|Today's date: Friday May 24, 2013||Vol 46 Issue 21|
We Cover The County...
Gone Fishing: David Meyer retires after 35 years at local newspapers
by Chris Daponte
Next week, for the first time in 35 years, community newspapers will arrive at homes in Wellington-Waterloo without one of their most trusted and recognizable voices.
David Meyer, one of the area’s longest serving reporters, is retiring and relocating to the Chatham-Kent area with his wife Anna and children Hellene, 16, and Matt, 11.
“I want to spend more time with my family,” he said of his June 29 retirement.
Meyer, 61, started full time at the Wellington Advertiser in April of 1996 and has covered the county’s biggest news stories and written on topics ranging from crime and politics to sports and arts.
He has also played an integral role in copy editing and layout, as well as the overall growth of the paper for the last 16 years.
He grew up in St. Clements and had his first published byline appear in the Elmira Independent on April 1, 1977.
In hindsight, it was no accident that Meyer got into the news business.
“Mom was always curious and she always remembered names, places and events ... and she had a great nose for gossip,” Meyer recalled of his late mother, Evelyn.
“And dad (Norman) loved reading, especially newspapers.”
It was a chance encounter with friend CBC reporter Joan Leischman, who suggested he become a reporter, that prompted Meyer to first get into journalism. Another friend suggested he become a correspondent for the Elmira Independent and, with the approval of editor and owner Bob Verdun, that’s how Meyer got his start.
After several months, Meyer was covering “real” news such as council meetings, in addition to his full-time job at the Region of Waterloo.
Though Verdun tried to convince him that it wasn’t necessary, a short time later, at age 26, Meyer applied to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University).
“I decided I missed out on a college experience and I really wanted one,” he said.
He graduated three years later, in 1980, with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism and eventually returned to work full-time at the Independent.
He stayed there for a decade before moving with Verdun in 1990 to start the Elora Sentinel. Not long after the move, Meyer recalls suggesting Verdun hire local historian Stephen Thorning as a columnist.
With his editor’s approval, Meyer personally visited Thorning, who agreed to start immediately. The history column did not run the second week due to space constraints, and the Sentinel office received several complaints about Thorning’s absence.
“That was the last time that happened,” Meyer recalled with a laugh.
Thorning, who has written his historical columns ever since and moved to the Advertiser in 1999, said he has enjoyed working alongside Meyer for two decades.
“It has been a pleasure working with Dave,” said Thorning. “Our association has been the longest I’ve ever had in my working life. I don’t recall a single dispute since we began working together 22 years ago.
“I wish him well in his new home, and I’m sure he will enjoy a more leisurely life with his family - and away from the constant deadlines and pressures of the newspaper business.”
Despite a circulation of about 2,000 and a positive reception in the village of Elora, a lack of advertising revenue ultimately forced the Sentinel to shut down in late 1995, Meyer explained.
“It was a bit of a shock in a lot of ways,” he said. “I figured I’d have to leave town to find a job.”
Luckily, one of the persons he contacted about employment was Dave Adsett, then general manager of the Wellington Advertiser. Meyer already had a relationship with Dave’s father, Advertiser publisher and founder Bill Adsett, who purchased freelance rock and roll album reviews from Meyer in the early 1980s.
But it was Meyer’s eye for hard news that prompted the Adsetts to bring Meyer on full time at the Advertiser.
“Dad’s reaction was ‘grab him - I don’t know how he does it, but he can churn out reams of copy’,” Dave Adsett recalled.
“We had relied on submissions and freelancers for many years. Hiring an accomplished journalist with credentials was a very big step for us.”
Meyer remembers Adsett telling him, “We’ve got people reading the ads; I want them to read the news, too.”
Long days - and nights - were often the norm in the late 1990s, when the Adsetts and the newspaper staff worked hard to grow the newspaper started by Bill Adsett in 1968.
“We never stopped talking about how to make the Advertiser a better paper,” Meyer said.
As luck would have it, amalgamation in 1999 eliminated the monumental task of trying to cover 21 municipal councils.
Meyer counts the county’s transformation into seven larger municipalities as one of the most important news stories he has covered in his career - even though he personally doubts the process solved the problems many proponents claimed it would.
“It certainly didn’t save any money,” Meyer said, noting the number of municipal staff members, as well as their salaries, has ballooned in the last 13 years.
He added amalgamation was also “disingenuous in a lot of ways too,” including the province’s dumping of a lot of its responsibilities on municipal governments.
