When the NewsLeader closed two years ago, I thought I was done. Over the course of 31 years in community journalism, I’d told some good stories, met countless interesting people, had opportunities to document some pretty cool events and moments.
After six months of decompressing and riding my bike, I stepped to the “other side,” creating digital content for a local realtor. It was a chance to use my skills in a different venue, bringing value to a new audience.
The gig lasted 11 months.
No sooner had it ended when an opportunity to return to community journalism presented itself. It took all of one day to realize I still had stories to tell, I thrive in the buzz of a newsroom, I crave the variety and the challenge of weaving something from nothing, putting it out to the world and then doing it all over again.
I went in with no illusions about the precariousness of our industry and the security of my gig. Every time we hear of a paper closing or another cutting further, my blood runs a little cold. A phone call from head office and a closed door meeting could send me back to my Plan B in a heartbeat.
But for as long as it lasts, I’m glad to be back doing what I do best, telling stories with my camera and with words, digging out little nuggets from around town that might surprise or delight our readers, driving from assignment to assignment with one eye out for that elusive wild art that might give the editor another option for front page or plug a hole on page 15.
It’s where I belong. It’s what I love.
Of course, my return to newspapers means another chance to mine my year’s work for some of my favourite photos. In days of yore, I filled an entire edition of the Burnaby and New West NewsLeaders, along with commentary about how a particular photo came to pass, or what I liked about it. I spend more time in the office these days, working the phones, writing stories; the body of work isn’t as deep as I’d like it, but it’s getting there.
Determination is all in the eyes, and this young junior Mountie was certainly keen on navigating the police tape challenge.
Fall light is beautiful. The kid looking back at his competitors is just a happy accident because I orinally lined up this photo to take advantage of the backlight through the trees and spectators along the cross-country course in Mundy Park.
It’s all about the faces.
How could you not want to do a story about a ninja gym? The rest is just using the environment at hand and light.
I’d like to say i completely planned this photo from the PoCo Grand Prix, but the truth is it was a lucky frame I had no idea I had until I downloaded the memory card.
Driving back to the office, I saw the light shimmering through fall leaves at Town Centre Park. The key is finding a spot with a dark, distant background so the colourful leaves really pop. And then waiting for some kind of human activity to happen.
I tend to shoot tight, but sometimes it’s nice to step back and take advantage of lines and light.
If only athletes knew the faces they make.
When I entered Darya Ahmadi’s Port Coquitlam studio to talk about her passion project, I didn’t realize the stylish decor was constructed of disguised exercise balls. I tried to compose the photo to emphasize their unique shape and the monochrome surroundings.
Another chance to get arty at the Jerome Classic.
A rainstorm and backlight can turn a routine shot of football action into something epic.
Combining lunch and a photo op is pretty much a journalist’s dream. And seeing as one of the aspects of Port Moody’s Ribfest is waiting in line, my challenge was making that queueing look interesting.
Netball you say? All my career I’ve wanted to do a netball story just so I could do this photo, cliché as it may be.
Oops. You have to be prepared for anything — even things that go wrong as when these senior throwers managed to hurl a hammer high into the protective screen.
Normally I scan right past photos with unexpected and unexplained random people in the background. But the surprised look on the sideline spectator’s face just adds to this shot of an interception.
The story of Andrew Teel and his adopted family started with a hug. So of course that’s what I needed to capture in a photo. That we were able to recapture that moment in the very classroom where it first happened made it part of the story as well.
Political debates aren’t exactly a photographic goldmine. But once they’re over and the candidates can relax, that’s when moments can happen.
The challenge presented was getting a photo about a new walking soccer league, but walking isn’t the most dynamic activity to photograph; so with Nancy Sinatra’s song “These Boots Are Made For Walking” in my head, I lay on the ground and used the sole’s of my subject’s soccer boots to do the storytelling for me.
The curved lines of the cruiser bike in the foreground make a perfect frame for the toil going on in the background.
Track and field meets are a smorgasborg of photographic opportunities. And when those meets are at dusk, there’s a chance to get arty.
A report of a suspicious package in the parking lot at Coquitlam Station was certainly puzzling, so all I had to do was wait for the cop in the foreground to scratch his head at the right time.
