Covering Rob Ford taught Robyn Doolittle 'incredible patience as a reporter'

Several days ago, one of Robyn Doolittle's sources got in touch with her. Rob Ford was near the end of his life, the source told Doolittle, an investigative reporter with Canada's Globe and Mail. On Tuesday morning, the source reached out again. Ford had died.

The death of the former mayor of Toronto leaves questions about his legacy for a reporter who spent much of her early career covering him.

It started, for Doolittie, when she moved from covering police to city hall in 2010 at The Toronto Star.

"It was about a year into my time covering municipal politics that I began looking into rumors about the then-mayor’s troubled personal life and another two years before any of it made it to print," Doolittle told Poynter in an email.

A story about Ford's issues with alcohol ran in 2013. Shortly after that, Doolittle got a call from a man who said he had a video of Ford smoking crack. In May, the Star broke its story about the video shortly after Gawker published its own story with the news.

"All of this is to say: By the time most people learned about Rob Ford, he’d already been a big part of my professional life for several years," Doolittle said.

In total, she spent four years covering Rob Ford, first at the Star and then at the Globe and Mail, where the paper paid $10,000 for pictures from another video that surfaced in 2014. Doolittle also wrote a book about Ford, "Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story."

"It’s a story that taught me incredible patience as a reporter," Doolittle said. "There were a few years there where I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to report anything."

The big question now, she said, is what is Rob Ford's legacy? He had an adversarial and controversial relationship with the press. He changed the tone of politics in Toronto and possibly Canada, Doolittle said. And he wasn't afraid to say things that appealed to his base.

"Many people here see parallels to the Trump campaign," she said.

She doesn't know if the tone Ford set and the way he worked will continue, though. Doug Ford, Rob Ford's brother, is still interested in politics, and Ford's nephew is a school board trustee, she said.

"But I’m not sure," Doolittle said. "Rob Ford was very personable — even charming. He was able to come off as a lovable goof at times when others would have been eviscerated in the media. I think we’ll have to wait and see how history remembers him."


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