Sunday, July 18, 2010

Farewells and Remembrances (The Final Chapter, voices of the past)

This section of the review of the final day for the Daily News, offers up the thoughts and stories of some of the more familiar names of past years of Prince Rupert's daily paper.

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Scott Crowson Editor 
Prince Rupert Daily News 1991-1998 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

I assumed this day would never come. I thought the Prince Rupert Daily News would last forever. After leaving the managing editor’s position in 1998 to travel and seek new adventures, I sadly watched from afar as Prince Rupert’s economy and population slowly dwindled. I knew that if it got really bad, the paper would be unable to continue as a daily, but I never thought it would happen this soon, or that the newspaper would disappear completley. A beacon of light is fading, never to shine again. Some have downplayed this as just another business closing, sadly throwing more people out of work. This is much sadder.

For a newspaper is more than a business. It’s more than the employees who work there, the readers who subscribe and the companies who support it with their advertising.

It’s an institution that transcends individuals. corporations and things that people build.

It’s the eternal watcher, the recorder of events. the chronicler of the unfolding history of a community. 

The Prince Rupert Daily News was special. Unlike more recent arrivals on the local media scene, the Prince Rupert Daily News had the weight of history pushing it forward. lt was older than the city itself, starting in 1909 as The Optimist, becoming a daily in 1911. It had vast archives to draw upon and the recollections of long—time employees such as pressman Len Headland, compositor Ann Ferguson and History writer Phyllis Bowman.

Prince Rupert will continue to be served by a weekly newspaper, but it’s not the same.

The daily was in a position to respond quicker to developing news, following up the next day with more reaction and readers’ letters. It had the space to delve deeply into topics, to go beyond the news snippets, to investigate, uncover and shed light on important matters.

Having a daily newspaper is a point of pride for any community for it denotes a certain status.

Prince Rupert was one of the smallest cities in Canada to have a daily newspaper. The surprising thing is, Rupert once supported two daily papers. The Evening Empire was also there during the city’s birth, lasting until 1947, when it was bought out by the Daily News.

Over the years, a number of weeklies vied for a share of the market but most quickly faded away. One of the better ones was Prince Rupert This Week, started in 1991 by Les Yates, who later became publisher of the daily. Not many people know This Week tried to buy out the daily in 1992. Instead, it was taken over by the chain that owned the daily to control the market. Now the tables have been turned.

Many readers had a love—hate relationship with the Daily News. They appreciated the news coverage but bemoaned the typos, grammatical mistakes, errors and omissions. The truth is, it’s that way at all small papers, especially the dailies, because deadlines are tight and they are always under-staffed. 

Throughout most of its history, the Daily News relied on inexperienced journalists working long hours, pushing themselves beyond their limits to learn their craft. In the old days working 60 to 70 hours but not claiming overtime was common. They did it out of a sense of dedication and love for the community.

I was one of those who fell in love with Prince Rupert. This City of Rainbows is such a beautiful place with a strong sense of community I joined the Rotary Club, Civic Pride and Toastmasters, meeting many wonderful people some have become life—long friends.

Working at the Prince Rupert Daily News was one of the greatest experiences of my life, I poured my heart and soul into making it the best paper I could. For the past decade, I’ve worked at the Calgary Herald, first as a crime reporter, now as an editor. But it's different. Iʼm not as intimately connected to the community as I was on the North Coast. In Prince Rupert, readers would approach me in the supermarket with complaints, compliments or story ideas. That doesn’t happen in the big city.

During my tenure, Peter Lester ended his 36—year reign as mayor. The chairlift stopped operating and the Mount Hays chalet burned to the ground. Angry fishermen blockaded the Alaskan ferry. Then the pulp mill ran into ffinancial difficulties.

I had thought of staying forever, but with the growing economic troubles, I knew it was time to move on.

One of the most symbolic losses in my seven years here was when the electric clock display atop the Highlander Inn was not repaired after a windstorm. It had reminded me of a lighthouse, its blinking beam visible from miles away. And now another Rupert beacon is being snuffed out.

