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PREST: Fighting fire with fire: the big reveal

Anyone who follows the North Shore News closely will no doubt have noticed a gaping hole in our coverage recently.
Our own thrilling fire log.

Anyone who follows the North Shore News closely will no doubt have noticed a gaping hole in our coverage recently.

I'm going to pull back the curtain a little bit and reveal how things work around here and why we missed one of the hottest stories of the year.

We have a dedicated team of reporters who work tirelessly to dig up little details, make connections in the community and manage massive information networks. They're waiting, spider-like, to feel a little ripple in the web that will lead them to a juicy morsel that they can pounce upon, digest and then spin out for the world to see. And also sometimes someone from another newspaper will write something interesting with a vague North Shore connection and we'll basically just copy it. We make a huge deal of the local angle, take a cool photo and voila — community news.

Sometimes a North Shore-related story pops up that is so hot, so explosive that it gets passed around the newsroom and generates instant buzz. This was one of those occasions. The exposé appeared last week in none other than the venerable Globe and Mail, the national newspaper of record. It contained exclusive information on a series of top-secret video recordings of — I hope you're sitting down for this — someone tending to a small fireplace.

Most of you no doubt have seen the fire log television channels that pop up around Christmastime. They're wildly and bafflingly popular. Well, they're at least wildly and bafflingly something that exists. I'm not sure about the popular part.

This particular story was about the Shaw fire log, credited with being the first widely broadcast burning pile of wood in Canada (Shaw first filmed it in 1986, copying a popular log that had been a hit in New York since the 1960s). And to be fair, the Globe and Mail's story was really quite good. There were ins and outs, twists and turns, secret locations and a mystery man calling all the shots.

Best of all, for us at least, there was a North Shore angle. The fireplace in question just happened to be found inside a cabin at an undisclosed location deep in the backwoods of North Vancouver. No one knows where it is, or even if it exists, except for a few folks at Shaw. And, perhaps, a few District of North Vancouver staff members. Also the Kokanee Ranger, all of his bikini-clad sidekicks and his Sasquatch nemesis. Oh, and the entire cast and crew of Stargate. Other than that though, the cabin is a veritable X-Files mystery (also, it was probably used on the X-Files).

Anyway, it was a cool, fun, interesting Christmas story with strong North Shore ties — a no-brainer copy job. The story was assigned to intrepid reporter Jeremy Shepherd (quick aside: I'd love to meet the world's first unintrepid reporter). Jeremy quickly went to work trying to track down a Shaw employee or two who could basically tell us the same things they told the Globe. That's when things got weird. I'll turn it over to Jeremy to describe how he spent the better part of a busy deadline day:

"My phone calls went unreturned, emails led nowhere and one hopeful tweet yielded nothing, like pretty much every other tweet. I made more phone calls and started writing emails in all-caps so the powers that be would know I meant business. Eventually, a very nice representative from Shaw called me up to say they weren't doing any more interviews on the fire log. Apparently, they were afraid of running the whole fire log thing into the ground. Well, that makes one of us."

Intrepid and funny, that Jeremy Shepherd. We all, however, were dumbfounded that the folks at Shaw were uninterested in making someone available for a five-minute chat about firewood. That short chat would very likely have become a front-page article in the finest community newspaper west of the Mississippi (and north of Burrard Inlet, south of that windmill thing on Grouse Mountain and east of Horseshoe Bay).

Our stolen scoop may have been stolen right back from us, but we weren't about to lie down and die. We're a newspaper — we'll never die! Or at least not for the next six months!

We decided that instead of chasing the ghosts of fire logs past, we'd kindle our own fiery future. We made our own fire log video, recorded by our own mystery stoker whose identity is photographer Mike Wakefield. I mean, secret.

As Jeremy pointed out to me, we decided to literally fight fire with fire. Consider it our Christmas gift to you. You're welcome, everyone.

If you want to know how we shot it, by all means give us a call. We'll gladly tell you all about it in our next print edition. Heck, a few days later we might even put it up on that new internet thing. That's how we roll over here in the newspaper biz.

Happy holidays everyone.

You can find the North Shore News Christmas Yule video here:


Special thanks to Jeremy Shepherd for his contributions to this column, and to Mike Wakefield for crafting one of the best damn burning piles of wood you'll ever see.

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