It was June, 1995, when I walked into The Surrey-North Delta Leader’s office in Whalley.
It was surreal.
Young men and women in the newsroom wearing business-casual attire marched at brisk paces, passing each other wordlessly, creating the vibe of a West Wing episode.
This was professional journalism at its finest.
Before I arrived, I was told there were three community newspapers in the Lower Mainland considered a worthy prize for a new J-school grad.
They were the Vancouver Courier, the North Shore News and The Surrey Leader.
Walking into this office, I knew why – whole walls were covered in regional and national awards for the best paper, year after year.
It was relatively Dark Ages journalism back then, with an odour of photographic developer and fixer chemicals wafting from the darkroom, where images were processed across from a large light table to ensure their quality.
I quickly found myself landing on the news-rich city beat.
That was the year of Stetson Bowl’s cost overruns, a leaky council, and civic meetings that went until 2 a.m. and beyond.
It was around that time then-mayor Bob Bose called the police on then-councillor Judy Higginbotham because he couldn’t end her filibuster.
TV crews, the dailies and I regularly stayed until the bitter end of council meetings, waiting to see who would throw a cup at whom.
Harold Munro, city reporter with The Vancouver Sun at the time, showed me how to sprint on the beat.
I couldn’t beat him often, but damn he brought up my speed in the 100m dash.
We are now in the fourth civic administration I’ve covered while at The Leader.
I’ve always felt we had the leadership we needed at the time of our growth, and boy, has this city grown.
It’s been fascinating being an observer of all this over the last 22 years.
Some of my favourite moments included the 10 months I spent with Leader photographer and writer Evan Seal in Whalley, mostly on our own time, getting to know the people living on the street.
The resulting eight-page, colour section without ads still stands for me as some of our finest work.
And we did it because the exposé spoke to our core values of exposing street life as it is, no matter how difficult that might be for readers to face.
We may have worked for the paper, but our ultimate employer was the truth. Any worthwhile story was worth telling right.
I will miss this profession somewhat, but I’ll miss the people immensely.
I will forever be grateful and just a little amazed at the level of trust people put in me to get their story right. That very understanding has always been a weighty pressure to protect them and make sure the story was as factual and fair as possible.
The relationships I’ve built at city hall have been amazing, the trust they have extended to me, humbling. To a person, they truly want what’s best for this city.
When they saw something wrong, they’ve been brave enough to bring it to me, at immense personal and professional risk.
I inherited the police beat about 10 years ago and have found the men and women on the Surrey RCMP are beyond reproach.
On that note, the Surrey detachment finally has the number of officers necessary to do the job they were meant to.
Hopefully they can now begin “fishing upstream” (as one officer described it to me) to ensure our youth make better choices than that of a life of crime.
As for our elected officials, you are somewhat unleashed now that you have half the attention from local papers and almost none from the dailies.
Try to conduct yourselves as though the world was still watching, while noting who will win their vote. At the same time, make choices because they’re right, not because they are expedient.
Voters may not like it, but they’ll always respect you for it.
And to our readership, thank you for staying with us.
Moving forward, you will likely receive your information from the Internet, or newsrooms pared to the bone.
Be sure to read not only information that fits your own narrative, but opposing views as well.
The weighty responsibility of hunting for balance and accuracy now lands largely on your shoulders.