Over my decade and change as the editor of the News-Optimist our newsroom has established two frequently used feature formats — Everybody Has a Story and First Person Exploits Into the Unknown. The first reflects a credo of our newsroom — we put listening to the stories of others ahead of our own agenda. The second reflects a sense of adventure in trying out an activity new to the writer.
This story is a combination of both. Nov. 9, I will embark on a new experience — retirement. I had a practice run at the concept when I took a yearlong stint of medical leave from April 2017 to April 2018, but my life after Nov. 9 will be different. On leave I spent most of my time rehabbing one hand then the other following surgery. There were limits to what I could do for much of that time.
The experience did teach me that my husband of 37 years and I can stand to spend time together, most of the time. I learned I enjoyed having flexible time in to spend with our grandsons and to enjoy my hobbies when my hands allowed.
With my 60th birthday approaching in September I made the decision this summer to step aside from my 25 years in the News-Optimistnewsroom and explore the world after work.
Which brings me to the Everybody Has a Story segment of this saga.
I landed in the News-Optimistnewsroom in 1993 when there were still two newspapers in the Battlefords, the News-Optimistand the Telegraph. I was hired by Rob MacDonald, husband of Becky McIntosh-MacDonald, descendent of the newspaper’s founder Ross Cameron McIntosh.
MacDonald was an idea guy and he had worked up a plan to take over the Hafford Riverbend Review, a rural weekly, in lieu of collecting past due printing debt, and then to establish a sister paper out of Turtleford. He named it Northwest Neighbors(unfortunately not consulting Canadian Press style for the spelling of “neighbours”) and I was to be the “regional editor.” It turns out the title should have been “jack of all trades.”
I wrote some of the stories [I had local reporters stationed at each location], I sold the ads, I composed the ads, I composed the paper. I had a blast. I’ll admit I was rather poor at the ad sales end of the job, but I limped along. I spent at least two days a week travelling around the country meeting people and enjoying the countryside.
On one memorable trip I became lost northwest of Livelong as I attempted to take a shortcut to St. Walburg. It was winter and I was driving the company’s old van. I had what passed for a cellphone at the time [I think it weighed about five pounds], but there was no service.
I didn’t recognize a single landmark, but there was nothing to do but keep driving. At one point a wolf crossed my path. And then, there it was, a road into a remote sawmill I had visited with Chief Denny of Livelong’s Ragged Ass Road fame for a story. Oriented, I was able to find my way back to civilization and on to St. Walburg.
In my years as regional editor the one perception I encountered was that I was that “city” woman. Christine Pike of Waseca, who has knocked me down a peg or two on more than one occasion, sent me any angry letter once because I opined that singing opera was an unusual pastime for a farm boy from north of Maidstone [Mark Oddan]. She chastised me for my typecasting of rural people as bumpkins.
I’m not certain she would have been mollified by the information that I grew up on a family farm near Consul in southern Saskatchewan and, when I was a kid, my main ambition was to live somewhere equipped with a flush toilet.
I hadn’t been working at the paper long when it was sold to Martin Eva of Winnipeg. I started polishing up my resumé, thinking for sure their first directive would be to shut down my little weekly rags. But they didn’t.
Some months later Eva also acquired the Turner-Warwick operation and the two newspapers were amalgamated. Again, out came the resumé, but again I was allowed to carry on, and over time I was also put in charge of the Maidstone Mirror.
With that added responsibility came my removal from ad sales, which also meant fewer enjoyable forays into the country. I didn’t miss the pressure of ad sales, but I did miss my travels.
The rural weeklies prevailed for many years but the eventual decision to cease publication of the Riverbend Reviewand to semi-amalgamate the other two papers was the writing on the wall. In the summer of 2006 all three rural entities ceased to exist and I became editor of the News-Optimist.
Those were some big shoes to fill. Longtime editor Lorne Cooper retired in the spring of 2003 and passed away a few weeks later. Doug Collie and Reg Sylvester put in brief stints at the helm, but “Coop’s” shadow still loomed large.
The newsroom I inherited was a far cry from what it was under Lorne’s leadership, however. In the time leading up to his retirement there were four general reporters, a sports reporter and myself in the newsroom. I was guiding two general reporters and a sports guy, who pulled the pin within a few weeks, leaving us with a vacancy for several months.
I’ve done my best to uphold Lorne’s standards over the years. I’ve been more behind the scenes than he was, but that’s my style and it has worked for me. I’ve made some memorable blunders. Who can forget the April Fool’s CUplex fiasco, or my 15 minutes of Internet fame for the ill fated “no news” inspiration?
I worked with Bill Miesel for several years. Bill was a storyteller but he was also something of a philosopher. He told me that being a newspaper editor is like being an NHL goalie. Everyone gets to see, and have an opinion about, your mistakes.
I’ve also held close Riverbend Reviewlocal editor Vivian Barwell’s assertion that “we print something for everyone, even those who just want to find our mistakes.”
While I’ve felt the anxiety and regret that comes with messing up, I’ve also experienced the satisfaction of telling people’s stories, of informing the community about what their local governments are up to and of showcasing positive aspects of a community often portrayed in a negative way outside of their community newspaper.
I confess I’ve even treasured the occasional “atta girl,” a recent one from former North Battleford mayor Ian Hamilton who was among those not enamoured with our April Fool’s Day inspiration.
And that is a founding precept that I learned from Lorne — this is the community’s newspaper, not the owner’s newspaper, not the newsroom’s newspaper. It’s a credo that has kept me more or less on the straight and narrow all these years.
And it isn’t all about the blunders. Walls festooned with Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association awards in our building’s foyer attest to the quality of the work we do. A feather in my cap was the naming of the Regional Optimistas the best overall newspaper in its circulation category in 2007.
Among the people I’ve worked with are my out-of-town contributors to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude. Their dedication to promoting their communities for seriously poor compensation has always filled me with admiration. There have been a host of them over 25 years so I won’t make any attempt to name them. If they are reading this, they know who they are.
It isn’t without regret that I leave this wonderful job. Having had the privilege of working with so many amazing people while doing something I’ve loved doing and that I’ve done with passion and commitment all these years, is humbling.
I’m going to miss it, but I’m going to work to channel that energy in new ways.
See you around.
At the Helm
Enter the “new” editor, Jayne Foster. While she’s taking on, full time, a new role in the News-Optimist newsroom, she is unknown to readers. Foster has worked as a reporter for the News-Optimist for two stints in the past and most recently served as acting editor for a year while I was on medical leave.
Her history covering community news predates that, however, as she worked for many years in the Telegraph’s newsroom before the papers were amalgamated.
Foster says she is excited to be returning to the world of news hounds and she will do a wonderful job in guiding the team and ensuring a high-quality product makes it into readers’ hands.
I wish her all the best.