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Mike Balsom nominated for Reporter of the Year

The Ontario Community Newspaper Association announces the winners in April, with all those nominated taking either first, second or third place.

Last week community newspapers across Ontario learned of their nominations for the annual awards given out by the association that supports them in many ways.

We at The Local were excited, although not at all surprised, to learn that Mike Balsom has been nominated in the Reporter of the Year category.

He was also responsible for the nomination of best news story, best news photo, and was instrumental in The Local’s recognition for the best sports section.

The Local was also nominated in the General Excellence category. The two editions submitted to the judge included great stories, features and graphic design, representing the work of all of our team, to our delight.

While the Ontario Community Newspaper Association released the top three nominees in each category and circulation size last week, watch for the April announcement of the winners, so those nominated will take their place of first, second or third at that time.

There wouldn’t have been a sports section nomination for The Local if it wasn’t for Balsom, never mind the many pages of sports that earned it. From the newspaper’s earliest days, he has told the great stories about our young people in all minor sports. The two editions that earned the nomination also included the seasonal wrap-up of the Hot Tub League of hockey players at the other end of the spectrum battling for a meaningful trophy, and swimming, sailing and more hockey in the summer.

This community has also learned about the many individual athletes from Niagara-on-the-Lake achieving national and International success in their chosen sport, thanks to Balsom.

He was originally asked to join the team at The Local because of his sports expertise. One of the goals of the paper was to match the former Niagara Advance in its coverage of local kids — there were few young people who grew up in town without having their names, photos and accomplishments mentioned in their community newspaper, including sports.

But his talents are not limited to sports coverage. To be nominated in the Reporter of the Year category, three stories out of a year’s worth of articles had to be selected, and there were many stories on a wide range of topics from which to choose. Which is also not surprising, considering his diverse educational background and a variety of career choices.

As a young man, Balsom’s post-secondary education included starting an honours bachelor of business administration from Wilfrid Laurier University, completing a three-year diploma in radio, television and film from Niagara College, and then a bachelor of arts from Brock University.

Although he had no formal journalism training, he says he has “always written for radio and television, going back to ’86 when I was hired as a news and sports reporter at CHOW radio in Welland. Radio especially is a good exercise for writers to learn how to be concise,” he says, and adds jokingly, “though that doesn’t always show up in my work for The Local!”

Between his love of music at an early age and his radio experience, entertainment is “definitely right at the top of my list” of topics he likes to write about, along with sports. “Actually, my very first published writing was a story about time travel and dinosaurs in the Power Glen Yearbook when I was in Grade 6,” he recalls. Once bitten by the publishing bug, he followed that with articles while at Wilfrid Laurier, “when I wrote a few record reviews for the student newspaper. I remember the first one was about Kate Bush’s album The Dreaming.”

He also submitted a few pieces to the former Pulse Niagara publication, he says, while attending Niagara College, and reviewed a few concerts for the Brock Press when he was at university in St. Catharines, which took him up to 1991. By then he had been drawn to teaching, and attended teachers’ college at D’Youville College in Buffalo, as well as taking additional courses through Queen’s University.

He has taught at Gananoque Secondary School, Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute, and Thousand Islands Secondary School in Brockville. After deciding to return to St. Catharines, he happened to be at the right place at the right time, he says, and  landed at Laura Secord Secondary School, where he taught full-time until 2021. Since retiring, he has balanced his time between work as an occasional teacher with the DSBN, writing several stories a week for The Local, and covering Niagara news as a TV broadcaster for The Source at Cogeco, where he tackles topics ranging from politics, to arts and entertainment, and the great people stories he tells so well.

His articles and photos appear as well on the Village Media website, where he also takes part in a regular video program called Behind the Scenes, in which he talks about everything from housing to pickleball, cemeteries to speed cameras, based on stories written for print and broadcast in segments across the province and beyond. Expect that to continue, and please check out and search ‘Behind the Scenes, Mike Balsom’ to check out any you’ve missed.

Balsom’s background and extensive knowledge help him produce informative pieces on a variety of topics, including music and entertainment. “I started collecting records when I was 11 years old,” he says. “I still have every record and CD I have ever bought, except for one that still irks me today.” He still has his first album, though, “a copy of Lighthouse Live that I found in a cut-out bin at Hills Department store in Niagara Falls, New York, for 99 cents.”

Through the years, he adds, “I subscribed to countless music magazines and I still devour biographies of musicians regularly. I think I absorbed a lot of that style of writing naturally.”

He says the same of sports: he played baseball as a youngster, high school football which included a city championship with West Park Secondary School, earned a silver medal at the Schoolboy rowing competition, played slo-pitch and soccer as an adult, and has coached track and field, soccer, rowing and basketball while teaching. He began coaching for the NOTL Soccer Club when his son started playing in 2004, and he has continued to coach for the club “off and on” and still sits on the club’s board of directors today. The fact that he subscribed to Sports Illustrated for 30 years, he says, likely means he “probably also absorbed some of that style of writing.”

As evidence of his range of skills, the nomination for Reporter of the Year was based on three very different stories. One was of the rally held at the NOTL Pride crosswalk across Anderson Lane, with this headline: Residents stand strong against hatred. The rally had been organized to show outrage for the repeated vandalism to the crosswalk, but when a large crowd of locals showed up to support it, they discovered the crosswalk had been vandalized again just that morning.

Also included in the nomination was a feature story about the dry stone waller who built the wall at the end of Mississagua Street, and a contentious town meeting about the Rand Estate held last April, which was moved to the community centre to accommodate a large and passionate crowd of residents.

Although Balsom doesn’t cover a lot of politics for The Local, that meeting was also the subject of his nomination for Reporter of the Year.

The nomination for best news story was also for the Pride crosswalk story, and best news photo came from a situation of police being called to an incident on Anne Street. No criminal charges were laid, but his photo of a Niagara Regional Police officer carrying an automatic weapon as he strolled along the street on a Sunday afternoon made the grade.

While politics and police stories were not on the list of Balsom’s favourite stories, entertainment and sports “are definitely right at the top,” he says.

However, “number one for me is getting a chance to write about people. I’ve been volunteering with Cogeco since 1986, and with my role hosting The Source I do between 300 and 325 interviews a year. By far, asking people to talk about what they love and what they have accomplished is my absolute favourite thing to do, whether it be on television or in The Local. The happiness that I see on people’s faces while they talk to me is the biggest reward. In fact, I’m much more comfortable listening to people tell me about themselves than I am talking about myself, like right now!”

We congratulate Mike on the recognition of his multi-faceted talents, thank him for coming along on the journey with us as we focus on online journalism with Village Media, and look forward to sharing further good news when winners are announced.

About the Author: Penny Coles

Penny Coles is editor of Niagara-on-the-Lake Local
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