Even in a driving deluge, Jenna Buglioni was able to juggle the field hockey ball around her opponents. It took me two days to dry out after shooting this game.
The 60 minutes or so of action from any championship sporting event are just a prelude for the shot that really matters.
Most sports photography is done with long telephoto lenses, but sometimes it’s nice to throw on wide-angle glass and try to create a story-telling image in one frame. This has all the elements of the Jerome Classic, a beautiful summer night, full grandstands, dramatic location and athletic competition.
Fog inversions can be fun. Finding a viewpoint that offers a high enough vantage as well as some visual reference in the foreground can mean a lot of driving and pulling the car over to see if a spot works.
Trampoline is a tough sport to shoot. It’s very vertical and often practised in gyms with terrible lighting and busy backgrounds. So when presented with a need to photograph a tramplinist for a profile story, the last thing I wanted to do was have her jump. But the gym still had terrible light and busy backgrounds. So pop in a couple of flashes, including one underneath the trampoline to give it some visual pop, and we’re good to go.
For most of my cycling “career” I’ve been a middle-of-the-pack guy.
On group rides, I can take my share of pulls, then settle in comfortably in the midst of the peloton.
Even my best Strava achievements end up placing me somewhere in the middle of all the riders who have tested that particular segment.
I’m cool with that.
But this year, I have become back-of-the-pack guy. And too often I’ve been The Guy The Rest of The Peloton Has to Wait For.
On Sunday’s annual FRF Fondon’t, I was firmly ensconced as the latter. No matter how hard I tried to hang onto the group as we pedalled the flats through Pitt Meadows, and the rollers of east Maple Ridge to the Stave Lake dam, there would come a moment when I would lose contact and the group just drifted away. I couldn’t hold a wheel if my life depended on it.
On one of the hottest days of the summer, I felt bad every time the group paused at the side of the road to give me a chance to catch up.
Occasionally, our patron, or one of the other riders, would drop back to keep me company or give me their wheel; but, inevitably, we’d drift apart again, our peloton disappearing as an ever-shrinking dot on the paved horizon.
It was very dispiriting.
This hasn’t been a good season.
A new job with a bit longer commute and a different schedule, increasing demands for family time and miserable weather until almost July conspired against the miles.
So did the loss of Lapierre.
Because as much as cycling isn’t supposed to be about the bike, when you’ve got one you love to ride, that repays your efforts up hills with speedy, precise descents, that giddy ups when you want to go, you want want to ride it. As much as possible.
Lapierre was that bike for me.
And while the borrowed Cannondale allows me to get out onto the road, it’s not my bike.
It’s quirks aren’t my quirks. Its rewards are few and far between.
Lapierre’s replacement is on order. But a two week window has stretched to a four-week wait, and the season, like the peloton, is pulling away.
As with Lapierre, I’m buying this bike pretty much sight unseen and unridden, but with a great deal of research into her pedigree. I’m confident it’s a good choice for me. I’m hopeful it will be my ticket to ride back to the middle of the pack. Where I belong.
It seems I spent a lot of time shooting bike racing this week. Here is a mash-up of photos from the New West Grand Prix and the PoCo Grand Prix. Both races are part of BC Superweek, a series of nine races around Metro Vancouver that attracts top-level pros from across North America and from as far away as New Zealand.
For the second time in less than a year, the future of my beloved bike is in doubt and emails have been dispatched in hopes a carbon repair lifeline will keep us together. On the road.
Last Sunday, I hit a divot in the pavement, a sort of smoothed pothole. I heard a loud snap and thought it was just the handlebar twisting in the stem clamp from the jarring impact; it’s happened before. But a few days later, as Lapierre was being tended by Velofix for a late spring tune-up, the wrench noticed a jagged crack at the back of the headset, about the length of a loonie.
My heart sank. Cracks in carbon are usually fatal, as repair is difficult and technicians with the skill and knowledge to make those repairs are few and far between. Fortunately, we have one, Robert Mulder, nearby.
But a repair to the headset might be more problematic, as that part of the bike absorbs so much impact from the road. I’ve sent photos to Mulder, and I await his assessment.
In the meantime, I’ve steeled myself for bad news.
