When I was in high school, back in Ontario, I loved to write but I declared I wanted to be a teacher so no one steered me in any other direction. In the years following university, I ended up doing anything but teaching, and always writing. By my twenties, I discovered a talent for writing non-fiction and began publishing columns and articles. I wasn’t a prolific freelance writer but I published enough to keep calling myself a writer.
With my move to Nova Scotia in 2007, my writing flourished. Although I still didn’t become prolific, I published frequently and established myself as a bona fide non-fiction writer.
Then I got a job at the Oxford Journal community newspaper. It happened unexpectedly and I wasn’t hired as a writer; I was there part-time to create ads and layout the paper. I loved that work, it was creative and self-directed, but you can’t put me at a newspaper and not expect me to write.
So six years ago, I slipped a column called “Field Notes” into a blank space on one of the Classifieds pages, and for the first time in my life, I was a newspaper columnist.
When the Oxford Journal closed in 2015, Darrell Cole, editor of this newspaper and the Amherst News, invited me to continue publishing Field Notes. And he paid me.
That payment matters. That subscription to the newspaper matters. That advertising fee matters.
Because community newspapers matter.
Community newspapers play a vital role in keeping our rural areas connected. They tell the stories that the larger, urban papers can’t, or won’t. They tell the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They tell the stories of your neighbours. They tell the stories that people don’t even realize are stories worth telling. One of the greatest pleasures of my life was my “In Conversation With...” column because it allowed me to have long conversations with people living in Cumberland County and share those stories with readers. Many of those stories, and many of my Field Notes columns, went on to be published in Field Notes, the book.
Without a community newspaper, that book would not exist and I would not have realized my dream to become a published author. That is very humbling.
Rural communities need writers, and they need newspapers. Both need financial support in order to keep publishing; we don’t expect plumbers and teachers and nurses and grocery store cashiers to work for free so why should journalists? Who will share the interesting conversations with our neighbours if we don’t support the writers who have the skills to create those stories?
Keep in mind, too, that a staff of two or three is doing the work of six or seven, and covering an entire county. Their commitment is to be commended.
Saying that, this is my final column. It is my own decision to stop writing a bi-weekly newspaper column even though there are still people to meet and stories to tell.
Thank you for reading this column for the past six years. It’s been my joy and privilege to write for you, and to be a trusted part of your community.