Thursday, June 25, 2009

Toronto Media Garbage Chasers

A dumpster full of waste awaiting disposal.Image via Wikipedia

When I was a journalist many eons ago, there were ambulance chasers in every newsroom. These are people whose eyes light up when they hear of a horrible fatal car crash, their hearts quicken when they get word from the police about a big fire ablaze somewhere, and they are almost ecstatic with glee when they get a story involving multiple deaths.

Since civic employees walked off the job in Canada’s largest city four days ago, the local Toronto news media has invented a whole new type of media hound – the garbage chaser.

These are reporters that wander the city’s streets, looking for massive amounts of litter. With the labour dispute in Toronto – both the inside and outside workers unions are on strike – many city-run services have been gaboshed, including garbage collection.

Without trash collectors in place, even the city’s own public garbage bins on city streets are off limits. They have been wrapped in plastic wrap, to prevent people from using them. Despite warnings from the mayor, people are still tossing their litter on the streets, there just aren’t any other spots for it.

Unless you do what one report suggests, and keep your household waste in your fridge, to keep it – ahem – preserved.

Now many reporters are following the trails of the latest breaking story – no not the labour negotiations between the city and the workers – that’s too obvious! They are following the trail of trash.

Nope, not the people dumping their waste illegally – if caught they could face a fine of almost $400, and repeat offenders could end up in jail.

Just the trash – unsightly candy wrappers, bits and pieces of discarded food scraps, paper, bottles, tin cans – other people’s waste.

“Oh, look!” exclaimed one television reporter, as she zoomed her camera onto the latest media fascination. “A piece of lettuce, there’s some fruit, I think it’s an apple.”

Thanks for the always riveting, sitting on the edge of your couch coverage!

I actually like this reporter, I’ve seen her do some hard investigative stuff in the past, and think her employer is wasting her talent on soft puff pieces – such as chasing garbage. She’d be an excellent person to cover something really important – say the negotiations between the city and the staff.

The trash is building up, it hasn’t reached the disgusting mile-high pile stages which it did in the last city strike back in 2002, but it is getting there. And usually Toronto is one of the cleanest cities in the world, with litter properly in its place, so it is newsworthy to a degree.

That degree is worthy of mentioning on the news, maybe one or two lines – but to actually send reporters out to cover the small piles of garbage forming, is a waste worthy of the trash bin.

If this strike continues for long, and the piles become the six-to-ten foot high stink bombs that they were back in 2002, then I could see reporters going out to get images and video. But even then, they should do more than just go after a garbage pile.

“News is about people” – I remember telling a junior reporter I was mentoring many years ago. “So don’t come back to the newsroom until you’ve talked to at least three people involved in the story.”

That was good advice back then – and it still rings true today. Unless of course, the garbage is talking. Then I’d be interested in what it had to say.
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