By DAVE OBEE
Editor and Publisher, Victoria Times Colonist
WE’RE DELIGHTED that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have shown a keen interest in our area, but we are not so thrilled with some of the baggage that followed them.
That might sum up the view of many people in Greater Victoria, and for the record, it is a view shared in the Times Colonist newsroom.
Greater Victoria is a perfect getaway, for many reasons. We’re off the beaten path, and we tend to stay calm when we see celebrities here.
The separation of Harry and Meghan from the Royal Family is big news around the world. Their connection to our Island is worthy of note, but their day-to-day existence here is not. Let them be.
It can be shocking, then, to see the work of British journalists who are trying to document every move of Harry and Meghan.
Meghan takes Harbour Air to Vancouver! Meghan picks up a friend at the airport! And so on. Every move worth a half-dozen photos, and maybe even video.
We consider this stuff ho-hum; the fact that Meghan can drive is hardly breaking news. In England, though, there are editors screaming for more.
A few hours after we reported in December that Harry and Meghan were in our area, we started getting calls and emails from media outlets in England as well as Toronto and New York City.
“Tell me everything you know that you did not put in your paper,” one British reporter told me. I refused. If I felt that information should have been made public, it would have appeared in the Times Colonist. Duh.
We have also declined more than a dozen requests for interviews with British news outlets. We do not want to feed that animal.
Those news organizations have had the same response from many local businesses including boat operators and even private investigators. People who live here have, for the most part, refused to help in the harassment.
The arrival of Harry and Meghan forced our newsroom to decide how to cover royals in our midst, but, really, there was not much debate.
We are used to having celebrities, major and minor, in our community. Sometimes I think that a famous person could be found in every second house along the North Saanich waterfront, or in Uplands. Or in every second room at the Empress in summer.
From time to time, these celebrities make the news, for one reason or another. Like the time that a guy who broke into a house owned by Burton Cummings was given a suspended sentence, prompting Jack Knox to write a classic headline: “He got, got, got, got, got no time.”
Like the time that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau photobombed a wedding on the beach. And so on.
But if these notable people are simply going about their daily lives, it’s not news. Every year, our staff members see celebrities and leave them alone. We don’t take spy photos, we don’t take ambush photos.
If you see a photographer with a long lens hiding behind a car or a tree, that person does not represent the Times Colonist.
If Harry and Meghan are in public, and agree to being photographed, that is a different matter.
Harry has a long-standing, and very distant, family connection to the Island, thanks to a brother of a great-great-grandfather on his Spencer side. That relative is resting comfortably in Royal Oak Burial Park, and if Harry asked, I would take him to the grave.
I would even take a photo of him there, and use it in the next edition of my history of the cemetery – but not in the Times Colonist. Context matters.
Our coverage of the royals to date has been too much for some, too little for many others. The fact that our first stories on Harry and Meghan were read more than a half-million times is proof of interest.
The emails I get that say “stop it, only the media cares,” are not based in reality. I can see how many people are reading the stories on our website. And it’s not just the Times Colonist; there is a reason why Hello! Canada is the top-selling magazine in this country.
People want to read about celebrities. It’s as simple as that. And that is why paparazzi have arrived here; there is an eager market for what they are doing.
That doesn’t mean, however, you will see their work on our pages. We are more Victoria than that.
Dave Obee is a former Kamloops reporter and currently editor and publisher of the Victoria Times Colonist.
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