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    The heart and soul of Focus


    Leslie Campbell

    It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed in Focus’ 30 years, but there’s been at least one consistent thread.

     

    WHILE OCTOBER BROUGHT LOTS OF CHANGES to this region’s council tables, it also brought changes to Focus. For starters: we turned 30! Do you remember we (those of us of a certain age) used to say: “You can’t trust anyone over 30?”

    Well as it turns out, you can. And even the fellow who coined the phrase back in the mid ’60s knows it. Jack Weinberg, who was active in the Free Speech Movement at Berkley in the ’60s, explained in 2000: “I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter and he kept asking me who was ‘really’ behind the actions of students, implying that we were being directed behind the scenes by the Communists or some other sinister group.” Of course the media—and other members of the counter culture—loved it because “it shook up the older generation,” and it spread like wildfire.

    Jack went on to work for Greenpeace, the Environmental Health Fund, and against nuclear power. He seems like a trustworthy guy, even post 30.

    Focus certainly intends to continue to earn readers’ trust now that were over 30. If I’ve learned anything from 30 years with Focus, it’s that trust is, without doubt, our most valuable asset.

    How that trust is gained is pretty simple—it comes from our editorial content being non-commercial, well-researched, fact-based, and fair-minded even when pointed. It respects our readers’ intelligence. It accepts our responsibility to communicate clearly and accurately—and to never dumb things down. It ensures we contribute to the community conversation in a meaningful, helpful way.

    All this means Focus writers are absolutely key to our success.

    Over our 30 years, so many things have changed, led largely by technology and its profound reshaping of the publishing industry. But throughout the decades, Focus has been blessed with wonderful long-term writers. A magazine’s editorial content is its heart and soul; its writers create its personality, its integrity and trustworthiness. Besides their literary talent, Focus writers care deeply about their subjects, their “beats,” whether in the arts or on hot social and political issues. Despite modest financial compensation, they take pains to get their facts straight and to craft them into stories that are a pleasure to read.

    Lately, the Focus writers’ table has seen some changes.

    Aaren Madden has written for Focus for 15 years. She covered community “players” initially, then moved into arts coverage. With a growing family and near full-time job at the library, something had to give. Fortunately, Kate Cino, who has been immersed in the arts in this community for decades, started to fill Aaren’s shoes a few editions ago. And Aaren has graciously agreed to return for the odd assignment. Watch for her in the next edition.

    Alan Cassels, who provided 6 years of critical reporting on BC health policy in these pages, has taken a new job as communications director at the UBC Therapeutics Initiative. This will limit his work for us, but he will occasionally pop up in these pages.

    This edition features Amy Reiswig’s final interview with a local book author—after a nine-year run. Amy works in the Victoria Legislature for Hansard. She recently moved to Mayne Island and with the commute, plus a yearning to indulge in some other creative projects, not to mention have some evenings with her husband, she needed to reclaim the time that Focus occupied. Read Mollie Kaye’s interview with Amy in this edition to learn about one of her other creative endeavours: Banquo Folk Ensemble.

    We haven’t determined who will fill Amy’s pages yet. Fortunately, Victoria is blessed with talented writers who will love the job of interviewing fellow writers, just as Amy did.

    Some other changes are strictly positive. Russ Francis joined us as of the last edition to focus mostly on provincial politics. Some of you may recall his investigative reporting back in Monday Magazine’s heyday. He worked there from 1994-2007. In his last column there he reminded readers that the job of reporters was “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” He went back to school after leaving Monday, then worked in policy development with the provincial government. Now “retired,” we’re thrilled he’s willing to apply his intellect and time to holding government accountable through Focus.

    This edition—and hopefully beyond—we have Stephen Hume aboard. Stephen has accomplishments and awards too many to list, but you likely read him in the Vancouver Sun where he worked for 27 years. He’s also the author of nine books, both poetry and non-fiction. Amy profiled him in 2011 regarding his book A Walk with the Rainy Sisters: In Praise of British Columbia’s Places, which was shortlisted for the Butler Prizes that year. In the interview, he told her that good journalism, while certainly being about the facts, goes beyond them: “If you can touch [readers’] spirits, you can better transfer the information.” His piece on orcas in this edition offers a fine illustration of his skills in this regard.

    To be a good editor, I’ve long realized, one just needs great writers. That includes, by the way, all those who contribute impressive letters-to-the editor: thank you, dear readers!

    The past decade has been hard on publishers and their writers, particularly at the local level. Print media have been massively disrupted by the growth of the internet, with roller-coaster-type plunges in advertising revenue. Being small and simply structured has allowed Focus to adapt as necessary, while always prioritizing fact- and place-based journalism.

    Yet the reality—that no successful model has evolved for paying for journalism in the new digital sphere—should worry us all. The world needs good, truth-seeking journalism at all levels. And that is not likely to happen when corporate profits or share prices are the priority.

    Craigslist billionaire Craig Newmark, who donated $50 million to media in the past year, makes a noteworthy observation about his investment: “A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.”

    Our fair city deserves a healthy immune system in the form of local media that digs for the truth, without fear or favour. In an era when journalists in less democratic places get murdered for telling the truth, it’s the least we can do.

    On behalf of Focus, Leslie Campbell thanks the community for its generous support over 30 fascinating years. Please keep reading, sending us your letters, buying ad space and subscriptions.

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