Opinion

Hodge: Unique newspaper era is disappearing

Earlier this week I was unpleasantly startled to discover a piece of my past has beaten me to the grave.

The Kamloops News newspaper is closing its doors.

In a twisted quirk of fate, I learned of the old rag’s demise via an online news network (Castanet) striking me as both ironic and yet emblematic of the changing times and patterns in media and news distribution.

The final nail in the Kamloops News’ coffin is apparently the same pointy punctuation that’s closed doors on multiple newspapers—economics.

It’s simply getting tougher for newspapers to survive in an age when advertising and news are becoming more difficult to separate and dependent on instant visual stimuli rather than the good ‘ole paper and ink.

The loss of the Kamloops News strikes me deeper than the loss of other newspapers, not only because I toiled there briefly but also because it was a bastion of solid, credible journalism.

It truly was a respected ‘community’ newspaper—a term too often used today yet rarely justified.

My tenure with the Kamloops News occurred near the start of the 1980s decade and lasted just one year when I decided to move to a ‘smaller’ town and paper just down the road in Salmon Arm.

I loved the newspaper and the co-workers in Kamloops but hated the town. (In fairness, I actually just hated the stench of the old mill there.).

Ironically, it was my column writing that garnered the interest of Kamloops editor Mel Rothenburger. ‘Rotten’ appeared in my life a few months prior to my joining his paper.

He arrived at the Capital News office in the summer of 1979 and proved his suspected insanity by giving up his own summer holiday to run the Kelowna paper for a month.

Then Capital News editor Pat Denton had decided on a holiday and Rothenburger figured running a smaller twice a week rag was easier than running his thrice a week operation. He had not counted on the Hodge factor.

Suffice to say Rothenburger was an interesting and talented fellow whose warped sense of humour and love for journalism was rarely surpassed by others in the industry.

Years later, Rothenburger would prove his idiosyncrasies were not restricted to media when he became mayor of Kamloops and kept that town struggling through tough times.

But I digress.

Rothenburger played editor for about two weeks in Kelowna durng which he decided to send me to cover a murder trial.

Unbeknown to me, Mel wanted to test my savvy in a courtroom as he had future plans for moi. I passed the unknown test because before he left he offered me a job.

“I want you first and foremost to write columns and feature stories, but I  also need someone to help cover crime and court and layout several pages a week. The pay is lousy, the hours long, and the appreciation factor next to zero. However we have some great folks to work with and drink lots of beer. Are you interested?” I recall him asking.

Naturally, I jumped at the offer. In those youthful days, the chance of writing two or three columns a week and drinking lots of beer was enticing to say the least.

I had no idea just how much fun the newsroom would turn out to be.

The first night my wife and I spent in Kamloops a fellow was shot in the neighbourhood near my house. When I reported in the next morning for my first day’s work with pictures of ambulance members and police carting away the victim, the mini-myth of Hodge was born.

Over the better part of the next year I spent insanely long hours hanging out with a dozen other ink-stained wretches in the newsroom pounding out a multiple award-winning newspaper. I can honestly say in my 40 years of newspaper involvement, I have never known or worked with a more talented team of journalists.

The proof, I suppose, is in the results. Ben Kuzma was the sports editor and today helps run the sports department at the Vancouver Province and writes regularly for the Hockey News. Mike Reimer, his assistant in sports, went on to work for the Calgary Herald.

City editor John Carter became one of my dearest life-time friends. It was the beginning of many years work together as JC was later the opposition editor of a community newspaper in Parksville and then later I worked for him as the assistant editor of his paper for a number more years.

Ironically, the newspaper we worked for together was shut down after being bought out by the chain-owned opposition paper in town. Carter relocated to Renfrew, Ont.

He went into politics and wrote two books. JC and I are still close friends and chat regularly. I even let him beat me occasionally in hockey pools.

Jack Knox, a talented reporter in Kamloops, went on to work at various papers including the Victoria Times Colonist.

When I left Kamloops for Salmon Arm, I did so with mixed emotions, fondly remembering Mel and the great folks in the newsroom—and proud of the superb newspaper we produced.

The news of its demise saddens me, but more important, it is a blow to that community, which is now in jeopardy of not having that reliable, local and logical coverage of news.

I’m thankful I had a chance to be a part of it all.

 

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