Friday, January 06, 2012
Readers have made all the difference
My final TC column! Weird. Come to our farewell party/fundraiser next week to say goodbye - Jan. 11, 6-10 p.m. at the Garry Oak Room of Fairfield Community Centre, 1335 Thurlow.
Folks, it has been an amazing ride.
But 14 years have passed since I was first given the privilege of writing a regular column for the Times Colonist. I’ve written 1,800 or so columns, and logged 1.4 million words on a vast number of subjects.
And it’s time to go.
I bless my lucky stars for a series of bosses who let me write whatever the heck I wanted all these years. I’m grateful for the sheer luck of living in a time and place where our governments know they have to tolerate people like me nipping at them in the name of free speech.
But mostly I’m thankful to you, dear reader. Your willingness to share your opinions, criticisms, encouragement and life stories with me has made all the difference.
Back when I was writing four times a week, readers’ tips accounted for at least half of my column topics. On my own, I couldn’t possibly have found even a fraction of the crazy, funny, tragic, inspiring and touching stories that my readers brought me over the years. I’m the medium - the story-teller - but they’re the real deal.
The great joy of journalism is that it bestows on curious people like me the right to ask nosy questions of virtually anyone. There’s nothing saying that people will answer your questions, but it’s striking how often they do.
And as they talked, I learned.
About the cruelties of the human condition. The limitations of our systems. The breaking points and vulnerabilities. The impact of unintended consequence.
But I also came to see that most people are good, and that virtually everyone can be brilliant if given the chance to shine. What a wonderful gift that has been, to know that.
From talking to so many disparate personalities in so many states of wealth, health, freedom, rage, humour, vulnerability and frustrated powerlessness, I came to be comfortable with anyone, and happy to hang out in all kinds of scenes. That’s been a whole other blessing.
And now my partner Paul Willcocks and I are off to Honduras, and to new stories yet to be told.
I know I’ll keep writing. Journalism soaks into your bones, and observing the world is now a passion of mine regardless of whether I’m getting paid for it. It won’t be easy to walk away from work I’ve been doing since I was 25. But truth be told, I’m ready.
I’ve been in the business long enough to have seen the way news cycles. A critical issue rises up in the public consciousness, lingers in limbo for a very long time while people argue about what to do about it, and with luck ends up “fixed” after much effort on the part of all concerned.
But then budget cuts, public apathy and a heartbreaking lack of institutional memory eventually eat away at the gains. A decade or so later, the original problem re-emerges, and the cycle begins again.
It’s just not possible to muster the same energy for a fight when you know how the story ends. I find myself growing cynical and discouraged. But I’ll still miss my front-row seat on all the action, and the doors I’ve been able to nudge open in the name of people’s right to know.
I’ve loved being a journalist in a free country under six companies that all valued a free press. It’s become fashionable to make a fuss about corporate media controlling the news, but that has not been my experience.
Even journalists sometimes forget the significance of that. Such freedoms are far from a guarantee in this world, including in the country where I’m headed. I feel our own governments’ growing reticence to stay open to scrutiny, but I trust Canadians will keep their feet to the fire on this one.
Regrets? I’ve had a few. Sometimes I’ve been too pushy and strident, other times naive. I thought my writing could play a role in changing things, but came to see that the readers you most need to attract when striving for change are the ones least likely to read you in the first place.
Nor do I get much feedback from readers anymore, perhaps a signal that I’ve overstayed my welcome. It has felt lonely tilting at windmills on my own.
But all in, it’s been a blast. Thank you for being the best part of that. Stay in touch.