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Cindy and Strauss skate down Portage from different directions

If covering speedskating Olympian Cindy Klassen was a sport, we could call it the Cindylympics.

And the 'gold' would surely go to 92-CITI-FM host Cosmo.

Cosmo scooped the rest of the city's corps of journalists last week with Cindy's first post-Olympics interview on his afternoon drive-home show.

Even better, Cindy accepted Cosmo's invitation and pledged to lead an Olympic winners parade of rollerbladers down Portage Avenue when she returns to Winnipeg, likely in early April.

Now that's news. And you didn't hear or read it anywhere else, because the maintream media doesn't aircheck Cosmo's show. After this, they better start. He's an entertainer who obviously makes things happen.

The Winnipeg Free Press thought it was making things happen when it launched a counteroffensive to a stinging story that appeared in the Globe and Mail. The story, by Globe reporter Julius Strauss, ran ten days ago and its still reverberating.

Strauss wrote about the contrast between the gentrification of the Exchange District and the decrepit look of downtown Winnipeg a mere five minute walk away.

While most large cities have jarring contrasts between their haves and have-nots, there is something brutal and depressing about a maiden visit to downtown Winnipeg that sets it apart.

The central streets of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto buzz with a life force that emanates confidence and purposefulness. In Winnipeg, there is only a feeling of listlessness and displacement.

He featured a new condo owner in the Exchange who said many of her friends were considering leaving the suburbs and moving downtown, but....

One of the great deterrents stopping Winnipeggers from moving downtown is crime.

Although the city's West End, which borders on some of the most exclusive parts of town, is statistically more dangerous, the downtown has a large transient and homeless population.

They come to central Winnipeg because it is simply one of the cheapest parts of the country to live, home to several dingy hotels and homeless shelters.

Winnipeg has been "revitalizing" its downtown for twenty years, and the result, says Strauss, is...

... many property prices around Portage and Main hit rock bottom and much of the downtown was taken over by cheap hotels and drinking holes... Many Winnipeggers say the reason they try to avoid the downtown is the preponderance of panhandlers.

What he wrote is nothing more than what everyone in Winnipeg has said at one time or another. Yet the Free Press played it as the greatest slander, and raised a hue and cry in defence of the City.

Which is such supreme irony since the Winnipeg Free Press was one of the first to abandon the downtown in the rush to the suburbs. Their only remaining contact is to assign some reporter every now and then to visit the Lost World, like Livingstone in Darkest Africa, and return with quaint tales of the strange people that still live and work there.

The newspaper couldn't pretend it was practicing journalism. It was engaged in boosterism, pure and simple. It devoted pages to pretty pictures, suitable for the postcards the mayor wants us to send to friends and relatives in other parts of the country.

Sadly, nobody noticed the absence of people in the pictures, which only supports the Strauss article.

It was as if you moved into a new neighbourhood and the family next door has a fat, homely son. His mother says he's smart, sensitive and artistic. After you've gotten to know him, you realize he's an okay guy. But it doesn't matter. Every time you see him, all you can think of is he should lose some weight and get a better haircut. Downtown Winnipeg is that fat, homely kid.

If the Free Press had wanted to do real reporting on downtown and how people see it, they could have followed in the footsteps of The Black Rod -

They could have reported on how security staff at Portage Place, the downtown's central shopping centre, have to wear body armour for protection.

They could have reported on the colony of sniffers that's set up at Higgins and Main, another five minute walk from the Exchange District. The city's response has been to remove the bus shelter that they had turned into their own crash pad.

The Free Press could have gone in search of the panhandlers who've moved into the new downtown Library for the winter. Strauss writes about them and they're not hard to find.

They could have interviewed City Councillor Don Benham, the champion of the panhandlers, who argues for their right to roam downtown and annoy people, regardless how it reflects on the city to visitors.

They could have attended an event at the MTS Centre and watched the panhandler swarm the crowd. The new arena does bring thousands downtown, and each one goes home and tells their neighbours about having to run a guantlet of scummy streetpeople. If that's not an attraction, we don't know what is.

They could even have read their own newspaper. Take, for example, this real-estate story Tracey Bryksa:

Condos wear disguise on Academy Road
Sun Feb 5 2006

IT seems like the condominium market is going gangbusters in this city these days. New projects are popping all over town and the more competitive the market gets, the more interesting the project.Take, for example, the new project that is being built on Academy Road. Located at 85 Academy, across the street from St. Mary's Academy and just west of the Maryland Bridge, Academy Manor is a boutique-style condominium that is poised to change the condominium market in this city...


When they were originally working with the developers to find the right spot to build, Newman says potential buyers told them they wanted to be "downtown." But after considering numerous downtown sites -- including Exchange District warehouses, several vacant lots and the more exclusive Waterfront Drive -- she says the same buyers all had the same reaction: "No, not that downtown." The Academy Road spot turned out to be an ideal location.

"It gives you that downtown feeling without being downtown," she says. "You're still close and have all the pluses of downtown, without the negatives."

And as for reporter Julius Strauss; well, after learning more about his career from his website, we think he can handle having a few brickbats thrown his way.

The son of a Welsh mother and a Hungarian father and born in London, he became the Globe and Mail's national correspondent based in Winnipeg in 2005. Prior to that he had worked for the Daily Telegraph in Moscow. And prior to that he was a war reporter who travelled from conflict to conflict around the globe.

The war in Bosnia
Uprising in Albania
The Kosovo War
Civil war in Sierra Leone
He was there.

After 9/11 he spent a month in Afghanistan " living with a warlord and going to work on horse-back." That was followed by 12 weeks in northern Iraq covering the Kurds as the Americans fought their way to Baghdad.

In 2002 he moved to Russia as the Daily Telegraph's Moscow Correspondent. He reported on the attack on the Nord Ost theatre in Moscow when Chechen rebels seized more than 800 hostages. "The Russians subdued the attackers with gas and then shot them, but 130 innocents died from gas inhalation." He went into the Chechen capital of Grozny with a Russian Spetsnaz unit.

In 2004 he returned to Iraq to cover the uprising in Najaf, Iraq. In September that year he was back in Russia at the school in Beslan where a hostage taking by Chechen rebels ended in the murders of 300 civilians, half of them children.

From Sarajevo to Baghad, Belgrade to Kabul, Strauss has seen cities under stress. Winnipeg wasn't the worst, and reporters should stop acting as if he said it was.

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