Don’s stop the presses

Community newspapers play a vital role; let's not lose any more of them.

Barbara Roden

The Journal

It hasn’t been a good few weeks for newspapers in Canada. First there was news that Postmedia was cutting 90 jobs and merging newsrooms in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa. Then came the closures of The Guelph Mercury (established 1867) and The Nanaimo Daily News (1875). Black Press, which owns The Journal, owned the Daily News, and Rick O’Connor, Black Press CEO, said the decision to close the paper was not taken lightly.

He said that The News staff had made “a number of improvements to the content and format of the paper over the past 10 months. While the improvements were well-received by existing readers, they did not translate into an increase in paid circulation or advertising revenue

“As a result Black Press was unable to develop a sustainable business model that would offset the high cost base of The News in relation to its low paid circulation base.”

This is a huge blow: not just to those who have lost their jobs, but to the community, which no longer has a paper covering events in the area. If a sufficiently large news story occurs there will probably be some coverage in the Victoria media; but what about all the small events that go on week in and week out, which are the lifeblood of communities, and have an impact on people’s daily lives? With no local paper to report on them, people living in Nanaimo will lose a vital link to their community.

When the flood occurred in Cache Creek in May 2015, news outlets from around the province descended to cover the disaster, then moved on to the next story. It was left to The Journal to follow up, by interviewing residents, business owners, and representatives from the groups who responded; reporting on the ongoing fundraising efforts; providing updates on the clean-up and rebuilding; and examining how the Village finances will be affected.

For the last four months I’ve been doing freelance reporting for The 100 Mile Free Press, covering dozens of stories in that community. One that I reported on was the South Cariboo Health Foundation’s “Starry Nights” fund-raiser, which I covered before it kicked off in November and then wrote updates about in December and January. The SCHF was trying to raise $20,000 for an electric imaging trauma stretcher, and the stories were intended as a reminder that the fund-raiser was ongoing, as well as pointing out what the SCHF does for the area.

I did a wrap-up piece when the event ended in late January, and asked how much had been raised. The answer was more than $50,000, double what was raised the year before. Was that, in part, because of ongoing coverage in the Free Press? Who can say? One can say that without that coverage, far fewer people would have been aware of the campaign; which is why local papers are a vital part of their communities. Let’s not lose any more of them.