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Jack Knox to tell tale of newspaper wars

On his first assignment, he was sent downtown to investigate a bloated cow. Those at the stockyards on Lorne Street said the beast was no longer theirs.
jack knox
Jack Knox poses with his 2015 Commentator of the Year award at the Jack Webster Awards.

On his first assignment, he was sent downtown to investigate a bloated cow.

Those at the stockyards on Lorne Street said the beast was no longer theirs. The railyard staff said they wanted nothing to do with it and the city said it was someone else’s problem. But Jack Knox said it made him feel like Woodward and Bernstein.

It was the first assignment of a career in journalism that has so far spanned 40 years.

Knox showed up at the Kamloops Daily News one day with a bag full of newspaper clippings and some good timing. One of the paper’s reporters had just burst their appendix and “out of sheer desperation” the 19-year-old Knox was hired.

His time as a reporter in the city was during what he calls the golden age of journalism — “or at least the bronze age,” he told KTW.

On Friday, he will speak at a Kamloops Society for the Written Arts event at St. Andrews on the Square, at Seymour Street and Second Avenue, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door and available online.

Knox will share old war stories about the newspaper wars of the ‘70s and ‘80s and the state of journalism today.

“Kamloops always punched above its weight for journalism,” he said. “There was a time when the two newspaper giants in Canada were Southam and Thomson — and Kamloops was actually the last city in Canada where the two went head-to-head.”

Knox said the competitive environment was a good thing for the city — and evidently a good thing for him — and the city became known for its talented reporters.

“Everybody had the idea that small-town journalism didn’t have to mean small-time journalism,” he said.

Knox recalled the arrival of a new editor at the Kamloops Sentinel — the Southam paper — who received a note from Knox and his fellow competitors attached to a quart of buttermilk. The note read: “This is for the ulcer we’re going to give you.”

“He sent back a case of beer and we thought, ‘OK, he’s all right,’” Knox said.

Knox will likely also share some moments of glory, like the story of how, as a 20-year-old scribe, he was sent to cover a loggers’ union meeting gone awry. He shared the story with KTW — with a disclaimer of embarrassment.

“They had just settled their contract and were protesting at the union headquarters. They end up having a brawl — a window gets broken and there’s a fist fight. They’re throwing punches through the broken glass,” he recalled.

“It’s right on deadline, so I go running down to the nearby McDonald’s and I actually vaulted the counter — which shows how young I was — and I yelled ‘Press! Give me a phone.’”

They gave him a phone — along with a Big Mac and a coffee.

When he returned to the office, Knox said his city editor just put his face in his hands.

Knox’s Kamloops career ended about seven years later when he up and moved to England for the adventure of it. He returned a year-and-a-half later to Saskatchewan before making his way back to B.C. via Campbell River and finally landed in his longtime home of Victoria, where he has been a copy editor, city editor, opinion pages editor and columnist for the Victoria Times-Colonist.

Along the way, Knox has learned a thing or two about journalism and plans on sharing those thoughts and concerns, including what has happened as a result of declining advertising business.

“You really see people in positions of public trust knowing they can get away with less scrutiny now. It’s really kind of demoralizing,” he said.
“It comes down to the readers. The financial formula has always been that Canadians don’t pay for news. Advertisers pay for advertising. Now 50 per cent of all advertising goes to Facebook and Google.

“So, now we’re not losing to other news sources, we’re losing to cat videos and porn.”