David Hedley’s first job at a community newspaper in 1980 dashed any illusions his younger-self had about the glory of work as a journalist. It also taught the future Calgary Herald web producer the importance of multi-tasking — and truth.

David Hedley’s first job at a community newspaper in 1980 dashed any illusions his younger-self had about the glory of work as a journalist. It also taught the future Calgary Herald web producer the importance of multi-tasking — and truth.

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My first newspaper job interview dashed any illusions I might have had about the glory of work as a journalist.

I had cold-called the Strathmore Standard, hoping to reel in a summer job after my first year of journalism studies at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.  

Newspapers, books and clippings covered every available inch of space in the cluttered, old-fashioned office where the interview was taking place. The editor, Bob Giles — also the owner and publisher — seemed to be doing four things at once: talking to me, editing stories by country correspondents, fielding calls, and watching the comings and goings of people on main street just outside his window.    

Giles told me he needed someone to produce a bank of feature stories for a special section he intended to publish later that year on agricultural progress.

Agriculture? Me? I was a town kid. I could hardly tell the difference between a Mayweed and a honeysuckle hedge. But of course, I didn’t admit that. I’d love to spend the summer writing about agriculture!

And that’s how I landed my first job in the newspaper biz. I soon learned that curiosity is the prime qualification for a reporter — and editors can keep you from falling flat on your face.

It was 1980. Big Media was busy covering Ronald Reagan’s nomination as a Republican candidate. John and Yoko recorded their album Double Fantasy. The world held its breath as 17,000 Polish shipyard workers went on strike. But international news meant little to me; I had my hands full reporting about local events and personalities in a little town on the TransCanada Highway in southern Alberta.

So off I went, a Pentax camera slung over my shoulder, spiral notebook in hand, as I travelled highways and dusty backroads finding out about irrigation pivots, ditchriders (canal maintenance overseers), zero tilling farm techniques, honey production, and even greyhound racing. No one was more surprised than I when, months later, the publication won the Unifarm award from the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association for service to the farm community.

I still have a fading copy of that section tucked in a cardboard box under my basement stairs. Looking back, I learned much more that first summer than what appeared in print.

Like reporters at community papers everywhere, I learned to multi-task: write stories, take pictures, develop and print photos, lay out pages, stuff flyers, even help cart newspapers to the post office. The multi-skilling model would often prove its value in my future career at larger weeklies, and later, at daily newspapers.  

I learned there’s no better place to catch up on the latest town gossip than during coffee time at the local newspaper office. I learned that reporters with bylines are just one link in a chain of people who play equally vital roles in getting the news out. I learned that rubbing shoulders with people you report about tends to breed circumspection at the keyboard.

Bob had one piece of tongue-in-cheek advice that surprised me when he said it; today, I can’t count the number of times his words have come back to me. He said: Always tell the truth, so you don’t have to remember what you said to whom.   

That summer I was introduced to one of the truisms of the news industry: change is the only constant. Years later, the independently-owned Strathmore Standard was sold to a group publisher. Today, the Standard office building, located prominently at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street in the old downtown, is for sale. With production now handled by a central facility in Calgary, the Strathmore property is too big. Perhaps the streamlined newspaper office will relocate out toward the main highway, where much of the town’s business base has migrated in recent years.       

I was sitting at my typewriter in the stately Standard office one summer afternoon when I sensed I was being watched by an older gentleman waiting at the front counter to speak with the editor. Stern like a school headmaster, he would turn out to be Gordon Taylor, Member of Parliament for the Bow River riding. A longtime politician both provincially and federally, Taylor gave me my first glimpse of western-style politics.

A stroll down Strathmore’s main street was more of a scrum with voters as the popular Taylor was accosted by or stopped to chat with people he knew; in other words, most people. To this fledgling reporter, Taylor offered a fascinating combination: one part humble servant, one part staunch independent, and one part political firebrand.

To this day, I have a soft spot for hard-working, small-town “character” politicians who avoid the media spotlight but who get re-elected term after term. In small towns where there are few strangers, these elected officials are as representative and familiar as the local paper.      

David Hedley is a web producer at calgaryherald.com and a Masters candidate at the Royal Roads University School of Communication and Culture. He worked for six years as a reporter-photographer at weekly newspapers in Alberta before moving on to the Calgary Sun, and later, the Calgary Herald. He never shook the multi-skilling habit, working over the years as a reporter, copy editor, assignment editor and page designer.