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Sunday, December 30, 2007

"I've re-discovered Name of Town Withheld!"

Name of Town Withheld is back in the national news.

There are only two possible reasons for this, and our Newspaper Of Record does not disappoint:

  • Something horrible has happened here.
  • A reporter has "discovered" something fascinating about Name of Town Withheld.
It's not often that something horrible happens here, and much more common that a reporter will assume he or she is the first to notice something that's blatantly obvious to everyone else. There are three choices:
  • People scavenge at the dump.
  • People use drugs.
  • People live in Old Town.
This time, Old Town is taking the national stage. This is a section of town on the water, sometimes literally: several people live in houseboats. Others have gorgeous homes. Others live in shacks, and they are getting national exposure for it. The article is here; the accompanying photo essay is here.

Yes, some people live in shacks. No, their homes are in no danger of being torn down willy-nilly. One abandoned "party shack" is being torn down. STOP THE PRESSES! How dare the city pull down an abandoned building that is a danger to public safety? This is national news!

Somehow I doubt that this is "Canada's quirkiest neighbourhood". In Dexter, just across the lake from the house where I grew up, a group of people lived in buses. (This was 20 years ago, but they might still be there.) That was a lot quirkier than this group of shacks.

Never mind! A national reporter's in Name of Town Withheld, and there are only three story choices! Carry on!

This group of shacks is apparently Canada's quirkiest neighbourhood. You can tell it's serious, because the editor of Name of Paper Withheld used to live there. (Actually, several of the paper's employees have lived there.)

I ought to explain a few things, though:
  • No sewer or water? Not quite so unusual. The entire area, including the million-dollar homes, has no sewer or water. The city delivers water and picks up honey bags.

  • The guy with the furniture from the dump? Not quite so unusual. Lots of people do this. This will probably be the reporter's next story, but people leave almost-new stuff at the dump for others to pick up and reuse.

  • The "debate surrounding the shacks"? Nonexistent. Seriously, nobody cares that people want to live in shacks. If these guys were being forced to live in shacks because they couldn't afford regular housing, there would probably be an uproar, but they WANT to live there. It's none of my business. The city's tearing the abandoned party shack down because, well, it's an abandoned party shack.
If you know where to look, this is all in the story, but it's framed in a way that makes it look like this is all much more exciting than it actually is.

Thanks, Newspaper of Record. I know where to find you to thank you personally: on the street you're going to call "the Gaza Strip", talking to the crack addicts outside Name of Paper Withheld's office. Remarkably, you'll then stumble across the paper's editor, who can provide the perfect snappy quote about drug addiction. I wonder why this is so easy to predict.


Panic said...

The guy with the furniture from the dump? Not quite so unusual. Lots of people do this. This will probably be the reporter's next story, but people leave almost-new stuff at the dump for others to pick up and reuse.
And everyone who lives in Toronto has, at some time, had furniture that came from someone else's front yard. Not too much of a difference, even down to the smell. (I love you T.O., but sometimes you smell funny.) Big whoop!

I write you this comment at my desk, which was sitting outside a house on Manning Street, in 2002.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, some of my roommate's best furniture came from the streets of Boston.

I have to agree that I don't see what the big deal is about shacks. It's not ideal for the resident or the neighbors, but it's everywhere, not just in Name of Town Withheld. Poverty happens. Eccentricity happens. I, for example, live in Maine. It's culture to see on any given road a crooked, lop-sided trailer with insulation hanging outside of its siding and several vehicles on display out front on blocks. Throw in a rusty snowmobile or ATV, random mechanical parts, a few random garbage bags, and a buck hanging by its back legs from the front tree and you've got a winner. Bonus points if the owner is bent over one of those machines in a flannel and exhibiting a grungy plumber's butt.

Megan said...

Canadians could not imagine the kind of poverty that is just part of life in Maine.

The shack-dwellers here could afford other accommodations if they wanted them. Maybe the reporter thinks it's news that people WANT to live in shacks.

Anonymous said...

Canada does a better job with capitalism than the US. You have all the "bill of rights" sort of freedoms, and a free market, but somehow it all wears a friendlier face. I don't know how it happened; I'm giving credit to HRM Elizabeth II.


Jackie S said...

I came across this entry a bit late, I think, and wasn't able to get to the article itself. So I'm going to make the assumption that this article was a little over-dramatic about the "people living in a shack" element.

Because, as a journalist (in the north, I might add), I don't think there is anything wrong about telling people what's going on up here.

There is only a small segment of the Canadian population who have/do lived in the North, and there are things that we look at and think "so? big deal" that are considered stunning down south.

Maybe the story doesn't belong in the "National" section, but it was in the Saturday edition of the paper. It's not breaking news, but still of interest to a larger, mostly southern, population.

It's better than being forgotten altogether, I think.

Jackie S said...

LOL, also, didn't realize who's blog I was posting on here.

This issue is, as maybe you imagine, near/dear due to recent events.

Hope you understand

Megan said...

Welcome, Jackie! I definitely do understand. You bring a great perspective to this, so I'm glad you've found me. :)

This particular story was all about how the shacks are disappearing and people want to get rid of them. Then every person who was interviewed said that they're NOT disappearing and everyone likes them. Only one shack is being torn down, and only because it's abandoned and causing safety concerns. It was an invented story, and invented stories irritate me.

I'm a former reporter, but I've been told that I have my heart firmly stapled to journalism. I do these critiques from a belief that they can do better. I've been particularly disappointed in the Globe's Style section lately. We deserve more from a national paper.