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At 29 years old, Charles Hamilton is still at the beginning of his career. The Saskatoon-born journalist previously worked for CBC Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and has been published in Planet S and the Western Producer. Currently, he is with the StarPhoenix - a place he’s been at  for four years now. J-Source spoke with Hamilton about his feature, "'This is our Struggle'; PA's drinking problem and the people fighting for change", where he spent a few days in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan discovering the city's battle with alcohol. It was published on July 4, 2014 in the Star Phoenix.


Rikkeal Bohmann: Would you like to explain where the idea for this story came from?

Charles Hamilton: Back in Saskatoon here a number of years ago, a colleague of mine, David Hutton, and myself, did a story about a man named Alvin Cote who was in Saskatoon’s drunk tank 853 times. So it got me really interested and in that came a lot of questions about police interaction with intoxicated people and “intox arrests.” From there, after that story was published, and we got the recognition, we started looking at other cities and what they are doing. And then, part of that was that Prince Albert had just released, I can’t remember how many months prior, but they had just released a report on drinking statistics. And we kind of reported little bits and pieces of it, you know that they buy more alcohol than anywhere else in the province and some of those stats are in the story, but I guess from the beginning the Prince Albert thing has a very grey cast of characters. There’s the mayor, Greg Dionne, who as I mentioned in the story, is probably one of the only mayors that I’m aware of, at least in Saskatchewan, who is very vocal about social issues that civic administrators probably don’t have much control over. He was a really good character fighting for change. They also have community mobilization group of people who have very innovative thinking doing things in Prince Albert, but one thing they were doing was dealing with an alcohol problem the city was having.


RB:Had you been to Prince Albert previous to this story?

CH: Oh yeah. I grew up spending my summers up at Waskesiu in and around there, so I spent a lot of time in Prince Albert when I was younger for sure. And, I still go there quite regularly for work or for pleasure, going up to the lake there.


RB: Can you walk me through the process of starting this story?

CH: The first step was I had a lot of conversations with leaders in Prince Albert. The Prince Albert Grand Council, and these were obviously off the record conversations and weren’t used in the article, but the mayor’s office, with the community mobilization people. The first process was setting it up, because of course my editor is not going let me go spend a month there. So, I kind of have to set up what I’m going to do there. One of the main things was the police angle and that took a while to set up, but eventually I was put in touch with a specific police officer, who was in the article, and we basically agreed on a time and spot to go up there. So, that was how I started it, going up there for that. And, that was a 12-hour shift I did, just over night and that gave me a lot of colour for the story. Then I came back to Saskatoon and then from there I set up interviews. And for those two days, myself and a photographer, went back out after the ride along and did all those interviews and went to businesses and that same trip I went out to find someone. The practical aspect of that was pretty difficult. We spent hours and hours driving around finding people. We found tons of people who were intoxicated in public, but it took a while to convince one of them to even hear us out.


RB: That interaction with Martin (the intoxicated man in the article). How did you approach him to ask him to be a part of your article?

CH:  I wrote a lot of crime and a lot of tragedies, so I have my own way of approaching people, who for lack of better words, are in a vulnerable situation. I think I’m just personable with them. I’m flat out honest with them about what I’m writing about. He was one of the last people I interviewed - so I had the rest of the story pretty set in my mind about what the other people were saying. So, I went to him to get a response and he was happy to give it to me.It’s something that as a journalist you have to go through a lot of the time. In my career, approaching people who probably don’t want to be put in the newspaper, it can be difficult.


RB: Were there any instances that stood out to you the most while you were in Prince Albert?

CH: I think for sure there were a couple instances that first night with the police. It was just kind of shocking and I think it was the top of the story about how it was so early and the sun had just set in the evening sky and already the drunk tank was pretty much full. Just the amount of time and energy that is spent on public intoxicated people, people who had done nothing beside being publicly intoxicated.


RB: What in your career has been your most memorable story?

CH: The Alvin Cote story that me and my colleague did together. It was nominated for a National Skipper Award. We wrote that story about a year after I started here, so I was still pretty green at that point.


RB: I understand you are a spoken word poet, as well?

CH: I helped start poetry slams here in Saskatoon. I used to be the executive director of Tonight It’s Poetry, but I no longer am, but I’m still on their board. I still like to go to their shows. I think it’s just good writing and helps with writing in other places.


RB: Do you have any advice for young journalists who would be just starting out their careers?

CH: Read lots. I found when I was younger I really, really liked certain writers, journalists, certain non-fiction authors and I just read as much as I could possibly find. And to this day that’s how I learn. I read people I like and say, oh man, I wish I could do that. Because then you figure out, how did they get that and then you figure out they sent a FOI here, they spent a week living on the streets, whatever they are doing. It helps you reflect on how they did that and helps you hone your skills.


This interview was edited and condensed.