Food and drink 

Food for thought: Kathy, the Pique and other contemplations

It’s with a sodden heart that I put digital pen to illuminated paper this week in the shadow of Kathy’s death.

It’s hard to think of anything else except her and loss and the implications for Bob, their families, Piquesters regular and irregular, the people and initiatives she spurred on, the community at large — each of us tied to her in our own way.

I’ve thought about what small stick of value or meaning I might contribute to the bonfire of tributes and sad notes of mutual condolences that have been pouring in, and will continue for who knows how long.

What I bring to the wake is my perspective as an inside-outer — someone close to the publication but not on staff. And my perspective as another newspaper woman who loves publications that do the right thing. And as publisher/editor/reporter/designer/janitor/fixer/booster/salesperson who saw the Question through tough but rewarding years — the era right before Bob and Kathy worked there — who’s gone on to start, shepherd and, occasionally, say sad good-byes to other small but vibrant newspapers.

And while this is a food column, the fact I feel free to appropriate that tired but seemingly appropriate cliché of “food for thought” as a metaphor to drive what I want to say here speaks volumes, no pun intended, about Bob and Kathy and the Pique and my take on why their work, her work, is so important.

Here’s a big point: it’s a marvel and a miracle, one that continuously grows in rarity and value, that we writers and artists who feed the Pique are given… nay, are actually paid to express ourselves in this free-wheeling forum without feeling that an editor’s hatchet or a publisher’s purse strings or some off-base directive of what sells newspapers from head office in Toronto is dangling over our heads or throttling our throats.

People might intuitively grok the Pique , but they might not fully understand why they love it so.

I believe it has much to do with this freedom thing — embodied by the little riff on “Free” on the cover each week (a Kathy idea). Free to remember… Free miracles?… Free tales from the deep… Free to be imaginative, spunky, genuine, original and relevant.

’Tis a sorry state of affairs but few, very few publications that rely on advertising for revenue — including the big boys, the ones you’d swear could rise above it all, financially and otherwise — can or will stand up to pressure from advertisers and bean counters who interfere with the holiest of holies in the newspaper biz, the editorial “hole” — the space that’s not ads, where the news and columns and letters and editorials run, and readers should and must feel that what they read there is free from the stink of power or money, the pressure from business managers or the I’ll-buy-an-ad-if-you-run-an-article-on-my-widget routine.

The old Citizen that the late Cloudsley Hoodspith ran (bless him) was notorious for such hijinks. A thousand years ago when I had the Question , the then highers-up at Whistler Mountain Ski Corp. threatened to pull all their advertising if we ran a letter to the editor complaining about the lousy on-mountain food in general and navy bean soup in particular. They even sicked on me the late, great Dave Murray (bless him, too) to argue their point.

We ran the letter; they didn’t pull their advertising. But it was scary. The readers were the biggest customer, but the mountain was the biggest revenue source and it could break the spine of a small paper in a flash.

So don’t you just know that what you read in the Pique is free — free from influence-peddling, from pandering, from fear-mongering — and always has been? That takes guts, especially when you’re just starting out.

Another thing: it’s rare that a newspaper, even the biggest of the big boys, pays for original writing, never mind original art these days. Get this: the Globe and Mail pays less than half of what the Pique pays contributors. Unlike the Pique , they want wire copy, all rights to original work (so you can’t sell it elsewhere), all things serialized, digitized, image banked. Anything that saves costs but contributes to the overall homogeneity of, well, us.

See all those Pique covers of original art piling up every week for the past 14-ish years? That’s 728-plus pieces of art from artists who were paid fairly for their work and had the joy of seeing it featured. Then there are the original short stories, the freelance photos, the essays.

In an nutshell, freedom + creativity = character, all of which we love about Whistler and which Bob and Kathy have distilled, page by page, loonie by loonie, into the Pique .

Besides all the other moments of silence we’ve had this week, I hope you pause for a minute and contemplate what a keystone this enterprise has been on so many levels — to readers, staffers, contributors and advertisers, who know the paper is read voraciously and their dollars aren’t wasted. It’s a collaborative effort whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, with each part — so sorely we now notice that one is missing — vital to

Here’s a reminder: Newspapering is a funny business. The paper has to come out week after week after week, when you’re sick, the monies are low, the receptionist has run off with a dancer, a reporter quits in a huff, the power fails, you don’t really feel like it, the software crashes, there’s no real news. Even when one of your original freedom fighters is killed in a terrible accident.

And there it is, like a string of laundry out to dry for all the neighbours to see and comment on, with the stains you couldn’t get out, the missing sock, the colours that ran, the good silk shirts, the ratty underwear (which you might try to hide in a pillowcase).

The funny thing about running a newspaper is that you usually don’t hear much about the good stuff you do. Mostly you hear the complaints.

But that’s the usual way of it. After this extraordinary week, I just bet that months and years from now people will step back a bit, consider what this little-paper-that-could means to them, and beam a message to Kathy. As for the ones down at Function in the office, including Bob when he gets back, you can simply tell them.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who can’t think of what to add here this week.

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