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From the Top of the Pile for 25 years

Back when a fast computer was called a 386, scrawny bespectacled nerd who on occasion wore a shirt and tie to class and a beaver hat in winter found himself the editor of the Yorkton Regional High School newspaper, The Regional Rap .

Back when a fast computer was called a 386, scrawny bespectacled nerd who on occasion wore a shirt and tie to class and a beaver hat in winter found himself the editor of the Yorkton Regional High School newspaper, The Regional Rap. In the spring of 1992, that high school held a career day.

During that career day a soft-spoken bespectacled man stood behind a table in the main hall, talking to teenagers about a career in journalism. This man, then-Yorkton This Week & Enterpriseeditor Murray Lyons, is entirely to blame. (After many years at the StarPhoenix, he’s now a communications guy with a big mining company.)

The bespectacled kid dragged the bespectacled editor to his school newspaper office in C-Wing, handed him a stack of school newspapers, and asked what he was doing wrong and how he could improve it. A couple weeks later, the editor asked the kid to add 150 words to his most recent column, and he would be willing to run new columns in the local paper every second week. He’d even pay for it.

The scrawny nerd then pitched the column to the Canora Courier, and they took to printing it in the Courier, Preeceville Progress, Norquay North Starand Kamsack Times. And they were willing to pay for it, too!   

That was 25 years ago, today, March 20, 2017, and my life has never been the same.

Roughly 1,200 columns later, that outspoken kid is no longer skinny by a long shot. I’ve discovered in my middle age I’m now fat and ugly, so it’s a good thing I didn’t go into television news. After Plan A, B, C, D and E didn’t work out, I think I’m on Plan F in life, and still writing about it. If you did the math, I took about a year off, coming back in 1999 after the late Ken Sobkow, who owned the Canora Courier group of papers, encouraged me (at my wedding) to resume.

When you write 1,200-odd columns, often those columns are about what pisses you off this week. In the process, you will occasionally piss some people off in turn. Some family members have not spoken to me in 24 years after an ill-advised piece I wrote about phone bills. One man, perturbed at my column talking about how my home town of Hyas was slowly turning into a ghost town, advised my now-late grandfather that I should have been strangled at birth. Don’t get me started on gun nuts. They get their backs up and go seriously bonkers, even if you are on their side. And, it should be said, they are presumably armed.

Over the years my diatribes have been carried by the Rosetown Eagle, Battlefords News-Optimist, Southeast Trader and Gull Lake Advance. It’s still printed in the Advance and in the Battlefords, but there it has been shifted, in print, to the Regional Optimist. Recently it has been included in the Estevan Mercury as I’m now helping out there a bit in addition to my primary duties as editor of Pipeline News. In Pipeline News I write a different version, focussing on the oilpatch. That adds another 100 or so columns, and a further 100 editorials.

When I took paternity leave with the birth of our second child, Spencer, I wrote a well-received Mr. Mom column to help keep the wolf from the door.

In 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 some judges figured I was the columnist of the year for the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspaper Association. I’m not sure if I’ve lost my touch since then, or they stopped considering me due to my column being syndicated.

This column has come to define me in ways nothing else has. It’s one thing to write news. It’s another thing to have your opinions recorded in ink for all to see, dissect and either love or hate. All through being a high school student, failing university student, unsuccessful software startup entrepreneur, excavator operator, photographer, air force reserve officer, newspaper reporter and editor, the one constant has been being a columnist. It’s my own form of therapy, where I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve probably more than any person should.

The column detailing my sister Melanie, graduating nursing where I failed engineering was one of my proudest moments. And the several columns detailing her death due to suicide two years ago, in May, have been my lowest.

Will there be another 25 years? Last week I attended the retirement of the Mercury’s Norm Park, who spent over 50 years in newspaper journalism. I don’t know if newspapers, in their current form, will last another 10 years, or even five.

But until that ship has sailed, I hope to keep writing about whatever I find, From the Top of the Pile.