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The death of opposition leader Jack Layton inspired a rare moment in Canadian culture: a national outpouring of emotion. The collective reaction resulted in press coverage spanning from personal lamentation to cold, detached criticism. The finest work inspired reflection on the big picture of Layton’s contribution to the national dialogue. Some of the clumsiest articles inspired national outrage. Below is a collection of memorable reporting on a truly memorable man.

The personal reflection: Now Magazine, “Jack Layton, 1950-2011 An Inspired Progressive Politician Dies”

Michael Hollett recalls a snowy walk with his newborn son, when Layton biked by and stopped to say hello, snow caught in his moustache.

The classic newspaper obituary: Toronto Star, “Jack Layton dead at 61”

Joanna Smith’s obit on Layton became a story in itself when the strange circumstances surrounding its filing came out: she had just completed the preliminary draft the Saturday before his death. Layton died Monday, August 22, 2011. Though Smith had hoped to speak with him for the story, she still crafted an obit that captured his character. It contained a comprehensive personal history and charming details, including Layton running for student council just so the Rolling Stones would play a school dance.

The feature-style obituary: The Globe and Mail, “Layton to next generation: ‘I want to share with you my belief in your power'”

Jane Taber’s piece captures the emotion surrounding Layton’s death. Her dramatic lead encapsulates the connection between Layton and Canadians, especially since her article is in part a reflection and an account of Layton’s posthumous letter to Canadians.

The cold critique: National Post, “Layton’s death turns into a thoroughly public spectacle”

Christie Blatchford’s take on Layton’s death created a public outcry. Blatchford criticized the public and fellow journalists for their emotional reactions. Critics objected to the content of the column, as well as its timing.

Blatchford’s subsequent response, “Testing the limits of civil discourse,” did little to illuminate her intended point. She highlights individual insults, but misses the big picture and fails to respond to the reason behind the reaction.

The journalist’s reaction: Toronto Star, “The end of the story”

Kathy English’s column tells the strange circumstances of Smith filing her obit so close to Layton’s death.

The tearjerker: The Globe and Mail, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Tabatha Southey’s column eloquently summarizes Layton’s relationship with and profound effect on Canada. It ends with a line summing up the reaction many had to his death: “I’d taken it for granted that whether or not I believed he could realize it or applauded all the methods he used attempting to achieve it, Jack Layton would always be there, articulating, more often than not, my vision of what it meant to be just and Canadian.”

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About the author

Haley Cullingham was the Editor of the Winter 2012 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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