– 1 –


“You can’t say that.”

“Say what? All I said was…”

“Never mind. Just don’t say it.” It continually surprised her to see how hopeless these guys were. Such a knack for faux pas. What would Mr. Ferber say?

“Sorry, Mackenzie, but all I said was they’re not black this time. They’re Eritrean. I mean, they are black but not black-black.” His voice trembled slightly. With his skinny frame shifting nervously in his baggy orange coveralls, he was barely distinguishable from the other guys in the newsroom. “I mean, I’m not trying to say that makes them any less black in the moral sense or that we should in any way denigrate them for it or anything, it’s just that…”

“Look, just forget it.” That sharp tone was one of Mackenzie’s specialties.

“Mackenzie, if I may, they’re toddlers this time, not infants.”

“Okay Jason, toddlers. You finished?”

“Saskatoon’s spelled wrong.”

Sometimes the struggle was too much. Here she was, trying to get page one wrapped up and this guy keeps piping up with the most annoying details. The Prime Minister’s Wife was with Eritrean children today, not exactly the same as the black children she’s usually pictured with. They were toddlers this time, not infants as on yesterday’s front page, pre-schoolers like the day before and whatever they were on Monday. They were in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan this time, not Kenora, Ontario, or Gimli, Manitoba, and there are two stupid “o”s in “Saskatoon”. It was as if all those white guys were harassing her, a white woman, and at a time of national crisis too.

But if anyone could handle it, Mackenzie could. Everyone who was anyone in Toronto knew the Mackenzie Taylor Mitchell story. Her career was meteoric, going back nearly 10 years to the time she was 14 and her dad got her a summer job writing political analysis for the Globe and Mail. While still in high school she cut her teeth serving on a good half-dozen royal commissions into racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia and the Holocaust so by the time she got her degree in social work she clearly had a calling. Mr. Blum offered her some choices, including a judgeship or a cabinet position, but she picked journalism. “I’m going back to my roots,” she declared. The entire world, to the very bounds of the Toronto Star’s circulation area, would see her name in print every day.

Not to mention her photo. Just to look at it was to recognize her journalistic credentials. She absolutely radiated a sense of self-satisfaction, in fact sheer exuberance about being photographed. Mackenzie was proud that the photographer needed only a few shots to get that special look out of her semi-pixieish face with her brown hair sheared down to what her hairdresser called a power crewcut. And just a bit of curl on her upper lip. True, it wasn’t the same as TV exposure. But saving the world called for sacrifices. Mackenzie had to fight the war wherever it took her.

She thought over her home page/front page choices again — a prominent photo of the Prime Minister’s Wife at a hinterland daycare centre for Airlift children, a heart-rending piece on great-great-grandchildren of residential school survivors, Canada’s formal apology to Sudan, a gripping story about a girl who defied the almost insuperable barriers of sexism to take up skateboarding, the latest Statistics Canada numbers on hate and, of course, the lead story reporting today’s proceedings of The Trial.

Fine choices, all. She glanced out the window towards downtown and saw another thick plume of black smoke, this one obscuring the newspaper’s office tower on Yonge Street, a few miles east. A fine front page indeed for any edition of the Toronto Star.

There was nothing left for her to do but leave the petty details — writing the stories, editing them, designing the pages, proofreading them, getting the paper online, sending it to the printer, all the myriad petty details of a newsroom — to the white guys. As a woman in journalism, Mackenzie had more important things to do.

She turned back to face her staff. “You guys finish up,” she ordered, “and get it right. Don’t forget how the song goes.”

Her voice sang out scornfully, triumphantly: “The blackflies are biting bigtime in the camps of northern Quebec.”

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