It didn’t take much to clear a room at the Cariboo Observer in Quesnel.
“As I look down at your eager, smiling faces …”
In seconds, I would be alone.
They knew what was coming because, well, they had heard The Speech … uh … more than a few times before.
It had its origins in Fort St. James in the summer of 1989 when, fresh out of tree planting camp, I found myself at a real newspaper, with a real newspaper job.
It had been a few years since I graduated from my journalism course and I had made maybe $50 from my writing in all that time.
It’s a long drive from Vancouver up to The Fort, made longer in this case by the need to pull over every half hour or so and walk around a bit to clear my head of the gas fumes from the $200 wreck.
It didn’t take long to find the newspaper. With about 4,000 people in the whole area, Fort St. James wasn’t a big town. The office was in the back room of a convenience store and when he answered my knock the outgoing reporter was clearly happy to see me.
“There’s the computer,” he said. “The mayor’s name is Sandy. Fly at ‘er.”
Then he was gone.
I was alone in a tiny cube with barred windows, an ancient Compugraphic typesetter and a ticking clock. Five days. That’s how long I had to put out my first newspaper in this one-man show. As far as news content was concerned, I was it.
Intimidating? You bet. However, I knew that when faced with an overwhelming task, you have to put your head down, take it one step at a time and deal with first things first.
So … first, write the acceptance speech.
After all, I was certain I would be winning multiple newspaper awards and I didn’t want to get up on stage and be all tongue-tied.
“As I look down at your eager, smiling faces,” I wrote, “I feel a responsibility to share with you some of the insights I’ve gained from my … wider vision. But before I do, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I’m not some sort of god. I’m not all that different from some of you out there tonight. (chuckle) You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if, far back in the distant past, our bloodlines could very well have crossed. Of course, that could never happen nowadays. Only the best for my children …”
It went on from there.
Over the past 24 years I’ve won about 30 awards on the company, provincial and national level, but the experience never really lived up to the fantasy and nobody ever asked me to make a speech — so I had to make do with giving it to the other staff.
Now, with The NEWS once more taking the gold medal in the provincial newspaper awards, perhaps it’s time to dust off the speech. I know it was a group effort, but I’m not so old and inflexible that I can’t make a few changes to the text.
As we look down at your eager, smiling faces, we feel a responsibility to share with you some of the insights we have gained from our … wider vision …
Hey, where did everybody go?
Neil Horner is the assistant editor of the Parksville Qualicum Beach News and a regular columnist.