It isn’t with a heavy heart, per se, but obviously with some various and, in some cases, conflicting emotions, that I write my very last editorial, and final article ever, for the Thompson Citizen (and, of course, the late and lamented Nickel Belt News.)
I first arrived in Thompson, and in Manitoba, just over 16 years ago to begin my professional journalism career. I began as mostly a sports writer and photographer, then took on more news assignments as the newspaper’s editorial staff shrank from three to two, and was promoted to editor not quite nine years ago. Four reporters have worked for me since then, but for the last three-plus years, the editorial department has been me.
Overall, it has been a great way to make a living, writing about people and events and issues in Thompson and the entire Norman region for all that time. In the process I’ve learned a lot. I still remember looking on a map, trying to figure out where this “Norman” place was before the light bulb went off, and being mystified by the idea of First Nations that didn’t have year-round road access. There are too many wonderful and emotional and impossible to predict highlights for me to even remember, let alone recount, but I can honestly say that I never expected to get hit in the face by a paintball (thankfully, mere moments after donning a mask to protect myself while taking photographs) or to bang my head on a rifle while riding with an Armed Forces reservist on the back of an ATV through the Northern Manitoba bush during a military training exercise. (I was wearing a helmet with a face mask at the time.) Dancing away from a belligerent woman who didn’t like that I was taking photographs of a crime scene is another thing that probably doesn’t make it to any job description.
As thrilling and bizarre as it can sometimes be to work as a journalist, it isn’t without its downsides. It can be tough, not only on the person doing it, but on those around them as well. There are late election nights, sometimes stretching to 1 a.m. or later, and so many weekend assignments (I remember counting with Paul Andersen, better known as Paul from Shaw, and determining one spring that we had each worked at least one day every weekend for 11 straight weeks since late January.) My pets and my girlfriend know, although some of them haven’t gotten used to it, that sometimes i will be rushing home to scarf down a quick dinner before rushing right back out to an evening assignment. My children were dragged to so many hockey and basketball and volleyball games in their early years, as well as at least one annual general meeting that I can recall, that I may know the reason why none of them were into sports. And then there are the deadlines. And assignments. So many deadlines and assignments. Journalism is a job for nerds because it is like never getting out of school. Unlike school, however, there isn’t a time when all the assignments are done. There’s always another one that comes up the next day and, if there isn’t, you have to think them up for yourself. Over the past little while, being the sole person responsible for filling up 16 pages of newsprint per week, whether with things I wrote myself or with ones from other sources that I hoped were of some relevance to Thompsonites, has frequently been a grind. And when you do something that you love, or at least usually love, and find yourself loving it less and less over time, it can be a sign that it’s a time for a change.
I don’t leave the Thompson Citizen the way that I’d wish to, with someone lined up to replace me. If it was up to me, there would be a lot more people working in this office. But it isn’t up to me and I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen. Sometimes an opportunity comes up and you have to either take it or leave it, regardless of whether it’s convenient for the other parties involved. I took it and I don’t have any regrets about that. The past can’t be changed, the future hasn’t happened yet, so it’s better to look forward than back.
There are many things I’ve done as a journalist at this newspaper that I’ve been proud of, but like a fisherman (I can’t say “fisher,” it sounds too weird, gender-inclusive or not), it’s usually the ones that got away that stick with you. I’ve fallen short of what I hoped to accomplish many, many time, but, if what Michael Jordan said is true, it is the experience of repeated failure that paves the way for success.
As I prepare to walk out of this office for the last time, I am thankful. I am thankful that for 16 years, I always had a full-time job. Not everybody can say that. I am thankful that someone long ago took a chance on someone who had never worked for money as a journalist, and that some mistakes I made over the past 16 years didn’t result in me losing the chance. Most of all, however, I am thankful to all the people I’ve talked to over the years, whether it was only once, or over and over and over again. I’ve met so many interesting and passionate people, many of whom took the time to share their experiences with me not because it was their job, or they really had anything to gain, but simply because I asked them if they would. Truth be told, there were many times when I didn’t want to meet with someone, or wished I didn’t have to cover an event or do some assignment and then ended up glad that I did because it turned out way more interesting than I thought it would be. Most of all, I am thankful for the faith that has been put in me by many people over the years who felt they had nowhere else to turn but the media. The truth is, journalists don’t have special power, apart from what the interest of the audience gives them. The best part of the job is when someone reaches out to you for help, and you’re able to do something for them. It isn’t always guaranteed to be the answer to their problems, but at least you can make sure those problems are seen and heard.
Tradition dictates that I should have titled this editorial -30- or that I should end it with this symbol long used by journalists to indicate the end of an article, but I don’t think I’ve used that symbol for most of the time that I’ve been here, and I won’t start now.
As so many people have said over the years, I didn’t come to Thompson expecting to stay here this long, but I have and I’m going to be here for a while yet, as sick as I am of the long, cold winters. It may not be perfect, but Thompson has a character of its own. It’s been an enjoyable ride to learn about it and share it with people here and elsewhere, but, like all good things, it’s come to an end. For me, at least.