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Opinion: Whistler made me; Whistler can’t contain me

'My priority has always lied, first and foremost, with you, the people of Whistler'
Reporter Brandon Barrett, hard at work in Pique's offices in June 2018.

Being an outsider is often an asset in journalism, affording the objective distance necessary to cover the subjects you’re writing about with fresh eyes. Maintaining that outsider status is less valuable outside of the newsroom, however, when you’re just trying to ingratiate yourself with a community.

On paper at least, I am the quintessential Whistler outsider. As I have written about more than once in this space, I don’t ski, I don’t bike, and I possess all the camping skills of a frightened toddler. And yet, as the sun sets on my time in this strange, wondrous town, I have come to a hard-won epiphany: despite all appearances to the contrary, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Whistler local, an identity I have carved for myself in spite of all the ways this place isn’t exactly made for me.

After 11 years in Whistler, this is my last issue at Pique. I’m proud to say I have contributed to this plucky, overachieving paper for more than a third of its existence. Over that span, I’ve gotten to share hundreds, if not thousands, of Whistlerites’ stories, an immense privilege that is still, for my money, the greatest feature of being a small-town reporter. I’ve written about your impossible achievements and boundless generosity, your tenacious spirit and keen sense of adventure. When one of our own has fallen, I was usually the guy tasked with encapsulating their lives in 800 words or less, a responsibility I never once took lightly. I’ve boosted Whistler’s criminally underrated arts scene, while contributing to it in my own small ways as a performer, producer, and instructor myself. I’ve written hard-hitting investigative features exposing Airbnb scams, and drink-spiking in bars. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits, harassed by trolls, and once had a reader ask if I was on crack, an email I printed and proudly displayed over my desk for months.

Through it all, I’ve tried to leave a genuine piece of myself on the page, whether it was detailing my own struggles with mental health; the months I spent underhoused, ping-ponging between friends’ couches; my illuminating trip last year to Occupied Palestine; or my brother’s devastating drug overdose at the age of 34.

I offered these parts of myself in such a public way because, for all the love and deference I have for Pique Newsmagazine and the wildly talented, hard-working people behind it, my priority has always lied, first and foremost, with you, the people of Whistler, who literally watched me grow up and turn into the man I am today over this past decade.

There’s a reason I sat through marathon council meetings and mind-numbing technical briefings. There’s a reason I worked 16-hour deadline days. There’s a reason I waded into knock-em-down, drag-em-out arguments with those in power. There’s a reason I tried to shine a light on all the different facets of this place, the good, the bad and the ugly, even when some people weren’t ready to look at them. The reason is: I believe in Whistler. And, more importantly, I believe in what it could be. The systems that hold up this tourism hub aren’t necessarily designed to serve us locals, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Whistler and the unique collection of people that make it so compelling, it’s this: Your experience here is entirely what you make it, and, hot damn, are Whistlerites ever skilled at squeezing every last drop of awesome out of their surroundings.

I feel similarly about Pique itself. Community news, and Canadian journalism more broadly, has suffered tremendously in recent years, and Whistler’s paper of record is no exception. With fewer journalists in the industry than ever, reporters must do more with less, often for poor pay and long hours. There is little incentive or reader appetite for the kind of time-intensive, deep investigative work that should be the bread-and-butter of any publication worth its salt. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Distrust in media is at an all-time high. Facebook has banned Canadian news. And yet, Pique is still out there, pounding the pavement, bringing you the kind of in-depth, award-winning work we’ve been doing for a long time. I’m not sure most Whistlerites even know how lucky they are to have such a robust, high-quality (and free!) publication in their backyard.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. Far from it. And if you believe in Pique like I do, I hope you do the same thing I’ve tried to do for Whistler all these years: push to make it even better. Fight for the stories that deserve to be told. Hold us to the high standards we’re known for. Trust me, we can take it.

As for what’s next, in the short term, I’m going to spend the holidays with family for the first time in as long as I can remember. After that, well, I’m not sure exactly. I know I have more to say, more stories to tell, more to offer this world than I can reasonably achieve in Whistler.

And for those of you out there who recognized what I tried to offer this special community in my rich time here, thank you from the bottom of my heart for seeing me. And letting me see you. It has meant more to me than you could know.