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OPINION: Reporting on ‘Nadia the Beastmaster’ all in a day’s work

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Pottery people say the most interesting things.

A few years ago, not long after returning to Sarnia following a 40-year travel and publishing career, I attended a “travel summit” at Lambton College.

I sat next to a pottery artist from the Lawrence House. She knew I came from a big family and asked about my brothers and sisters.

“We’re all either writers or electricians,” I told her.

“So,” she replied without hesitation, “shedding light one way or the other.”

Journalists today are under attack as never before, but in my humble opinion there are few higher callings. I don’t consider myself among their elite company. I am not a trained journalist, nor do I write about the news on assignment – only what interests me.

My sister, Mary-Jane, retired recently as a copy editor at the London Free Press and my brother, Paul, covers state and national politics for the Detroit Free Press. The Washington Post named Paul one of the top fifty political reporters in the United States.

Since starting his career in the 1980s with The Sarnia Observer, he has interviewed presidential candidates like Ted Kennedy and Ross Perot and political heavyweights such as Senator John McCain and other “movers and shakers” on the U.S. national scene.

In the early days of honing their craft, Mary-Jane and Paul took on less glamorous assignments.

Mary-Jane started her career with the Timmins Free Press, which was part of the Thomson Newspaper chain. One day, she was assigned to cover a collision involving a passenger car and a moose.

“In a case like this,” Mary-Jane asked the attending police officer, “would you normally lay any charges?”

“Yup,” deadpanned the officer, who was used to Thomson’s habit sending rookie reporters to Timmins. “The moose. Failure to remain.”

Mayor Mike Bradley, who possesses a vast knowledge of Sarnia affairs from the newsworthy to the arcane, relates a tale about my brother, Paul, and his early days in Sarnia.

Cheri Champagne’s was a 1980s-era strip club on Christina Street that once featured a stripper wrestling her pet pig on stage. Humane societies in Sarnia and across the province were incensed.

Sensing a story of potentially national interest, three reporters, my brother Paul and two unnamed colleagues (we’ll call them Mike and Neil), somehow convinced the newspaper to cover their expenses as they studied “Nadia the Beastmaster” and her act.

In the spirit of reporting, they did so exhaustively, from opening to closing time.

Phil Egan is editor-in-chief of the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at [email protected]

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