Cyclists form a special bond with their bikes. After all, we’re attached at a pretty intimate part of our anatomy. Over the miles of road and gravel and dirt we spend together, we get to know every nuance of how the bike rolls, reacts and sounds. We learn its limits and when it can give just a little more. As we tend to its mechanical needs, we become familiar with every curve and junction, every nook and cranny, every scratch, every nick.
So when that bond is in peril, the prospect of breaking up can be hard.
Sure, some will say, but there’s plenty of bikes in the shops; this is your chance to have some fun, play the field, maybe find your true bike.
But, as I’ve discovered in these past days of researching new rides that could steal my ardour, Lapierre is still in my head, and my heart. Every frameset is measured against the lithe lines of Lapierre, every paint job compared to her French mélange of flash and panache, every dimension is doubted for its ability to match her fit and form.
Of course, the easiest thing would be to just find a new Lapierre, still lithe and sexy but with new technology and engineering. But it seems Lapierre has abandoned the North American market.
Now is the spring of our discontent
Made ever more miserable by this lack of sun
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our rides
In the deep chasm of the puddles buried.
Now are our brows bowed with discouraged furrows;
Our soggy bibs hung up for monuments;
Our muddy cleats march to gloomy forecasts.
Grim-visaged trainer rides hath smoothed our wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting carbon steeds
To fright the souls of fearful pelotons,
We caper sullenly in garages and basements
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped in previous seasons,
Nor made to be pleased by my reflections;
I, that am rudely lacking of sinew and muscle
To strut at the end of ambling pace lines;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of physique by dissembling weather,
Deformed, unfit, sent before my time
Into this breathing world with scarcely half the mileage,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
My Garmin barks as it forgets about me;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of rain and cold,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to chase my shadow in the sun
And slim down on my own deformity;
And therefore, since I cannot ride whenever,
To pine for days of warm, pleasant weather,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle sloth of these cloudy, cold days.
Rides have I planned, long and languid,
By optimistic ambitions, routes and schemes,
To set my legs spinning and Lapierre
In delightful rhythm with each other:
And if the Weather Man be as true and just
As I am discouraged, cowering and cold,
This day of better weather should closely follow,
About a time, before spring becomes summer,
As cyclists wish for roads dry and bare of puddles,
Of days of shorts and cold beers.
Ride, thoughts, down to my soul; where
Is the sun?
At least it’s not raining under this bridge.
The coffee stop; time to warm up and dry out.
The FRF gathers for the 2nd John Lee Memorial Ride, and tries to stay warm.
The further east we ride, the wetter we get.
This was previously published on my cycling blog, The Big Ring.
In 1996, I had the opportunity to cover Greg Moore’s first public appearance in an IndyCar, the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsports in North America. I first covered Moore in 1993, when his underfunded family-owned team competed in Indy Lights, the feeder series to the powerful 750 HP big cars; I was in Portland when Moore’s team had to borrow tires from another team to get Greg back in the race. By the time the checkered flag dropped, he had clawed his way back to third.
For the next two seasons we caught up with him regularly in Portland and at the Vancouver Indy. It was apparent he was a special racer with huge potential to make a major mark in his sport.
So when the promoters of the Vancouver race offered a package deal to local media to travel to Homestead, Florida to cover IndyCar “Spring Training,” I lobbied my editor at The Maple Ridge News that we should be there.
This is the story I brought back:
The fastest man from Maple Ridge
It’s the second day of Greg Moore’s first IndyCar season, but he’s not going anywhere.
While Paul Tracy, Raul Boesel and Bryan Herta are lapping the 1.51-mile oval track in Homestead, Florida, at more than 190 miles an hour, the fasted man from Maple Ridge is slumped in a chair in front of his team’s garage, his head buried in the collar of a jacket to ward off the unseasonable cold. Something in his Player’s Reynard electrical system is acting up and the team of technicians and mechanics swarming over the car can’t seem to find the problem. The tension is palpable.
But this is what “Spring Training” week at the brand new Homestead Motorsports Complex in the middle of a flat Florida swamp is all about. Most of the world’s fastest drivers are here to shake down their new cars, test new equipment, work out the bugs and crank up the hype machine for the upcoming ’96 PPG IndyCar World Series that begins the first week of March at this very same track.
