Greater Sudbury lost one of its greatest defenders this week.
Carol Mulligan spent her entire four-decade working life in the news game. That’s not something you see much of anymore.
Tough, uncompromising, curious, passionate and, one more time for good measure: tough. City hall reporter Darren MacDonald (who was hired by Mulligan for his first ever journalism job, at Northern Life incidentally) described her using an old-school journalism maxim: afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Many reporters still believe in that creed. Mulligan (I always called her Mulligan, never Carol) lived it for her whole career.
I only worked with Mulligan for 18 months or so, when we came to an agreement that she would cover health care for Northern Life. When she was at the Sudbury Star, we were competitors. Plus, I have her old job. Needless to say, there was a bit of tension.
Later, she delighted in telling me (several times) how much she didn’t like me until we actually met, bubbling with that trademark laughter every time she would recount the story.
We had many a conversation over the time we worked together about news and stories, of course, but also about our families, our pets. We bonded over our shared experience of having a loved one struggling with their mental health. She was a source of comfort, but more importantly for me, she was a source of perspective.
But Mulligan didn’t just offer perspective to me, through her reporting she provided perspective to this community, a role she seemed to understand and take seriously. I admired her tenacity, her snarky attitude, her incredible drive, but those traits aren’t what made her such a good reporter.
It was her empathy that made her great. In a world where too many human interactions take place over social media, a place where many people are more likely to insult than empathize, Mulligan’s empathy was a gift.
Did she sometimes become too invested in her stories, put too much of herself into them? Not always, but sometimes. But that sensitivity was the source of her great empathy, and she worked to keep it in check.
Her passing isn’t just a loss for her loved ones, it’s a loss for this city. Few reporters did more to defend the marginalized, to champion the rights of the forgotten, than Mulligan did.
Few reporters sent shivers up the spines of the powerful like Mulligan. When she was sniffing around a story, you knew — and they knew — she wouldn’t stop until she dug right down to the bottom, no matter how long it took.
I loved it when she would call, barely belch out a hello, and launch into a tirade: “Those f----rs, there’s something they’re not telling me.” That kind of fire can’t be taught or bought.
Mulligan represents a vanishing breed in this industry: a reporter who died at their post.
Newsrooms across this country have been hollowed out. The old guard — folks who’ve been doing this job for a decade or more — are becoming few and far between. The institutional knowledge in many newsrooms is just gone. And in the age of digital journalism, too many newsrooms function with just a single, often inexperienced, reporter.
Many quality reporters fled the profession as part of the great public relations boom of the past 20 years, pushed out by the expansion of the newspaper chains and the loss of local autonomy and editorial voices, taking their skills and institutional knowledge with them.
It’s hard to provide robust coverage of a community without the experience of older reporters and editors, men and women who have covered their beats for years on end, who know the players, who understand the context of the stories they’re pursuing, who see the forest for the trees.
Mulligan was one of those reporters. It’s unfortunate that younger members of Greater Sudbury’s relatively small gaggle of journalists won’t be able to benefit from her skills and experience. It’s unfortunate readers have lost one of their greatest allies.
She believed journalism was important, and lived her life by that belief. She believed we could make a real difference in people’s lives. She believed that reporters helped defend the principles of a just society. She will be missed.
Thanks, Mulligan. We owe you one.
Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.