Not just a job, a calling

For me, The Leader has never been just a way to earn a paycheque.

Not just a job, a calling

I’m hammering this column out on deadline, which is fitting, because I hit the ground running when I started my career at The Surrey-North Delta Leader nearly 23 years ago, so I might as well thrash my way out, too.

It was 1994 when under the cover of darkness (and hey, lighter traffic), I drove out to Surrey from Vancouver to slip my resume and clippings under the door of The Surrey Leader, which at that time was housed in a nondescript office (i.e. hole in the wall) in Whalley.

I was a first-year journalism student gunning for a coveted summer job and I was racing against a fellow classmate to snag the rare position at a Lower Mainland community newspaper.

He would arrive, resume in hand, the next morning, but I had already snagged an interview with Leader editor Andrew Holota.

I bluffed my way through the military-style grilling by “The Colonel” (I knew precious little about Surrey), but my eagerness and freelance writing samples gained me enough traction to convince Holota to take me on.

In fine Holota fashion, he wasted no time launching me on an investigative series about poverty in the city – and so began my rollicking career in the newspaper business.

But in thinking about the last two decades, “career” doesn’t quite cover it. For me, The Leader has never been just a way to earn a paycheque.

When you interview a young single mother as she picks through badly bruised fruit at a church charity food event searching for the “best” apples for her kids, it’s not just a job anymore.

It’s not just a job when a parent’s gaunt face and tightly drawn mouth speak more than words when you ask them to tell you about the city’s latest murder victim – their child.

It’s no longer simply a job when the strangers you pluck out of a crowd, or off a phone list, or in a courtroom confide in you, cry on you, or share something with you that they’ve never told anyone else.

Then, of course, it becomes a privilege, an honour to have somehow earned the trust to bear witness to a person’s story, and to have the medium in which to share it with the world.

When bad policies get changed, injustices are remedied and apologies are elicited, your job description becomes secondary.

And it’s certainly not a job – it’s just damn great fun – when you get to soar over Surrey in a small two-seater airplane, herd sheep in your business attire, ride on a coast guard boat at full speed, help captain the SeaBus, and enjoy a front-row view of the 2010 Olympic torch as it passes by your office.

Journalism is a calling. And in the course of answering, I fortunately found myself among kindred spirits.

Some have left The Leader – Dan Ferguson, Sheila Reynolds, Jeff Nagel, and Andrew Holota, from whom I inherited the editor’s chair.

Others like me have remained until the bittersweet end – Kevin Diakiw (that competitive classmate of mine, who joined The Leader one year after me), Evan Seal, Boaz Joseph and Rick Kupchuk.

The bond we’ve forged over cop scrums, council meetings, body bags and the odd lost ocelot is strong. The memories will last a lifetime.

It’s been a hell of a journey, folks. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to trek it.

– 30 –

pmcarlson@shaw.ca

SEE ALSO:

• Surrey Archives showcases Surrey Leader photographs

• From a weekly paper, to online, on demand

• Evan Seal: 25 years behind the lens

• Kevin Diakiw: Thank you Surrey – over to you

• Boaz Joseph: Out of the dark and into digital, another door closes

• Rick Kupchuk: The road trip continues for this longtime reporter

• Frank Bucholtz: The Leader – in business for 88 years

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