It’s an especially big week for Moore.
He’s only had six days of seat time in the car he’ll be racing this season. As the new kid on the block, it’s a chance for him to earn some early credibility with the other drivers and with fans. At 20 years-old he’s the youngest driver on the circuit, and he’s the second-youngest by only a month to Al Unser Jr. to ever climb into an Indy racing car.
“It’s nothing new for me to be the kid, because I’ve always been the kid,” says Moore.
Indeed, in Formula 1600 he was the youngest driver by four years. In Indy Lights he was younger than his competitors by six years.
Moore’s ride to car racing’s big league has been almost as fast as some of the cars he drives: a go-kart champion in 1990; rookie-of-the-year in Formula 1600 in 1991; a Formula 2000 champion in 1992; racing Indy Lights before he graduated high school in 1993, breaking all the series’ records and winning the championship in 1995. Climbing into the cockpit of a 750-horsepower Indy car is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“It was pretty hard to imagine we’d ever get to this day,” says Moore’s dad, Ric, who’s also his manager.
It’s been a lot of work. Since being named the driver for the Player/Forsythe Racing team last November, Moore has spent 30 days testing at tracks in Florida, Arizona and California. He had a couple of days of media training in Montreal to prepare for his higher profile. And there’s been an intense conditioning program to get him ready for the rigours of wrestling the powerful Indy car around a track for two or three hours.
“The physical preparation is a little more intense for IndyCar,” says Moore.
That includes a lot of cardio work, training in the gym, on the stair master, rowing, lifting weights, riding his bike.
Moore will also have to prepare himself mentally for longer races – 200 to 500 miles instead of the 75-mile sprints he raced in Indy Lights.
“He’ll have to be 100 per cent focused,” says Ric.
Moore says he’s just honing the intensity he already possesses every race weekend. “I don’t really think I can change that much.”
Moore’s focus is almost legendary on pit row. When his blue, white and gold Reynard sputters and grunts only a few laps into the second day of testing at Homestead, Moore pulls into pit lane with a frustrated twitch.
Technicians remove the carbon fiber rear engine cowling and side pods to try to diagnose the problem. Moore flips up his helmet’s visor and exchanges a few curt hand signals with his chief mechanic, Chris Lovely. But mostly he just stares straight ahead, the fire to be on the track instead of keeping the revs up in the pits burning from his eyes.
When the signal comes to cut the engine, Moore climbs from the car and removes his helmet brusquely. He looks over the shoulder of chief engineer Steve Challis at a clipboard crowded with numbers. Nobody says much.
As the car is pushed behind the wall and back to the garage, Moore strides down pit lane alone. It takes most of the day before technicians pin down the problem. A spare part is salvaged from the back-up car and phone calls are made to the team’s headquarters in Indianapolis to get more parts shipped down overnight.
Moore’s race-ready intensity cools a little quicker. For a while he just stews in the plastic chair. He moves to the pit wall when one of his heroes, Paul Tracy, blows up his engine in a cloud of white smoke as he exits turn four.
By early afternoon Moore is loose and smiling again.
One of the consequences of his ascent to the big leagues is the added demands on his time, infringements on his concentration. Media from across North America are anxious to get a clip from the hot new talent of IndyCar racing.
Moore handles each interview with aplomb. He mugs for the camera as his mic is hooked up. He’s careful to mention his sponsors, He smiles politely as the same questions are asked again and again.
“There’s a little more show involved,” says Moore. “Before I didn’t have sponsors, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that.”
Everything is bigger now for Moore. This season he’ll compete in 16 races in four countries. Each race will be seen by an average 75 million TV viewers in 150 countries.
Moore says he’s won’t be along just for the ride; his goal is to win rookie-of-the-year, finish in the top ten point, win a race.
“I think the Player’s team is quite capable of it,” says Moore. “I think it could be Vancouver’s first IndyCar win for a Vancouver driver.”
That’s not just youthful bravado, says Challis who’s worked with Moore for six years. “He has a good work ethic and he’s very smart. He has the potential to be one of the best drivers in the world.”
The stubborn electrical glitch apparently solved, Moore’s car is rolled back out to pit lane late in the afternoon, in time for the day’s final practice session. After an IndyCar official gives the signal to open the track, Moore pops the clutch and thunders into the long Florida sunset.
