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Jack Knox column: Good works trump good words for journalist

Jun 15 2012

Having taken a brief vacation from saving the world, Jody Paterson began her week by winning a share of Canada's top journalism award and today will end it by accepting an honorary doctor of laws from UVic.

The slacker.

I will not pretend to be objective here. If you point out that there are four others being given honorary degrees this spring, I'll say that's nice, but Jody is the only one I have known for 30 years, since Kamloops.

We shared a little office at the Times Colonist for more than six of those years, during which I used her as inspiration, measuring stick, sounding board and stupidity filter, one who would save me from myself. Plus, she was a good baker, singer and, latterly, accordion player.

Sure, there was the odd bump. She had a terrier named Jack, which led to the occasional bit of Who'sOn-First confusion where I would overhear her on the phone saying something like "Jack's been acting weird lately," a minor slander that would cause me to bristle. Then she would say "I caught him drinking out of the toilet again" and things would go south from there.

But most of the time I tended to hold my tongue when we disagreed, experience having shown that I usually (though not always) came around to her way of thinking. She is smarter than I am (that's no false modesty, because she's smarter than most people), more honest, more compassionate and more courageous. (Here's something few people know: When she rode the Tour de Rock in 2001, she did so hiding a probably broken arm that she hurt in a bike crash five days before the 1,000kilometre journey began.)

Jody is one of the best journalists I have ever known - which is why it knocked many of us for a loop eight years ago when she walked away from fulltime journalism, saying it was no longer enough.

In retrospect, we should have seen it coming. Jody is at heart an activist, not a disinterested observer or sideline sniper. Merely writing about, shouting about, the problems she cared about wasn't going to solve them.

That's a common complaint about the news media, that we do little but moan. At our worst we are Auberon Waugh's "chattering classes" - noisy and largely useless.

The best people, though, can make a difference, as was proven this week when Jody was among a team whose efforts won the Times Colonist the 2011 Michener Award for public service journalism. Thanks largely to the relentless digging of reporter Lindsay Kines, the provincial government was forced to stop pushing developmentally disabled people out of group homes against their will.

The outcome of the stories was, of course, more important than the award, but the Michener made even those of us who weren't involved feel proud. It makes up for the times when we run the wrong crossword solution or publish a picture of a farmer and his pig in the place where a husband and wife are supposed to be, as did in fact once happen in this newspaper.

Jody's partner, Paul Willcocks, was also part of the Michener team. He's terrific in his own right, the best I have ever seen at distilling a complex issue to its essence and coming up with a cogent analysis. When he won the Jack Webster award as B.C.'s commentator of the year in 2003, I told Jody: "You're not even the best columnist in your own house." When they moved to Honduras this year, Paul left his trophy on my desk, my name printed out and sticky-taped over his.

That's where they live now, in an impoverished little town in Honduras, doing development work. They're back home for today's ceremony at UVic, where Jody will be recognized for a lifetime dedicated to social justice - not just shouting from the sidelines in her column, but taking action, everything from connecting homeless people to services to inviting a woman to tent in her yard.

Good for her. Makes you wonder how much more you could do to make a difference.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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