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Question part of Whistler's history now

I don't understand people who can't be bothered to read local papers, especially free papers. Or national papers. Or news from other countries and around the world. I don't understand the terminally incurious.

I don't understand people who can't be bothered to read local papers, especially free papers. Or national papers. Or news from other countries and around the world. I don't understand the terminally incurious. The ones who only live in their tight, little bubble, the one in which they feel fully insulated from the outside world. I don't understand people who know more about the loves, lives, clothes and personal quirks of celebrities than they do about what their local governments are doing. I think they're Losers. Capital L.

And I'm not at all worried about them taking offence at what I've just written. They won't read it anyway. They don't read local papers. Maybe they don't read any papers. Maybe their sole source of news is gossip, electronic or face-to-face.

My former Pique colleague, Andrew Mitchell, said in his final Whistler Question column last week, "People need real news...." As much as I generally agree with Andrew, I have to take exception to that statement. For therein lies at least part of the problem. Andrew needs real news. I need real news. Anybody who actually gives a damn about what's happening in their town or province or country or — see above — needs real news.

But far too many people don't see the need for real news. Or at least they don't think they do. And since they get to decide for themselves, they don't. They're happy leading sheep-like lives. Ignorant and happy and plugged in to something other than events outside their bubbles. Even events that in a very real way shape their lives.

There's a Great Debate happening across Canada right now. OK, it's actually a Small Debate. It's a debate about whether the government — federal in this case but I'm sure the proponents would be happy to catch provincial governments in their net — should support, prop up, subsidize local newspapers and other media.

Personally, I'm conflicted. The social crusader in me says yes. Hell, yes. People need local news, just like Andrew says.

But the rugged individualist in me, the fiscally conservative, latent redneck in me, says no. Hell, no. If people can't get behind their local papers, screw 'em. If they can't be bothered to read them, too bad. If businessfolk have found better ways to get their messages out, that's tough. Their loss... even if they don't realize it.

And so, I come to pay homage to the dearly departed Whistler Question. I'll miss it.

When Paul and Jane Burrows took their wild header in 1976 and started the mimeographed Whistler Question it fundamentally changed the nature of the nascent resort municipality of Whistler. As sketchy as it was, the Question automatically became the de facto paper of record.

If you don't think that's important, try researching anything that happened in this town prior to 1976. I did. And I'll be forever grateful to Paul and Jane for enduring the sickening smell of mimeograph ink and capturing what they did of what was going on in town.

The highest court of Canada has said the oral record of indigenous, first-nations peoples has to be considered as evidence in deciding cases. Without maligning something about which I know little, I have to say that while the first-nations may have oral history mastered, I don't put too much stock in the oral history of Whistler as told by the people who lived it.

In researching stories published in Pique and the book I foolishly talked Bob and Kathy Barnett into publishing, Whistler: History in the Making, I talked to a lot of people who were here at the beginning. I heard a lot of stories. More to the point, I heard a lot of versions of the same stories by people who were in the same place at the same time hearing, reputedly, the same thing. If you could hear the tapes or read the transcriptions of those halting walks down memory lane you'd wonder — or not — what they were smoking. Because they sure don't seem to be talking about the same thing!

But that all changed in 1976. Thanks to the dogged determination — and quite often annoying stubbornness of Paul — there is a written record of much of what went on in those formative years. If you want to know what was happening in Whistler, if you wonder how people dealt with some of the same problems we're trying to deal with now, how they dealt with them for decades, you can head to the library and find out. I highly recommend it because it's both enlightening and fascinating.

The early Question was frequently parochial and easy to poke fun at. The Answer did a good job of it. But the detractors didn't deter Paul. Hugh Smythe tells the story of a determined Paul Burrows who would continually pepper him with questions about the developing Blackcomb Mountain. Instead of dismissing him — or stonewalling him as some resort operators do — Hugh set up a weekly meeting to let Paul know what was going on. Hugh told him pretty much everything. He told him what he could publish and what he'd have to keep under his hat until Hugh was ready to spring it on the world. It was a bargain Paul never broke.

And it's written down because there was a Whistler Question. We're richer for it.

The Question wasn't a great paper. But it was great it existed. Among its many accomplishments, it spawned Pique. Bob Barnett was once editor of the Question. Kathy was its publisher. They cut their teeth in the editing and publishing world at the Question. They didn't particularly like it but they learned a lot and it gave them the insight — and the frustration — they needed to take their own header and start Pique, along with Kevin Damaskie and Dave Rigler, their partners, both also former Questionables.

The end of the Question is not a heartless, cynical, corporate decision. Chances are pretty good if Glacier Media Inc. hadn't owned both it and Pique the Question would have been sent to the big press in the sky long ago. Like other small town papers, the first death blow was struck by the likes of Craigslist and Kijiji. Classified ads were the profit in small papers, display ads the life blood. When classifieds were disrupted by the digital revolution, there was no substitute.

Whistler simply isn't big enough for two weeklies. We're fortunate it's still big enough, and unique enough, for one. I don't know when or even if that will change but I do know I don't encourage anyone to pin their future hopes on journalism school.

So farewell and thanks, Question. You're part of history now. Our history. And if you don't think that's important, our history is where our future comes from. Capiche?