Editorial: Paper and glue and mammoth mistakes

Trent Ernst, Editor


A few year’s back, before I was working as editor of Tumbler Ridge News, I designed an early version of the District’s website.

As part of that, I was given hundreds of photos of the Tumbler Ridge area by various photographers, which I uploaded to the website using an off-the-shelf photo management program, which, as part of its system, added the name of the person, in this case, me, who had uploaded the images, as creator.

On my to-do list for the website was to take and change the credits of those photos to the actual photographers. Before I could get on to that, though, a couple other things needed to be done, so the pictures sat there, under my name for a few days, until one of the photographers went to check out the website, and got rather pissed off, thinking I was trying to pass his photographs off as my own.

I wasn’t of course, if for the simple reason that as a photographer, I have developed a personal style and those photos didn’t really fit my style. It was so far outside of my vision of who I was as a photographer to be ridiculous. To try and pass them off as my own was a bit like me putting my hair in corn rows, wearing a Dirty South shirt and trying to pass myself off as Snoop Dogg.

Recently, a similar situation has come up here at the paper. A few issues back, the Tumbler Ridge Museum sent over a press release about a mammoth tusk that had been found near Fort St. John.

I took and copied the press release over into a Word document, and set to write a story based on it. But after re-writing the first couple paragraphs, I set it aside until I could finish it.

And that’s where the trouble started, because I never actually did finish re-writing the story. When I went to lay out that issue of the paper, I thought I had, and ran the story as it was, which was kind of a frankenstory, half press-release, half news story.

But it ran under my name, and now the Museum Foundation thinks I’m trying to pass what is 80 percent press release off as my own writing.

Which wasn’t my intent at all.

The trouble is that news stories are often a lot like making sausage, or perhaps better, like making a collage.

When an artist paints a painting, it comes completely from their own head. When an artist makes a collage, they take things that they find—photos, words, images, etc—and stick them all together with glue to create a work that is both a combination of what came before and new work.

Writing a news story is a lot like making a collage. You take a variety of sources: interviews, press releases, research, etc. and stick them together using the glue of your own imagination. If you use too much glue the story is mere opinion. If you use too much source material, you run the risk of what happened here, where instead of cutting things up and re-assembling them in a new and unique way, I saw everything was assembled and ran the story as was, not realizing the reason it looked so good was because, after the introduction, I hadn’t done anything at all.

I am not a proud person, and perfectly willing (indeed, sometimes gleefully so) to point out when I’ve screwed up, but I am vain enough to consider my writing and my photography as an expression of who I am to want to pass other’s work off as my own. Most of what I write here at the paper might have a shelf life of a week at most, but they’re my words. My art. My craft.

So, yes, I screwed up. That the story about the mammoth tusk? Wasn’t mine, despite the byline. And hopefully nothing like this will happen again. That said, I expect I will screw up in new, different and far more creative ways in the future.