by Stewart Prest, submitted 2009
The week before they took over as owners of the ;Gabriola Sounder this past October, Derek Kilbourn ('03) and Sarah Holmes ('04) were both put on the front page, introducing them to the residents of the small gulf island out on the west coast.
As Derek describes it, “suddenly, there were 5000 strangers to get to know, and they all knew who we were. Thank God it was October and the other thousand summer residents won't be back till the spring.” It would have been a daunting situation for anyone, but they were ready, according to Derek.
“Our experiences at Augustana gave us the confidence to deal with a situation like that. We knew that we would just have to go to work, meet people one-on-one and get to know them."
For Derek and Sarah, Augustana’s small campus provided an ideal place to learn about building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships. In effect, life on campus was part of the curriculum. “There were so many opportunities to get involved,” he enthuses. “It was an adventure. We all had to decide for ourselves where we fit into that community.”
That experience is serving him well in his current job. “In a lot of ways, it’s not all that different. At a community paper, it’s not just about getting the story out. We have to remember that we’re a part of the community as well. The people we write about today will often be the same ones we write about next week. The audience will be the same, too. They are also likely our advertisers. That requires a degree of sensitivity.”
Derek points to their participation in Augustana’s Rural Development Exchange program (RDX) as a transformational learning experience. “The biggest thing I took from it was learning to live and function in community. I had to get to know all these new people, and help them to know and understand me. It was essential to maintain strong working relationships with both the other participants and members of the host communities.” The experience also taught them about living away from their support groups. "Coming out to the west coast was a tough choice for us, leaving our friends and family behind in Alberta behind the great grey wall of the Rockies.
The RDX experience also taught Derek and Sarah about tolerance and patience. “We had to develop a thicker skin,” laughs Derek, “an important characteristic in a newspaper editor. We write about things that make people emotional; that’s our job. However, as long as I’m covering the kinds of stories that people are interested in, and occasionally finding ways to challenge them, I feel like I’m doing that job well.”
Derek also talks about how Augustana’s emphasis on a broad education supports him in his work. “A liberal arts background helps when I’m talking to people about the topics that they care about. We're on an island that has more painters, musicians and artists per capita than anywhere else in Canada - I have a science degree. Thanks to the liberal arts education, there’s a level of comfort when dealing with an unfamiliar subject, and I still get excited by the possibility of learning and writing about something new.”
That love of learning also serves Derek in his professional development. "Sarah is now the fourth generation in her family to be a publisher of a weekly community newspaper. I grew up in a family business. We've both watched our parents and know the kind of work that has to happen to make our business a success. We know that it isn't enough to simply keep things at status quo. Each generation has to add to the industry, find the innovations that let us survive in a tough market and most of all, enjoy what we do. We're constantly having to learn new ways of operating."