With an introduction by CBC host Gloria Macarenko, followed by a cheering, standing ovation from some of the top journalists and newspaper executives in Western Canada, former Williams Lake Tribune publisher Bob Grainger says he felt overwhelmingly humbled when he took the stage to accept the prestigious Eric Dunning Award for Dedication and Service to the Community Newspaper Industry last weekend.
“It was so humbling — all I really did was do my job for the last 33 years. Somehow, I felt like I didn’t belong up there but everyone else felt I did. It was pretty nice.”
Well-known for his honesty and tenacity, Grainger has worked tirelessly over his 33-year career to pioneer and root newspapers in communities and has a story of his own which began right here in Williams Lake.
It started in 1976 when David Black was the owner and publisher of the Williams Lake Tribune and was in need of a sales manager for his growing newspaper.
Black wanted someone who was aggressive and well-respected in the business community. It took a little convincing, but before long Grainger, who at the time worked at a hardware store, joined up with Black and a unique partnership was formed that would last more than 30 years.
“When David made me publisher, David’s father, Allen, was in town. He said, ‘Bob let’s go for a walk. I want to pass on some advice.’ We started our stroll through town. We discussed everything, including where he came from and where I came from. The most important thing he said, ‘do you realize you as publisher have become the most powerful person in town? You are in a position to make or break people through the pages of your newspaper, whether it be politicians or just Joe citizen. So be damn careful how you approach the community and run your newsroom,’ keeping in mind, we are just the custodians of the newspaper, it belongs to the community.”
In 1978, Grainger was promoted to the publisher of the Tribune and by 1980 was named president of Cariboo Press, making him responsible for the chain of newspapers Black had built throughout the Interior of B.C.
In 2000, Black Press had expanded greatly and Grainger took on more responsibilities by becoming president of the Prairie Group as well as Cariboo Press.
Grainger became, as he calls it, “a road warrior traveller,” as the Black Press chain grew with extensive travels throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Seattle and Hawaii.
Throughout his career, Grainger made a point of visiting every city and town where Black Press published papers. For him, a community newspaper couldn’t represent a community without first understanding and being part of it. That’s why he also insisted that his staff join chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, and other local organizations.
Many in the industry considered Grainger’s passion and integrity “contagious.” It was that infectious personality which led Grainger to become chief operating officer in 2002 to work alongside Black in Victoria. It also marked an end to his time in Williams Lake.
“David trusted me explicitly,” Grainger said. “We were very good friends. We did all the good things together and all the bad things together. I loved his family and they loved me.”
Grainger retired in 2009 and currently lives in Saanich where he continues to enjoy fishing and his woodworking. He also still sits on the Black Press board.
His legacy in the newspaper industry however, particularly at the Tribune office, remains strong.
“Bob has played such an integral role in the lives of so many people over the years, myself included,” says BC North Black Press President Lorie Williston.
“We all owe so much to him, both personally and professionally.”
Grainger says he’ll always miss the industry, but even more than that, the people.
“I miss what got us here,” Grainger says of his newspaper days. “It was a hell of a ride.”
– With files from Black Press