Home > J-school, Jobs > A small-town journo job takes one Barrie to Burnaby

A small-town journo job takes one Barrie to Burnaby

February 18, 2011

Burnaby Now arts editor Julie MacLellan takes a post on hick town I made a little while back and runs with it. Runs very far. (And no I’m not assuming she read my post, she very kindly referenced this blog).

Anyways, Julie writes about all the good things that come along with working at a small-town newspaper. She gradded from J-school in Ontario 16 years ago and sent resumes out across the country, eventually getting an offer from the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle. She decided to give it a go.

That was November 1994. I ended up staying in that wonderful newsroom, with editor John McKinley (thanks, John, you still rock) until the summer of 1997, when I migrated to the mainland to be with my then-boyfriend (now-husband).

Those two-and-a-half years opened my eyes to what a genuinely incredible thing it is to work for a community newspaper. If you want to write stories that matter to people, that have an impact on their lives, that make a difference every single day – well, there’s no better place to do that than in a small town.

Sure, sometimes it’s a pain in the butt – people won’t hesitate to come up to you in a lineup at the bank or the grocery store to tell you just exactly why your story about that new development missed the point, or why you really ought to do a story about their sports team (or child prodigy chess player, or art show, or teenage sensation singer, or, or, or). And they won’t hesitate to gossip when the new, single, 24-year-old female reporter is seen at a bar with, say, the guy who runs the shop next door … not that that ever really happened, of course.

But what you lose, occasionally, in the ability to draw lines between your “work” self and your “real” self, you gain back in spades in the genuine connections you build. If you park your big-city ego and urban snobbery at the door – because nothing will turn people off faster than someone who erroneously thinks that they’re too good or too talented for a “hick-town” newspaper – you’ll realize what an incredible sense of community you can build in short order.

As a reporter, you get doors opened to you that would take years otherwise. You become part of a town faster than perhaps anyone else ever could. Each and every day, you are out talking to real people, doing real things. You are writing about them and taking pictures of them at work, at creative pursuits, on the sports field, at school. You are constantly hearing from people about what you are doing – for better or for worse – and you are never, ever allowed to forget that your mission is to serve the community in which you live.

It’s something that’s far too easy to lose sight of when you move to a bigger newspaper in an urban setting, where the disconnect between reporter and reader is much greater, and where you inevitably spend more time at your desk and less out there walking around the streets, talking to real people. It’s easy to get caught up in chasing big headlines (or, these days, in trying to increase “page views” on the website) and forget about what we’re here to do in the first place – which is to say, keep our community informed about what’s happening in our collective backyard, tell interesting stories about interesting people and provide a forum for people to share their ideas – all those things that make community newspapers such an important part of people’s lives.

In a small town, you always know that your work matters. And that’s an amazing thing.


The rest, in which Julie talks about how the skills learned at a small paper will prove invaluable wherever you go, is very much worth reading. But I’m not going to steal the whole bloody thing so check it out here.

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