Printing the story

AT RANDOM: Katherine Mortimer on the job of journalists, and despite the closure of daily papers, community newspapers remain strong

For those of us who work in print journalism, the new year has started on a depressing note.

The recent layoffs at Postmedia, which owns daily newspapers across the country, was felt by all of us who chose this career. And for those of us privileged enough to still make a living in print, we feel blessed.

For many people who choose journalism as a career, it’s with a desire to make a difference, to tell a story, to give a voice to those who don’t have one.

When I started I had no grand ideas of making a name for myself as the next Maureen Dowd or of travelling the world as a war correspondent. I simply wanted to work at a big city newspaper, preferably The Vancouver Sun so I could stay in my hometown.

But by the time I finished journalism school, the daily papers didn’t have the same internship programs they once had, and so the available jobs tended to be at community newspapers. When I took my first job, a summer internship in Revelstoke, my classmates were astonished that I was willing to leave the excitement of the big city for a small town in the mountains.

I admit it was a huge culture shock living in a tiny town, but I just wanted a job in journalism, and here was my opportunity.

The summer internship turned into a permanent job, which turned into a job as publisher at another small paper before I ended up at The Morning Star. What I figured would be a two-year gig has turned into 20 years.

There is no question the job has changed, such as the ease with which we now put the paper together. Gone are dinosaurs like the wax machine which was used to glue the stories to the flats before sending them to the press. The biggest change, of course, has been the advent of the Internet. It’s a fantastic tool for all of us, but it’s one that has also affected the way in which people get their news.

When I’m eating lunch at my desk, I turn to online newspapers for entertainment and to keep informed. But I still happily buy the huge Saturday paper because I love the ritual of going through it section by section. I also like knowing I’m getting my news from a trusted source.

There is no doubt we provide a service and that is evidenced by the calls and emails we receive every day from readers thanking us for the service we provide, whether it’s to promote a meeting or to tell a story.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be witness to people’s lives. I’ve been fortunate to share the story of a young man who donated one of his kidneys to his best friend. I’ve watched as the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement was signed at last. I’ve listened as those who have lost loved ones have shared their grief.

I’ve met people from all walks of life who have trusted me with their stories. It’s a privilege and an honour that we take seriously. While we now have to supply stories to our web site and we have to update our Twitter feed and Facebook page, we still adhere to the standards shared by all of us who work in print: accuracy, fairness and not rushing to get something into print or online without making sure we have our facts.

Sure, we make mistakes. We’re human. But we’re quick to correct those mistakes. We have high standards and we take our responsibility to the community seriously. We are accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting. These days, anyone can start a blog and pass off their content as news. But where is the accountability?

Years ago, we had a summer student who was desperate to sink her teeth into some kind of investigative piece and bemoaned the fact that one day we sent her to cover a fundraising tea. That tea was important to the people involved and the key, I told her, was to treat it with the same reverence she would a more in-depth story.

People trust us to tell their stories, and there are always stories to tell, some big, many of them small, but all of them important.