“We have this newspaper on Bone Island…”
It was August 2009 and I was sitting in Black Press’s Surrey office talking with the president of their Lower Mainland newspapers about what opportunities were available for me. A few days earlier, my husband and I had flown to Vancouver on an exploratory mission. After 25 years of living on the shores of a lake at the end of the road surrounded by forest, we were in the mood for a change. What would be my career’s piece of the puzzle?
As editor of four weekly newspapers back in Ontario’s cottage country, becoming the Undercurrent’s editor wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned but, after the interview, my husband and I decided to postpone our trip home by a day so we could check out what I’d mistakenly heard as Bone Island.
The ferry ride was spent “under cover”, striking up conversations with complete strangers and asking them what they thought about the paper. I remember that the ever-jovial Piers Hayes, owner of the Snug Café, wanted more letters to the editor. (Wouldn’t you know it that this week we have only one!)
We drove off the ferry, crossed to Tunstall Bay, walked along the beach and then dropped by the Undercurrent’s office where I introduced myself to the sole staff person, Tracey Wait, as a visiting newspaper editor who made this sort of courtesy drop-in visit a vacation habit. (I think she was soon on to me.)
That night I lurked on the Phorum and started hyperventilating. To the rest of Canada, British Columbia has a reputation for many things including its beauty, its quirky politics and the querulous nature of its debates. Ample evidence of the latter two were on the Phorum and I worried that someone with my personality would be eaten alive as the paper’s editor.
You see, my nature is to be an observer, not a participant. I will gladly report on controversial issues but I don’t want the newspaper to be controversial. And, as a person who believes that two opposing views can each be right and valid, would readers want someone a little more feisty, a little more Jack Websterish?
With some trepidation, I accepted the job. It turned out to be one of the happiest decisions I/we have ever made. (It’s impossible to do this job without a partner who puts up with your deadline anxiety, delayed ETA[H]s — estimated time of arrival home — and constantly being “on” whenever you’re out of the office.)
Careers are sometimes a matter of "be careful what you wish for." While I was proud to be editor of four papers in communities I loved back in Ontario, it meant that I spent most of my time staring at a computer screen. I assigned stories; I didn't get to write them. Talking to people about their lives might have been my favourite thing to do but with so many deadlines to juggle, I didn't have much time to do it. The Undercurrent got me back to everything I love about community journalism. I felt connected, invigorated, challenged. My husband and I both embraced being part of Bowen life, especially after we bought a sailboat and kept it docked at USSC Marina.
In February of 2011, when I was asked to be editor of the North Shore Outlook and, later, switch jobs with the editor of the Westender, I was saddened to have to let go of my formal ties to the Undercurrent. My multi-tasking skills had met their limit. But, always up for a challenge, I embraced my new jobs and we got our Bowen fix during weekend trips to the boat.
After the papers were bought by Glacier Media, the company asked me to spearhead one of its new ventures: a crowdfunding platform called FundAid.ca. I loved that job, too, because it got me back into the community where I could help people with their fundraising challenges. (I also love how Glacier Media embraces new digital opportunities.)
I was thrilled, though, when the Undercurrent’s publisher asked me to fill in for a year while Meribeth Deen, the current editor, enjoyed her maternity leave. I took the call while walking along a park next to the Fraser River in Burnaby, where I was filling in as editor for a month. It was a sunny spring day and the thought of being back on Bowen warmed my heart. No trepidation this time.
Everyone’s read the news about the challenges facing newspapers these days. It’s all true. But Glacier Media believes in the Undercurrent’s role on the island and there are many ideas of how we can strengthen its print and online presence, while at the same time strengthening the community. The company can’t do it alone, though. We need readers buying newspapers and businesses and organizations turning to us to help with their marketing.
It takes an island to give readers the best newspaper possible.