Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.
Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.
I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.
Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.
I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.
This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.
The goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.
If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.
Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.
The Casefile podcast has just done a two-hour-plus episode on the Jennifer Pan case. I listened to it as I usually listen to podcasts — while making dinner or walking the dog — and it was pretty good.
Although I knew the case fairly well — from the Toronto Life article linked above and the book, A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi — it was fascinating to hear the audio from her police interviews. Afterwards, a little bit of googling led to the discovery that all 10 hours of the interrogation played at trial is available on Youtube. Here’s part one:
What else can I tell you? Casefile’s a pretty decent podcast with very few bells and whistles. The narrator, an anonymous Aussie, tells the story of various murder investigations. Whoever writes the scripts does a really good job though not at all the type of writing that calls attention to itself. They make telling complicated crime stories look really easy.
The Pan episode was a bit of an exception because there’s often no additional audio at all — just the narrator telling you about various murders, some of them among the world’s most notorious and others far less well known with an emphasis on Australian cases. One of the best episodes was about the Sherri Rasmussen murder, a Los Angeles cold case that I first read about in Vanity Fair a few years back.
The trial of two of the “Three Matthews” charged with trafficking weapons that allegedly ended up in the hands of Dellen Millard will take place in Toronto on May 23rd.
Based on what i saw at the preliminary hearing, held back in 2015, it promises to be a very interesting trial. But due to the standard pre-trial publication ban, I can’t say anything about the evidence until the trial gets underway.
Both Matthew Ward-Jackson and Matthew Odlum are pleading not guilty. The third Matthew, Matthew Wawrykiewicz, will be tried separately at a later date and is also pleading not guilty. None of the charges against them have been proven in court.
If you are interested in following this trial, please check out my Indiegogo page.
Here are some examples of my past trial and court coverage:
There are some mistakes that are resignation worthy. And Andrew Potter’s malevolent and unfounded essay about Quebec, published earlier this week in Maclean’s, is one of them. The director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada simply can’t write a hit piece like that and go on to do his job effectively. His credibility was shot. He had to go.
Yet because his target was Quebec, in the rest of Canada, opinion is almost unanimous that Potter, who remains on the faculty at McGill as an associate professor, is the one who has been wronged and that Quebecers are just a bunch on thin-skinned crybabies. McGill is being called cowardly and craven, first, for issuing first a statement saying that Potter’s opinion was not shared by the university, and, then, for accepting Potter’s resignation as institute director.
In the space of a day, the Twitter critics went from criticizing the university for dissociating itself from Potter’s article instead of remaining silent to demanding McGill actively defend Potter’s academic freedom and right to remain the head of the Canada Institute. Rumours were floated that powerful politicians had demanded Potter’s head although they were as unsubstantiated as much of Potter’s article.
To Potter’s credit, he owned up to his article’s mistakes although what prompted the diatribe remains a mystery. For many in the chattering classes, his apology was enough and it was time to move on with Potter keeping his job. But this idea is untenable.
Potter’s article portrayed Quebecers as friendless, ungenerous, duplicitous. It went well beyond criticism deep into attack territory. The reaction it provoked is not about an inability to accept criticism but rather shock at the bigotry being directed at Quebec. And this bigotry was not coming from just anybody, but from the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
Imagine if the director of a North America think tank denounced Canadians as a bunch of whiney, boring losers. Would we all rally round to demand that director keep their job? Or would we say WTF, time to find a new director, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable for someone in that position.
The fact that so many of Potter’s defenders see no problem with Potter’s portrayal of Quebec is astonishing as is their ability to ignore the almost unanimous chorus of Quebecers saying they didn’t recognize the place Potter described, that he must be living in a parallel universe.
For an academic and journalist, Potter is surprisingly unskeptical when he quotes a Statistics Canada report showing “the proportion of people who report having zero close friends is highest in Quebec … And (that) while 28 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 75 report having no close friends, the average for the rest of the country is a mere 11 per cent.”
Many Quebecers would also likely agree with several of Potter’s points had they been presented in context. Montreal should have long ago put an end to a never-ending police labour protest, where cops wear colourful camouflage pants instead of their uniform trousers. But how? Like Toronto does? By caving in and giving cops everything they want? Montreal may have police in clown pants but Potter never mentions that Toronto has a force where almost everyone who is not on the Sunshine List of Ontario public service employees, who make more than $100,000, is only a few thousand dollars away. Here in Ontario we’ve used our non-social capital to buy off the police, hardly a superior solution.
Perhaps this is something Potter will ponder as the snow melts and he ventures out to one of those many two-bill restaurant he alone seems to know. He can drown his sorrows about a future that is temporarily a little less bright and a career that is slightly less charmed than it was last week. Actions have consequences, but if Potter is truly as smart and affable, as his backers maintain, he will rise again having learned to be even smarter as a result of his very serious mistake.
In the latter case, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco said the accused’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. He cited the Supreme Court’s recent Jordan ruling, which set time limits on the period between charges being laid and the trial getting underway. Those limits are 18 months for most criminal cases and 30 months for the most serious cases, including murder.
Justice Julianne Parfett used the same reasoning when she stayed the Ottawa first degree murder charges mentioned above. In something of an understatement, she wrote in her ruling: “I am well aware that, in deciding to stay these charges, the family of the deceased in this matter will not see justice done as they would want.”
