By Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers
After more than four decades helping to shape the weekly newspaper industry in southern Alberta, former publisher Coleen Campbell’s professional shadow will continue to loom long over the family of newspapers she helmed for so many years.
Campbell left the Alberta Communities Group in mid-2016, which includes the publications of The Vauxhall Advance, The Taber Times, Coaldale Sunny South News, Bow Island Commentator, Cypress Courier and Westwind Weekly News.
“With a heavy heart and mixed emotions, I leave the Alta Newspaper Group after almost 41 years of investment that has shaped me in so many ways. I can’t even express what working here has meant to me.”
A consummate veteran of virtually all aspects of the newspaper business, it was back in 1975 when Campbell started with The Taber Times as a reporter/photographer after completing the journalism program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
“When I was 20 and walked through the doors at The Taber Times having just completed a journalism course and starting my career, I had some predetermined ideas about community newspapers. I knew I had to pay my dues at this community newspaper before I went on to bigger and better things — Globe and Mail, Time Magazine. Well 40 years later, I was still in Taber and bigger and better things just kept coming to me. Everyday was different. When I thought I had seen it all, done it all, heard it all, tomorrow came and proved me wrong.”
Two years after starting at the Times, Campbell transferred into the advertising department and became the Times’ sales representative for the next eight years. In 1985, she was named the assistant manager at The Taber Times, Coaldale Sunny South News, Vauxhall Advance and the company’s commercial print division.
Two years later with the sale of the company, Campbell was promoted to general manager responsible for the day-to-day operations of the three community newspapers and the commercial print division. With further sales of the company, the commercial print division was moved to Lethbridge and the company purchased the Bow Island Commentator and Cypress Courier along with the Westwind Weekly News based in the Raymond and Magrath communities, and became responsible for these publications as well.
“I have worked with some incredible, gifted, kind and wonderful people over the years who have provided encouragement, advice and mentorship, not to mention the personal and professional friendships that have been built along the way,” said Campbell.
In 2011, Campbell was named publisher and general manager of The Lethbridge Herald, which also included one community newspaper, a by-monthly newspaper and a regional newspaper, and continued responsibilities with the original five community newspapers. In 2014, with a re-structuring of the company, responsibilities were re-directed to the company’s 13 community and weekly newspapers that spread throughout southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan.
While her professional duties were many and continued to grow throughout her career, Campbell was also instrumental in helping to shape the direction of the weekly newspaper industry, both provincially and nationally, serving 22 years as a member of both the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA) and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA) boards of directors.
“Coleen has been a transformational leader in the industry,” said CCNA president John Hinds.
“She served in almost every capacity at CCNA, culminating in her term as board president. She led the association during a time of great change when she successfully negotiated and implemented the alliance of CCNA with the daily newspaper association. She was also a strong spokesperson for the industry and travelled the country to tell governments, advertisers and opinion makers the story of newspapers and their importance to communities and the country. She has been a respected and popular figure in the industry, with an amazing capacity to listen to people and to synthesize information.”
Campbell also served as director of AWNA from 1988 to 2008 and was elected president in 1993-94, and in 1995 was elected as a director of CCNA and held positions on several committees, including president in 2007-2008 and chairman of the board from 2008-2010.
“Respect among peers is never granted but always earned — and it is earned most often by those who do not consciously seek it. Coleen Campbell’s selfless efforts on behalf of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association certainly has earned her that respect,” said AWNA executive director Dennis Merrell. “Someone you can always count on. History showed, whatever project or position Coleen took on for the association, it was done exceptionally well. Her extraordinary willingness to help others in her profession and in her own community will be a legacy not quickly forgotten.”
Campbell herself is more modest about her time with either organization, despite the towering reputation she obviously enjoys among her colleagues.
“I really enjoyed my time on all these organizations, in all the different capacities I served,” said Campbell. “It gave me a chance to travel, learn about the industry from very experience people and meet so many important in influential people in the newspaper business.”
Awards and recognitions for Campbell during her time in the industry include the 1999 Bill Drayer Award, presented by the AWNA in recognition of exemplary dedication to the association; the 2008 CCNA Gold Quill, presented in recognition of distinguished service to the community newspaper profession; the 2013 Marg Hennigar Award, presented by CCNA in recognition of serving both the community and the community newspaper industry with distinction; and the 2016 George Meyer Leadership Award, presented by the AWNA in recognition of a publisher who exemplifies community leadership and volunteerism, which holds a special meaning for Campbell.
“The George Meyer Leadership awards has very significant meaning for me. George, along with his business partner, Walter Koyanagi, hired me back in 1975. They had the faith in me to carry on their newspaper legacy once they retired and sold the business. I would not be where I am today if they hadn’t given me my start. George welcomed me into this industry, gave me the best tools to navigate my way through it and had faith in me to carry it through. It is fitting that, now, at the end of my career, he is still with me, walking me back through that door. I am very grateful for it all.”
Community involvement over the years for the long-time publisher included parent advisory boards, day care boards, coaching soccer, Community Futures Development board, journalism advisory boards, arts and crafts committees, Taber Rotary, Taber and District Health Foundation board and several others. In addition, Campbell organized the Taber Times Ticker Tee-Off, a charity golf tournament that raised funds for various organizations over the past 20 plus years.
Campbell has also been an instrumental figure in developing the APEX Youth Awards program, a junior citizen program in the town and the Municipal District of Taber recognizing good kids who are making life better for those around them. The program celebrated its 15th year this past April. Over the years more then 300 students have been recognized and $90,000 has been distributed in the form of bursaries.
“Over the years, hundreds of youth have been recognized for their community contributions at the APEX Youth Awards,” said Horizon School Division superintendent Wilco Tymensen. “This recognition would not have been possible if not for Colleen. Each year she poured her heart and soul into the hundreds of hours of planning required to make the annual event a success. As a member of the APEX organizing committee I witnessed the payback of Colleen’s dedication each year as our young leaders stepped onto the stage to be recognized.”
Stepping into big shoes on the heels of Campbell’s departure, new Times publisher Val Wiebe admits she learned a lot about being an effective manager from her former colleague.
“Coleen has been an integral part of not only the newspaper industry, but our community as well. Her knowledge is remarkable and for more than 40 years she has been a mentor and friend to hundreds of staff. I certainly consider it an honour to be one of them.”
Campbell echoed those sentiments about Wiebe’s new leadership role at The Taber Times and the chain’s other weeklies.
“I want to congratulate Val on her promotion as the new publisher of the AB Communities and wish her all the best. I can’t think of anyone better to take on this role.”
While the ink has only recently dried on the newsprint before your eyes, tens of thousands of readers have dirtied a thumb or smudged a forefinger on the pages of publications once proudly produced under the aegis of the long-time publisher during her four decades in the industry.
It is that legacy, perhaps more than any other, that should stand tall in the eyes of southern Albertans as Campbell passes the torch on to ascend to another path in life.
“I have finished this book and I am looking forward to starting the next one, having more time for family and enjoying my new granddaughter.”