By Brian Kieran
Like many seniors I lament the decline of our once great daily newspapers. Many of us grew up dependant on them for our news. I had the good fortune to grow up in them.
The very sad thing is that in their decline our daily newspapers are becoming more and more slaves to their shrinking advertising base.
The contest of wills between editorial and advertising has always been a fact of life. I learned that lesson early on in my career. In the 1970s I was briefly editor of the Nelson Daily News. The publisher was an advertising man whose mandate was to pander to the powerful merchants of Baker Street. He lived in mortal dread of what I might say on the editorial pages.
One day I was watching life go by on Baker Street from my office window when a city works crew pulled up to do some routine street maintenance. I took notes as three city workers idly leaned on their brooms while one of their junior co-workers completed the task at hand. I decided to share this appalling waste of taxpayers’ dollars with my readers.
I must note here that Nelson was in the iron grip of Mayor Lou Maglio who could have played body double for Don Corleone in the Godfather movies. I must also add that the city works department was generously populated with members of Maglio’s extended family.
When my piece appeared next day, the mayor flipped out. The Baker Street merchants flipped out because they were not subsidizing independent controversial thought and my publisher flipped out because he feared the mayor even more than the merchants.
I was summoned to the mayor’s office to be lectured on the role of the city’s newspaper. When I failed to show the appropriate measure of regret Maglio became so livid that he had two cigarettes going simultaneously.
I pointed this out and left city hall a marked man.
Sometime later my best friend David showed up from the coast and we decided to celebrate his visit with an evening on the town. In the 70s, an evening on the town in Nelson meant just one thing, a visit to one of the local hotel bar rooms. At every establishment we were refused service at the door. Clearly, word had spread from the mayor’s office to the merchants that the editor of the daily paper was persona non grata.
David was freaked and consulted his “I Ching” for guidance on my behalf. The I Ching is a complex ancient and classic Chinese divination text. Accessing its wisdom involves the production of seemingly random numbers that unlock the book’s prophecies. Many guru-like, latter-day 1970s hippies (David) packed it everywhere.
As the saying goes, we “threw” the I Ching and it spoke to us in no uncertain terms. I paraphrase: “Some battles you win; some you lose; get out of town now!”
We immediately consumed a litre of Similkameen Superior red and called it a night.
The next morning I was awakened by the ringing telephone. It was the publisher of the now-defunct Nanaimo Free Press. He said he had heard on the grapevine that I might be looking for work and offered me the job of city editor over the phone, sight unseen.
This coincidental cosmic collision of rejection and opportunity had me in a state of stunned amazement. David just smiled like Confucius. Not remarkable at all, he said, patting the I Ching.
Of course, I accepted the new posting and got my butt out of Nelson as fast as possible.
When the Nelson Daily News was shut down years later I shed not a tear. I was told the publisher ended up working in a butcher shop.