The world seemed to change last Friday, on that quiet December morning when the massacre of a primary school ricocheted through Canada, leaving us all to question the laws and regulations that are meant to guard our rights, including the right to life. Covering mass murders in the United States is often challenging, given the blanket coverage provided by U.S. outlets. But this time was different.
As soon as the news broke, we dispatched our New York correspondent Joanna Slater, knowing it would be an emotionally difficult assignment. We also sent from Toronto crime writer Patrick White and photographer Kevin van Paassen.
Small in stature, Joanna is as determined as they come. After giving birth to her second child a couple of years ago, she spent her maternity leave in the city of Lucknow, in northern India, where her husband was conducting academic research on the caste system. More recently, while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, she hitchhiked through Manhattan to get around a subway outage. In Newtown, she faced a different challenge: trying to find families willing to talk to a stranger while coping with their own grief.
Over the weekend, Joanna came across the Dryer family, whose son Logan might have been a victim in the massacre had he not been kept home from school that day because of illness. The story is one of the most haunting we have published. Yet it also captures the remarkable strength of so many residents in Newtown. Also remarkable is this: On Monday, Logan's father, Joe, called our newsroom to thank us for Joanna's work, something I'm not sure has ever happened, at least not from another country. Mr. Dryer said he wanted Joanna's bosses to know that she had brought bagels for the family one morning, and sat patiently for hours listening to them talk – an exercise that is often cathartic for people shocked by events. "She got it just right," Joe said.
We have more coverage of the gun control debate this weekend, and will pursue the issue in the weeks and months ahead, in the United States and Canada, because the world did change last Friday. And yes, we will continue to return to Newtown to help us all understand how families and a community restore life after so much death.
Most Globe and Mail videos are 120 seconds or fewer, which doesn't seem long, but it was just long enough for our video team to recap the entire year.
Christmas comes a day early
Every Christmas Eve, since 1995, we've run a front-page image of a painting from the Thomson collection of Canadian art, housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It's a small gift to our readers, a way to share some of our country's artistic heritage and also soothe our souls at the end of our all-too-busy year.
The process behind the selection is also both simple and delightful. Our chairman, David Thomson, may be Canada's leading art collector, but he does not try to sway the selection. He does encourage the gallery to help us narrow the choice and get permission from the family of the deceased painter.
With that in mind, a small group of us every December get to spend part of an afternoon in the gallery, enjoying a private tour of the collection – largely Group of Seven works – with one of the curators. We usually narrow the choice to half a dozen images, request photographs of the paintings and "press-test" them to see how they would reproduce on newsprint.
Over the years, we've run four Cornelius Krieghoffs, three each by A.Y. Jackson and Lawren Harris, a William Kurelek, a Tom Thomson, a Paul Kane, an A.J. Casson, a Clarence Alphonse Gagnon, and one Gothic ivory carving.
This year we narrowed our choice to two Harrises, one Gagnon, one Kurelek and a couple of Thomsons. Here's a recap of the debate:
Kurelek's Reminiscences of Youth – a visual ode to the enduring winter delights of childhood – was particularly haunting this year, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. Trouble is, it is a large work (125cm x 15 cm), and its thought-provoking detail might be lost on a page of newsprint.
The Wayside Cross by Gagnon risked appearing too faint on our front page, as its top half is a stunning, brightly lit landscape.
The Thomsons posed similar risks, which left us with two Harrises – one from the Baffin Island series, and Winter Woods.
We posted the reproduced images in the newsroom, and the mood was largely in favour of Winter Woods. While visually bold – something we like on the front page – the Baffin Island image was too familiar, losing perhaps the delight we try to bring readers on Christmas Eve.
The debate over, I contacted David Thomson to let him know, and our chief designer Devin Slater went to work to make Mondays' front page look deserving of such a beautiful representation of Canadian winter.
Tell us what you think of our choice.
You'll notice atop Monday's front page a greeting of "Merry Christmas." We dropped the Happy Holidays message last year, not wanting to shy away from the name of any widely celebrated holiday.
Whatever your faith, even if you don't have one, I wish you a happy holiday and fulfilling 2013.