More than 100 years ago, a few men with a vision set up a printing press in the wilderness, on the northwest shore of Kaien Island. That dream would translate into nearly a century of daily publication without interruption. The paper came out five days a week, week after week, month after month, for 99 years. That’s about 24,700 editions.

My heart breaks as this grand institution that once shone so brightly fades to black.

So, farewell, Prince Rupert Daily News, you served your community well, as best you could, as long as you could.

We will not see your kind again.

Now all that’s left are the tears, like Rupert rain, forevermore.

A lady is lost... 
Jeremy Hainsworth 
The Daily News 1991-1994 

When I heard July 5 that the Nelson Daily News was closing, I was deeply saddened. When I heard the Prince Rupert Daily News, I burst into tears.

I worked at the Daily News from 1991 to 1994 before accepting a transfer to be editor of the Daily in Dawson Creek. Rupert was my first full-time newspaper job. And I loved it.

In those not-quite three years, I honed the skills needed to report on everything from the city council to chamber of commerce to the courts with a few Royal Purple events in between.

To put that learning in prespective, when, as a reporter for The Associated Press international news service, I covered a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon for Chinese President Hu Jintao, I turned to another reporter and said it was exactly like a Prince Rupert Chamber of Commerce event. In Prince Rupert, I learned skills I have carried with me.

And, to say I learned something about politics in Prince Rupert would be an understatement. I got to watch a master in action Peter Lester. I mourned his passing, as I did that of his beautiful wife, Mary, and Peter’s successor John Kuz. Good people all.

Indeed, it was the people of the Daily News and Prince Rupert who made the experience of being a Rupertite (Dickie Kiesman made it official one night in the Ocean view over the protestations of Coast Guard This Week editor Paul Anderson) such a rewarding time in my life. Some of the people I worked with remain close friends, and I value their presence in my life.

Itʼs 19 years since I touched down on Digby Island and wondered why the hell everyone sat down in the terminal after leaving the plane. I was even more confused when someone announced the bus was leaving. Bus? No one mentioned a ferry.

What I have now are memories. And they are wonderful. It was damned hard work but we took pride in the paper we put out. 

We often put in I0- to- 16 hour days. And sports overlord Rudy Kellyʼs good—natured uber—abuse followed me everywhere. And John Farrell’ s good natured abuse and his camera followed me places they should’t have done. John and I pushed each other to be the best we could be and, in my opinion, it paid off.

And sharp—eyed editor Scott Crown probably thought most of the time he was running a daycare. 

Good guys to a man.

And I'm not forgetting all the other staff. You guys know who you are and I value you 0 and I honestly do hope Marlene Burry has stopped beating up her computer mouse.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we were angels. Anything you’ve heard about Journalists being out of control at times was pretty well proven true for me at The Daily News. We worked hard and we played hard.

There was half a bottle of vodka in my desk when I arrived. I leave that there.

There were heated arguments in the newsroom. Things being thrown Farrell’s red herring news story fishery was ordered closed. And the back door was always handy for a handy escape from an angered reader. In fact, Farrell and I could often be seen running away to leave Crowson in the lurch as Rudy (I just cant seem to cal him Kelly) laughed in the corner as he penned a vital story about local Space Ninjas.

More importantly, there was a lot of laughter.

And no, the police did not arrive at about 3 a.m. one Saturday morning to find the "totaly sober" editorial staff in the office unable to turn the alarm off. That did not happen. Nope

Further I deny any knowledge of how an inflatable sex doll wound up sitting behind the desk in the locked publisher’s office. I do admit to hiding it under Keri Swanson’s desk and scaring the living (expletive deleted) out of him.

As for the stories I remember doing. Well there was the two Santas facing off in the mall one Saturday before Christmas much to the horror of the children. And then there’s the dog that jumped out of a top floor of the The Highliner. The less said about that, the better. I can still feel the manager’s hands around my throat.

A wise man once said something the effect fact that a good newspaper is a community talking to itself. I’d like to think the work that our team back then at the Daily News helped foster that conversation. 