The Reynard holds together. Moore’s speed increases each time around the banked oval. On the second-last lap of the day, with the sun dipped below the track wall, Moore clocks 192.196 mph. It’s the second-fastest lap of the day.
The next day, Moore breaks 194 mph, the third fastest lap for the whole week.
“Everything goes by a lot quicker now,” says Moore’s dad, Ric.
Everything we do passes through the prism of a storyteller. When we watch the news, one ear is on the craft of the writing, one eye honed to the visuals. When something cool or extraordinary happens, we want to immediately be there to pass the story on.
So while you may take the journalist out of the newsroom, you can never take the newsroom out of the journalist.
This week, I officially return to a newsroom to tell stories again.
When my newspaper, the Burnaby/New Westminster NewsLeader, closed in Oct., 2015, I thought I was walking out of a newsroom for the last time. And I was fine with that. I’d cobbled together an admirable career for just over 30 years. I’d seen and experienced a lot of interesting things. I had had a front-row seat to some incredible happenings. I met amazing people. I learned a lot about building and connecting communities. I got paid to be curious, find out stuff.
But with the newspaper industry in its death throes, sucking morale and enthusiasm from depleted newsrooms everywhere, I accepted I’d have to find other avenues to tell stories.
After some time away to decompress and reorient myself to a new path, I did just that. I learned some new skills, explored new topics for new audiences.
But in conversations, I still called myself a journalist, I still referred to the newspaper business as “our industry” when lamenting its sorrowful state.
This is my tribe. For better or for worse.
Then, a couple of weeks ago I was presented an opportunity to pull some shifts for the Tri-City News. While I’d visited newsrooms on social calls to old colleagues, or to discuss freelance projects with editors, this was the first time I’d sat at an actual desk to log in to write a story, download photos from the camera, in more than 18 months.
It felt like I’d never been away. It felt right. It felt like home.
And I’m not just speaking metaphorically. Because my first official day at the News came 26 years almost to the exact day I landed there after being encouraged to head west by the paper’s former chief photographer Craig Hodge.
A lot has changed over that time. But a lot hasn’t. Not the least of which is the drive and determination of a small newsroom to keep the citizens of three growing communities informed, share their stories, help out when there’s need, call out when it’s required.
Norm Friesen cut hair in New Westminster for 40 years. He likely won’t write a memoir, nor will Hollywood turn his life into a biopic. But the barber who also composed gospel music at the old piano in his one-chair shop on Mackenzie Street is just the kind of character who gives a community its soul and attracts the attention of a journalist looking for an interesting story.
A couple of years after I told Norm’s story in the NewsLeader, in words and photos, the city block that housed his shop was destroyed by a massive fire. Norm’s planned retirement was moved up a few weeks, but he lost every memento of his career. My story and photos were the last record of his life’s work, what the inside of his shop looked like, where he played his piano, the appointment book where he jotted down customers’ names.
When the NewsLeader was in its waning days I thought of Norm often, especially in the context of our responsibility as journalists to document our communities.
But as newspapers strip their resources to the bone, or close altogether, it gets harder and harder to live up to that responsibility. Stories are left untold, photos untaken. All in the name of economy.
In days of yore, before newspapers were bought up by corporations and hedge funds, publishers took their contract as a public service seriously. The ad department extracted dollars from local businesses and in return, the community was provided a daily, or weekly, chronicle of all the important, and not-so-important, news and information.
In the halcyon days of the early 1990s, it was heresy to let a community event go uncovered, to mute the volume on the police scanner. If important events conflicted, shifts were juggled, overtime authorized or freelancers hired to ensure readers wouldn’t miss a thing. And if it was a really big event, extra hands were brought in to give readers the whole story from several angles and nothing was missed. Accepting handout photos was an affront to our journalistic integrity.
But as news holes started shrinking and budgets tightened, that commitment to “be there” waned. Overtime was no longer authorized to put photographers at opposite baselines for the BC High School Basketball Championship or bring in additional help to cover all candidates on election night. More and more events went unreported; it someone provided a free handout photo, no matter the quality or source, that would suffice to at least create the illusion of coverage.
