I knew the day was coming, but I hoped it would never arrive. After 163 years The Pembroke Observer is ceasing its print edition. I expect the online edition to follow shortly – I’m not convinced people really want to read newspapers online.
It was a cliché, but that made it no less true. Former editor Wayne Lavigne described The Observer as “a daily miracle.” As a city boy, trained in Canada’s finest journalism school, I found it was a schoolhouse as well. I have vivid memories of those I worked with.
When I worked there, in the late 1980s, I was the only one on the paper with formal journalism training. Lavigne started as a carrier boy and worked his way up to the top. When he was laid off, in a cost-cutting purge, he found work as a produce clerk in a local grocery store before going back to school to become a teacher. I admired his perseverance; I’m not sure if he had finished high school before joining the newspaper full-time.
Similarly, sports editor Peter Lapinskie (who would later become managing editor) had been working in a lumber yard before joining the paper. He was the best writer on the staff, despite his lack of formal training.
Publisher Bill Higginson also lacked what today would be minimal educational expectations, but there wasn’t much he didn’t know about the newspaper business. I have Wilf Kesterton’s A History of Journalism in Canada on my bookshelf in Ottawa; Higginson receives a brief mention, in the book published in 1967, twenty years before my career at The Observer started. Bill had been working part-time at the newspaper and was told by the publisher he had to make a choice between it and his other passion: hockey. Bill was a goaltender, and back in those days NHL teams only carried one player at that position. Bill came close to a big league career; he played with quite a few Hall of Famers in the minors, but he figured journalism was a safer bet. His other off-season job was pro wrestling, where he was known as the Masked Marvel.
Those three characters made my two years at The Observer a joy. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun at the same time. Small town journalism is much different from the big city variety, as I would learn. In the city a reporter is anonymous outside their immediate circle. In a small town everyone knows who you are and holds you accountable for what you write.
I have stories that I was saving for the book I will probably never write about being a journalist in a small town. I kept all my notebooks, and last year when I was doing some major housecleaning I decided that it wasn’t yet time to trash them.
In the weeks to come I might share some of those stories here (and then again, I might not – with me you never know). Today I will be doing a lot of remembering for one of the most enjoyable jobs I have ever had.
The demise of print journalism and daily newspapers has been written about extensively already by others, so I won’t add anything to the discussion, today anyway. It is a sad day though. Pembroke will miss The Observer. Life won’t be the same without it.