The Lorenzo Reading Series has brought numerous authors to the UNB Saint John campus since it’s creation in 2012. In most cases, only people extremely dedicated to local literature will flock to their readings, much less actually take the time away from their studies to read their book. However, the latest addition in the series is written by an author that just might bring even the most hesitant readers out of the shadows.
That’s right, folks; Kevin Donovan, critically acclaimed as one of the best journalists in the entire country, took the time to visit our quaint little university on November 3 to talk with students, staff, and other members of the Saint John community about his book, and his long career as a journalist for the Toronto Star.
The book in question is, of course, Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation, which was released on October 4 of this year. Jian Ghomeshi is a name that brings a foul taste to the mouths of most Canadians these days. Once a popular host on the CBC Radio show Q, Ghomeshi was fired after allegations of severe sexual assault and abuse were made about him by several women.
Yet, as popular as the story was in the media, some Canadians and international readers may not be very familiar with the case. Fear not! Donovan’s comprehensive retelling of his experience as lead reporter in the investigation will make each and every reader an expert on the Jian Ghomeshi case by the time they finish the book.
Featuring details that were not included in the Star’s original articles, Donovan gives readers the true inside scoop on the investigation, from the day the allegations were brought to him, to the day the story was published.
In an interview with the Baron, he explained the benefits of writing this book compared to writing his news articles on the allegations.
“You have more room to tell the story,” Donovan said.
“There’s more to what happened [during the investigation], and to how it happened. In the book, there is a unique opportunity to put the investigation into context, and to include more of the stories from the individual complainants.”
Much of the book also focuses on the importance of fact-checking and integrity, which readers will take a lot from. So many people were angry that the Star didn’t report on Ghomeshi’s behavior the second they received the allegations, and reading this book will help to resolve that anger through Donovan’s flawless journalistic integrity and logic.
In Secret Life, Donovan explains the long, difficult process of proving a story before it can be published. When responding to a question about Jesse Brown of Canadaland, Donovan’s partner on the investigation, he clarified the difference between independent journalism and working for a major publication.
“[The difference] is not so much in the fact gathering, but it is in the ability to learn how to prove a story before you publish it,” Donovan states. “I think [Jesse Brown] has been quoted saying he was looking for a place with libel insurance, which the Toronto Star does have, in case the story resulted in a lawsuit, but I think more than that he benefited by working with people who were skilled in doing investigation – something that he had no experience in.”
Furthermore, as Donovan outlines in his book, extensive interviews are involved in any good piece of investigative journalism, which takes time.
Yet, readers should be cautioned that the subject matters of these interviews are intense and may not be for everyone. Ghomeshi allegedly did terrible things to the women, and men, who came forward to speak to Donovan about the abuse and their stories can be difficult to read and extremely emotionally trying.
Of course, if they are difficult for us to read, one can only imagine how difficult it must have been to ask the questions that prompted the recounting of these stories of sexual abuse.
“I’ve done these sort of interviews many times over my career. You have to be sensitive, but there also has to be a firmness to your questioning,” Donovan explains after being asked about his interviewing process.
“You make it clear to people that the things they are going to say have to be checked out. I know it can be very difficult, revealing this sort of information to a stranger, but if we don’t fact check their stories, bad things can happen.”
While Secret Life is a fascinating read for just about anyone who might venture to pick it up, it has a particular usefulness to anyone interested in pursuing a career in journalism.
Donovan has thirty years of experience under his belt, including breaking the story about former Toronto mayor Rob Ford using crack cocaine, and with that experience he has filled the book with helpful tips about how to be a good investigative reporter. In fact, you could argue that Secret Life is, in a way, a step-by-step guide in how to properly conduct a journalistic investigation.
While Donovan was a guest for the Lorenzo Reading in Ganong Hall during his visit to UNB Saint John, he also dropped by a Foundations of ICS lecture in the morning, taught by instructor Wayne Hansen. Many of the students in the class who show a keen interest in journalism, benefited from his visit and having the opportunity to ask him some questions.
In response to being asked how to be a good journalist, Donovan’s response was, “The most important thing is to think of your questions beforehand, and do research on the woman or man that you are writing about.”
According to Donovan, research is the key to a good investigative story, as Secret Life and all of his other work on the Ghomeshi case clearly show.
I highly recommend this book to each and every student on campus. It details a story that is extremely relevant in the media right now, and in our social sphere as a whole. After all, this is far from the only case of sexual assault out there.
“People shouldn’t be silent about allegations of sexual abuse,” Donovan stated with tremendous feeling when asked what he hopes readers will take away from his book. “They should bring them forward, as difficult as that is, and I think doing that, and talking about this issue, is the only way to reduce this type of violence.”
Secret Life is Kevin Donovan’s third book, preceded by ORNGE: The Star Investigation that Broke the Story, another tell-all book about one of his investigations, and The Dead Times, a fictional mystery novel.