Once more I have received an honour for my writing about a health struggle faced by someone in a community. I got third instead of first like last year and have a handful of things I want to say.

I want to begin by thanking the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association for giving me the chance to share my work with those who believe in it. I also tip my hat to Genome Alberta for sponsoring the Healthy Communities Journalism Award, my colleague Josh Thomas – though he did not win, the stuff he did this year was fantastic – and Harper Hanki’s family for speaking out.

It is never easy opening up. You worry about how you will come across, how the final copy will present to readers and how impacted your life will ultimately be. The same can be said of newspapers at the community level which pick at the veneer of positivity those in power try to present and I am always sickened when fear ends up blocking one good story or another.

You see it often in places which do not have the fortune of size which grants the ability to ignore.

“You need to know your audience,” a snide ideological poster on social media will type. “This is that kind of community and how dare you present something outside of what we all believe.”

Harper Hanki sits outside with sister Kinsley, 3, during a Friday 2020 evening at their home in Parkland County. The story I wrote on this extraordinary toddler and her health struggle is a personal favourite of mine. It picked at the myth of Canada’s healthcare system being perfect and is emblematic of what news outlets must not be afraid to do. Photo by me.

I have witnessed good people being boycotted for the simplest criticisms. Weirdos proudly proclaimed their love for the Hells Angels after I reported on a person tied to the group who was back in my community after being involved in a murder and everyone has a tale or two to tell of an angry letter, phone call, email or message written in blood which sent a chill down the spine.

Looking out for livelihood makes sense in tough times, to be fair. But a publication which functions as little more than a brochure for a place is doomed to failure and in need of a master.

It was not easy for my former boss and now-incredible Winnipeg-based columnist Josh Aldrich to run a piece scorching those who did not get various vaccines (correct me if I am wrong here old man) but he did it anyway. Yes, it livened up the loons, but it also made sensible folks think.

My distinguished colleague above who is now in his deserved editorial role also never shies away from being bold and brave. While I do not always see it, it is a privilege to watch him take the powerful to task and through times thick and thin, he keeps on keeping on with his duty.

Community media outlets could learn a thing or two from him, Aldrich, myself and anyone or any institution which dares to step outside of the “fun had by all” wire because we know there are people waiting there for us. Public interest must always be served, whatever the cost may be.

I would not have it any other way.  



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