As newsrooms got even smaller, editors and reporters more harried, coverage was further compromised. Whole days were left unstaffed. The police scanners went unheeded because a call meant putting aside the 13 other things that needed to get done. Handout photos and press releases started landing on the front page, that most hallowed ground for every journalist.
The implications of this go far beyond the diminished product and overworked, dispirited journalists. They will be felt for generations to come.
Because for all their current faults, newspapers are still the first record of a community’s history. They’re the in-the-moment chronicle of events, issues and characters of a community. As depleted newsrooms pass over stories that would be too labour-intensive, time-consuming or inconvenient to cover, holes appear in that history.
Last week, the Vancouver Sun and Province laid off 54 people; 29 of them are journalists. Two are librarians; they’re the caretakers of the papers’ archives. With them gone, who takes on that responsibility? Who will gather all the stories and photos and ensure they’re preserved and archived so future generations can access them, learn a little about the community’s evolution?
Anyone who’s ever tried to find something in an electronic database knows their fallibility. The database is only as good as the data that is put into it, and a vague or incorrect search term might yield nothing.
Without champions to ensure their integrity and continuity, it’s easy to let an archive slip, allow information to disappear forever, create gaps in a community’s story.
When the NewsLeader closed, the money guys who made that decision paid no mind to our archive of 26 years of community stories and photos. The old bound copies of the paper were destined for the garbage bin, as were the binders of cd’s and dvd’s containing our digital photo archive. The electronic archive, our websites, was simply turned off. Eventually some stories did reappear on the server of the surviving papers, but they’re sporadic; vast swaths of history have just disappeared.
Only a determined effort by one of our reporters saved our archive; the bound copies and digital photos were donated to the Burnaby and New Westminster archives, where they’ll be sorted and catalogued, a huge project because we didn’t have librarians to keep them well organized.
A Vancouver councilor, Geoff Meggs, has launched a similar initiative to preserve the archives of the Sun and Province. He recognizes that a company that jettisons the keepers of its archive has no commitment to protect the community’s “history on the run,” has no interest in keeping its part of the contract with the community it’s supposed to “serve.”
To see an example of the importance of a newspaper’s archives in action, check out the exhibition Vancouver in the Seventies, at the Museum of Vancouver until July 16; it’s comprised of 400 photos from the Vancouver Sun’s archive. Most of those images were routine assignments, likely forgotten by the photographer as soon as they handed their prints to an editor; but 40 years later they’re a remarkable record of the city’s coming of age. As the museum’s blurb says, “They capture the beauty of everyday events and chronicle the drama of pivotal moments that continue to shape the city.” You have to wonder if they’d be able to mount a similar exhibition in 2047 of Vancouver in the Twenty-tens.
“Ride,” she said, as the sun broke through the clouds. “You need to go for a ride.”
Of course, Princess of Pavement was right.
It’s been a dismal winter of ceaseless cold and snow and ice and rain. And it’s put me in a sullen state.
Last year at this time, I’d already put 1,300 kms into my legs. This year, it’s a third of that.
It hasn’t helped that the wintry weather also cost us nine weeks of road hockey.
There’s no doubt the lack of activity has softened my belly. And the diminished endorphins have soured my mood.
So when the morning rain turned to sunshine, Princess of Pavement prodded me. She knows the frustration of inactivity as injuries and school commitments have kept her from her beloved running for more than a year. She’s only just getting back to it, heading out for measured 5 kms when she has the opportunity; her smile lights her way.
But while the sun was out, an icy wind blasted up the river. We’re in the back half of March and we’ve ventured into double-digit temperatures maybe a half dozen times. Last year, the cherry trees were already in full pink bloom.
It was slow going into the stiff headwind. My ears chilled even under the flaps of my winter Castelli cap. I harboured no great ambition for the ride, other than 90 minutes of turning the pedals in fresh air; but it was so much warmer at home in the condo.
But at the turnaround, when the head wind became my booster, my mood lightened, my face warmed. My heavy legs suddenly became powerful pistons. I was a jet engine, rocketing along the flats at 35-40 kph with barely any effort.
It had taken an hour to get to the turnaround; it took only 30 minutes to get back home. Grinning from ear to ear. Mission accomplished.
This was originally published in my cycling blog, The Big Ring.