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Michelle .. one day before the new year
Herald journalist, 4 soldiers die in Afghan blast

By Tony Seskus, Jason Fekete and Renata D'Aliesio,
Calgary HeraldDecember 31, 2009
Michelle  .. one day before the new year_c0157558_173956.jpg
Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang enjoys a
Canadian Forces breakfast at the mess at
Masem Gar Afghanistan with MP Gary Lunn.
Lang was killed in Afghanistan December 30,
2009 while covering the war for the Canwest
News Service.
Photograph by: MP Gary Lunn,
Photo CourtesyCALGARY- Calgary Herald
journalist Michelle Lang never took the easy
way out, whether it was holding government
to account or travelling to a busy African AIDS
clinic to chronicle the downside of recruiting
foreign doctors.

Assigned to cover Canadian military efforts in
Afghanistan for the Herald and Canwest News
Service, the 34-year-old Vancouver native could
have remained in the relatively safe confines
of the base.

But Lang wasn't wired that way.
Days after arriving in early December, she
couldn't wait to get "out of the wire" -- off the
main military base -- and on the ground with
the troops.

This week, she ventured out with a provincial
reconstruction team, soldiers and social
workers working with ordinary Afghans to help
repair the damage done by decades of war.

"Hopefully this will produce some interesting
stories on the civilian-reconstruction side, as
well as some military ones," Lang wrote in an
e-mail two days before her death.

Travelling Wednesday afternoon with a Canadian
convoy, their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb
four kilometres south of Kandahar city, killing Lang
and four soldiers: Sgt. George Miok, 28,
Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21,
and Pte. Garrett William Chidley, 21.

Four other soldiers and a Canadian civilian were

Lang's death, the first of a Canadian journalist in
Afghanistan, was felt at home and in newsrooms
across the country.

"It's a devastating day. I'm totally heartbroken.
I feel for her family, her fiance, her friends and
I feel for the newsroom," said Herald editor-in-chief
Lorne Motley.

"It creates this hole, not only for the Herald,
obviously, but also for Canwest and any other
news organization because we're a pretty
tight-knit group as journalists. We're family and
when we lose one of our own, that's difficult for
all of us to accept."

Her death was also marked by the Prime
Minister's Offi ce as a tragedy that would resonate
in many Canadian communities.

"While not regularly the subject of news, those
journalists who risk their lives reporting alongside
the men and women of the Canadian Forces in one
of the most dangerous regions in the world should
not be forgotten," said PMO press secretary
Dimitri Soudas, calling her "a brave reporter."

Lang's death is especially tragic considering 2009
was a standout year for her on various fronts.
Earlier this year, she captured a National Newspaper
Award as the top beat writer in the country.
She distinguished herself for daily health coverage in
Calgary and for investigating Alberta's efforts to
recruit South African doctors -- travelling from
Cape Town to Johannesburg to chronicle the story.

On the home front, Lang was recently engaged to
Calgarian Michael Louie and slated to be wed in
the summer.

"She had everything going for her this year," said
friend Colette Derworiz, a Herald reporter.
"She excelled in journalism. She excelled in
her personal life."

Despite the heartache, however, the tragedy
serves to remind Canadians of the important work
being done by journalists in foreign locales.
Robert Bragg, a journalism instructor at
Mount Royal University, said journalists play an
integral role in Afghanistan.

Without them, Canadians wouldn't know what's
happening on military missions and in
Afghan villages.

Professionally, Lang's achievements were earned
the hard way.
She didn't get a traditional journalism degree,
but graduated from Simon Fraser University with
a bachelor of arts in English.

She started out at small weekly newspapers in
British Columbia, but with hard work found her
way to the Regina Leader-Post in 2000.
The former West Coast resident was hired on as
an agriculture reporter because she was talented
and tenacious.

Bruce Johnstone, who was Lang's editor at the
Leader-Post, said she personified the old
journalistic creed of affl icting the comfortable and
comforting the afflicted.

"The minute you met her, you knew she was
something special," he said.

"She was the very best kind of journalist
-- a person who was hard working and fun to be
around -- she was a very principled journalist and
would always do the right thing."

Lang joined the Herald as a business reporter in
2002 and began covering health for the newspaper
four years ago.

She embraced the beat, bringing attention to the
plight of rural health care and the travails of
patients who fell through the cracks because the
province didn't cover their drug costs.
Lang also shone the spotlight on health-care
spending, growing wait times and the
controversial salaries of top health bureaucrats.

Her dogged approach often put her at odds with
health offi cials and cabinet ministers. On health
reform, she once badgered then-premier Ralph Klein
into his famous quote about not reacting to the
"reaction to the reaction to the reaction."

Ultimately, however, she earned health officials'
"Michelle covered health issues with professionalism,
accuracy and thoroughness," Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said in a statement.
"She was tenacious in her quest to inform Albertans,
and for her diligence she was very well respected."

NDP Leader Brian Mason called Lang "a wonderful
reporter; insightful, intelligent and compassionate."

Around the newsroom, reporters admired her work
ethic, diligence and compassion. Nicknamed
"Doctor Lang" by colleagues, they frequently
sought her out for medical advice.

Lang made the decision last year to cover the work
of Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in
Friends recall she recognized the dangers, but felt
there were still important stories to be told from
the country.

Canadian Forces have been stationed there since
2002, with 138 soldiers, one diplomat and one
journalist perishing in the wartorn country.

"She just didn't want to sit in the base either,"
Derworiz said. "She wanted to go out and tell the
real stories on what was going on."

In a blog post from outside the wire, Lang wrote,
"I traveled to a Canadian forward operating base
in Panjwaii, a district southwest of Kandahar city.
I was struck by the beauty of the area
. . . Panjwaii is a volatile and dangerous district
for the Canadian Forces."

Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of Canwest News
Service, said Lang was doing important work.

Friend and colleague Gwendolyn Richards said
while work was important to Lang, nothing meant
more than family and friends.

"I am sure you could count on two hands the
number of times she left work on time," said
Richards, noting the long hours Lang poured into
her job. "But I would argue that she approached
everything with the same fervour."

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
by fighter_eiji | 2010-01-02 01:10 | English
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