#Nash74 goes viral…literally: Sudden illness at its closing doesn’t negate the benefit and enjoyment of a national journalism conference

The view from the room I recovered in at the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites. There are worse places to be quarantined...I assume. PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIES

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

Thanks to the Canadian University Endowment Fund (CUEF) and a little creative budgeting, The Omega was able to send not only myself and our business manager (as was the case every other year) but also six other dedicated aspiring journalists to the Canadian University Press (CUP) National Conference (NASH) being held in Victoria last week.

To those students I say this: You’re welcome. And I’m sorry.

It started out magnificently.

I got to fly out there while the rest of the crew had a road trip down (because I’m the boss, that’s why! If it’s any consolation I had to be up at 4 a.m. to go to the airport), and upon everyone’s arrival and check-in at the hotel, we settled in to our rooms and cracked the conference schedule to see which of the great speakers and sessions we would each get the most out of.

That was no easy task as there really wasn’t a dud in the whole lineup, and with a minimum of four different sessions happening per hour, it was not always an obvious choice.

Alan Cross (look him up if you don’t know him—but you probably do) gave a humourous, honest and inspiring keynote speech opening night after the buffet, and we set to the task at hand of meeting and befriending as many future (and present) journalists from all over this great nation as we could.

I’ll get this admission out of the way right now. We did this largely (though not exclusively) over drinks of the alcoholic variety.

Day two saw speakers and sessions ranging from design concepts in journalism with Jason Chiu of the Globe and Mail to business writing to “Publishing with the Prince of Pot,” with Jodie Emery (yes — wife of Mark Emery) as well as various roundtable discussions on publishing and writing concepts.

Keynote that night: Anna-Maria Tremonti of the CBC.

I’m not going to recount the entire four-day conference for you — but rest assured that day two, as great as it seemed at the time, was a pretty typical day for what was now trending on Twitter as #Nash74.

At least until the end of day four.

After the JHM Awards were given out for the best-of-the-best in university journalism over the past year, Chris Jones gave a profanity-filled, belly-laugh-inducing, no-punches-pulled speech to end the night and send us off to our formal-attire gala off-site at the University of Victoria.

And we were all psyched for it.

Until the vomiting started.

The first report came back that five students spontaneously began projectile vomiting just before the busses started loading, and were sent to their rooms (presumably to recover from what was assumed to be food poisoning, as they had eaten lunch together that day off-site).

Then the first bus was loaded (which I thankfully missed) and was sent on its way.

Then Mike Sholars, editor-in-chief of the Excalibur from York University Tweeted, “So for posterity, I truly believe that #Nash74 was just hit with the T-Virus. People puking everywhere. I’m seeking medicine.”

And that’s when we knew it wasn’t isolated. And it spread like the plague (and that’s not a cliché in this case).

Within hours, not only was the gala cancelled, but Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) had quarantined everyone in their rooms and was tallying the sick and investigating an outbreak of what they suspected was “a Norwalk-type virus,” according to reports we were receiving via Twitter.

We made the best of it and kept schmoozing with our fellow journalists upstairs. It was a bit tense, as we were all waiting for someone to lose their dinner at any moment, but it didn’t dampen the atmosphere too badly. And eventually we got tired (a bit earlier than expected or was normal for a final night of a conference) and went our separate ways to sleep.

I awoke suddenly about 4 a.m. with a very real need for a bathroom.

Worried about infecting my roommates (hoping they weren’t already), I didn’t linger to go into details when I told them I was “super sick,” and quarantined myself upstairs.

I won’t go into the details of the next few hours here either — but let’s call it “unpleasant from both ends.”

Looking back on the whole week, I certainly wouldn’t trade it for staying home.

Despite the bout of what was discovered to be the Norovirus according to the VIHA, I had an excellent time, learned a whole lot and got to network and mingle with some very good journalists and all-round great people.

Devan Tasa, one of the delegates from the Omega crew agreed.

“Nash was an excellent experience,” he said upon his return to Kamloops.

“I got to meet many people either working or planning to work in the profession. I will be using the lessons learned at Nash 74 for a long time.”

He added that the risk of catching the Norovirus does not hinder his ability to look at it as an extremely beneficial experience.

And that seems to be almost the consensus.

“The response we are getting from delegates about the actual conference has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Jason Schreurs, CUP conference co-ordinator and managing editor of Nexus, one of the two host-papers in Victoria.

“Even the sick people were still thanking us and saying it was a great conference.”

Another TRU delagate, Julia Marks, who fought symptoms of the virus on her trip home, praised the handling of the unfortunate situation.

“Even through the chaos the coordinators and delegates were doing their best to help those who had fallen sick,” she said.

“Even through the awful eight hours of grossness I could look on twitter and see that everyone else was going through the same thing, or they were already getting over it and were making jokes.

“This experience will make for great stories at next year’s NASH 75.”

Clearly the last fraction of the event being what it was will not lessen what the event turned out to be, considering that even those caught in a virus outbreak are already looking forward to next year’s event.

If you’d like to follow along with events in a virtual time machine, log on to Twitter, search #Nash74 and follow along chronologically from about Jan. 10 onward.

Delegates generally kept their great sense of humour intact through it all and this social media resource was used to keep everyone informed of the progression of things, and steps being taken to help as well.
“It will take quite some time to read — I’m pretty sure we were trending nationally at one point — but it’s a great story if you stick with it.

Well done, #Nash74 and everyone involved.

Kudos, and we’ll see you again for #Nash75 in about a year.

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