According to the news reports, neither of these judges seemed overly concerned about the possibility their rulings might bring the justice system into public disrepute. Ontario’s attorney general almost immediately asked for a review of Parfett’s ruling. (Ed: I’d like a review of how she became a superior court judge. Can you look into it? And what’s up with this Paciocco guy while you’re at it?)
The news of Smich’s upcoming motion was raised by his lawyer Thomas Dungey in Toronto court today for a routine proceeding.
In another case, whose updates were heard just before Smich’s, there were also concerns raised about possible trial delays. Regarding this other, non-Smich case, Justice John McMahon said, “We’re not going to have a murder case in Toronto stayed because we didn’t do it in the time. It’s not going to happen.”
Smich was charged with the murder of Laura Babcock in April 2014. His trial was supposed to have begun earlier this month but was delayed because his co-accused Dellen Millard said he couldn’t find nor pay a lawyer and he had been denied legal aid. That caused the Babcock trial to be bumped to September of this year. (The court also heard Millard still hasn’t gotten his finances sorted and is appealing the Legal Aid decision.)
Millard’s and Smich’s circumstances are somewhat unusual given that they themselves weren’t available at earlier dates for the Laura Babcock trial. They spent several months of 2015 and the first half of 2016 in court in Hamilton for the murder of Tim Bosma for which they were eventually convicted.
Millard is also charged with the murder of his father, Wayne, a trial which isn’t scheduled to take place until 2018.
Both Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty to all charges against them.
In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.
The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:
Earlier today I was checking the referral stats for my website, which, among other things, sometimes tell me the search terms people use to find this blog. Usually, these are predictable and obvious, but the search words that caught my eye today were just the opposite. They were “Wow!”, “Holy Shit!”, “”Stop the Presses!” search words.
The words formed a full sentence with a subject (a person), a verb and an object (another person). That sentence fell into the outrageous rumour category. (And just for the record, the outrageous rumour in question has nothing whatsoever to do with my book or anyone in it.)
Now, you should know that when it comes to rumours, I almost always err on the “no way” side of things. I am the unfun person in the room who dismisses rumours, who tells the dinner party, “Sorry folks, not true.” And usually, I am right because most rumours — especially rumours like this one — aren’t true. Or only a teeny, tiny uninteresting part of them turns out to be true.
But there are occasions, very rare ones, when my “no way” stance has led me to be outrageously wrong, when the the crazy rumour turns out to be true. Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you.
Despite the odds, I felt I should check this rumour out. So I texted a friend who would be in the know about stuff like this. But he hadn’t hear the rumour, which he nevertheless dismissed as impossible. (See text message exchange at the top of this story.)
I told him to google the name of the subject of the rumour and look at Google’s related searches. I wanted to check that he got the same results I did. He did. In its related searches, Google had the name of the subject followed by the name of the object as its top result.
This showed people were googling this rumour. And I am unlikely to be the only media person who has heard it by now.
My friend agreed the google results were weird and then said he had to go. I took the hint.
Now, if I were Buzzfeed, I’d just put this crazy rumour out there and say, “Okay everyone, you decide.” But I’m old school so I’m not saying anything except that if this is true, it’s going to be extremely entertaining. And if it’s not true, well, it amused me for an hour or two and gave me something to blog about.
I like good short books that you can read in afternoon or evening. And I also like psychological thrillers. The Fall Guy falls into both those categories. I highly recommend it.
But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to talk a little bit about the reviews for The Fall Guy. In general, the professional reviewers liked it. And although I often find that reviewers over praise a lot of mediocre stuff, especially mediocre, literary-wannabe stuff, I’m totally on board with them in this case. (For the record, here’s one example of egregious over praising in the thriller category.)
Average Jane, for example, frequently gets shirty if a book isn’t the type of thing she likes. Such was largely the case for The Fall Guy, which has lower-than-deserved reader reviews.
Average Jillian provides a classic example. She wants another book from the one that was written. She doesn’t appreciate that The Fall Guy is all about its unreliable narrator and his perspective. The reader has to do the rest of the work and imagine what the two main characters are really like. That’s the whole point. We don’t get to see them from any other perspective than the narrator’s.
This idea that you can and should know everything is one I encounter in the real world. People believe they can know the unknowable and get frustrated when they can’t.
In the case of the The Fall Guy, it’s the mystery and unknowing that makes it so good. And it’s a fun, quick read. Have at it.
I first heard about the Claremont serial killer listening to the Casefile True Crime podcast.It’s Australian so they cover a lot of crime from down under including this series of murders in Perth.
The man arrested is 48-year-old Bradley Robert Edwards, who was taken into custody just before Christmas. Aussie news outlets don’t have much information on him at all. It’s pretty much a solid chorus of interviewees saying, “He’s such a great bloke,” “I never suspected anything,mate” and “Went to school with his brother.”
This is precisely the type of case that interests me because Edwards managed to fly under the radar.
After an arrest like this, people almost always come forward to say, “He wasn’t really such a great bloke” or “He was kind of weird.” But that hasn’t happened yet here.
BTW, the Claremont serial killer case was also Australia’s biggest and most expensive criminal investigation and a failure until they did DNA testing on some decades-old evidence.