Martha Perkins and the Bowen Island Undercurrent

Martha Perkins at the office

If you think not much happens on Bowen Island, you haven’t read their weekly newspaper: the Undercurrent.

There’s the full-day kindergarten starting up in September, work beginning on a new seven-foot wood sculpture to go in front of the library, not to mention the hundreds of islanders who lined up before dawn last Wednesday to cheer for the Olympic torch on its way to West Vancouver.

And if that’s not enough, you can find out how Dot Crookall earned his spot in the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1965 and what happened when David Cameron gave his wife a rock for Valentine’s Day. Well, you actually had to tune into the CBC’s Vinyl Café to find out how that story ended.

But it was the Undercurrent that let you know it would be on the air.

“This is what I thrive on,” says the Undercurrent’s new editor, Martha Perkins. “Time with people. I’m in the office, and somebody drops by with a classified, a pair of lost glasses, a source of new information. Feeling connected to what I spend so much of my day doing. It’s important to me.”

And connected to the paper, she most certainly is. She writes six stories a week, takes many of the photographs, and does the layout herself, while Kathleen Ainscough and Tracey Wait handle the advertising.

Perkins is no stranger to journalism or to small town life for that matter. She came to Bowen Island from 24 years at the Haliburton County Echo in Ontario’s cottage country. At the end of her tenure there, she was the editor of four different newspapers.

“You think it’s what you want,” says Perkins. “I thrive on challenge, but it took me away from what I loved—being with people.”

In the end, she didn’t love “being champion email filer at the computer.”

And yet, “it wasn’t about leaving Haliburton,” she says. “It was about starting new.”

What better way than to relocate to British Columbia, the first of her eight siblings “to move farther than an hour and a half away?”

“If you’re going to do it, do it big,” she says, laughing.

Perkins and her husband made sure they went home for Christmas “to let everybody know we hadn’t fallen off the edge of the earth.” 

“Thanks to Skype,” she says, “they’re OK with this move.”

Her biggest challenge on the new job is matching up “what you think you should be able to do in your mind with the time you actually have.”

In order to write a feature on affordable housing, she knows she’ll have to interview about ten people. But then there’s Heritage Day and the Olympics—stories that have to be written first.

“You do what you can, and you make that work,” says Perkins. “And then there’s always next week.”

Perkins sees the Undercurrent as “a source of community building—where we all get to know each other better. Community papers have such an ability to do that.”

She wants people on Bowen to start conversations with “Oh I read about you in the Undercurrent.”

She wants people to spend an hour each week reading the Undercurrent, “to feel they have to pick up a copy every Friday morning, or their lives wouldn’t be complete.”

And to do that, she has to keep giving them stories that are interesting enough to make them stop doing the dishes or reading their email.

What about competition from online newspapers?

“I’m old fashioned,” she says. “I like the physical product in my hand—rustling—and newsprint on my fingers.”

Besides what are you going to wrap your fish in?

Try making papier mache masks from strips of the Vancouver Observer!

What does Martha Perkins like best about her role on Bowen Island?

“I get to be nosy,” she says, with a big grin.

For those of you who can’t pick up a copy of the Undercurrent at the Ruddy Potato or one of the other businesses here on Bowen, you can sneak a peak at this week’s news at

http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/bowenislandundercurrent/.

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