Looking Inside the Insider

The Unraveling of the Dawson City Insider

by Christopher Ross

Vanguard Press

257 pages


Much of Christopher Ross’s history of his involvement with Harper Street Publishing is very much his own story. It’s interesting and touching in a lot of ways. Much of it I can neither confirm nor critique, as I watched what he calls “the unravelling” of the Dawson City Insider with a cautious and somewhat competitive eye from the Waterfront Building, which is where the Klondike Sun was produced at the time.

I met Christopher, who was then Chris Beacom, in 1994, when he and Caroline Murray submitted resumés to the Klondike Sun and competed for the federally funded summer student position we were hoping to fill. Kathy Gates and I were the co-editors at the time. We interviewed them, liked them both and pitched to them the notion that we would split the job down the middle and encourage them to find additional work to make up the other half of their financial needs.

Much to our pleasure, they bought the idea and we had a great summer with them. Caroline went from us to the Whitehorse Star, for several years, where editor Jim Butler still recalls her fondly.

That’s not how Chris remembers it.

On page 39 he says the Sun had just fired an editor and hired Caroline to fill that post while giving him a smaller slice of the pie. We had just lost a valued volunteer at that point, but since I was the continuing editor until just over two years ago, and was one of the people who wrote Chris’s and Caroline’s paycheques in 1994, I think my memory is the better one.

Chris returned to Dawson, several years later, and hooked up with Greg Karias, who was just starting Harper Street Publishing at the time, having put out the first couple of issues of his summer tourist publication (eventually retitled The Last Great Road Trip) at the Sun offices while paying us in volunteer office and layout work.

Karias, who is called “Zig,” in this book, decided he wanted to start his own weekly paper. He had approached us about selling our not-for-profit operation to him, but the office-space rental deal we had with the City of Dawson made that impossible. The short-lived Centennial Post weekly had made a real dent in our advertising revenue during the Gold Rush Centennial, years before it vanished, so we weren’t terribly happy to see another paper appearing.

Still, it encouraged us to move from monthly to biweekly publication and to include a local television guide.

There’s one other glitch in the book that I feel the need to correct. On page 51, writing about his early days on the Insider, Ross writes that the team was busy dropping the paper into mailboxes all over town.

There are no mailboxes at individual homes in Dawson. During that period, the Post Office was in the Federal Building on Fifth Avenue, across the street from the Robert Service School.

Ross writes about things that are still features for newly arrived workers in Dawson now: finding a place to live, cook, shower and do laundry, for instance.

Any small newspaper has a similar list of issues to deal with: equipment breakdowns, photocopy problems, computer failure, software glitches and, in the 1990s, serious issues with internet stability and bandwidth.

Ross provides a sampling of many of the quirky columns that gave the Insider its unique flavour, including an item, “The Market Report,” by Dawson’s former mayor, Wayne Potoroka.

Ross has a lot of good memories of the Insider and of Dawson, a place he likes to return to as often as possible. While the paper was a bit of a thorn in my side during its two-year existence, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic as Ross chronicled the steps that led to its decline and end.

He puts its demise down to its creators trying to do too much, too fast, and trying to juggle too many balls with not enough hands.

In the end, “the team faded, so did the Insider. My big blue bin keeps it from disappearing entirely. Everybody went their separate ways. Years later, I’d like to thank them all.”

In the end, that seems to be the real point of Ross writing this book and, aside from a few factual gaffs, that makes it worth it.

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