Wednesday, March 16, 2011

End of story for Westcoaster

Publisher, editor and crackerjack reporter Keven Drews looks at the final online edition of the Westcoaster.ca, a valuable news source for the residents of western Vancouver Island. Globe photograph by Darryl Dyck.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 14, 2011

VICTORIA

When a newspaper dies,the rush is on to produce a final edition worthy of a keepsake. The staff delays mourning until after deadline.

The headlines typically run in apocalypse-sized block letters: STOP THE PRESSES, or FINAL EDITION, or END OF STORY.

The death of a newspaper is sad. Voices go unheard. Reporters go unpaid (and forgive me for being alert to the latter). A community seems lesser when a daily newspaper folds. Just ask the residents of Nelson, whose Daily News was snuffed last year, or New Westminster, who lost the 122-year-old Columbian back in 1983. It’s like baseball’s Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.

In that same way, the rugged, beautiful, newsworthy stretch of Vancouver Island from Tofino to Ucluelet, from Alberni to Nanaimo now will have to make do without the helpful and informative Westcoaster.

The online news service pulled the plug on itself last week.

Keven Drews
“The reason is simple: the publication is not receiving the advertising support necessary to continue, and it does not appear like that situation will change,” Keven Drews wrote.

Mr. Drews founded the cyber publication in October, 2005, “because a handful of local writers, techies and business people believed may stories were going untold in this region.”

Launched with a reported bankroll of $1,000, the site updated content five days a week — and as the news warranted. The Westcoaster broke plenty of news stories that found a national audience.

In the summer of 2006, the site revealed the resort town of Tofino, one of the wettest spots in the land, had a severe shortage of drinking water. The crisis led to emergency rationing for residents and the mandatory closing of restaurants and lodges.

The website crashed two years ago when fans of the Twilight saga flocked to read about the filming in the area of the movie “New Moon.”

Mr. Drews excelled in his reporting on last year’s death of two paramedics, as well as the sad, desperate, heartbreaking search for a missing seven-year-old from Washington state who was believed to have been swept out to sea.

Mr. Drews has a reputation as an accurate and thorough reporter and here’s hoping he stays in the business. (He is currently in Australia and did not respond to email requests for comment.)

The reporter struggles with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the plasma cells. He endured a relapse just a month after founding the Westcoaster, costing him “a chunk of my skull.” A couple of years ago, his wife, Yvette, helped organize a dinner and auction that raised $10,000 for cancer research.

A dual citizen, who once reported for the Peninsula Daily News of Port Angeles, Wash., Mr. Drews laments that he will never again be able to live in the United States. He wrote a passionate opinion article for the Seattle Times two years ago in which he urged Americans to support President Barack Obama’s reforms.

“Universal health care works and saves people like me,” he wrote. “I’d be dead if I had stayed in the U.S.

“As sick as I have been, I can still contribute to society.”

As a boy, his family left Montana to return to Canada when his father, a teacher, got sick. The health-care system kept his father alive for another 36 years.

“Unfortunately, I will never return to live in the U.S.,” he wrote. “I lack the financial resources to remain alive there with my illness.”

Unlike the newspaper industry, with its long history and romantic culture, a news website does not produce much in the way of a final-edition souvenir. It’s as if the site is merely frozen in time.

Mere days after the Westcoaster ceased publishing, the area faced a tsunami warning following the earthquake in Japan.

They take tsunamis seriously in those parts. With good reason. The twin cities of Alberni and Port Alberni suffered grievous damage in the tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Alaska in 1964.

The warning system along the exposed coast has long been a contentious issue. A search on the website finds 111 archived stories in which “tsunami” is mentioned.

Farewell, Wescoaster. Your voice will be missed.

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