Some people might agree, others may not. Such is the lot of a journalist. What remains, however, is my gratitude for the opportunities I was given in Prince Rupert and the Daily News.

 A lady is lost and I shall mourn her passing.

Rodeny Venus 
Past Editor 1999 — 2004

The Daily News is my first newspaper’.

Its the first newspaper I can remember reading, curled up on the carpet, as my dad railed at the “comic” they kept bringing to his door. He kept reading though, and so did I.

It’s the first newspaper I can remember visiting, as a kid from Annunciation on a school trip. It was heady stuff for a grade schooler and it left me with an indelible impression there was more to putting out this comic than just spilling ink on a page.

It was the first newspaper I had the privilege of working and writing for. On a summer’s day eleven years ago I drew my first assignment and phoned up a local playwright named Rudy Kelly to talk about a piece he was putting into Harbour Theatre’s newest venture, Udderfest.

Rudy would later tell me he thought the interview was an elaborate practical joke; turns out, he might as well have been talking about my whole career.

From there, so many firsts, so many memories, most good and some bad, of the people I worked with, the stories I got to write and the community still consider home.

It is an honour and a privilege to play a minor role in the columns of the Daily News. As such, it’s with great regret I perform another first for me - and give a final salute to the last edition of a community newspaper.

Notes for our sons and daughters 
Rudy Kelly 
Sports reporter 1988 - 1998 

After I had returned to Rupert and began work at the Daily News, my dad would introduce me as his son first, then, with pride: "he’s a newspaper reporter.”

I would usually shrug dismissively to the person he was introducing me to because I felt embarrassed at his suggestion that working at a small city newspaper, for a meagre wage, would be announced with such pride. Sure the job could be fun and there was romance in the position but, really, I thought, the important people were the ones who often sat across from me, answering the questions.

I was just a reporter, a sentiment confined by the scorn of the readers, the sneers of the arrogant politicians, and the special interest groups who thought we just didnʼt get it. Most had lots of “advice" and thought we were inferior; poor bastards, working long hours for pennies. It was no wonder we always got it wrong, right?

And so, for the longest time, I didn’t really take it too seriously. Instead, I treated it as my playground.

I made up quotes in stories, attributing outlandish comments to true sources or just someone I had randomly decided to pick on. I occasionally wrote stories in song or poetic rhyme.

I doctored photos; once I cut around a chess player’s head and wrote a cutline saying his brain was too huge to fit on the page. There was one athlete in town that was frequently on championship teams and I always ran the team photo in which his eyes were closed.

I wrote many provocative columns just for the sake of it, resulting in two types of letters to the editor: the first lambasting me, the second mocking the lambaster for being unable to see my tongue firmly in cheek.

My colleagues, while enjoying a laugh every now and then, treated the job much more seriously than I did. They took more pride in their product and worked harder. l didn't really see the point. But, then, my life changed.

My wife and I split and, a couple of years later she moved out of town. I was allowed sole custody of our seven year—old son, Eli. The responsibility probably saved my life.

I began to take my job more seriously. And I began to write columns about him.

It started as one simple commentary on watching him play and then it grew into a catalogue, a series based on his life. I wrote about his performances in school plays, about turning him onto Bugs Bunny about how I foolishly goaded him into going off a snow jump. Through it all, I tried to convey the sheer weight of the responsibility of raising him and how inadequate I felt for the job.

In my 10 years at the paper, I am pleased with my body of work. I believe I penned several good stories and columns but the ones people most talk about, even 12 years after I left the job, are the ones about my son.

When you really think about it, that is a big part of what a newspaper is: stories about our sons and daughters, whether it be about them directly or matters that will affect them.

I cannot count how many times a parent called to tell me their child finished 5th in a tournament or just graduated from university. Or got a new job. Or donated the pennies from her piggy bank to the wildlife shelter.

Just as many parents read the news and wonder how safe it is for their kids out there, will they be able to find work, what is there for them to do — what, exactly does the cityʼs future hold in store for them? 

