PREST: Newspapers outlast cynicism and grunge

On this, national newspaper week, many of us in the industry are sharing with our readers those special moments and memories that make this business great.

That J-school professor who hammered home the importance of striving to get it first, but ensuring you get it right. That thrill of seeing your byline written in ink for the very first time. That story that brought someone a laugh, brought someone to tears, or brought about real change in the world.

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For me as I write this, that special moment was about 20 minutes ago, when my latest paycheque cleared. Magical.

I never really dreamed of being in the newspaper business. Back in my small Prairie hometown, we used to endlessly poke fun at our community newspaper, a rag that never ceased to amaze me with the sheer volume of front-page stories about cattle auctions. When I was in college the student newspaper did a mock version of the city paper, running it with the hilarious – and frankly quite accurate – tag line “the newspaper of people shaking hands with other people.”

That, at least, is how we saw things as cynical 1990s teenagers, finding a bit of levity in the local newspaper to offset the sheer despair of grunge music and the size of our cellphones.

Digging a little deeper, though, there always was that thrill of seeing your picture in the newspaper. Alongside the 4H schedule, our paper would run little recaps of youth soccer games. Those pictures and stats actually helped shape the way I remember my childhood. I scored a hat trick in a U7 game on May 3, 1986? What an absolute star, a childhood celebrity! No wonder I’m so insufferable now.

We all were little celebrities, though – everyone who managed to get a mention in the sports section, or sold a good-sized pig at auction, or snuck half a blurry leg into a photo of the Canada Day parade. Is that my sneaker there on the front page? It has to be – we were sitting right in between those two plops the 4H horse left on the street!

Leaving cynicism behind (as all journalists do!!!), I ended up parlaying my dual loves of writing and sports into a journalism degree and a position at the North Shore News, one of the most highly regarded community newspapers in Canada. I then somehow parlayed my funny dad jokes – and maybe some very compromising photographs of my former editor – into this gig writing a free-flowing column for the paper. (Just kidding – my jokes aren’t funny).

And though I’ve been here for many years, I did just recently have one of those magical newspaper moments. I spent a few weeks this summer filling in as the acting editor and somehow didn’t burn the place down or get us sued (the statute of limitations is up after one month, right? Lawyers?). What I saw in a new chair, however, was downright awe-inspiring. I saw how incredibly hard everyone in this building works just to get one single issue of the paper out the door and on to tens of thousands of doorsteps across the North Shore. And then those same people start from scratch and immediately do the whole thing over again. And again and again.

All around me were incredibly talented and hard-working people excelling under intense deadlines and filling every page of every paper with fascinating, fact-filled stories about this community – your community, our community, Bryan Adams’s community. And yes, that is the correct possessive form of Adams.

It’s a mini damn miracle each time one of those papers hits the printer, and yet it happens without fail, every time.

And it happens in communities all across this country. Except not in my old hometown. That newspaper – which had been producing quality work, despite my childhood mocking, since 1908 – was shut down this summer.

Many other papers large and small have met the same fate recently and that’s some very sad news, because in this digital age, newspapers still matter. Journalism still matters. We’re the ones at council meetings, in the courthouse, on the streets during emergency situations to find out what’s going on, what the public needs to know, who you can trust.

Working this job, one thing that makes me cringe is when people start ranting about the “media,” some overarching cartel that is here to aid the powerful, push agendas and obscure the truth.

I haven’t seen one bit of that. I’ve seen people asking questions no one else asks, reading documents no one else reads, eating public consultation process doughnuts no one else eats.

We aren’t “fake.” We’re real people, doing a job that lets us meet nearly everyone, know a bit about everything, and spend massive amounts of time obsessing about Twitter.

It’s a great job, and I wasn’t joking about that other special moment: cashing that paycheque is magical, because I still feel incredibly lucky that someone pays me to do this.

• • •

Join the North Shore News as we celebrate national newspaper week with a free screening of Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight tonight, 6:30 p.m. at Capilano University’s beautiful Bosa Centre for Film and Animation. Register up to two hours before by clicking here.

Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. He can be reached via email at aprest@nsnews.com.

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