This is the story of a young reporter who quit her newspaper job over a matter of principle and became a bit of a media celebrity in recent days.
Mickey Djuric, 26, was a reporter for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald. She’d been at the paper in the small Saskatchewan city for fewer than two years when she resigned last Thursday.
Growing up in Toronto and Los Angeles, she studied journalism at Durham College in Oshawa. Her first newspaper job was at the weekly Star News in Wainwright, Alberta.
It’s a too common path for neophyte newspaper reporters – taking any job they can get in any small town, working slave hours for slave wages, learning little or nothing from editors who are in Hicksville for a reason.
For Djuric, the Times-Herald was a step up – a full-time job with benefits, with a starting salary of $28,000.
She was one of three news reporters at the paper, churning out copy at a furious rate. In 17 months, starting in June 2014, her byline or photo-credit appeared 1,745 times.
“I loved my job,” she told me. “I love Moose Jaw.”
But the beginning of the end for Djuric began on election day last month, when she recorded a victorious Conservative Tom Lukiwski uttering the words “NDP whore.”
When the two words finally hit the fan, the politics of the slur took over, with the Conservatives on the spot and the NDP on the attack.
But I was more interested in how a story sat for a month before a reporter sacrificed her job and spilled the beans.
That’s why I phoned Djuric. Here’s her version of what happened.
On election night, October 19, she was covering Lukiwski’s victory speech at the Moose Jaw Eagles Club.
Wrapping up, Lukiwski went off on a tangent, touting one of his conservative cronies running in next year’s provincial election.
“We’ve got to get Greg back elected, he’s too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP whore.”
At that moment, Djuric was doing what most reporters do these days – tweeting with one hand, recording video with the other, too busy to pay attention.
Her ears twitched when she heard whore, but quickly decided Lukiwski wasn’t stupid enough to pull another public boner. (His prior claim to fame was being recorded in the early ’90s talking about “homosexual faggots.”)
Djuric interviewed Lukiwski after the event, didn’t ask him or anyone else about NDP whores, went back to her office, filed her story – one of three under her byline in the next day’s edition – forgot about the video, and began two weeks vacation.
She returned to work on November 2nd. Sometime that week, she noticed the election night video on her desktop, played it, and heard “NDP whore.”
She played it for her managing editor and others in the newsroom, she says, who all agreed Lukiwski said “NDP whore.”
She says she was told to sit on the story until her editor ran it by the content director for Montreal-based TC Media, which owns 170 newspapers across the country, including dailies in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
“Every move I made was under the direction of management.”
On Thursday, Nov. 12, the content director was in Moose Jaw and reviewed the video. He too heard “NDP whore,” Djuric says, and she was given the green light to write the story.
She interviewed Lukiwski by phone from Ottawa, who first said he didn’t recall the remark and called back to say he said “NDP horde.” (His party would later back him.)
She got quotes from the NDP candidate, the woman who appeared to be the target of the slur.
By Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, the story was ready to go, the video attached to the web version.
Before the day was over, she says she was told: “The story isn’t going to run – ever.”
Djuric took Wednesday off to think about what to do next. On Thursday, Nov. 19, she quit the Times-Herald, uploaded the video on YouTube, alerted the media, did some interviews, and posted a 300-word blog titled: My Resignation.
It begins: “I choose personal integrity and strong ethics over deception and censorship.”
Her managing editor, Craig Slater, told CBC News he was almost sure he heard the word “whore.” But, after Lukiwski insisted the word was “horde,” Slater said he and his superiors decided not to run the story.
“We erred on the side of caution,” Slater told CBC. “I wanted to have the responsible journalism come out and not the tabloid journalism come out.”
The same day, the paper posted an editorial headlined: “Why not run it? The Moose-Jaw Times-Herald does not practice ‘gotcha’ journalism.”
It went on to throw Djuric under the combine-harvester by noting: “The reporter failed to tell editors until almost a month after the event that anything potentially newsworthy was said.”
True. A more seasoned reporter, even one required to tweet and take pictures on every assignment, probably would have lunged at the whore quote.
But that’s no excuse for a news organization to turn to the Palin playbook and talk about “gotcha” and “tabloid” journalism.
Djuric says she’s looking for a job, has a few leads, and will probably wind up coming home to Toronto.
I wonder if any news outlet might get up on its high horse and hire her.
Here’s the video.