Other career highlights noted by Meyer include:
- covering Ottawa leadership conventions in the 1980s for John Turner and Brian Mulroney (he recalls the Independent’s coverage of those events “blew away” coverage in regional daily papers);
- travelling to Vancouver during Expo ’86 to cover an international women’s fastball tournament featuring the St. Clements Suns;
- producing a daily sports newspaper for the Independent in 1985 during another national tournament hosted by St. Clements;
- covering the Canadian Broomball Championships in Quebec in the early 1980s;
- a 1993 tour of NATO bases and other attractions in Europe during a trip organized by Atlantic Alliance of Canada;
- the very contentious issue in 2001 of the slots facility coming to Elora (the public meeting lasted about eight hours and, with 1,500 or so in attendance, and “there was a lot of fanaticism in the room,” Meyer said);
- coverage of various natural disasters, including at least one tornado that required a last minute re-build of the Advertiser front page;
- myriad arts reviews and stories that allowed Meyer to attend festivals and also to meet, interview and/or photograph musical legends like the Doobie Brothers, Kansas, Bob Dylan and, just this year, Rockwood’s Peter Appleyard; and
- a business trip to New York City with Dave Adsett in 2010 (Meyer’s first trip to the Big Apple).
A lot has changed in Meyer’s 35-year career, most notably newspaper layout and production, which transformed from a painstaking process involving typewriters, “galleys,” wax machines and slow photo development to a streamlined approach with technological advancements including computer software and digital images and layout.
“One thing I never missed was the waxer,” Meyer said with a laugh.
He can also do without the longer hours. The old processes often required the occasional 24-hour shift and Meyer remembers one 38-hour marathon at the office.
“But we never minded it ... we were doing what we loved and we had a lot of fun,” he said.
Meyer said municipal politics has also changed over the years - and not necessarily for the better.
“There’s a lot more spin now,” he said. “A lot of politicians today are asking ‘how is this going to look’ or ‘how can I sell this,’ as opposed to ‘how does this benefit the community’.”
Meyer opined the local pattern seems to be following the trend set at the provincial and federal levels. He is also saddened to see fewer farmers on municipal councils, which he said does not bode well for the future, particularly in Wellington County.
Another transformation Meyer does not look upon so fondly is the growing trend of “info-tainment” and “citizen journalism.”
“In a lot of cases it becomes frivolous,” he said. “There needs to be more responsibility.”
Daily newspapers tend to feature entertainment over information, Meyer lamented, citing prominent news spaces given to the likes of Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber.
Yet he says community newspapers - particularly the few privately-owned bastions remaining like the Advertiser - will continue to fill the need for hard news, which will always be of paramount importance.
And, he adds, despite the changes and difficulties facing the industry, predictions of the demise of newspapers, particularly with the advent of “social media,” are rubbish.
“I firmly believe newspapers will be with us for years and years,” he said.
He notes the death of print news was also predicted with the arrival of radio, television and the Internet, “But we’re still here.”
Meyer’s commitment to his industry is not lost on those working alongside him.
“David has always been quite aware of the significance of a community newspaper, regardless of its location,” said Bill Adsett. “And his devotion to the chore of reporting bore that out.”
Meyer’s body of work speaks for itself, though like any good writer, he is not always pleased with the results.
“I don’t know any reporter who’s completely satisfied with any story they write,” he said.
However, Dave Adsett insists quality reporting from Meyer - his close friend and longest serving employee - was vital to the growth of the Advertiser.
“Meyer’s ability to write and coach our other reporters allowed us to move ahead as the news leader in Wellington County,” said Adsett.
“He always suggested a free paper needed to be twice as good as its paid competitor ... and he has been an integral part of that transformation, every step of the way.”
With retirement, Meyer said he looks forward to spending more time with his family and also more time golfing and fishing (for years Meyer’s fly fishing exploits, or lack thereof, were featured in his Stray Casts column).
But it is not without mixed emotions that Meyer leaves the Advertiser. He will miss many friends in the area and also those he has worked with over the last few decades.
“There’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to go,” he said. “In a lot of ways, this is who I am.”
The bittersweet feelings are shared by many who have worked with Meyer over the years.
“On a personal basis, he’s going to be missed, to say the least,” said Bill Adsett. “We wish him, Anna and the children success in their new venture.”
Dave Adsett echoed his father’s sentiments.
“Recently over lunch with Meyer I looked up and saw him smiling this big genuine smile like I hadn’t seen before. That made me happy to see him truly happy,” said Adsett.
“Few people get to retire with that sense of accomplishment and outlook for the coming years.”
Despite his pending move, Meyer expects not everything will change. He will maintain a deep connection to the area where he has spent one third of his life.
“Wellington County, and Elora in particular, has been so good to me. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery, landing here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place and it’s been my home.”
Not surprisingly, Meyer hopes to do some sort of writing in his new hometown.
“I don’t think I could stop ... I’ll continue to be nosey,” he said with a wide grin.
June 29, 2012
The Wellington Advertiser
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