was under unfortunate circumstances, she witnessed the fire that happened on Monday, I was extremely glad to hear that she got out of 275 Wentworth, that awful apartment. They’ve got a new place she called “her little slice of heaven” and it’s even got a small backyard for her son to play in (while she admits to me he spends a lot of his time on the computer.)

It was a really bright spot in a rather dark week, and I know that my reporting didn’t change anything at those buildings, the city turned a blind eye and the landlord continued to ignore tenants pleas, but I’m just glad that she’s doing better. 

With all of that done, I’ll say thanks for reading!

J.J.W.

Joel Wittnebel