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Nelson invaded by a virus
When I saw the front page of last Friday’s National Post it gave me flashbacks.
It was late 2002 and Nelson was a different place politically. Mayor Dave Elliott was fresh off his defeat of Gary Exner in what was a bitter battle for the city’s top elected position. Blair Suffredine was settling into his post as our Nelson-Creston MLA representing the recently elected Liberals after downing the legendary Corky Evans. Michelle Mungall was a fresh faced 24-year-old rookie city councillor.
I was a couple years into my move from reporter to editor of the Nelson Daily News. In November, a Page 3 column on Nelson was featured in the Saturday Calgary Herald. This is how it opened: “This place [Nelson] is more than a town, it’s a disease. No, that’s not quite right either. It’s diseased. It has been invaded by a virus.”
Ouch. That makes the negative press we received last week look vanilla. Ric Dolphin followed his opening words with 1,300 more that lambasted our community for everything from its pot smoking hippies to its pro-union slant to its “government-subsized artisans.”
Not surprisingly Dolphin started a wave of heated discussion, follow-up stories and letters to the editor. Many wanted blood, others were in total agreement.
“Obviously that’s over the top. Yeah, I’m pushing buttons to a certain extent,” Dolphin told Daily News reporter Darren Davidson. “I thought it’d be water off a duck’s back. The mayor hasn’t declared a posse or anything has he?”
Even ten years ago Nelson was no stranger to glowing and, at times, unkind outside media attention. Since the Dolphin rant, we’ve certainly received plenty more of both.
When outdoor lovers tragically die skiing in the mountains around our area, the big city media deliver the news to readers across the country that paints our region as a dangerous place to play. When a proposal was put forward to erect a statue celebrating American draft dodgers in our town, right-wing media fuelled hatred and boycotts of our community.
Positive travel features in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times boost our self-esteem and reaffirm why we love the place we’ve chosen to live. The negative get our guard up.
After I saw last week’s story in the National Post, one of the first things I did was email the freelance reporter who wrote it. I certainly wasn’t upset. I was more curious about how she went about researching her 1,000-plus word piece.
One thing I asked Vancouver-based Elizabeth Hames is what she thought about Nelson after her four days in our community.
“Although my story did focus on a contentious issue, I was left with a very positive impression of Nelson overall,” she wrote. “Everyone I spoke with was welcoming and friendly, and the scenery is unbeatable even on a foggy day. However, because I spent a lot of time on Baker Street, I found it difficult to ignore one of the city’s most pressing problems: homelessness. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mentioned in one of the many glowing reviews of Nelson I read during my research.”
This surprised me. Though we have some issues with homelessness, I think this community’s agencies and leadership is doing a very good job of dealing with those who fall through the cracks. But this was her impression and my guess is she’s not the only one.
When Dolphin was interviewed ten years ago about his over-the-top column, the veteran Herald journalist said impressions don’t lie.
“I’m not saying everybody’s like that, but on a whirlwind visit, which is what I do, you kind of focus on what sticks out,” said Dophin.
Nelson does have plenty of scars, quirks and imperfections. We all know that, but sometimes during daily living we forget we’re not perfect.
Though it must have been a pretty slow news day around the National Post to put a story about a dog bylaw on its Friday front page, not once did Hames story make me concerned about the negative impact it would have on our community. In fact the opposite was true. I was looking forward to the debate, discussion and even possible change the story might bring about over the next few weeks. And as they say: don’t read your press, weigh it.
During Dolphin-Gate, former city councillor Dave Cherry was a Daily News columnist. A notorious button-pusher himself, Cherry too wrote a piece in the paper about the state of our town that erupted into more passionate letters. In response to readers who wondered why newspapers publish such strong opinions, Davidson wrote a column of his own.
“While you might not agree with their particular points of view, both men are right in speaking their minds on the pages of the papers that pay them to do so. They’d be right even if they weren’t being paid. And readers offended by what Dolphin, Cherry or any other contributors have to say, are equally right in attacking said points of view.”
It’s days like these that journalists love their jobs because the voices of discussion are the voices of change.
Bob Hall is the editor at the Nelson Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyHall10