For the past three-and-a-half years I have had the great pleasure of working closely with Chris Puglia, Editor of the Cochrane Eagle, home base for my weekly newspaper columns. But with this week’s issue he will be bidding farewell to Cochrane and returning to the North to work for the Government of Nunavut in health-related programs.
Chris is no stranger to the North. After graduating from SAIT in 1997 and working for weeklies in Olds and Carstairs, he spent 12 years in the Arctic as a journalist, working in Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Norman Wells.
“During that time I was a reporter, copy editor, and then coordinating editor for the Northern News Services Limited managing the production of its seven newspapers,” he says. “It was an amazing experience that allowed me to travel a very unique part of the country, and work with some amazing people and communities.”
He attributes that experience to building his empathy with First Nations and Inuit peoples, he says. “I have always had a love for the North and I think working with the health department will give me an opportunity to assist Inuit communities in a meaningful way.”
I’m really quite struck by Chris’s emphasis on empathy. I bounced this quality off my editor son James. Absolutely, James replied. Editing is much more than grammar and spelling. “What’s most important in communication is bringing minds together,” he says. Empathy is at the heart of that.
James’ friend Henry Fuhrmann, retired assistant managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, sent me his views on empathy in editing:
“The most important virtue is empathy: for writers (and what they seek to achieve with their stories), for other colleagues in the process (likewise), and most important for the audience (and what might best serve them). Other virtues follow from that one: patience, consistency, discipline (e.g., knowing when to act and when to leave the copy alone). For newspapers specifically, the ever-present deadlines, diminished staffing, etc., heighten the challenges but also the rewards of a job well done.”
I’m not alone in admiring this virtue in Chris. Former longtime Eagle reporter Lindsay Seewalt tells me:
“Chris recognized strengths and weaknesses in his reporters and photographers and he would build around them. He knew how to let eagles fly.
“Journalism is a craft from the heart and Chris wanted to foster talent and passion. He understood that granting some editorial freedom for reporters to be creative would in turn fuel them to write their best stories. Not just anyone can do this. He just got it.”
It wasn’t only through journalism here in our growing foothills town along the Bow that “he just got it,” of course. “Being a member of Rotary was one of the most significant things I have done in Cochrane,” Chris says. “It helped build my connection to the community and gave me an opportunity to give back in a small way as my schedule allowed.”
And so, Chris, we are sad to see you leave, but happy for you that you have this new opportunity in the North. I raise my coffee cup in a toast to you:
May your empathy with the Inuit community and your desire for their good health be richly rewarded with success, goodwill and your family’s personal happiness. And keep on letting those eagles fly!