Editor Greg Nesteroff just told me I could write up to 1,100 words as a farewell column. I can’t imagine reading a column by someone saying goodbye that was 500 words, let alone 1,100 words. Thus, I can be pretty sure that I will have few readers who actually get to the end of this column, which is not likely any different from previous columns I have written.
I used to write a weekly column. I did for most of my career, although never for the Nelson Star or Black Press. I thought it was pretty cool. I started in my first year as a sports reporter in Port Hardy in 1991 and never stopped until 2006, when I owned the local newspaper in Keremeos. I stopped when a guy I knew at the time said it was boring and self-serving. My wife and friends disagreed, but of course, they would, since it was often about them or about things they cared about. But it wasn’t their opinion that mattered.
It was the opinion of the person I didn’t know that mattered and this guy had given me the hard, cold truth and I responded appropriately, or at least I think I did. I also believe firmly that anyone who writes a column needs to make sure it stands up to the real test of readership. There is nothing more presumptuous and arrogant than a self-centred columnist who lacks self-awareness.
Except for goodbye columns. Right?
I don’t think so. Actually the columns I hate the most are the “I’m new to town” column and the “I am leaving now” column. It is drivel at its best and should never be allowed.
And yet here I am … writing a column about leaving. How ridiculous.
Here are the facts (I love lists):
1. I am leaving the Nelson Star and Black Press today.
2. It has been awesome.
3. I am not leaving Nelson, but just this job.
4. Because it is just time for a change.
5. My partner in life and in newspapers Karen Bennett is also leaving. Although her last day was a while ago, as long as one is connected, so is the other, so today is also her last day.
There is a bunch of other stuff, but who cares really? It is boring and self-serving.
1. My favourite story I ever wrote was on Sudden Infancy Death. There was a SIDS death in the community and instead of writing about that death, I wrote about SIDS, what it was, how it happened and the true tragedy it was. It wasn’t that well written of a story (none of them were really), but the mother of the child who passed away sought me out a couple of months later to let me know how that article made her feel better. She had been blaming herself (a common part of SIDS) and she said the article allowed her just to grieve her loss. That made me feel good.
2. In all of my years of reporting, I only ever saw one dead person. It was a car accident on a beautiful Friday afternoon. The accident left a woman from out of town (Campbell River, I think) dead. I just remember this because the coroner, a friend of mine and the paper, said something to me that I will never forget: “Like all of us, she had plans for today, for the weekend. She won’t get to do those now.” I don’t know if he meant anything by those words, but they stuck with me because we all have plans and you never know when those plans are going to change. I think that could be a life lesson but I will let you decide.
3. The hardest part of working at small town newspaper (which is all I have ever done) is when young people die. It is usually car accidents and is always, always horrible. We have to report on them, but we are also part of them. Almost always, you have a picture of the victim from some sporting or arts event that you have to dig out for the story. You know the parents — you always know the parents. There are far too many of these tragedies.
4. My worst mistake was when covering court for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I reported that a man had been convicted of sexual misconduct when he had actually made too much noise at a house party. The look on my boss’s face when I told him only made it worse because he knew more than I did that there aren’t many occasions when the lawsuit against you is that simple, and likely expensive. Luck was on my side, though, as the guy left town and never came back, and never saw the paper.
5. The best part of working at a small town newspaper: The people. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. The people make the difference. They always do, no matter what you do in life.
When I say it has been awesome, it truly has. There have have difficult days, tragic days, days when I am so mad and frustrated I never want to come back. But there have also been those amazing, great days — those days that make you wonder how you could ever do anything else. And I am grateful. I am grateful for all of it, for all of the experiences — the great and the bad. I am grateful I got to work in Nelson, a place I have always called home and will continue to do so, likely for the rest of my days. I am grateful to Black Press, an amazing company to have worked for, for this opportunity and for all of the amazing opportunities it has given me.
Peace out MFs (my daughter McKenna made me do this).
Chuck Bennett has been the regional publisher for Black Press in West Kootenay since 2007. This column is 995 words.