I was raised to be small, to avoid the spotlight and be modest about my accomplishments. The worst character flaw in my mother’s eyes was conceit, so I’ve lived most of my life in the shadows, or so I thought.
Something happened this week that made me realize that others don’t share my self-deprecating view of my accomplishments. In fact, some of my journalism projects caught the eye of others who are top in the field.
Why am I talking about this now, nearly nine years after I retired as a Victoria Times Colonist reporter? Because of an innocuous Tweet about my dog Gemma. I posted a photo of Gemma I’d taken at the beach and talked about her getting older and losing her hearing. I got a “like” from a prominent Vancouver Sun reporter, one who’s at the top of her field, a master of the craft. She also teaches journalism at a local college.
I’ve never met her. I started to wonder how she knew me. Unlike her, I’ve never won an award. I tried to focus my stories on the people I wrote about, and limited my presence to my writing style and the by-line.
And I retired NINE years ago.
So I wrote her a direct message. I expressed my surprise and delight that she liked my tweet and thanked her for “seeing” me. I inquired how she knew me.
“I remember your work from the TC,” she responded.
Maybe I wrote a few good stories. Well, of course I did, but I didn’t think I had a fan base that included other journalists at that level. I’m fairly typical in that most journalists are humble — the craft kind of shapes you to be down-to-earth. The few that tout their own accomplishments often have deeper insecurities at play.
One time I was asked to write a tribute piece for a long-time columnist, a man I didn’t like that much. He talked and didn’t listen. He never asked questions of anyone else, just told them how he saw things. He was really unpleasant to be around, but he had a huge fan base. Sound familiar?
So how was I going to write about his career and accomplishments? I lay awake one night trying to think of a lead. And then, at about 2 a.m, I realized I could just write about how this columnist saw the world. Everything in black and white. When I took his view, it worked. Still, writing the piece was such hard work. When it was published, an editorial in a weekly newspaper mentioned the tribute and noted it as “masterful.” Everybody knew what I was up against. And the columnist appeared to like it. In fact, when he died a few years later, I got roped in again to write his obituary.
There are so many stories, some I remember and many I don’t. I had a few lucky breaks, sometimes from police who trusted me to tell the truth. Trust is an important part of being a journalist, and reporters often know far more about a story than they can print. Relationships are extremely important, and I tried to be fair to everyone. Still, it’s impossible to make everyone happy.
As I reflect on my life as a journalist, I realize how lucky I was to have that experience. I came to the daily newspaper after two years learning the craft at a weekly rag. I had no degree, but I had a natural gift of knowing how to make words make sense on a page.
As it turns out, this Vancouver reporter got her start at the same small newspaper four years before I was there. She worked weekends as a sports reporter while attending university.
I may not have won any big awards during those 25 years, but apparently my work caught the eye of some esteemed colleagues, and hearing this now makes me pretty happy.