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I’ve been thinking about the time I almost blew off my fingers at our baby shower last year.
There’s a clarity of thought that comes to you when a firework explodes in your hand as your friends and relatives look on in horror. You take a deep breath, clutch your mangled hand with the good one and count each digit to make sure everything is still in place. As the pain pulses through your arm, everything comes into focus. There’s no tomorrow to worry about or no guilt to keep you from sleeping at night. There is only burnt flesh, bruised bones and a calmness that allows you to think in perfect sequence. The night I almost blew off my hand at our baby shower last year is probably as close to Nirvana as I’ll ever get.
I can feel that clarity coming back to me these days. It turns out, you don’t have to maim yourself to make sense of the world. Having a burnout will do just fine.
I recently took three weeks off to get some sleep and give my mind a rest after a grueling year. Sometimes, in the middle of making stew or changing the kid’s diaper, I’d start weeping. Things got a bit dark. But then I had this realization: we’re not dead or missing any fingers but The Rover is at a crossroads that will determine the success or failure of this project.
One road — the one I believe we’re on — leads to a hard place. After 26 months of running this newsletter seven days a week and living on the precipice of financial collapse, the accumulation of stress and fried chicken starts to take its toll on me. We continue to put out original, quality journalism but the magic begins to fade. Subscribers notice a drop in quality and, though they care about our mission, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify backing it financially. We enter a death spiral and I have to support the family by selling aluminum siding in Gary, Indiana.
The other road — which I believe is within our reach — makes me hopeful. We grow our subscriber base, maybe cash in on a journalism grant or two, hire someone to help run this business so I can focus 100 per cent of my attention on journalism. Because, so far, The Rover has been the most thrilling and creative experience I’ve had in this miserable business. To my knowledge, we are the first newsletter to win a Canadian Association of Journalism award. And our reporting on the war in Ukraine earned us the Medal of the National Assembly.
The Rover is 100 per cent reader funded. We produce boots-on-the-ground journalism at a fraction of what it would cost the big papers. And we pay our freelancers better than they do. Join the fun, won’t you?
Awards look good on a grant application but the real success of this project has been the community that rallied around The Rover. That starts with you, our paid subscribers, the people for whom I can never say thank you enough. People like Hal Newman, a retired paramedic and Rover subscriber who started pitching me stories about Quebec’s broken healthcare system last winter. Not one year after that first article appeared in The Rover, Hal’s reporting has been in La Presse, le Soleil, it’s been cribbed by Radio-Canada (we see you), on the television show Le Monde à l’Envers and I’ve heard tell there may be a book deal in the works. Though I long for the day Hal won’t call me with a scoop when I’m sitting on the toilet, I love him and I love that it was this newsletter that brought us together.
Then there is Diane Yeung, a Rover subscriber who — in between classes at Concordia University — publishes the most beautifully written, compassionate stories. Yeung is sweet but deadly, someone whose kindness is only outdone by the ferocity with which she attacks injustice. I’ve been face to face with men who could have put me in the ground but Diane truly scares the shit out of me. If journalism were a battle royale, and sometimes I truly believe it is, my money is on Diane outlasting us all. I recently entrusted Diane with the task of going to Brooklyn’s diamond district and buying me an engagement ring for my partner. She got such a good deal, her own mother tried to outbid me for the damn thing.
I could mention more names: the incomparable cartoonist Amanda di Genova, Savannah Stewart, Peter McCabe, Eve Cable, Deenz, Nora Loreto, Joe Bongiorno, Manal Irfan, Trish Crowe, Caroline Marsh, Dave Kaufman, Rose Cormier and the Johnny Cash Machine himself, Kurt Chaboyer.
I lean on these people because for The Rover to work, it has to be about more than just one guy, his ever-patient fiancée and an overdrawn bank account. It has to be about an idea that’s bigger than all of us. If I get hit by a city bus in a few months, I don’t want The Rover to die. This is a place where reporters (young and old) can get paid a fair rate to tell stories instead of just reporting the news. Because while the consensus, in mainstream media, is that we must attack the work with cold detachment, that runs against every impulse that makes us human.
Long before we had the written word, we passed down knowledge through stories. There is something sewn into our DNA that longs for a good yarn. And yes, it’s an imperfect medium. Facts can be distorted through the lens of emotion and every storyteller brings their own bias to the work. To that I say, the facts alone are too sterile to make much of an impact. A story about a child dying because its family had to wait hours for an ambulance cuts deeper than just numbers on a spreadsheet.
We need stories now more than we did when this thing launched.
Quebec’s institutions are in freefall. Emergency rooms across the province are so overloaded, the government has to close them to avoid a systemwide failure. Our public schools are so understaffed and overcrowded that there are car salesmen teaching English classes while kids attend school in construction trailers. And while our government boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in North America, Quebec’s food banks and homeless shelters are bursting at the seams.
This was set into motion long before the Coalition Avenir Québec came to power in 2018 but it’s getting worse and — after four years at the helm — it’s no longer possible for this government to blame their failures on the long dead (politically) Jean Charest. It’s their province now, we’re just living in it.
But while I can feel my blood boiling at the thought of the next four years, I am also filled with the spirit of this community. Together, we’ve published some of the most original, weirdest and (occasionally) thought-provoking journalism to come out of Quebec. I’ll keep this thing going as long as I can but I need you to do me a favour. If you could share this, recommend it to your friends, become a paid subscriber yourself or — if you absolutely love spending money — offer a gift subscription to the revolutionary in your life.
There are better days ahead, always. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have almost blown myself up celebrating the birth of our daughter Wednesday.
In love and friendship,
P.S. While it’s confusing to click on a Subscribe button when you’re already subscribed to The Rover’s emails, the button below is where you can upgrade your free subscription to pitch in a few dollars each month or year to support The Rover. Thank you for your generosity.
Keep up the good work Chris!
Moi qui contribuait déjà $12.45 / mois , je viens de faire un paiement annuel de $300.
Serait-ce possible de vous assurer que le paiement mensuel va cesser dès le mois prochain
Merci, bon courage et continuez d’être qui vous êtes