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Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award

Mel Rothenburger
2011 Recipient

Mel RothenburgerMel Rothenburger was fired from his job as Editor at a Prince George newspaper. That was more than 40 years ago. And it was a good thing.

A good thing for Kamloops because that city became home to a young journalist who believed above all else that integrity mattered. A good thing for journalism in British Columbia because it gained a champion who still believes passionately in his community and the audience he serves. Reporter, editor, columnist, historian and more recently webmaster and blogger, Mel Rothenburger defines the importance of local news.

Back in the late '60s, B.C.'s legendary beer baron, Ben Ginter, owner of the Prince George newspaper, discovered soon enough that his editor was no pushover. Annoyed because his paper published a picture of someone at the Williams Lake Stampede who happened to be holding a competing brand of beer, Ginter order Mel to fire the offending photographer. Replied Mel, "If he's fired, then I'm fired." And so it began.

Mel packed up the car and drove south to Kamloops where he landed a job with the Kamloops News Advertiser, later to be known as the Kamloops Daily News. Since his arrival in 1970 the newspaper has grown from a weekly to a daily with Mel serving at times as reporter, editor, owner and columnist. Not content to wind down his activity on the Daily News, Mel has stepped up his contribution in recent years. He has increased his column from one to three times a week and added webmaster, blogger and occasional tweeter to his repertoire as he continues to lead the newspaper into the world of new media.

Over the years, Mel's passion for his community has reached far beyond the confines of the editor's desk at the Kamloops Daily News. In the mid-'70s he served as a journalism instructor at Cariboo College and later was a key player in the development of the journalism program at Thomson Rivers University. But the love of working in a local newsroom was hard to resist so it was back to the Kamloops Daily News in 1976 and strong period of growth through the next 20 years until the late '90s, when politics came calling.

His background in education contributed to a successful bid for a seat on the Kamloops School Board where he served as chairman for two years. Soon, it was on to the top job in City Hall. Mel served two terms as Mayor from 1999 to 2005. But it was always his plan to return to journalism and he did just that when he rejoined the Kamloops Daily News as Editor the following year.

Many might ask, how do you reconcile jumping from chief watchdog to chief politician and back again? Mel thinks there isn't that much difference between politicians and journalists and, in fact, believes they play similar roles. Here's how he explained it to Kamloops Daily News reporter, Michele Young: "That might seem like an extreme comparison or a strange one, because we tend to be at odds with each other so often, but really we're cut from the same cloth in the sense that we're very community minded and very driven to be involved in our communities in a way that makes those communities better."

And you can be sure Mel knows what he's talking about when the subject is Kamloops. He is the author of four books chronicling the city's colourful history and some of its equally colourful personalities.

No matter what hat he wears, it is Mel's belief in community and his love of Kamloops in particular that drive him. He has been awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal, the Heritage Society of B.C. Outstanding Achievement Award, The Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship and the BC Community Newspaper Association's Eric Dunning Integrity Award.

As for the most recent honour, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jack Webster Foundation, he's honoured and humbled of course. But is he hanging up his hat? Not on your life.


See the dinner presentation video for Mel Rothenburger.


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Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award