Let’s face it. The “big" news, the national or provincial news, is some thing we will always be able to get and usually before the Daily News comes out. We lose nothing there. But the local stuff, news about the community and its children, will be harder to find and it will be found later.

Finally we are also losing the record of our affairs. The Daily News is one giant book chronicling this city’ s marvellous history.

This is not to knock weeklies, both past and present, but whenever any one says “have you read the paper today?" you know which one they're talking about: the one that comes out every week day . . . that always has. Only the Daily, the paper of record. with its vast archives and 99—year history, could be called, simply, "the paper.

But not anymore.

And our sons and daughters will be poorer for that.

The last hurrah 
John Farrell 
Past reporter 
Prince Rupert Daily News 1990-1995

When I was hired as a reporter for the Daily News in the 1990’s, the newspaper was in the middle of a media dust up. An upstart weekly, Prince Rupert This Week, was managing to woo away readers and advertisers once loyal to the Daily. Throw into the mix a third paper, the Weekly Star, penned by veteran newswoman Brenda Halak and you had Rupert’s version of the Chicago newspaper wars of the 1930’s.

To win back its readers the Daily needed more staff and I landed my first writing job. In our newsroom, three reporters were sharing two computers but we still managed to pump out copy. For inspiration we had editor Dan Gilmour, with a cigarette perched impossibly on his lower lip, shouting, “Come on ladies, deadline, deadline” And then the ol’ printing press like a sleeping giant, would lumber to life.

It wasn’t for the pay. It didn’t matter. The hours were long and the weekend rarely free. No, the reward was in the story. It had better be good and we took pride when it was. Fortunately for us all, there were plenty of good stories to tell. First Nation roadblocks were springing up along Highway 16 like mushrooms after a rain, the pulp mill couldn’t contain its (black) liquor, and fishermen were wrapping federal buildings in gillnets. The best of times.

Often what started as a news story became one of life’s richer moments. I remember tromping through the marsh in the Kutzeymateen Valley with Prince Philip looking for grizzlies or accompanying our late MP Jim Fulton in a helicopter above the Hecate Strait, as he tossed orange flares on the waves below to mark the long disputed Alaska-BC boundary known as the A-B Line.

Later on the deck of Ed Brooke’s dragger, as we toasted our nation’s sovereignty with bottles of Labatt’s, I could think of no place I’d rather be on Canada Day.

We had our beats, our weekly features to grind out, and our beloved columns.

A favourite was sports reporter Rudy Kelly’s video picks. Every week Rudy would dress up as a larger-than-life character from his video review and I would snap his mug-shot. One week he was Gandhi, the next Batman.

There was the time Jeremy Hainsworth, fellow reporter and co-conspirator, decided to mark April Fool’s by announcing the city was building a bridge to Digby Island. As the story went, the East German national diving team was interested in relocating to Rupert to take advantage of the bridge’s unnatural height and the deep natural harbour.

The gag drew letters from a distraught public, evenly split between a concern over the expense of another capital project and for the safety of the East Germans.

Despite the media competition, or maybe because of it, there was a friendly fraternity that developed among the city’s storytellers. On Friday’s, the reporters would file their last story and head dustily drinkward to the “Press Club,” a neutral watering hole that started at the Highliner and migrated to the Oceanview, to talk shop, lick wounds or pour salt on them.

As for the war, it ended peacefully enough with the Weekly Star folding and Prince Rupert This Week swallowed by the Daily. One cannot escape the irony that the Daily News is now closing its doors just shy of its centennial - and one weekly remains standing.

As I look back over twenty years, it’s hard not to get nostalgic. (Even harder not to write “the end of an era” when it truly feels like one.)

Originally, I came to the North Coast for six months and stayed five years.

In the end, my staying was less about the job and more about the town, the incomparable staff and my friends in and out of the newsroom. I’ve since returned to Rupert to work in local government, grow a business and raise a family.

But every story has an ending.

It is with sadness and regret I say goodnight to the Daily News - the Fourth Estate, and chronicler of our collective history. And I wish the staff all the best as they write their next chapter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Paul Anderson???