Q&A: Robyn Doolittle, the Star’s Ford-stalking, video-watching, hate mail–receiving journalist du jour
You were a little-known reporter covering the municipal beat. Then the mayor does crack—or not—you watch a video and you’re international news. How else has Crackgate changed your life?
I’ve been stopped on the street a lot, especially near my condo in Parkdale. I was getting my hair cut and Doug Ford was giving a press conference, and my hairdresser looked at the TV, then at me and said, “Hey, aren’t you the one who saw the crack video?”
Your cell number is easily found online. Has Ford Nation been in touch?
Oh, yes. Their preferred methods are Twitter and email, but I get a couple of angry calls a day and sometimes in the middle of the night. I have to answer every one because it could be a source.
What’s the most venomous feedback you’ve received?
“You’d better watch out” or “We’re coming for you.” I got a letter written in the most beautiful cursive on stationery that had cardinals on it. It said something like, “How do you sleep at night? You’re scum.” That was pretty special. It’s the guys who call me a slut who irritate me. I’d love for them to say that in person.
Who do you lean on for support?
My Pomeranians, Mozart and Chester. They never give me any sass. Mozart is majestic and snobby, and Chester is obese and hilarious. He just rams into things, like a tiny fluffy rhinoceros.
What advice did your parents give you about the whole Crackgate ordeal?
They’re always supportive, but my dad often tells me that I’m picking on the mayor. They live in Forest, Ontario, but if they lived in Toronto, my dad probably would’ve voted for Ford in 2010. My mom would’ve voted for Smitherman, so they balance each other out.
Was being a reporter always the dream?
No. I wanted to be in musical theatre. I used to sing while running around the lake in Forest. But one day I was belting it out to Whitney Houston and realized that I’m not a good singer. So I went into journalism instead.
I was always questioning authority—my parents, teachers, everyone. When I realized there was a career where you get paid to challenge people, I was like, sign me up!
What was the first step?
At 16, I walked into the newsroom at the Sarnia Observer and told the editor that I wanted a job. For some reason, he gave me one. I wrote a regular column mostly about how teenagers get no respect. I also wrote a scathing takedown of Britney Spears, but I was just trying to be contrarian, because I really like Britney Spears. Then I went to Ryerson for journalism, edited the student newspaper and got hired as an intern at the Star.
How did you turn it into a staff position?
The Star sent me to Chicago just as the Conrad Black trial was wrapping up, to try to get a juror to talk to me about the verdict. But the court officers snuck the jurors out the back, leaving us reporters hanging, so I looked up one of the jurors in the phone book and cabbed out to this sketchy part of town and sat on her porch until 3 a.m. I looked all of 15, so when she got there, she was like, “I can’t believe you’re here, you poor thing.” She gave me a great interview.
A lot of people think you and the Star have it in for Ford.
We absolutely don’t. I went hard after Councillor Ana Bailão’s drunk-driving charges, the lobbyists’ registry and staff’s efforts to keep the crumbling Gardiner a secret. I cover city hall, not the mayor.
Can you compliment Ford?
He’s an unbelievable campaigner, and he phones people right back, which is empowering for voters. I think he’ll probably get re-elected. Anyone who discounts him is foolish.
You viewed the crack video in a car with the accomplice of a drug dealer late at night. Did you ever have second thoughts?
I did think, “If this goes bad, what’s my exit strategy?”
What was your exit strategy?
I didn’t have one.
Have you gotten job offers from other news outlets since this story broke?
No. I love my job at the Star, though it does leave little time for much else. When I get off work around 7 p.m., I’ll try to get to yoga or have a drink with a friend, but usually I just go home and tell Mozart and Chester about my day. You wouldn’t believe how much city hall gossip they know.