“Why’d you call me?”
Asking the question was my friend and one of my many journalistic mentors, Ernest Hillen.
I’ll get to the answer to his question in a moment, but first, in case you don’t know, here’s how Wikipedia describes Ernest:
“A longtime editor with Saturday Night, he became best known for two memoirs which he published in the 1990s about his childhood experiences during World War II. Hillen was born in the Netherlands in 1934 as the child of a Canadian mother and a Dutch father, and the family moved to West Java, Indonesia when he was a child. However, following the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies in 1942, the family was confined to detention camps for several years. After the war ended the family moved between Canada, the Netherlands and Indonesia for several years until the 1950s, when Hillen moved to Toronto.”
I met Ernest when I was new to the magazine industry; we worked on a publication called Influence then went separate directions but remained close.
He’s in his 80s now and lives in Cambridge Ont., and Ernest is literally the reason my wife Helena and I keep a landline. True fact. Phone conversations with Ernest seldom clock in at less than an hour and who likes to talk on a cell that long?
Here’s why I’m telling you about Ernest.
Last Monday afternoon, at about 2:00, I realized I had a few spare hours so figured it was time to start reading the entries in this year’s Canadian Online Publication Awards (COPAs).
I’m a judge in two categories and feel privileged indeed. I get to immerse myself in a whole pile of some of Canada’s finest reporting and writing and frankly, I have a hard time thinking of any activity I’d rather do.
I love making it, reading it, talking about it. Defending it.
What’s not to like about being a judge in the COPAS?
(Quick aside, in a work meeting last month, my writer/editor colleague Amanda Jerome advised that if you have a task to perform that you’re putting off, you can radically reframe the job by instead of saying, “I’ve got to” do this job, try “I get to” do this job. Take Amanda’s theory out for a test spin. It’s powerful.)
I get to judge these stories
PLUS it’s a duty. Which means I must ignore other, less important chores. Here’s me, Monday, shortly after lunch, to Helena: “Sorry darling, the trip to Winners can’t happen. I really should get to those COPA stories. Duty calls.”
I never actually said “duty calls.” I hope I’d never sink to such a cliché unless I was playing with it, as in “Cat litter needs changing! Doody calls.” Like that.
Where was I? Oh right. Calls. To Ernest.
First thing I did when I started judging Monday was pick up the landline and dial Ernest because, well, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do when we’re facing a deadline. Find a distraction.
So here’s what I told Ernest when he asked “why’d you call me?”
“Thing is, Ernest, I just started judging stories in the Canadian Online Publication Awards competition and frankly, there’s certain times when I just hope and wish and pray that I’ll get a phone call from somebody who will ask ‘what are you up to?’ and I’ll be like, ‘sorry you caught me at a bad time. I have to read some more of Canada’s finest journalism because I’m a judge in this national competition.
“That sounds impressive, doesn’t it?”
I continued, at Ernest: “Have you any idea how much great stuff is being reported out there? All over the place, by large outfits, tiny outfits, students? Until you get involved like this, you lose all perspective and you’d think journalism’s drying up or something, and you’d be dead wrong. It’s flourishing. You just have to know where to look.
“Some of these online publications are not-for-profits while others seem very profitable indeed and you know the best part Ernest?
“They remind us how important everybody is; how one person’s concerns are as serious as the next’s. Like say if you’re having a hard time finding daycare in Nanaimo and you’re afraid you won’t have enough money for rent, that’s as worrisome for you as some guy who has been told his cat’s dying or somebody whose mom is in a questionable nursing home or whose son is being sent off to war. That’s what this kind of journalism does, Ernest.
“You’d love it!
“And the young journalists! They’re doing such amazing work. They do way more research and go further indepth than I ever did. They do better work, too. I’m glad I’m not competing with them.”
Oh wait. I think I and the publication I work for, Law360 Canada, might be competing in a category or two. So never mind that last part.
And maybe I didn’t say those exact words when talking to Ernest. I wasn’t taking notes or recording.
But that was certainly my message.
It is a privilege to judge. I do love every moment of judging.
But just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t procrastinate, like I did with considerable success by calling Ernest on Monday afternoon. Cuz you can bet the call didn’t end there.
Ernest and I were on the phone for 57 minutes.
He’s a journalist, for my (Pete’s, get it?) sake. At work or in everyday conversation, people like Ernest work diligently at finding new, helpful and interesting methods to discuss ideas using language and communicative tricks in wholly innovative ways.
It’s what we do. And that’s what makes judging so damn wonderful.
I just had a terrific idea for a new category for next year’s COPAs.
The competition would be Olympian.
Best Procrastination Techniques
Details to follow.
About the Author: Peter Carter
Toronto writer/ editor/ one-time magazine owner and publisher---35 years experience in Canadian magazines; currently Analysis Editor at Law360 Canada; an online daily news source for Canadian lawyers; Winner of Best Business Blog at COPAs 2014 for Pete's Blog&Grille; National Magazine Awards finalist; accordion player and motorbike enthusiast.