30th Anniversary: Former reporter recalls the early days of paper

Jennifer Blyth started work at the Saanich News in 1990, later serving as the paper's editor

This feature from 1995 highlights the staff of the Saanich News

This feature from 1995 highlights the staff of the Saanich News

My first interview for the Saanich News – my first “professional” interview ever, in fact – was with Terry Morrison of the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. It was 1990, and Terry was most gracious in face of my inexperienced, 21-year-old’s nerves. The sanctuary remains one of my favourite places to this day.

One of my first news stories? Protests over the proposed draining of Heal Lake for expansion of the Hartland Landfill. I remember initial proposals for the McKenzie interchange, residents worried about the loss of Rainbow Park, sometimes lengthy council meetings, fantastic arts stories from the Claremont secondary theatre and UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, and many more stories of Saanich, my hometown.

When I started as a junior reporter, I was studying creative writing at the University of Victoria and publisher Reg Cowie was good enough to give a young, idealistic writer a chance. Editor George Lee and I started around the same time, soon joined by reporter Bill Kennedy.

One of my favourite instructional stories I share to this day with young reporters involves Lee and the rather challengingly named West Coast marine creature, the geoduck. Now, I tell the newbies, if you don’t know how to spell geoduck – pronounced gooey-duck – it’s next to impossible to look it up in the dictionary. Being 1990, this was also long before Google, Bing or any other “search engine.”

So I took a guess.

And as you might guess, I guessed wrong.

The message from Lee – yelled from the adjacent office – was that if I needed to know something and couldn’t find it through the usual channels, to call the local librarian to find out. He was right, and I tell novice reporters today, if you don’t know, ask.

Research has indeed changed since those early days of the Saanich News, as has photography, ad design, and many other aspects of the Saanich community and the newspaper. What hasn’t changed is the paper’s continuing commitment to sharing the people, places, stories and businesses with its readers.

My early work at the Saanich News led to a journalism scholarship to college in Vancouver. Returning with my newly minted journalism certificate in hand, I soon joined our sister paper, the Goldstream News Gazette, later returning to the Saanich News as an editor in the mid-1990s. Seventeen years in a home office followed, writing and editing for various Black Press publications as my two babies grew into young men.

Today, we’re still in Saanich, our home just a few blocks from where I grew up in Gordon Head, and I am back in the editor’s chair of another Black Press paper, the Oak Bay News.

From those early days in Saanich, the community news business, it seems, has stuck.