Tyler Olsen

COLUMN: As 2020 ends, those who have died will live on in our words and actions. Do them proud.

A newspaper might be a physical object, but it is defined by its people and readers.

From an alarmingly young age, I thought that if I couldn’t be a hockey player, I’d probably want to write for a newspaper.

And in 2006, the editor of my hometown newspaper in Vernon, Glenn Mitchell, brought me on for summer work. It was pure luck: two previously hired interns had bailed on him to travel overseas, and my selling point was that I could start immediately, largely because my old bedroom was still available.

At 21, I started to (tried to) grow a beard so someone, anyone, would think I wasn’t in high school and take me seriously. That fortuitous start – my luck compounded when a job opening allowed me to permanently stay at the paper – set the next 14 years of my life on its course.

Quite quickly, one learns that a newspaper is a physical object. Journalists particularly love to talk about how, until quite recently, newspapers were literally pieced together by hand whether with hard type or at copy desks where edits were made with glue and scissors.

This idea – the importance of the object-ness of a newspaper – resonated with me too. I could feel my desk shake when the press was running. I could feel the paper in my hands the morning after it came out. In fact, I could trace a paper back before it was paper; as a truck driver, my dad spent his days and nights hauling pulp, the main component in newsprint, from Okanagan mill to Interior mill.

It has taken years for me to see the error in that conception.

A newspaper is like most other physical objects that are crafted. But what’s important about any object – be it a newspaper or a paperweight – has nothing to do with its physical essence and everything to do with the people whose labour and care and lives have been poured into it.

When a person reads the Vernon Morning Star, as I did for a decade before I ever worked there, one consumed the lives of the people who created it. Each sentence, each page, each advertisement in any paper reflects the people who created it.

It goes far beyond the obvious way a reporter’s mood may subliminally shape a random sentence about a sewage plant. It goes to how much time and care people put into this product, this thing. It goes to how much they’re able to (or not able to) obsess over small details. It goes to how much they care to get things wrong. And it goes beyond the employees.

If papers are like people, then – like people – they are an amalgam of the love and the lives of not only the journalists and salespeople and designers and ad controllers and publishers and circulation co-ordinators and delivery people whose time went into providing that object, but all the people who influenced those workers.

Glenn hated getting things wrong and loved his colleagues. His spirit imbued the Vernon Morning Star with life and gave it a primacy in the community. He was warm and kind-hearted and his words led directly to my similarly benevolent editor Ken Goudswaard bringing me to the Fraser Valley a decade ago.

Earlier this month I decided to leave this paper for another journalism adventure at the end of 2020. A day after that I found a grey hair in that once-young beard … And shortly after that, I heard Glenn had died.

A word can be erased. A job can end. Paper can crumble. A life can pass. But the reach of a person extends far beyond their corporeal existence.

It’s not just me writing this on a dark Tuesday evening. These words – those in the past and those to come – carry the influence of everyone who has emailed our paper or me directly, who has criticized or complimented, and who has generously given me time, usually with no obvious personal reward or benefit.

These words are the result of my generous and courageous colleagues and my patient editor. And these words carry the influence of Colleen McDonald and Zbigniew Nodzykowski and Glenn Mitchell, just as your words this crazy year and next carry the lives of your ancestors and loved ones.

Paper doesn’t matter. People do. Be good and take care.

Tyler Olsen was a reporter at the Abbotsford News. He can be reached at tylerolsennews@gmail.com.

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