The privilege this job affords is one of access. As journalists we ask to peek through the window of people’s lives every day and talk to folks we never imagined connecting with.
Every day is different because the variables in each headline we write and each interview we conduct are so unique. Sometimes it’s painful and uncomfortable, other times thoughtful and engaging.
Over the course of 12 months, the rigours of the job sometimes mean the days pass in a blur. An endless steam of quotes and photos as we chronicle the history of this community.
If you’ve done this for as long as I have — I sat in the Nelson city council media gallery for the first time in 1994 as a much younger lad — the constant deluge of local news is coupled with the sometimes difficult task of remembering exactly when it all took place. But every year without fail, there are a handful of moments on the job that leave a permanent imprint. They might not be the most explosive or dramatic stories — behind the scenes it’s sometimes mundane — but the access we are given results in some standout memories in the massive pool of ink.
Here are some of my mine from 2011…
Early last February I arrived to the Nelson Star News Loft earlier than the rest of the crew. Shortly after, I received a phone call about a rescue effort assembling on the road to Whitewater preparing to search for a couple of lost snowshoers.
Only a couple of Nelson Search and Rescue team members had arrived by the time I pulled up to the site. It offered me a rare glimpse into just how much logistics go into helping those who encounter trouble in the backcountry.
I tried to stay out of the way as I waded amongst the crew preparing skis and equipment. They all had their game faces on, but were gracious to the guy with the camera snapping away.
From all over the Kootenays, more and more team members arrived. All of them eager to help where they could.
The result that day was a good one. The two Quebec travellers were found that afternoon, a little shaken, but alive.
The Sheilah Sweatman tragedy a few months later brought to light just how dangerous the life of a search and rescue volunteer can be. They thrust their time and energy into helping without any thought of reward. These people love the outdoors and understand the unforgiving nature of playing in it. We can’t thank them enough.
A few summers back I returned from quick nine holes at Granite Pointe just after 7 a.m. While most people in our neighbourhood still slept, Dryden Hunt was out on the street shooting pucks.
He was 12 at the time, still in pee wee hockey. Though I had seen him around the Civic Centre many times over the previous winter, we had only recently become next door neighbours. He was one of the top young hockey players in the Kootenays at that time. It became clear to me that summer that the scene I watched morning after morning was the reason why.
Dryden is still just a kid, but in early December scored his first Western Hockey League goal. A massive achievement for one of the youngest players in Canada’s major junior hockey ranks. He just turned 16.
I was lucky enough to interview him the next day after he recorded another notch in what will likely be a long hockey career. He was still excited as he told me how it happened. All the while, all I could think about was that dedicated little kid out on the front street pounding pucks.
Like Dryden there were plenty of other local kids who made us proud of their hockey accomplishments. Geoff Kinrade, the MacLeod brothers, Adam Wheeldon… all fine young athletes who prove that a supportive community, fantastic families and hard work can help you realize your dreams.
A journalist’s abilities are put to the test during spot news events. We had barely shaken off 2010 when what is easily the biggest spot news story of the year went down.
I was awoken by my cell phone early that Thursday morning. It was former Star sales associate Jennifer Cowan calling to tell me there was a big fire in the downtown. She wasn’t sure where, but it was big. I grabbed my camera and within minutes was on my way towards the downtown.
I’ve covered many fires in the community over the years and the same feeling always hits me on the way to the scene. Of course there’s adrenaline, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the moment. But the overriding feeling is the pit in my stomach. Moments of dread and fear because people die in fires. This is a tiny community full of familiar faces, the last thing I want to cover is unfathomable loss.
Thankfully that morning there was no loss of life, but it was apparent from the time I arrived that many people had lost everything in the blaze.
Returning to the office a few hours later with a stench of smoke caked on, I arrived to find what would become the most memorable part of the Kerr storyline. The sales team at the Star had received a number of phone calls from concerned community members and an initiative was already underway to bring relief to the residents who were left homeless.
We were not only recording the events of the day, but this newspaper began to help pull together the effort to help. So did many others.
Over the next few weeks there was an outpouring of support I’ve never witnessed in this community. People gathered goods, raised money and did whatever they could to ensure complete strangers were not left out in the cold.
Nelson is a community that offers its residents a bounty of natural brilliance, a beautiful setting and endless recreational opportunities. It’s what sets this community apart from others. But what keeps me here is Nelson’s heart. Knowing that if I stumble, there will be somebody there to pick me up.
There were plenty more moments in 2011 that gave the news team energy to keep providing the Nelson area with the quality newspaper it deserves. I look forward to the continued access to the lives of the people of this community and building even more connections in 2012.
Bob Hall is the editor at the Nelson Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org