Launching a newspaper in the current market could be considered madness.
A study by the Local News Research Project estimates that over 250 Canadian news media outlets have closed between 2008 and 2019. Advertising revenues are down as businesses turn to online instead of old-fashioned print media, and mass layoffs of journalists and support personnel by media conglomerates have become routine. The golden era of newspapers is long gone.
Independent, locally owned newspapers aren’t just surviving in Canada, they are thriving. The Discourse has delved in depth with fledgling startups from a half dozen provinces to find out exactly why and how, and their findings show that success comes from a commitment to and an almost exclusive focus on local content.
Smaller, hyperlocal papers have found an advantage in exploring stories that larger urban newspapers routinely ignore, such as a focus on municipal council activities or debates about which small town roads will see its potholes repaired each summer and which ones won’t.
That kind of coverage may not matter in a big city market but recent studies have revealed that it matters a great deal more to rural communities.
A whopping 92 percent of respondents to a Ryerson University poll consider community news to be important, and 69 percent consider it very serious if the decline in news reporting results in less local reporting. Similar polls conducted by various groups also support this data.
This is hardly new information, but it has perhaps been forgotten and is only now being rediscovered.
Back in 1967, teacher Evelyn Currie launched this region’s first newspaper which eventually became The Echo. Eventually it got absorbed by a media conglomerate, rebranded, and then sold and resold until a few months ago when the region’s only newspaper finally shuttered its doors.
By then it had no local staff reporter, no local sales representative and it was not being produced locally, though to be fair this had always been the case.
Some lamented its closure, others didn’t and still more pointed out that the newspaper had become irrelevant altogether because of social media and its long dwindling focus on community events and citizens. Who needs a newspaper when you have Facebook?
Here at Wreckhouse Press Inc. we believe that you do.
There are certain inescapable facts when comparing social media to newspapers, which is much like comparing apples to oranges. On the surface they’re both tasty fruit, but beneath the skin they are wildly different.
Anyone can post anything on Facebook and claim it as fact. Whether it is or not is irrelevant for the platform’s purposes, and in fact the more sensational the post is the more attention it is likely to generate.
Social media lacks checks and balances.
You can post a meme on Facebook, watch it catch on like wildfire, and sit back and enjoy the likes or simply the attention of those calling for your head.
There is no editor to drag you, head bowed, into their office demanding to know where in tarnation your facts are to support your outlandish conclusions. Or demanding you get the other side of the story, to speak to all parties involved and dig down to the core of the truth. There’s also no editor to make sure you remain impartial, that you are focused on the community you serve or that you mind the devil, who is always lurking in the details.
Speaking of details, if you’re going to have a local paper focused on local contents, then it stands to reason that the owners should be locals familiar with the area they’re serving.
The Wreckhouse Weekly’s owners are Port aux Basques natives. Their father was a French teacher from Québec who married a woman from East End Channel. They might have grown up in different provinces, but they spent every summer in Newfoundland and relocated back to their hometown eight years ago after realizing big city life no longer suited them.
“I took my son to visit his ancestors at one of the local graveyards, and he grew quiet and introspective,” offers the Wreckhouse Weekly’s new Editor-in-Chief, J. René Roy. “People think newspapers don’t matter anymore, but I would argue the opposite. Over a century after they were born, my ancestors and their lives and what they did and who they were proved so important to my son that the neighbours and I spent hours telling him stories. There were no newspapers back then to properly document their lives or the town, and no Facebook to share a memory about something that happened a couple of years ago. When I am gone, my grandchildren and theirs can look back at not only what I did, but how this town was and learn about the people that lived here.”
A little known fact is that René has experience as an editor, serving as a freelance ghost book editor for various independent authors. As an avid, exacting and critical reader, editing comes naturally to him. He also has training and experience with printing and photography, and has worked as a freelance photographer and delivery agent. You can send your Letters to the Editor to René at email@example.com.
For his sister, Rosalyn Roy, reporting is also nothing new. She served as the community reporter for two years previously, and since leaving that job she has written two books and is almost finished her third. She also has over two decades of experience as a graphic and layout artist and will be responsible for designing the advertisements and laying out the paper for printing.
“It’s been pointed out to me by previous editors that I spend far too much time just chatting with people I’m trying to interview instead of grilling them, but I make no apologies for that,” she said. “How can I present their point of view or understand where they are coming from without first getting to know who they are and why something matters to them?”
You can send your story ideas, tips and advertising artwork to Rosalyn by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wreckhouse Weekly’s salesperson is Thelma Dominey, who hails from Isle aux Morts and has family roots anchored in Grand Bruit. She has experience in sales and office administration with a previous local newspaper.
“I love getting out to talk to people and I like the challenge of sales. It’s important that people know where they can buy local or that a store can order it in so they don’t have to drive hours each way to get something. If I can bridge the gap between retailers and customers to buy local, that just helps the local economy and works to keep jobs in our area.”
You can reach Thelma to discuss advertising opportunities or copy and binding services by emailing her at email@example.com.
So here we are, three locals starting up a community newspaper focused on local content covering South Branch to Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou and LaPoile. We have some experience, some ideas and a lot of hope. This will be hard work and there’s times we’re going to stumble or trip. We ask for your understanding and your help and your guidance.
You can call us crazy if you like.
Just send us a letter, message or text to let us know what you’d like to see in your community newspaper, because it really is your newspaper, your stories and your legacy.
We just work here.