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Did you know Prince George has a university?

Posted on 23 March 2013

As always, this is my website, my opinions, they reflect no one else’s, and are subject to change.

There’s been a smattering of interest in Prince George in Vancouver media lately, with both the Vancouver Sun and Global Television doing features on the city that are decidedly positive. They might be a little late to the party, though.

The first big thing to spread around was an article in the Vancouver Sun this February. Titled “Affordable Prince George offers family balance,” it goes through a laundry list of reasons Prince George is a great place to live. It starts with a story about people helping out a recently-transplanted Vancouver family when their car broke down. Then it informs people that the city has a university, malls, sports (even judo!), and is pretty easy to drive around.

I’ll admit, around the paragraph it starts listing out the musicians who have come to the city (Elton John! Avril Lavigne!) I always have to double-check this isn’t a paid advertisement. It reads like an official pamphlet (Costco! Canadian Tire! Lakes!) with a couple of anecdotes to round things out. Literally the most critical thing in this article is the fact that it’s somewhat cold in winter. I love Prince George and all, but it surprised me that a newspaper article has so little interest in pointing out the challenges- the whole “most dangerous city” thing springs to mind. I mean, I’m not saying you have to dwell on it, but maybe acknowledge it? It’s that sort of balance that separates newspapers from brochures.1

Prince George Citizen editor Neil Godbout had a similar reaction. Around the time that first article appeared, Vancouver Sun associate Fazil Milhar came to town and talked about how it was time for the story of the north to be communicated to people in the Lower Mainland. Godbout’s take:

“While the positive press in recent days is appreciated, it’s going to take more than a couple of patronizing stories to change the Lower Mainland’s view of us yokels up here in the frozen hinterland and it’s going to take more than a sales pitch and a pat on the head to convince northerners that Vancouver residents are suddenly educated about the merits of Northern. B.C.”

It’s an interesting question: are these stories positive or patronizing? Well, I was able to interview Fazil Mihlar about why the Sun is publishing the articles and his take on Godbout’s criticism. You can listen to it on the Daybreak North website. Briefly, he does want to educate people about the north because he thinks it’s an important part of British Columbia’s economic future and is not well-understood by many in the southern part of the province. He doesn’t think the stories are patronizing or even necessarily positive, but that they are providing a more nuanced view than is normally presented, and there are plans for more critical stories about the challenges of northern life in the future. Have a listen.

So there’s the Sun. But now there’s a video put together by Global TV called “Prince George revival.” The description: “Prince George also suffered from forestry’s shrinking fortunes, but its University is leading a recovery.” The video plays as follows:

Like the Sun articles, it is technically accurate. The news hook is that Global is painting these developments as part of a recovery (it also profiles Kamloops and the Northwest). But all this would have been more timely if Global had copped onto these changes anywhere within the last two decades.

Seriously, aside from Nancy-O’s (which has only been around three years) this could have been made at any point in the past ten-fifteen years. Downtown has continuously shown signs of recovery. I wrote it about it in the university newspaper almost decade ago.  On that note, I went to this recovery-leading university almost a decade ago, and it had already been open most of my life. And the real-estate prices? Not exactly groundbreaking.

Neither the Sun series nor the Global video are harmful. They seem like a well-meaning attempt to show Prince George in a positive light (and maybe sell ads to northern businesses happy with the coverage, another interesting Godbout suggestion2).  It may be a much-needed antidote to some of the more negative attention the city has received.

But the whole thing bothers me a little bit, and here’s why I think that is: there’s nothing new here, and it doesn’t really capture the local flavour.

First, there’s the nothing new angle. Awesome that you discovered this stuff now, but where have you been? The fact that the existence of UNBC is presented as new/surprising information is troubling. UNBC is consistently ranked highly in a number of categories, regularly does groundbreaking research, and has been a central part of the north (and by extension, the province) for over a decade. But the angle for the Sun and Global is basically “There’s a university in Prince George- who knew?”

Then the complete lack of local flavour. There’s room to list off the fact that KISS, Elton John, and Willie Nelson have breezed through town, but not a single mention of any of the local artist and entertainers that regularly perform here- or that there is, indeed, a vibrant local arts scene at all. Global starting at Nancy-O’s is a nice touch, but Nancy-O’s is one of the biggest supporters of local arts acts around, and you don’t see that. Being able to say that Nickelback has come to town does not exactly set you apart. The fact that on any given night there are a variety of competing arts events to choose from does. It would be nice to have that reflected.

Is it condescending, as Godbout says? I don’t know.  I hope these pieces are just the beginning of these outlets deciding they want to pay more attention to the province outside of the Lower Mainland, and these stories are just the launch points to more in-depth coverage. In other words, I hope that five years from now the existence of UNBC is presented as something regular readers of the Sun and watchers of Global should know about, rather than a surprise. Links:

1. The Vancouver Sun has also been running a series of op-eds by Initiatives Prince George CEO Heather Oland extolling the virtues of the city (titles include “Diverse, quality health care available in Prince George” and “Northern BC way of life has plenty to offer Canadians”), but this is less curious because op-eds regularly have people delivering a message that isn’t balanced by criticism, and it’s Oland’s job to promote the city.

2. Prince George-based organizations have bought ads alongside these stores, for the record.

Filed under: Prince George

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