Carolyn Mullin, Sarah Whitaker, and Zach Junkin reflect on their time editing the Voice
At some point during the summer, you will find me in Peace Park, holding up my smartphone and snapping a photo of something happening on a Thursday night. Electrifying Bandshell performance, or delectable Supper Market offering, I can’t resist capturing and sharing the moment.
During the past few summers, as I tap away on the tiny phone keyboard (muttering about forgetting my glasses again), and posting the photo to some social media site, a familiar face appears, and I hear the question, “Are you taking that for the paper?” or “Are you gonna put that in the paper?”
Even now, I haven’t quite figured out the best response. I usually just smile and shrug, because, you see, I left the paper, the Voice, in 2001.
It’s true that I do still contribute announcements, media release material or background information on behalf of a number of community organizations on a regular basis, but I haven’t been part of the official team for over 15 years.
Yet, when given the opportunity to reflect on those early days, I find I’m immensely proud of the groundwork laid some two decades ago to ensure that the town of Pelham would have a dedicated news source.
Some may have forgotten, or just don’t know, that the Voice’s predecessor was closed to make way for a corporation insert, after a merger of the two parent companies owning publications in our area. Sound familiar?
At any rate, knowing the chain newspaper was not going to dedicate 100 percent of its news content to Pelham, and regional issues affecting Pelham directly, the community started planning for the Voice immediately on the heels of the closure of the Pelham Herald.
I’ve always thought of a community newspaper as a mirror we hold up to our community, showing us its faces, its places and its news, week after week. The “week in the life”-type of portrayal covers political, educational, cultural, business, sports and pleasure on a regular basis, and allows for diverse opinions to fill its pages.
The reader may not always agree with what’s written there — the sign of a healthy, interactive newspaper is one with many voices captured through Letters to the Editor — but that’s the beauty of the community newspaper, and its essential nature to your community: this is a source dedicated to delivering your community news to you, in articles that move far beyond 140 characters or six-second looping videos. This is where you read, you regard, and you form your own opinion on what’s going on, and how you will react/interact in your community as a result.
Twenty years ago, social media did not exist, much less compete with mainstream media for reader attention or loyalty. Immediacy did not trump the need for accurate, reflective, comprehensive reporting.
In this age of citizen journalism and “short, now” news, community newspapers still have a relevant place, as long as they continue to provide reflective, comprehensive reporting dedicated to their own citizenship. Reporting on provincial, national or international news in a community newspaper just doesn’t make sense. Give the community its community.
I continue to see this today, two decades later, in the printed pages and online posts of the Voice. Together, right now, our community newspaper is providing a springboard for conversation on many issues unique to our community—the expansion of our urban areas, for example, or the way in which our local schools are named or re-named. I admit to a parental thrill when I see my own two teenage daughters putting down their electronic devices long enough to read the Voice each week.
And so, I’m happy to keep contributing by sending in the occasional article on organizations such as the Rotary Club of Fonthill, or Pelham Cares’ Home for Good Campaign.
I will definitely keep snapping away on my smartphone during those amazing community evenings down in Peace Park. Maybe this will be the summer I come up with my answer to that awkward question.
First Managing Editor of the Voice. Currently the Manager of Dissemination & Outreach, Research & Innovation division, Niagara College.
The 20th anniversary of the Voice of Pelham is a milestone that brings with it a feeling of duality for me. On one hand, I can’t believe it has already been 20 years. It seems like not that long ago we were marking the 5th and then 10th anniversaries of Pelham’s locally owned, independent newspaper.
On the other, it feels as though the Voice has always been a part of this community; woven into the very fabric of Pelham. It was the Voice that brought me to Pelham, so my Pelham has always included this community paper. For me there is no Pelham without a Voice.
The role that Pelham Herald editor Carolyn Mullin played in ensuring there would be a community newspaper in Pelham, and the establishment of the Voice is, I believe, a large part of why this newspaper is such a part of this community.
There were times, more than I expected in fact, when residents indicated that for them the Voice was simply a continuation of the Herald, though this wasn’t the case. Carolyn’s work in this community, which has continued beyond her role as editor of the community paper, is also a large part of why the Voice is such an integral part of our community.
When Carolyn’s career took her away from the Voice in 2001, I took over as editor of the paper. My first front page headline was about a consultant’s report on the need for a community centre in town. Hard to believe that so many years later that this is still one of, if not the major issue in this community.
There were other big stories, of course, both good and bad.
I always remember when Nestle announced its products would no longer be nut-free and safe for people with nut allergies. A local family shared with me how the change would impact them while a Nestle executive shared with me that no matter how loud the public outcry the decision would not be changed. Imagine my surprise when a short time later Nestle announced the reversal of that decision. While it may not have been a story with a major, world-wide impact, and it certainly didn’t win me a Pulitzer, it was rewarding to have been a small part of a major impact for local families.
I was always honoured that so many people were willing to share their stories with me and trust me with those stories.
Of course, there were some not so proud moments too. Falling flat on my butt on the ice while photographing figure skating medal-winners was certainly not one.
