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“I pride myself on how my photos show everyday life to people in an uncommon way.” That is how Darcy Cheek sums up his style of news photography — an approach that sustained his career as a reporter and an award-winning photographer in community press for more than three decades.
Cheek arrived at SAIT in 1984 as a 26-year-old who had already travelled the world and worked at a variety of jobs. “I had always been interested in journalism, and I gained a knack for photography while I was travelling. I applied to study journalism at SAIT because I wanted a career as opposed to a job.” As well as gaining top-notch reporting skills, Cheek says he was proud to join the Trojans hockey team.
Cheek landed his first job within weeks of graduating, working at the Central Peace Signal, a weekly newspaper in Rycroft, in northern Alberta. Soon after, he moved to nearby Fairview and The Fairview Post. Both papers were owned locally by Schierbeck Publishing.
Like many working in community press, he was both a reporter and a photographer, as opposed to the structure in big city daily papers where these are two distinct jobs. Cheek moved on to a stint with the Strathmore Standard before eventually landing a photographer job at the Edmonton Examiner, a large weekly community newspaper. His final journalism job was in Ontario with the Brockville Recorder and Times, a small daily paper.
Cheek says one of his proudest moments was winning a number of awards for his shot of two Fairview volunteer firefighters silhouetted against the flames as they battled a blazing Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator. The image was awarded Best Spot News Photo by the Canadian Community Newspaper Association, Toronto Sun Media’s Edward Dunlop Award of Excellence and a number of other accolades.
Cheek says his SAIT training landed him his first newspaper job and he continued to use that training throughout his 30-year-plus career. “It was one of the best two-year programs there was. The instructors taught what you needed to know to get a job in a community newspaper. That’s where you built your career. The way the industry has gone, those skills probably kept me employed for the last 10 years, when people who weren’t as versatile didn’t stay.”
As newspapers are being usurped by the internet, Cheek says he continues to believe in the value of weekly newspapers. “People still need a place to read local stories they can’t get anywhere else,” he says.
Looking for more? Read “Covering Community” about the future of the weekly newspaper in an increasingly digital world.