of all the canadian journal-ists who could have been shackled by the Taliban, why did it have to be Ken Hechtman?Like most Canadians, until he became the sideshow du jour in George W. Bush's blitzkrieg over Afghanistan, I had never heard of the Montreal computer programmer-turned-hapless war correspondent.
But my first instinct was to get on the story when word broke last week that Hechtman had been imprisoned. After all, he was freelancing for two "alternative" news outlets -- the Montreal Mirror, a weekly, and Straight Goods, a lefty online news magazine.
My feelings of brotherhood toward Hechtman, however, soon withered when I learned that journalism is the guy's "hobby." Then I read his dispatches. They were scattered, with no sharp angle, but just enough wit, humour and insight to keep you hooked. Not surprisingly, I found his latest piece for Straight Goods -- on his capture and release -- to be his best work. There's nothing like prison to focus the mind.
Mirror editor Alastair Sutherland admits he "was skeptical at first" when Hechtman told them he was going over. But when Hechtman started sending back reports, the Mirror editors "thought they were good" and "people were enjoying them."
Still, I couldn't help but feel that in a way the independent media's voice around the debate had been hijacked by a frosh freelancer who didn't have the sense to get a visa or a proper guide.
I mentioned to Straight Goods publisher Ish Theilheimer earlier this week that I thought the whole Hechtman episode may have done a number on the independent media's credibility. But Theilheimer defended him as quite credible and capable, and wrote a piece later in the day for his Web site expanding on that position.
"What Ken Hechtman, the Mirror and Straight Goods are about is independent journalism. Having lots of competing media sources helps promote democracy," he writes.
I agree with the last point. But the Montreal Mirror isn't an independent weekly. It's owned by a subsidiary of Quebecor Media, which controls Canada's second-largest newspaper chain.
You'd think they'd have the resources to send a pro.