The worst, I think, was the typo. The one that left the letter “f” out of the word “shift.” Not only was I mortified, but the ensuing letters of complaint seemed to imply that I had done it on purpose. That I, for some inexplicable reason, enjoyed slipping curse words into the paper. Let me assure you that was not the case.
Being editor of the Voice allowed me to be involved in this community in ways I never thought it would: a member of the inaugural Pelham Business Association board of directors; helping Girl Guides earn their reporter badges; participating in both the Fenwick and Fonthill 150th Anniversary celebrations; and of course meeting so many great people.
Those people, and their stories, have been the cause for the brief moments of regret at not still being editor of the Voice I’ve felt over the past couple of years. There are some stories I would have loved to have told—when the Arbours retired, when Rosemary and Gary Chambers were named Citizens of the Year, and when Tove Bowman’s story of romance and adventure, The Scooter Diaries, was published, for example.
While it was the paper that brought me to Pelham it was the people and the community that made me stay. Even though I no longer edit Pelham’s community newspaper I do still live here and try to keep a finger on what’s happening in town.
The issues remain important to me. My kids, for example, attended E.W. Farr Memorial School and are currently students of Wellington Heights.
Speaking of my kids — it was the Voice that was responsible for them as well. I wouldn’t have met my husband, James, if I hadn’t been editor of the paper, and we certainly wouldn’t have had Matthew and Alexander.
Both boys are great (for those who so kindly continue to ask about them), ages 10 and 6, growing like bad weeds and bright, energetic, curious, rambunctious boys.
I’m currently loving being a mom and, since Tim Hudak stepped down as our MPP and effectively ended my career as his Executive Assistant, pondering what the next chapter of my career will bring.
And, like all of you, I look forward to reading the Voice for many more years to come.
My time at the Voice was brief but intense. After the previous editor left on short notice, I was asked to come in for an interview. That was on a Friday morning. I started covering stories the same afternoon. By Monday we had put the paper to bed, and when it hit newsstands that week the average reader had no idea it was produced under such chaotic conditions. Or if they did, no one mentioned it to me.
Do readers remember 2015, when the paper was literally smaller? Well, by the time I’d gotten pretty good at filling the Voice’s 12 little pages, we decided to return to the paper’s original dimensions, which is the size you hold in your hands now. As with so many things in life, a few extra inches make a lot of difference. The increased volume no doubt gave readers great pleasure, but it meant more work for the writers. And I use the plural pretty loosely there.
It was a catch-22. On the one hand, bigger pages meant more space for important stories. For example, I don’t think we could have launched our comparative series on other community centres in Niagara with the smaller format. But on the other it also meant less time to do those stories properly, because first and foremost we had to fill the rest of the paper. More work, same pay. There were moments when I wondered why I’d never learned a trade.
But it was worth it. The long hours, the meager paycheck, the endless sea of stress, it was a small price to pay to be such a large part of the Pelham community. When I wasn’t covering the “big” stories, I was interviewing dedicated volunteers, enterprising young people, inspiring entrepreneurs and any number of folks who make this community such a great place to live. I made friends and connections that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, and gained a greater respect for the people and places of Pelham.
And through it all, the Voice persevered, in large part because of the entire staff’s dedication to creating a quality newspaper each and every week. Pressure makes diamonds, they say. We uncovered a few gems who helped: Excellent community contributors like Rosemary Chambers and Carolyn Botari (Pieces from our Past), and the adventurous John Swart provided engaging articles. And people were taking notice.
As the months went on, the Voice slowly built a reputation as a newspaper that asked the tough questions and wasn’t afraid to hold folks accountable—stories like the unfair Niagara Specialized Transit rate hike, the proposed garbage incinerator on Pelham’s border, recanted allegations of assault by Town staff against Fenwick residents, Community Centre funding, and the early days of the Wellington Heights debacle.
This kind of coverage threw some people for a loop. Town Council felt they were treated unfairly because no other municipality dealt with this kind of media attention. In truth, it was the residents of those other towns who were treated unfairly, as their elected officials avoided the journalistic scrutiny that is a cornerstone of our democracy.
I’m proud to see the Voice has continued its commitment to accountability since I’ve moved on. And I hope readers can appreciate what they have in their little paper. Fewer and fewer institutions hold local governments accountable and ask the tough questions that keep residents informed. Have I mentioned the low pay? The industry is not what it was. Greater demands on journalists, who are in turn given fewer resources, means that many writers no longer have the time or inclination to do the extra research required to get the real story. Quotes and figures are dutifully recorded, but often no one checks to see if the math adds up. Citizens need a voice that speaks for them—not for governments, not for developers, not for corporations.
In this issue, readers are asked to voluntarily subscribe to the Voice. I hope you will consider doing so. I know some will question this request. After all, aren’t there other local options delivering content without asking for money? Why should the Voice be any different?
But that’s just it. The Voice is different. There’s actual meat in these pages, and I would encourage you to spend a couple bucks a month in support of it. When you consider what an unchecked local government can cost you in tax dollars, you’ll come out way ahead.
When I think back to my time at the Voice, I’m filled with a sense of appreciation for all that we were able to accomplish. I’m proud to have played a small part in this paper’s history, and look forward to perusing its pages for another 20 years.