Fear and Loathing

Over the years I've become somewhat desensitized to unbalanced coverage of Fort McMurray.  I stand off to the side with my skeptical smirk as media entourages come through with earnest expressions and vacant promises of telling a story that at least dimly resembles the picture that we paint, while enjoying a coffee visit at Coco Jo's or taking them on a ride-a-long tour through our neighborhoods.

The recent article published in the UK edition of GQ magazine, "No country for young men" by Alex Hannaford, not only served to enhance our mistrust of visiting journalists, it has also incited the wrath of many us who consider this home, deep down to our cores.  In truth, I'm less angry and more befuddled as to why they consistently decide to go down the seedy road.  Why?  Well, I guess it's because sensational copy sells, as do pictures of party goers cavorting at Showgirls.  And let's be honest, the sales imperative is a powerful motivator in the publishing business.

But it is in the personal stories that the impact of this disproportionately negative reporting is felt.  A musician coming to our community for a gig this weekend asked for my help yesterday morning on Facebook.

"On a scale of 1-10 how dangerous is Fort Mac?," he wrote.  "My girlfriend is kinda freaking out."

Now, to be completely fair, this fear and loathing may have come from the girl's dad who used to work up here, but still....she's "freaking out" with fear about coming to our community.

At the time that a national news anchor came up to do a series of broadcasts from our community, we had a student all registered and ready to join us at Keyano College who changed her mind after seeing the tilted coverage. The fear inspired by the distorted crime stats outweighed her desire to get a quality learning experience in the north.

And I'll never forget the nurse in Edmonton who, while preparing my son for a procedure, found out where we came from.

"Fort Mac," she sneered.  "How can you live there?"

Like Rodney Dangerfield used to say "Don't get me started."

I launched into my five minute elevator speech about why people come to Fort McMurray on a two year plan and stay for a lifetime, how we're the most giving community in the country, and the big spirit that defines us.  By the end of the rant, she was chomping at the bit to arrange a trip north.  She was entranced by what we were describing and compelled by our passion.

Is our community perfect? Absolutely not.  We have our issues, just like every other community on the planet.  But there is a richer, deeper, more compelling story to be told about Fort McMurray.  We just wish some of these reporters would choose to tell that story.  I think it's just as compelling, if not more so, than reading about where young men with too much time and money on their hands decide to deposit their loonies.

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