ON THE WRITE ROAD: Homeward Bound

As journalism school graduation by-the-skin-of-my-teeth neared, I faced an important decision. I could continue to work for Kainai News in Calgary or I could go home to Prince Rupert and work at the Daily News. It was not an easy decision.

Coming home had always been in my plans. My family was there and I knew that my father, whose approval I still sought, would be so proud of me. My best friends were also there, playing in sports leagues such as floor hockey, flag football and slo-pitch, that I dearly missed – although I had enjoyed being a secret ringer playing in the University of Calgary (using the name of a student there) slo-pitch league and its floor hockey tournament.

I had enjoyed Calgary, though. It was an exciting, growing city, where I could watch professional hockey, football and baseball, and go to concerts. And my sister and her family were there, not to mention a handful of good friends I had made. And Kainai dangled a carrot: the current editor had plans to move on soon and I would be given the job if I stayed. I would certainly make more money there than I would at the Daily.

Journalism department head, Ron Macdonald, made the decision easier. He understood my desire to make more money and be fast-tracked to an editor position, but he also thought I could be a good journalist, in its truest form.

MacDonald said most journalism grads would jump at the chance of working on a daily newspaper, rather than the usual ritual of cutting their teeth on weeklies. It was more prestige, more exposure, more pressure (the good kind), and more exciting. In other words, what journalists live for. He also said what was well known about Aboriginal papers but usually not said aloud. He asked me if I really wanted to become an “agenda” writer. I hadn’t thought about it in that way.

I thought of Kainai News as a paper that was providing a different perspective, through an Aboriginal lens, that mainstream media didn’t offer. And that was correct. But, in having that agenda, it often went too far. It virtually ignored the other side of the story, making only half-hearted efforts to get their comments on an issue. And I did not want to be trapped in that.

And, so, I said yes to Daily News editor, Dina Von Hahn, when she called and asked me if I wanted a job at the paper in a few weeks when I graduated. I also lied to her when she asked if I had a driver’s license, and managed to get one just before I left Calgary (thanks to a good friend who taught me so well, so quickly, that I aced the test!).

I had met Dina during my practicum. Then, she was the senior news writer and Iain Lawrence was the editor. I remember dressing up as best as I could on the first day of my practicum, thinking a professional appearance was important. But, when I was brought to the editor’s desk in the newsroom, there sat a long-haired, disheveled man, in a ratty baseball cap, plaid wool shirt, and gumboots. His cap was pulled down so much that had to tilt his head back to see me.

Iain welcomed me and told me where my desk was, and asked if I had any questions. I did, of course, and they were always greeted with a mischievous grin, as if he was thinking, oh, boy, you’ve got the wrong idea but you’ll figure it out soon enough.

Lawrence was a great guy and, of course, went on to become a successful, popular author of young adult novels. His debut hit, The Wreckers, was one of the first books I got my oldest son.

And, thus, began a revolving door of editors as, before too long, Dina moved on to CBC radio and was succeeded by Shelly Brown, Dan Gilmore, then Scott Crowson, who stabilized the position. I would be there for almost 10 years.

It’s remarkable when we think of decisions like the one I made in the spring of 1988 and what a difference it makes. If I had remained in Calgary, maybe I would have stayed in Aboriginal journalism and helped shape it on a broader level. Or I might have made the jump to one of the bigger papers, the Sun or Herald – although I don’t think Calgary was there yet.

But home I came.

I was mainly a sports reporter at The Daily News but I also delved into community and hard news. I covered some of the biggest local and provincial stories of that time. Like many reporters then, I was an alcoholic and lucky to have kept my job. But keep it I did and, man, it was a wild ride.


NEXT: The Daily News and me. They tried to tame me but …


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