A community is made up of stories.
That’s what I wrote in my introduction to the first Cord Community. It wasn’t even in print yet — just a Tumblr page announcing that the arrival of a new community newspaper was imminent.
Almost two years later, on the eve of my departure from Waterloo, this statement rings more true to me than it did then. So here’s one more that I’m certain you haven’t read yet. The story of how I was fortunate enough to become the editor-in-chief of the Cord Community Edition.
When I applied for the position, it was just shortly after I had decided to give up pursuing a career in law — despite sticking it out to get my law degree — and become a journalist.
I had only been in Waterloo for a week or two at most. I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t go to school here and aside from a few booze-filled visits to friends during my undergraduate days, I had never visited here. Yet, somehow, I had convinced the folks at WLUSP to let me lead their new community newspaper.
Sometime in that first month, I was out for beers – probably at Ethel’s – with my boss and publisher Bryn Ossington. “You know, you’ll probably look back at your first ever issue and cringe,” he told me. I said no — I wanted the first issue to be great.
For the first, and not the last time, Bryn was frustratingly right. Over the past 20 issues I have overseen as the editor-in-chief we have changed dramatically, for the better.
And I changed as the paper did, pushing myself well out of the scope of my editor role in the process. That’s probably how I found myself corralling actors on a moving train party last June — and why I’m doing it again on Steel Rail Sessions this June.
And I did what I came here to do — I told stories. I sat one long, freezing night with a local historian in the Victoria Park museum while he told me about local legends. I surprised the hell out of University of Waterloo’s administration when I called them to say I knew a famous astronaut was coming to teach at their school. I sat through long regional council meetings where I saw the full breadth of passion people in this city have for transit.
But what I will always remember about my time in Waterloo is the unflagging generosity of everyone in the community. This paper could have failed if the community rejected it. But they didn’t.
Instead they volunteered to be writers and editors. Some, like the staff of the Cord, made time to work on the CCE in between putting out their own paper and going to school. Our administration, including the last two presidents of the paper, fought for the paper behind the scenes when its future was questionable.
Many will remember that last fall, the CCE was in danger of ending, and with it, my job. But because of the work of community members who threw us a fundraising party and donated their time and money to us, we survived. I still don’t have the words to adequately express my gratitude for that outpouring of support.
I was also incredibly lucky to have Bryn as my boss. The CCE was his brainchild, and while he could have strictly overseen the development and content of the paper, he gave me the space to be creative and fall flat on my face, which happened. When I came to him with ideas — like, for example, to devote an issue entirely to ideas — he never shot them down. Instead he always asked how we could make them better. I’m a better journalist and editor for that.
When you become a lawyer, there’s a ceremony — you are called to the bar. Journalists don’t have anything like that. The Cord Community Edition made me a journalist, so I suppose this last issue is my graduation.
I leave the paper in the very capable hands of Allison Leonard, former WLUSP president. She will do great things, but she’ll also do things that won’t work or that will be experiments. That’s the beauty of the CCE — we can learn here as we report.
But at the end of the day, she will do what we set out to do. To tell the stories of this community