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September 2014: The Write Stuff

September 3, 2014
C P Scott: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

C P Scott: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

In 1936 a trust was set up to ensure in perpetuity the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the then Manchester Guardian. It was named after its longtime editor C P Scott.

Fifteen years earlier, in a centenary editorial, Scott wrote: “Character is a subtle affair, and has many shades and sides to it. It is not a thing to be much talked about, but rather to be felt… It is for each man his most precious possession, and so it is for the newspaper. Fundamentally, it implies honesty, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community.”

It is perhaps not surprising that I remembered Scott’s famous editorial as I sat down to write this, my last column for the current iteration of the Flying Shingle. I cannot think of a better description of the character of the paper under the editorship of Chris Bowers.

Good journalism should not just inform, it should be thought provoking. And it should not be afraid to court controversy. (Heaven knows that’s true of Chris.) Just as the Guardian has worn its left-leaning politics on its sleeve for nearly 200 years, so the Shingle has for the past 42 years.

Back in London in the 1980s, I had the Guardian delivered to my home every morning. But on Sundays, I also took delivery of the Sunday Telegraph, because I wanted to know what the other side was saying about the news. (Early in our relationship I discovered that my partner Mike Wallace, a lifelong peace activist, knew an extraordinary amount about the military. When I voiced my surprise at this, Mike quoted a line from The Art of War, written in 4th century BC by the Chinese general Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”)

As tempting as it may sometimes be, a well-informed individual doesn’t just seek out a reflection of his or her own opinion. (Take that, Fox News viewers.)

So it came as another surprise not long ago when I was told in no uncertain terms that there were many people – an undefined number – on Gabriola who would not even open the Shingle. I might have been able to understand this back in the 1990s, when it was difficult for a grammar pedant such as myself to get through the paper without some raised blood pressure. But that problem ceased to exist when Chris took over as editor. (Alas, not so much at the Sounder.)

I haven’t always agreed with Shingle editorials or with the opinions of the many excellent writers who’ve filled the paper’s pages, although they have occasionally caused me to change my views and I’ve always appreciated the quality of the writing. All I can say to those people (assuming they exist) who’ve refused to open the paper is that you’ve missed a lot.

As those who do read the paper know, several years ago Mike became a regular contributor to ‘Waging Words’ and ended up with his own column, ‘Wallace’s World’. He thoroughly enjoyed writing both. Little did I suspect, following Mike’s untimely death in 2011, that I would follow in his footsteps. Like Mike, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to rant about everything from Enbridge to the cost of dentistry in Canada.

The first magazine to employ me when I began my career in journalism in the UK was shut down by the publishers three years later because it was not generating enough advertising revenue. I took another job within the company and five years later that magazine, too, ceased publishing (after more than 100 years) because it didn’t make enough money.

Neither closure saddened me as much as the closure of the Shingle. I suspect that’s because neither magazine had that sense of duty to the reader and the community.

I wish Chris all the very best for the next chapter in her life. I also wish the very best to the group of Gabriolans who are currently seeking a way to keep the Shingle and all it stands for alive after this issue. My fingers are crossed and to them I say: If you need a good rant, you know where to find me.

Good Night and Good Luck.

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