From small joyous moments to big social changes, this year’s news stories weren’t all gloom and doom
BY OLIVIA BOWDEN
The GTA—and, let’s be honest, the world—has had a tough year. From April’s van attack to the July Danforth shooting (and other incidents of gun violence in and around Toronto) to fall’s divisive political races, the past 12 months in Canada’s biggest city have felt long, exhausting and, often, pretty sad. That especially rings true for journalists, who really can’t escape the news cycle—but that’s what makes the good-news stories all the more memorable. Here, five GTA journalists tell us about the 2018 stories, both big and small, that warmed their hearts, restored their faith in humanity or just made them smile.
The journalist: Arvin Joaquin, associate editor at Daily Xtra
At Daily Xtra, Arvin Joaquin covers all aspects of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community and beyond. This year, the piece that stood out was the one he wrote on the Bi Arts Festival, which focuses on celebrating bisexual visibility and voices. In it, he explored the festival’s importance as a space where bisexual people can discuss their own experiences and build community bonds. That’s something that’s sorely missing from current conversations about the LGBTQ+ community, even though bisexual people make up the largest portion of it.
“This is an arts story with people that we rarely hear [from]—because, even when we talk about queer voices, it’s mostly just gay men,” says Joaquin. “But there are other identities on the queer spectrum that we need to showcase.”
The journalist: Maryam Mirza, staff reporter with the Brampton Guardian and the Mississauga News
When Maryam Mirza looked back through her 2018 files, she didn’t find many stories that had a positive spin. This year, she covered a lot of complicated, polarizing issues in the GTA, including local crime, poverty and the municipal elections. But there was one reprieve from the gloom—a story about a lost cat named Leo who finally made his way home after five years of being MIA.
One day this summer, “Animal services knocked on [Brampton resident Sherri Oakley’s] door to tell her they found her cat a couple of streets down,” she says. Leo initially went missing when a guest at a family get-together let him out, not realizing he was supposed to be an indoor cat. Then Leo couldn’t find his way back home—for half a decade. As it turns out, he spent the time living on his own just a few blocks away. A simple microchip scan was what ended up bringing the cat back to his long-lost family.
Having had pets, Mirza says she understands finding a lost one is a big deal. “I’m a huge animal lover. There are other issues that are extremely important for people to read in the paper, but I think it’s equally crucial to have stories like this,” she says. “Leo was reunited with his owner, and that’s really nice.”
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This summer, well-known humour columnist Tabatha Southey co-authored a news piece with journalist Chris Edwards for Maclean’s that was different from her usual assignments. Southey and Edwards wrote about an immigrant couple in Toronto who put up a sign offering free dry cleaning to those in need; particularly people who were unemployed and needed clean clothes for a job interview.
It started when Edwards tweeted a photo of the couple’s sign, which caught Southey’s editor’s eye. When asked to tackle the story, the pair decided to visit the couple together and write about how the cleaner’s small gesture meant a lot to Torontonians.
“Chris and I sincerely thought, ‘Hey, maybe it will help them. They deserve it,’” says Southey. “I was very happy to see the story resonate…. It was truly a privilege to listen to them [and] to watch the way they interacted with each other.”
“It’s good to try to help someone sadder than yourself, in any small way you can,” adds Southey. “And I think that’s partly what the dry-cleaning story was about.”
The journalist: Lisa Queen, reporter for YorkRegion.com
When one of Lisa Queen’s colleagues came up with an idea for an interview series that would showcase fun, feel-good stories and characters, the name was a no-brainer. It had to be “Tea with the Queen.” But these interviews haven’t been just a way to capitalize on a regal surname—they’ve also been a pleasant escape for Queen, a reporter who usually focuses on hard news.
“Basically, I go out and talk to somebody in York Region who’s doing something neat,” she says. “It’s a little bit more lighthearted, and I don’t get to do that type of story often.” So far, she’s interviewed ice fishers, town criers, Halloween Haunt characters and even Santa Claus for the series.
And while the interviews might sound fluffy, she often finds connection and deeper meaning through these chats. “You take out a teapot and a couple of cups and you take photos with these people, and let them tell their stories,” says Queen.
The journalist: Kamil Karamali, reporter for Global News Toronto
You might not expect a story about the Rohingya, a stateless people often referred to as “the world’s most persecuted minority,” to be cheerful. But after what he calls a “tragic” 2018, reporter Kamil Karamali found some positivity in the story of Rohingya refugees who had made it to Canada to start a new life away from the religious persecution and genocide they faced in Myanmar.
He says what happens to Rohingya people after they have fled Myanmar is under-reported, especially when they land in smaller communities like Kitchener, Ont. But that’s everyone’s loss. “I went up to Kitchener on the weekend with my cameraman and was introduced to the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met,” he says. Among them were Saifullah Muhammad and his family, who had overcome incredible hardships to make it to Canada. “His was one story that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, just in terms of overcoming adversity and looking at the world from a glass-half-full perspective,” says Karamali.
It’s the personal connection that makes this story so powerful. Karamali’s own family immigrated from Pakistan, so he viscerally understands the need to seek a better life for your family—and the deep sacrifice required to make the move. He says the story also shows Canadians that positive stories are emerging, even against the devastating backdrop of the refugee crisis. “It’s been a difficult year… but there always will be good stories that also come with the bad,” he says.
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