When I first began this project, my goal was to come up with 52 media literacy columns — a year’s worth of reading.
Today’s column — number 35 — will be my last. Not because I’m out of topics. There are a number of things I still think could be unpacked in this space, including why people who talk to reporters shouldn’t be allowed to see the story before it’s published, the difference between public relations and journalism and why so many people come back to the paper and claim their “words have been twisted” or taken out of context.
The reason I’m saying goodbye to this column is because I’m saying goodbye to Northern News Services. Starting next week, I am joining the team at CBC and going back to reporting. Friday’s Yellowknifer will be my last.
So I figure what better time to explore the ups and downs of the past year and a half at the helm of a city newspaper.
First off, I’m not going to lie – this job kicked my butt. The days I would build the paper came with a difficult rhythm. The layout side of things forced me into a mindset of efficiency and quick work. The editing aspect of my responsibilities forced me to slow my mind down, focus on every word, whether stories had all the context and information, whether they flowed properly and clearly. Sometimes late breaking news meant a story wouldn’t be filed until 5 or 6 p.m. — the paper’s deadline is 7 p.m. All of this forced me to train my brain to work quickly — but carefully.
The job also required me to have a memory like a steel trap. Reporters would come to me with requests to add information to a story, take out information that was no longer up to date, fix errors that hadn’t been noticed yet. Managing editors would ask for changes — all of these requests would bottleneck behind what I was already juggling.
Other things would hinder production. Some days, the power would go out. Other days, our internal network would crash.
Of course, all of this is only the editing side of things. I also had a duty to manage the reporters in the newsroom. This was my first time in a management role and the lessons I learned about how to keep a group happy, healthy and focused on their work are unending. I could retire after 30 years in the Yellowknifer assignment editor role and I’m convinced I would still be learning lessons on how best to do this.
And then of course, there was the act of seeing my work critiqued by you — the reader — twice per week. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to regularly get feedback on my work and I commend everybody who took the time to let me know about errors or forced me to second guess my editorial decisions. I don’t think there is any one right answer to many of the ethical questions that come up in the newsroom, so hearing other points of view is valuable.
In fact, I found this would be the point at the centre of most of my media columns — essentially media literacy is teaching readers how to take an active role in the consumption of journalism. Despite the fact there is no licence to practise journalism, we who inhabit newsrooms and have the privilege of forming the narratives of our communities don’t work outside of accountability. Readers can and should let us know if there is something we are getting wrong.
This job was the most challenging I’ve ever had. The learning curve was high, but I am immensely proud of everything I’ve accomplished at Northern News Services. The lessons I learned in this newsroom are ones that will continue to help guide me throughout my career. I am deeply thankful to publisher Bruce Valpy and managing editor Mike Bryant for everything they’ve taught me.
Because of the all encompassing role the assignment editor has in the production of a Yellowknifer, it’s natural that readers will notice changes in the coming weeks when News/North editor James O’Connor takes over. I wish him the best of luck in his new role.
One thing that will not change though, are the ethical standards under which Yellowknifer operates. And you, reader, can continue to play a role in holding Yellowknifer to those standards and offering differing points of view. Don’t be shy. Add your voice to the chorus — these pages are made richer with a variety of letters to the editor and guest columns.
I will miss my role as Yellowknifer editor, but know I’m moving on from the newspaper a stronger and wiser journalist and much of that growth has come from the feedback every single one of you who has taken the time to give.
Thank you for reading.