My family has a multi-generational relationship with newsprint. If you are reading this, you may have realized I write a (mostly) weekly column in our local daily paper-of-record, which I also post as a blog – usually the same or next day, sometimes a bit later. (If you’re reading this online – how was your summer?) I’m not paid for it, but I get to write what I feel is important or overlooked, without being assigned topics or edited (much). But this is just the culmination of what turns out to have been a long, close relationship with print news.
It all started when I was perhaps 11 years old, delivering the local news-and-shopper to about a dozen blocks of my hometown thrice a week. A couple of years later, I moved to the big leagues, delivering a national daily 7 days a week. What I now can’t believe is that I used to deliver it in the morning before going to school! (People who know me now will declare that I’m lying, but that’s how I remember it.) The paper at hand, I also began reading the news at that young age, perhaps sparking my later interest in local and national politics.
As a teen, paper routes gave way to more lucrative after-school jobs. But attending the University of Waterloo, I soon enough found myself volunteering to proofread, write, and eventually co-edit the fortnightly faculty student publication mathNEWS (our name explained by the humorous yet true slogan “the paper with a little math, and even less news”), a post I held for several years.
Even though my days as a reporter and editor were pretty mild, other than some tussles over content deemed too shocking by the powers-that-be, I nonetheless developed a feeling of kinship to news media, such that the most moving monument I ever visited was a monument honouring war correspondents killed in the Korean War.
Moving to Barrie, I came full circle. With two home-based flex-time part-time jobs, I took on delivering the local shopper on my street as a way to get some exercise, some pocket money, and meet the new neighbours. For some reason I quit after a year – probably when the Christmas season turned every paper into phone book and the job lost its shine. A few years later I was back, yet on the pages instead of carrying them.
But now my daughter is carrying on this family tradition. Not as a writer, not yet, although her photograph has graced the pages reporting on many community events. No, she’s taken up the mantle of delivering the weekly shopper, a job that’s changed somewhat since I put down the bag. Back then, there were just a dozen or so flyers, and I went out thrice a week. Now it only runs once a week, but the inserts often number 40 or more. So while it seems print media is shrinking, at least in the news aspect, with fewer or thinner editions, the amount of print advertising remains or grows. As a result, every Thursday wee Brianna gamely delivers over twice her weight in newsprint. At 3 pounds per paper, I’m at least glad Barrie has a good recycling program, and people use it!
And since I help her with the huge task of pre-assembling the papers, I get to educate her on the magic of classic music, because I control the stereo. But the real education is in the responsibility of employment, which she takes very seriously, out there in any weather and subcontracting her own substitutes during family vacations. Will she follow in my footsteps and end up with her own byline in print? Will print newspapers still exist? It’s hard to say, but given her strong, informed opinions and willingness to share, it’s not impossible to imagine. Perhaps someday this column, like delivering the paper, will become a family tradition, too.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Family tradition wrapped in newsprint"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation and a founder of FruitShare Barrie.
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