by Rosalyn Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES – For the better part of the last 17 years, Charlene Blackmore was a fixture at the Gulf News.
When SaltWire Inc., which owns the publication, announced in June that it was laying off more employees, Blackmore was one of those impacted.
Blackmore, who has taken to working temporarily as an inshore fisher while she re-evaluates her options, returned just before mid-September to help shutter the Gulf News office permanently. She admits she can’t help but feel a little melancholy.
“I loved it there,” she says candidly.
Blackmore has witnessed and adapted to many changes in the newspaper business over the years, especially when it came to technology.
“When we first started there was no internet,” she recalls. “Everything was fax. That’s how you contacted people. Pictures were all done on film, so you never knew what pictures were going to come out in the paper until you saw it on Monday.”
Stories would be typed up, accompanying film rolls and other components like mockups for ads or featured story pages would be couriered off on Thursday evenings for actual layout and printing in Grand Falls.
“Sometimes we’d get a call from Grand Falls on Friday that they never got the envelope,” says Blackmore.
That would lead to a mad scramble of phone calls trying to track down the package. Stories, obituaries and other content would be typed up and faxed in but the missing photos couldn’t be. More than once the envelope would end up in St. John’s and have to be turned around, usually reaching its destination on the Saturday.
“You just had to hope for the best,” shrugs Blackmore.
Back then the office had four permanent staff and would usually hire on a summer student to help cover all the news in and around the Southwest Coast.
Then there were the freelancers in La Poile and Ramea. Blackmore would type up their stories and get that into the envelope too.
At its zenith, the newspaper had 33 paper carriers around the region. Blackmore says it got a little hectic at times, just trying to keep everything organized.
“I had a carrier in Francois, Grey River. I had two in Ramea. I had two in Burgeo,” she recalls. “Grand Bruit for a while until they closed down. La Poile, two in Rose Blanche, two in Burnt Islands, two in Isle aux Morts, Margaree, Codroy Valley and South Branch. The majority, always 14, were in Port aux Basques.”
The internet and new software tools meant a significant shift in how the paper operated.
Instead of faxing in stories they were e-mailed, along with any accompanying photos. Instead of spending time re-keying stories, staff were easily able to copy and paste, then emailed off to editors for further review.
Eventually the layouts could be previewed digitally by local staff prior to publication, but that didn’t prevent mistakes from happening from time to time. The Northern Pen, a sister paper, once won a Red Lobster award for making a huge blooper.
“They were changing their masthead,” chuckles Blackmore. “It all got printed and nobody noticed anything, but when it all went through and we got the papers, it was the Northern Penis!”
Blackmore believes the error was likely a sort of autocorrect mistake, and the award provided many a chuckle over the years. As the paper evolved, so did Blackmore’s role.
She did much more than just type up stories, serve customers and organize paper carriers. For a while she dabbled in sales before deciding it wasn’t for her, but she did enjoy editing and helping with the layout.
The thing she will miss most of all is the people. Blackmore credits her colleagues over the years for teaching her so much about the newspaper business.
“The interaction, all of the interaction with them and knowing what was going on in the town. I loved my job. I absolutely loved my job.”