I got an angry phone call Tuesday morning from a reader furious about the fact we had posted a story the day before about a camper van seen parked at Scotch Pond near Garry Point Park.
The story quoted a woman who was complaining about the fact the camper was there. She was worried one may lead to another, and then another, and before you know it we’d have a squatters’ camp similar to the one at Strathcona Park in Downtown Vancouver.
The angry caller was particularly disgusted that we had run a photo of the camper van, saying we had essentially put a target on that person’s back.
And he wasn’t the only one to call.
Within hours of posting the story online, we received an email from a woman who also lives in a camper van saying she takes offence to the comment that people living in these vehicles use the bushes as their bathrooms. In fact, motor homes come with toilets and holding tanks, she explained. Yet another person emailed us to say the same thing.
But back to the first caller. His outrage was rooted in a number of factors:
1) We were giving voice to the privileged, those who don’t know the struggle of the “unhoused.”
2) The comment that if there’s one, there will be more makes this human being sound like the start of a pest infestation.
3) We didn’t interview the person living in the van to hear their side of the story.
4) And, basically, we showed a remarkable lack of empathy for people on the margins of society.
The first thing I’ll say is I have an interesting job.
I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not parking a camper van at Scotch Pond overnight should or should not be allowed. I’m not so interested in teeter tottering on the “how is one van really hurting anyone vs. if you let one, you have to let others and before you know it…” argument.
What I will weigh in on is our role as a community paper in covering stories like these. Granted, we don’t follow up on every complaint, but we do many of them with the belief that as a community, what we do usually affects our neighbours.
(Don’t get me started on my latest pet peeve about people paving their front and back yards — turning their neighbours’s into a flood zone.)
This doesn’t mean we agree with every complaint. In fact, I’m rather partial to campers; at this point, that’s my retirement plan.
It just means we agree with the basic premise that as a local paper, it’s our job to provide a platform where different views can have it out. Hence, my invite to the caller to write a letter for us to publish. It hasn’t come in yet but hopefully will soon.
The other factor is that no single news story is the definitive work on a particular issue. Rather, our stories are the best we can do with information we have at deadline. As more information comes in, the more we can add. This is particularly the case now online where our deadlines are essentially 24/7 and our stories are constantly updated.
I teach a journalism class at Kwantlen University, and one thing I’ll often have students look at is the many versions and formats of the same story.
In this case, since the first story was posted, we’ve updated it with comments from the woman who emailed us. And we’ll continue to cover it with this column, letters to the editor, and whatever else comes in. For example, we’ve since heard about other camps and campers, which may evolve into a feature.
This isn’t an excuse for half-baked journalism, it’s a recognition that stories evolve and it’s our job to bring new voices into the telling of that story as we hear them.
It’s also your job to speak up.