White Rock’s Rick O’Connor is still getting acclimated to relaxation, he admits.
But the former President and CEO of the Black Press Media Group – owners of news media outlets in BC, Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Washington State, Alaska, and Hawaii – said it’s a transition he’s more than ready to make.
“The first 10 days has been fantastic,” O’Connor – who retired from his post on Sept. 2 – said Monday.
“I’m so used to saying I’m not going to do this or that on Sunday, because Monday is coming up,” he added. “Now Monday doesn’t matter as much.”
O’Connor said he and his wife Pam, who moved to the Semiahmoo Peninsula in 1991 and raised their family here, are looking forward to eventually travelling to favourite places around the world.
“I’d love to do a golf trip to Ireland and Scotland – my wife has already been there – and to revisit Italy and Hawaii and other places we’ve been to and loved,” he said. “But we’re not going to be travelling too much until travel becomes easier.”
O’Connor, formerly a Peace Arch Hospital Foundation board member, said he plans to continue his “passionate involvement” with the development and improvement of services at the hospital, and in promoting health care in general in the community.
And while he’s not been actively involved in coaching softball and soccer since the days of his children’s athletic careers (he was recently named to the BC Softball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport, including launching the UBC Women’s Varsity Softball program in 2009) he still retains a lively interest in local sporting organizations.
“It’s wonderful to see how, in a community like this, they continue to offer an involvement opportunity,” he said. “We’re not moving anywhere, so obviously we’ll stay involved in the community in any way we can.”
O’Connor said he would probably have chosen to retire a couple of years earlier, after a 40 year-plus career in the newspaper and media business.
“But then COVID hit – which became an exercise in crisis management. We’ve kind of got through that now, so I thought that this is probably the time to hand things over to other colleagues in Black Press Media.”
His first involvement with newspapers came in the late 1970s when he was working for a radio station in Prince George that had established a satellite station in Vanderhoof.
“Our job was to provide an on-air presence in the morning, to go out and sell ads and then come back and record and produce them,” he remembered. “Then in the evening we’d cover events and add voice clips to the stories.
“The radio station was connected to the newspaper there – in the same building – so I got to watch it at work. Then a little while later, in 1978, when everybody in town was complaining about the existing newspaper, I sold my car, bought some equipment and started a paper of my own.”
It was a different world, O’Connor recalled – one without cellphones or the internet.
“The primary means of communication was through the newspaper – it was through that you set about winning the hearts and minds of the readers. Now there are so many different platforms people can receive information from.”
O’ Connor recalled that some of his happiest times were meeting the challenges of starting up new newspapers – something he did in many markets after selling his first two papers to Black Press Media in 1983, first as vice president of newspapers for the Lower Mainland Publishing Company, and later from 1998, as president of the Metro Valley Newspaper Group.
But as “exciting and stimulating” as these experiences were, O’Connor – who was awarded the prestigious Dean Lesher award in 2009 for outstanding contributions to the community newspaper industry in North America – believes the really exciting time to be in the media industry is now, after the last 20 years of technological advances, when news is “instantaneous” and there are multiple opportunities for journalists to interact with the public.
While competing for business with media giants such as Google and Facebook presents undeniable challenges, O’Connor said the benefits of being able to communicate in more sophisticated ways still outweighs them.
More than that, he said, he believes maintaining locally-based media is a crucial component in the fabric of communities, and society in general, with professional journalism continuing to act as as a necessary analytical “filter” for the polarized viewpoints to be found all over the web.
“And having watched (hometown paper) the Peace Arch News over the years and the kind of work people there have done, and the work they continue to do for the community, I’d like to continue to encourage people to support their local newspaper and media company,” he said.
Even in retirement mode, he suspects he will still be involved in the industry part-time.
“I’m interested in how we can create a business model for newspapers and media companies that is sustainable – how can I use my years of experience to create something, down the road, that everyone will benefit from, not just Black Press.”