Knox: Loss of paper a blow to city

I walked into the Kamloops News with a paper bag full of college newspaper clippings in 1977, got hired by Mel Rothenburger because he needed a warm body to plug the six-week hole left by a reporter who had just blown her appendix. I was 19 years old. The paper was my home, on and off, until 1985. I met my wife there. The Daily News has published my column for 15 years.

So hearing of its impending demise was gutting. It's a blow to those who are losing their jobs. Worse, it's a blow to my hometown. With apologies to my friends in the newsroom, the loss of journalists matters less than the loss of journalism and what it means to a community.

This isn't the first time a Kamloops newspaper has gone. The Daily Sentinel was once the newspaper of record but lost that position when the News jumped in to fill the void during a bitter labour dispute in the 1970s. Competition between the two publications was fierce (it included the occasional bar fight) but from the mid-70s until the Sentinel's death in 1987 there was no doubt which side was winning.

What separated the two was obvious: the Sentinel was often staffed by people who knew more about cookie-cutter news-papering than they did about Kamloops, while the News knew its community, turning out quality coverage of what was important. (Flashbacks: Gerry Warner unmasking a slumlord, Susan Duncan's work on the Johnson-Bentley murders.) Simply put, the Sentinel got run out of town by a better newspaper.

That's not what's happening now. The loss of the Daily News will create a hole that no one is in a position to fill, and Kamloops will be poorer for it.

Journalism, good journalism, is time consuming. It can't be done by poorly staffed newsrooms where it's a challenge just to fill space with rewritten press releases and photos of toddlers on the beach. It includes a watchdog role that is critical to a real democracy, one that is slipping away as the powerful realize how much they can get away with unnoticed.

Whether stories are in print, on air or online is irrelevant; there's no substitute for real
reporters doing real legwork, producing credible pieces that don't get published without first passing the scrutiny of a real editor. (So-called "citizen journalism," by contrast, is too often a euphemism for one-sided opinion written by people who either come with an agenda or who are too intellectually lazy to do the homework necessary for a more balanced piece.)

Good journalism is the glue that binds a community together. It's like a pub where neighbours gather to talk about what they have in common and to share unconsidered opinion and unexpected perspectives on what sets them apart. It's how we work things out.

But we have drifted apart. The information age was supposed to broaden our vision, but in practice has allowed us to narrow it. We tend to lock ourselves into silos, choosing news sources that reflect and harden our views. Instead of a diversity of voices, all we hear are our own echoes.

Some shun the news altogether, which is baffling. How do you drive your own destiny without knowing what's happening around you?

Too late now. Kamloops, my home, good luck.

Jack Knox writes for the Victoria Times Columnist. He was born and raised in Kamloops.

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