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This article was published 5/10/2018 (675 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I got my first job at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1977 at the age of 10 — 53 papers on Machray Avenue, Main Street to Salter Street.
A dozen years later at the age of 22, the Free Press also gave me my first real job — cop reporter, 200,000 papers, provincewide.
I’ve been here ever since. Until today.
Because today, I’m retiring.
So why would a guy with a dream job many Winnipeggers would kill for just walk away on the eve of what might be a season to remember?
Because from where I sit, it’s the right thing to do and exactly the right time to do it.
We’re in the facts business over here and the facts are this: I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do in this business. I’ve covered everything I ever wanted to cover. And I’ve pretty much said everything I wanted to say.
It’s been a good living and a great life and I’m eternally grateful to the people here who signed my cheques and you people out there who read my work for making all of it possible.
Seriously, thank you. It’s been my privilege.
No, I wasn’t pushed, as so many in this cash-crunched business are nowadays. I was one of the the lucky ones; I got to retire on my own terms and at the time of my choosing.
If anything, I was pulled. At age 51, I’m still young enough that I’m hopeful the next chapter will be just as interesting as the last.
I’m not sure yet what that looks like. My plans at this point consist of nothing more than going for a very long walk with a very good woman on a very nice beach.
But I know what I won’t be doing.
It won’t be anything with a deadline, for starters. Those got old decades ago.
"It’s said that when you work in newspapers, you never so much finish a story as you run out of time and abandon it. I look forward to actually finishing some stories."
It’s said that when you work in newspapers, you never so much finish a story as you run out of time and abandon it. I look forward to actually finishing some stories.
I also won’t be taking a job as a shill for a sports team or league, as so many others now seem to do.
There is journalism and then there is everything else. Any former reporter who tries to tell you that having their paycheque now signed by the same people they are covering "really isn’t all that different" is hoping to delude you.
And if they actually believe that nonsense, then they’re deluding themselves, too.
Here’s what I also won’t be doing: I also won’t be telling you how tough things are in the news business these days and how it’s all changed for the worse and how I long for the good old days.
It’s changed, for sure. The internet’s changed everything, not just journalism.
But while the internet has been terrible for the journalism business, it’s actually been fantastic for journalism and the people who consume it.
The same technology that is killing journalism has also led to the Golden Age of what I still consider more of a craft than a profession. The invention of the search engine and the ability to find out anything at anytime and anywhere and then communicate it immediately to literally the entire world has meant it’s never been easier to get it right — and there’s never been fewer excuses to get it wrong.
The good old days? Those guys — and it was almost all guys back then — did the best they could in this job with what they had available to them, which mostly amounted to shoe leather and a telephone in those days.
I’m not knocking it; Watergate was uncovered with shoe leather and a telephone.
But let’s just not kid ourselves — we’re living in the good old days. The only problem — and it’s a big one — is figuring out a way to pay for it all. Because make no mistake, the internet might be free, but journalism doesn’t come cheap.
It’s a source of pride for all of us at the Free Press that we have the distinction of being not only one of the last independent newspapers left in North America, but also one of the few still turning a modest profit.
But I’m not going to try to kid you; there’s not much I will miss about this gritty business after 29 years, with the lone exception of the great people I’ve met doing it.
I got my start working in the news section for some legends of the craft — managing editor Dave Lee and city editors Pat Flynn, Brian Cole and Julian Rachey. In those first few years, those four men taught me everything I know to this day about this business.
But it’s my last boss, sports editor Steve Lyons, to whom I owe the greatest debt.
We’ve been best friends for a quarter-century. We got drunk together in the early years, we got sober together in the middle years and for the last decade or so, we’ve caused a lot of trouble working together.
It’s been more fun than you should ever be allowed to have at work. And if there is one thing I will miss more than any other, it’s a partnership that made me better, as a journalist and a person, every single day.
The good news —for Steve and I, if not necessarily you — is that we’re not fully dissolving that partnership just yet.
The paper has asked both of us to continue producing Say What?! — a strange little feature we’ve been doing the last couple of years that basically involves Steve and I chatting about sports and the world like we do every day, only writing it down and getting paid for it.
It’s been a great scam. And weirdly popular. So we’re going to keep doing it a couple times a month. I can’t overstate how grateful I am for the opportunity to still have an occasional voice in these pages and to be able to do it with my best friend.
Plus, you know, the money’s good.
Here’s the bottom line: growing up in the North End, all I ever wanted to be was a reporter at the Free Press.
We were news junkies in the Wiecek home; our parents were refugees from Poland and they had learned in the hardest way imaginable how important it was to know what was happening in the world around you.
We subscribed to the Free Press and I grew up reading the likes of Paul Sullivan and Gord Sinclair and Hal Sigurdson and Reyn Davis. Those were the guys I wanted to be. And then at the age of 22, I got to be one myself.
It’s a weird thing to achieve your life’s goal before it has barely begun. I suppose if I had any ambition, I probably could have parlayed an early start in this business into something bigger.
But all I ever wanted to be was a reporter, not an editor. And at no time could I ever imagine doing it anywhere else but at the Free Press.
This columnist gig at the end was just the cherry on top.
Besides, this was always a writer’s paper anyway, not an editor’s paper. We’re allowed here as writers to be playful and conversational and I got away with things in my copy that I never would have gotten away with at other places.
I hope I made you laugh, if nothing else.
"I know I rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, but I'm OK with that. I wrote from the heart about things that genuinely mattered and I will make no apologies for any of it."
I know I also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, but I'm OK with that. I wrote from the heart about things that genuinely mattered and I will make no apologies for any of it.
You want a cheerleader? There's plenty of places to find that, now more than ever. But a newspaper shouldn't be one of them.
I could go on. But it’s time to go.
This newspaper gave a kid from the North End every opportunity to live out a dream. Any shortcomings over the years — and there were lots of them — were my own.
It's been one hell of a ride. Thanks for the company.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Saturday, October 6, 2018 at 9:41 AM CDT: Typo fixed.
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