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Front cover of the current edition of
The Ryerson Review of Journalism.

Old-time
journos:
"blood,
booze,
bandits"

Still active at 91, Canadian newsman Gwyn "Jocko" Thomas must be one of the last of the English-speaking newspaper world's old-time police roundsmen. He sounds very much like several I worked with on Sydney and Brisbane dailies in the 1930s and '40s. They were hard-working, hard-drinking, chain-smoking and constantly-swearing tough guys who were on friendly terms with both cops and crims.

Not like some of their successors today: young men and women with degrees in journalism, who rarely venture far from their office computers, and regularly swallow the sanitised stories official police spokespersons feed to them, instead of doing their own field work.

We first heard of Jocko Thomas when we read this item in Jim Romenesko's daily fix of media news:

At 91, Toronto police reporter still checks in with the desk
Ryerson Review of Journalism
Gwyn "Jocko" Thomas worked the Toronto Star's police beat for 60 years. "He set the standard for big-city crime reporting in Canada," writes Sonja Miokovic. "Thomas was hooked on crime, addicted to getting the scoop, and obsessed with staying on top. He would do anything for a story -- even lie, cheat, and steal -- yet he was the most trusted reporter at police headquarters." Thomas, 91, still reads the Star every morning and calls in mistakes that jump out at him.

Romenesko's Poynter newsletter showed a link to the story - an interesting, well-researched article headed Back when the scoop was king, sub-titled And nobody cared much about journalistic ethics. Jocko Thomas's 60 years on the police beat. The front cover of the current Ryerson Review screams: JOCKO THOMAS: 60 YEARS OF BLOOD, BOOZE & BANDITS.

Anyone with printers' ink in their veins will thoroughly enjoy reading Miokovic's entertaining article. Just follow the link shown at the bottom of this page.

"The Ryerson Review of Journalism is an award-winning magazine that twice a year casts an unflinching look at the practice of journalism in Canada," says its website blurb, which continues:

It is produced by final-year students in the Magazine Stream at the School of Journalism, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

Lynn Cunningham, long-time instructor for the Review, says, "The crucible is the experience of producing a magazine that has subscribers and newsstand buyers and advertisers, a magazine that people take seriously enough to threaten to sue on occasion, a magazine whose stories are regularly cited in other media and sometimes reprinted."

Each September, students split into two groups and apply for positions such as editor, copy chief, head of research and director of circulation, on each masthead. Under the direction of faculty with additional advice from industry professionals students build the Spring and Summer editions of the RRJ from the ground up.

In addition to masthead duties, each participant is required to bring a thoroughly researched, 2,500-word feature to professional manuscript standard. These stories, on current, pressing issues in Canadian journalism, constitute the bulk of the RRJ's content.

An Ontario government website shows that Sonja Miokovic is not just a talented young writer. She also established Puppeteer Productions, to help pay for her tuition at Ryerson University.

"Puppeteer Productions is an interactive art program that teaches children teamwork and creativity through the production of a puppet show," says a message on the official website, throwing the spotlight on successful youth enterprises. "The kids do everything from writing the story line and making the puppets to organizing a final presentation to their friends and families."

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Story first posted September 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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