2. The Research Stage

On June 2014, the Toronto Star’s global health reporter, Jennifer Yang, learned that 40 percent of the confirmed Ebola cases were in Sierra Leone. She thought it was her professional duty to report directly from the most severe Ebola zone. However, the risks of reporting in the midst of a rapidly spreading, highly infectious disease may have trumped her ambition.

Yang has been the Star’s global health reporter since 2012. It’s a new beat that the 31-year-old journalist has shaped for herself. She felt it would be irresponsible to avoid ground zero of what seemed to be the biggest global health story of the year, and possibly her lifetime.

Around this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sent a mobile laboratory, supplies and rotating groups of scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory to Sierra Leone. Yang thought it would be important for Canadians to know what their government and scientists were doing overseas.

Before discussing her potential travels with her editor, Yang reached out to MSF, the Red Cross and other aid organizations that were helping to curb the outbreak in West Africa. She needed to verify that they would be able to assist her with her research and allow her to visit treatment centres while on the ground.

Thus far, no Canadians had reported from an Ebola zone, nor had there been any discussion amongst the Star editors about sending one of their own journalists there. Once Yang had MSF’s support, she approached her boss, Lynn McAuley, the Toronto Star’s foreign editor.

Immediately after pitching her idea, Yang began questioning her decision. She suddenly realized that travelling into an epidemic was no longer just a thought; it was becoming reality.


Next: The Virus