For over a quarter of a century, Kevin MacDonald was one of the primary sources in Abbotsford for breaking news.
The self-proclaimed ‘Abby Newshound’ documented all the good, bad and ugly on local streets from behind his lens.
His work was published in the pages of the Abbotsford News and local television networks such as Global, CTV and CBC, but it also reached American networks like NBC and CNN and popular U.S. shows such as Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, Inside Edition and Hard Copy.
But a change in technology has forced the ‘newshound’ to survive on scraps in recent years and MacDonald recently announced he is stepping away from providing breaking news coverage.
The reason – local police departments and fire departments move to encryption from traditional radio scanners, meaning that the ‘newshound’ doesn’t have the ability to chase those big breaking stories.
“You can’t really hear what’s going on or where stuff is happening,” he said, noting that it is illegal to scan encrypted radio transmissions. “I used to do four or five stories a week and it went down to a story every two weeks. You can’t make a living doing that, encryption really killed my job.”
Advocates of encrypted communication claim that it helps those responding to emergencies communicate with more privacy and clarity. Both the Abbotsford Police Department and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service moved to the system in recent years.
MacDonald said he understands the move, but that he feels much of the hard work done by local police officers and fire fighters will now go largely unrecognized.
“It just won’t be acknowledged at all,” he said. “As I joke all the time ‘nothing ever happens in Abbotsford’. There’s a lot of stuff that people don’t realize is really going on.”
He said news organizations’ willingness to spend money has also diminished over the years. So many people now have the ability to record incidents on their cellphones, and while it may not be high quality, it often comes to media for very little or no cost.
“There’s just not the money in it anymore,” he said. “When I started I was the only guy with a video camera. Now everyone has a camera on their phone and they give it away for free. They want to see what their stuff looks like on TV, or you know, I get to be in my local paper – yay. That attitude went away for me a long time ago.”
MacDonald also said that people are more easily offended by extreme footage nowadays, and with social media there are many more ‘media critics’.
“You don’t know what’s going to offend someone anymore,” he said. “The victims families are always going to be offended, until you give them the footage for court or in civil or criminal cases. I’ve been called as an expert witness and had my footage used in court cases dozens of times.”
Despite the early exit from breaking news, MacDonald said it’s been a great ride.
“It was a good career, supplied good money and took care of my family,” he said. “I’m going to miss working with all the boys and girls. I’m going to miss chasing like you wouldn’t believe but no one is buying and it’s too much of a hassle now.”
MacDonald said the Michael White car chase incident in the ’90s and the entire Terry Driver saga were some of the memorable early stories. Tragedies such as the wedding crash and the farmworkers crash also were notable. As the years rolled on, the Bacon Brothers emerged as an ongoing story as well as Abbotsford’s homeless problem. MacDonald was once bear sprayed by a homeless woman while he was filming a camp.
More recently, it was the tragic murders of Letisha Reimer and the APD’s Const. John Davidson that rocked the community. MacDonald said the Davidson murder was tough to deal with.
“I knew John,” he said, noting they would often chat at crime scenes. “You get to know some of these people over the years, and he was great. There’s been a lot of horrific stuff over the years, but for me that took the cake.”
MacDonald recently earned a B.C. and Yukon Community News Media Association gold award for the breaking news coverage he provided related to the Excelsior Hog Farm protest last year. He said that was a fitting way to end his breaking news career.
“I got to leave on a high note and thanks to the Abbotsford News for putting my name on it,” he said. “That was fun because we got to show both sides. I always tried to be as accurate as I could be about what was happening and I think we did that on that day.”
And while MacDonald is stepping away from breaking news coverage, he is not putting away the camera for good. He is currently involved in a local independent wrestling project and is willing to work with any local groups who will treat him professionally.
“I produced 61 episodes of wrestling for KVOS in the early-2000s and I’ve released a number of corporate and commercial videos,” he said. “I don’t have a problem working with anyone as long as they pay me.”
For more information on MacDonald, visit his Twitter page @kevinamacdonald.