KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Maggie Rahr is one of Halifax’s very best journalists. She’s been writing important and often heart wrenching stories ever since she completed the NSCC’s Radio and Television Journalism program in 2004.
For instance, there’s Raped Twice by the Same Cop, the story Rahr wrote for the Halifax Examiner, about a sexual assault case, an incident seriously bungled by the Serious Incident Response Team. Or check out A Prison Pregnancy, the deeply moving story of a young woman, held in segregation while pregnant in the Central Nova Correctional Facility, a story she wrote for The Deep.
Rahr also wrote and hosted the What Happened to Holly Bartlett podcast, about the death in 2010 of a blind Halifax woman, deemed accidental by the police, but leaving many questions unanswered.
She’s really good. She’s also a freelance journalist working in a small city, doing this work at a time when media organizations have less money and less interest in publishing the kind of high quality and labour intensive (read expensive) journalism at which Rahr excels.
We talked to Maggie about being a freelancer, the cost of investigative journalism, and why that kind of journalism is so very important.
This interview is the fifth in a series. I hope to offer more interviews on the state of journalism in Nova Scotia all through the summer.
You’ve written for The Coast, the Halifax Examiner, The Chronicle Herald, the Deep, the Globe and Mail, the Star, and many more. Tell me about being a freelance journalist
I’m a mother and I have two children. They’re seven and four. Just with the additional layer of having kids, it’s a lot to balance. I end up working at night a lot after they’ve gone to bed.
The real gift of being a freelancer is that I get to choose what I do. And when someone comes to you with a horrifying story and they’re ready to talk, it’s really difficult to say no. You can see that they’ve arrived at this point where they’re ready, and it’s almost like they’re driven by this need to release what they’ve been through. And so I feel I kind of have a duty to respond to that.
There are also stories that I would love to report on, but I feel that I’m only just now really becoming aware of my own capacity in terms of taking on other people’s trauma. I’m trying to learn how to say no, which is really difficult.
Can you make a living as a freelance investigative journalist in Halifax?
In order to successfully do those stories, I have to take on other work, mostly as a researcher. So it’s a privilege. I’m lucky to do this work, but it’s a lot, you know. Without my other side hustles it wouldn’t be able to do this at all. It feels like I’m supporting a print habit.
Most of the work that I do is in print, and it’s only really been lately that I’m trying to figure out how to actually be paid for my time. I’m trying to find my feet. It does feel like a bit of an uphill battle, I’m trying to find ways to have my time valued.
One of the problems of news reporting is the (quick) turnover, especially now in this era where you can condense a story into a tweet. A lot of the longer investigative pieces that I’m trying to do are more complex and layered than that. It takes a long time to earn somebody’s trust, and to really understand what they’ve been through. And then the other aspect is the rigour of journalism that involves research and documentation and fact checking, and all that kind of thing.
If I land something, and I find myself thinking, I just can’t believe this, this needs to be reported on, then I won’t stop until it runs. I’m going into the red for the story to run. I still feel that it’s worth it to do this. Because that story just needs to be out there.
We all know about this crunch that even established papers and journalistic outlets are going through. Take someone like Brett Bundale, who is an extraordinary reporter who was let go from Canadian Press. Or Stephanie Nolan, who was the Latin America correspondent for the Globe and Mail, who’s better than her?
I’m just kind of riding this out and hoping that content at a certain point becomes valuable again to editors and publishers, and that they find a way to pay for good, well researched and meaningful work. Because I really think we’re lost without it.
Papers can’t afford to pay for the investigative journalism that they want, which is heartbreaking. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing it. The story needs to be told and somebody has to do it. Maybe I’m just foolish, but I think that there’s always going to be a need for investigative journalism.
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