My last column for Pique Newsmagazine. You didn’t expect me to go quietly, did you?
By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
November 10, 2011
Three and a half years ago, Pique Newsmagazine took a chance on a brash young journalism student who was eager to start his career. He came from university with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to shake this town up.
Three and a half years later, I find myself holding back many emotions as I prepare to leave a community that has given me a wonderful start to my career. I’ve covered the Olympics; backroom deals on Wall Street; gained unique insights into B.C.’s energy economy; and developed an intimate knowledge of Sea to Sky’s First Nations.
There are so many people to thank for making this an incredible experience. First and foremost is Bob Barnett. Kind, caring and with a mind as sharp as a knife, he permits his reporters to exercise boundless creativity when generating story ideas and never stops them from pursuing a story, even when it risks maligning a reputation. That a story be fair, accurate and compelling is all he ever asks.
I must also thank my current editor Clare Ogilvie. She fosters a culture of fair-play and balanced reporting in the newsroom, playing tough with her reporters when necessary and never letting us lose sight of the human element in any story.
In Pemberton, the community to which I have given most of my attention, I must thank Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who has always made himself open and available for comment. We have spoken on a weekly basis since 2008 and it is a wonder he has never tired of talking to me. Susie Gimse, the director for Area C, has been equally generous in helping me with stories.
I also thank Nigel Protter, an energy consultant who has given me insights into BC’s green energy economy on a scale that few could obtain elsewhere.
In Mount Currie I thank Marie Abraham, a teacher and a storyteller who has been so generous in imparting knowledge to me about St’at’imc history and culture. I am indebted also to In-SHUCK-ch negotiator Gerard Peters, who has helped me understand the lengthy process that goes into negotiating a treaty.
And I thank you, Whistler. I have reported on you almost every day since 2008. You’re a town full of compassionate people who help each other out in difficult economic times.
I will look back fondly on my time here… but before I go, permit me to get myself in trouble one last time.
When I started at Pique, my job was relatively simple. I would hear of something happening, I would call people up to confirm it and then I could write my story. I could call people anywhere and I would get the answers I needed within a reasonable time frame.
I can still do that in most places. Whistler Blackcomb is fantastic at getting back to me and providing the information I need. They get me interviews with staffers and answer my questions in a timely manner.
Where I’m concerned is with the Resort Municipality of Whistler. In my time here it has taken on a communications protocol that turned it from an open, accountable local government to a stifling, fortress-like institution with a communications protocol like something out of a Kafka novel.
The normal course of getting information goes like this. You call or e-mail the communications department, with a specific set of questions and a deadline. You ask questions like “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? When can we expect this to be done?”
There was a time when you would get block-paragraph answers to each of these questions, and even a phone call back from a staff member wasn’t out of the question. Nowadays you’ll get a single sentence back in response, or be asked to wait days to talk to someone.
The danger with this new protocol is that without learning an issue’s full context, you give people only half the story. That might make community members draw conclusions that aren’t entirely true, or else heap scorn on blameless municipal officials.
And this isn’t just for media. If you’re a member of the public asking the very same questions, you’re likely to get exactly the same answers.
I’m told that this is a new policy, that we should give it time before lambasting it. But this isn’t new for me. I’ve had a similar experience with the RMOW since right after the Olympics.
I hope things change. Because it’s a black mark for an institution when a corporation outdoes it on matters of accountability.