April 26, 2016
Megan Ogilvie is an MIT graduate and a 12-year Toronto Star journalist veteran who has written 1200+ news stories.
Megan is the reporter and presenter of the popular Star health column, The Dish, which counts and compares calories of popular local foods. She based her first book, Menu Confidential, on this work, which often garners the vitriol of people who can’t unsee what she reveals about the food they love a little more than is healthy. Her career has taken her to a party at the Playboy Mansion, ride-alongs with air ambulance crews and inside hospital operating rooms. She’s also a medical reporter, her true passion, and says it is the everyday heroes she meets that remind her she has the best gig in the world. She happens to live in Paris, Ontario.
The State of Journalism
What does it mean to be a good journalist today?
In 2017 the field of journalism is on shaky ground. From “fake news” to ethics and activism, heated opinion columns and hasty resignations, business models that continue to change and mediums still petering out, the debates rage on. And yet, the value of good journalists in the world has never been clearer.
The Toronto Star – Canada’s most widely circulated newspaper – isn’t unfamiliar with controversy. Most recently the departure of columnist Desmond Cole from the ranks of other Star writers raised the hackles of longstanding journalists and elicited considered responses from others. A little over a year prior, Megan spoke at Paris Lectures about the paper’s origins and a deep, idealistic purpose. “The Star’s been around for 124 years now and if you read the paper every day you’ll notice that it has a strong mandate for social justice that’s been there from the beginning.”
Although there is room for improvement, it is journalists like Megan that give us hope for the future of journalism. At her Lecture, she shared a story about an article she wrote that became the front page of the Toronto Star. In it she profiled a man named John Cooper who volunteered a portion of his liver to a stranger and underwent a dangerous surgery to fulfill that pledge. We believe the humanity Megan brings to this story and those like it is worth shouting about. Her work is thoughtful, principled, and disciplined, and of all the journalists that could belong to Paris, we are confident that Megan is one whose work helps makes the world a better place.
as a journalist
at the Toronto Star
Kill your darlings
On the craft of writing
Megan was writing about a man who volunteered to donate part of his liver to a stranger. She shares the creative process behind crafting a story worthy of the Toronto Star front page.
“Once I found out that I could go into the Operating Room and see the liver being cut and taken away to someone else, I thought – that’s where we’re going to start the story. This is the drama. This is where the story is going to start.
But the story wasn’t working. The story was going in Saturday’s paper and the Tuesday before, it was clunky. It just wasn’t the right story. It was good but it wasn’t great. My editor told me to look through Bernard’s pictures again. He said, ‘Maybe you’ll find a clue to your story there’. And I saw this picture. And I still get chills when I see it.
This picture is not about me, it’s not about the organs. It’s about John. This is a man who has everything to live for; he has a job that he likes and a family that adores him. He does not need to go through the operating doors, but he has chosen to do this. To save someone else’s life. To get nothing in return. Here’s where the story has to start.
That was the front page picture and how the story started.”
Breaking hearts one dish at a time
Megan has been exposing the often heart-breaking caloric, fat and sodium contents of popular take-out foods in her Toronto Star column, The Dish for over five years.
A Legacy of Journalism
A journalist by her own right, Megan’s love of words does have familial precedent. Her great grandmother was Kit Coleman, a resident of nearby Hamilton and the world’s first accredited female war correspondent who traveled to Cuba to report from the frontlines on the Spanish-American War of 1898. Coleman was “one of the most famous newspaper people – let alone newspaper women – of her day,” said Megan. “My mom said it’s no surprise I’m a newspaper person, and I am grateful if I have a teeny tiny bit of that in me. So yes, perhaps newspapers are in my blood.”
Megan on the subject of her critics
“One of the really neat things about being a writer is hearing from the readers. This happens for all sorts of stories. I received lovely letters after reporting on John Cooper's liver donation.”
I do sometimes get angry letters, because as a health reporter you write about controversial things like abortion, or opioid addiction, or cuts to healthcare or … muffins.
I wrote about an ‘organic vegan sweet potato date muffin’ and when I told people how many calories were in it, people got angry.
People wrote letters to the editor. They accused me of being a vegetarian basher. I like vegetarians.
Stoke Stoke Stoke
At each Paris Lectures we ask the crowd to courageously participate in a creative warm-up exercise, or “stoke”, that varies for each event. The ask is low bar and whimsical and helps everyone relax, including us.
Sound bites from the Lecture
“The Toronto Star started in 1892. It was formed by a group of disgruntled printers and writers from the Toronto Standard. They didn’t want to be a part of that paper anymore so one night they had some drinks and decided, ‘We’re gonna start our own. It’s gonna be better, and it’s gonna be a paper for The People.”Megan OgilvieOn starting something new
“I had one professor who said you should think about writing, you’re pretty good. She suggested I do a masters in Science Writing at MIT So I did. I got accepted. I went. I was scared out of my wits but it set me up for the career I didn’t know I was going to have.”Megan OgilvieOn being scared
“I started out at the Toronto Star after spending a year covering science, really focused on science, couldn’t wait to write about science. I ended up in the sports section.”Megan OgilvieOn work being work
“Storytelling is wonderful, it doesn’t matter what you are writing about if you can tell a good story.”Megan OgilvieOn bad subjects
“I don't care if it's shit. I care if it's done.”Megan OgilvieOn one of her editor's perspective on deadlines