The news of Postmedia and Torstar trading community papers and shutting most of them down was big news, but not entirely surprising. Money talks — or in this case, silences — and to be honest, there’s no real money in community news.
In the deal, where no cash was exchanged because all the papers “have approximately similar fair values,” according to Postmedia, Torstar got 17 newspapers and Postmedia got 24. All but five have been closed or are on the way to stopping their presses. In total, it’s expected that close to 300 people will lose their jobs, but “synergies associated with this transaction are expected to contribute to an improvement in annualized operating earnings at Torstar in the range of $5 million to $7 million,” as per Torstar’s press release.
Yes, $5 million to $7 million is a lot of money, but community newspapers provide a service that is invaluable.
The local newspaper (or website) can be the lifeline for many to their community. It’s where you learn about the girl next door making the big stage, where you see the pictures of your kids, your grandkids and neighbours at parades, learn about what your local politicians are up to and what sales the grocery stores are having. The “big guys” don’t care about this stuff, but for us it’s our bread and butter.
Community newspapers operate on shoestring budgets and depend on their staff to work evenings, weekends on top of their dayshifts and to do it for modest pay — and that’s at papers owned by the large media companies.
As the editor of a paper that is independently owned, there is constant struggle between getting coverage and having the budget to pay for it. We don’t have a large staff, or any full-timers for that matter.
We have a handful of dedicated writers and reporters who are either retired or working other jobs but know the importance of community news and get out there and cover the communities for us. We pay our writers and reporters for the stories and events they cover but often times they — or others in the community — will submit items for free. This isn’t because they have to, it’s because they want to. People that cover community news love it. They have a passion for all things local, they know what’s going on in their town or village and they want to write about it. If you look at it from a dollars and cents point of view, there are many times it’s financially not worth it, but worth it in so many other ways.
The papers closest to us that are slated for closure are the Kanata Kourier-Standard, Nepean/Barrhaven News, Orleans News, Ottawa East News, Ottawa South News, Ottawa West News, Stittsville News and the West Carleton Review. These communities, like others across the province, will be left with no source of local news or in the best case, a single voice.
Competition and opinions are at the heart of good journalism. If you don’t have anyone out there pushing you to try to get the scoop or making sure your get the details that nobody else has, will the passion to produce great work fade? Will reporters and editors get complacent? I’d like to think not but, you can see how it could easily happen.
I know people look to us to bring them the people stories they aren’t reading anyplace else, to cover our municipal government and to share events and sports coverage. We will remain dedicated to doing this. You just need to continue reading our paper each month, and our website (hometownnews.ca) daily.
This was first published in the December issue of Hometown News. Missed an issue? Check them all out online.