National Newspaper Week celebrates local journalism

The following is a piece by Local Journalism Initiative reporter Miranda Leybourne. 

National Newspaper Week ran in Canada from Oct. 1 to 7, celebrating the critically important role newspapers play in Canadian society.

The Brandon Sun ran its first edition on Jan. 19, 1882, and since then, has been the newspaper of record for western Manitoba, covering politics, business, crime, sports, and other news.

But there are many other noteworthy newspapers in western Manitoba whose histories of serving their community go back into the early days of the province.

Ryan Nesbitt of Nesbitt Publishing out of Shoal Lake, owner of Crossroads This Week and South Mountain Press since 2016, bought the Minnedosa Tribune last year, acquiring the oldest weekly paper west of Ontario.

Before Nesbitt, Daryl Holyk had owned the Tribune since 2008, but decided to sell after numerous challenges and competition made the paper no longer financially feasible to operate.

Nesbitt says the thing that unites the Tribune, Crossroads This Week and the South Mountain Press is the important role local stories play in all three newspapers, noting most readers still prefer to have a newspaper in their hands rather than read an e-edition, although those still play an important role in the industry.

The newspaper industry is a family business for Jay Struth, editor of the Killarney Guide, which has been in print since 1894. His parents bought the paper in 1981 and put in a web press — a printing press that uses a continuous roll of paper — in the late 80s. Soon after that, the web press was busy printing other newspapers in the area, as well.

It’s important for local papers to focus on local stories as well as ones that are more far-reaching, Struth told the Sun.

“We try to concentrate on local, and on people and events and the news in our area, and we’re well supported by our community. We try to do the same, and cover our community, and keep people picking up the paper,” he said.

The community plays a large role in keeping newspapers thriving, Struth added.

“We rely on people sending us stuff, letting us know about stuff and sending in their own news. We’ll include anybody who’s got a good picture and anybody who’s got a good story, so it’s definitely a community effort,” he said.

One of the best parts of Struth’s job is that things are always changing and, in that way, newspapers are an accurate reflection of the community and the wider world, he said.

“One of the things I love about this job is it’s different. Every week, you’re covering a different thing, or you’re speaking to different people … there’s always something new to do and different to cover, so I kind of go into each week thinking, what’s going to be on the front? And what kind of good content are we going to fill the paper with?”

But Struth says it has not been all bad.

“Since the Meta blockage came out, we’re actually selling more paper at the news stand,” he said.

Subscription numbers are also expected to reflect that demand, he added. The increase is likely down to people realizing that they can still rely on their newspaper to get local news, even if they can’t find it on social media, Struth said.

“You don’t have to be trying to scroll through Facebook and deal with all the ads and all the stuff on there that just gets kind of watered down and convoluted,” Struth said.

Terrie Welwood is the editor of the Russell Banner, which has been in print since 1899. Welwood said the federal government’s decision regarding online news has affected the paper, but echoes Struth’s sentiments about the importance of local newspapers and the service they provide.

“People are getting sort of tuned into the fact that they need to have a local paper in order to have their particular stories told,” she said.

Russell, located 183 kilometres northwest of Brandon, is a community of around 1,400 people, according to the latest census data. For a small town, there always seems to be lots of events and goings-on that fill the paper, Welwood said.

“We’re so lucky in Russell, that we have so much going on all the time. I’m really, really busy, which is lovely,” she said. “In the last two years … I don’t think there’s been a time that there’s ever been a weekend or a week where there was nothing going on.”

In fact, there’s so many things going on in Russell and the surrounding area that sometimes Welwood runs out of space in the paper — since the page numbers rely on the number of advertisements purchased, something the public doesn’t always realize, she said.

“I have pages that Id love to put out, but my problem is not having enough ad revenue to put out that amount of pages. I have so much stuff to print.”

Thankfully, Welwood says, advertisement sales and subscriptions to the paper are going up, as is Struth’s experience. It’s all good news when it comes to making local voices heard, she added.

Promoting those local events is what journalism is all about, and what newspapers should all be striving to do, Welwood said, and in her experience, it benefits more than just the newspaper itself. It also helps provide a snapshot of what community life is like to people that are considering a move to the area.

“What we find is that when people are moving into town, they’ll want to get an online subscription for a few weeks, just to see what it’s like,” Welwood said.

According to the National Newspaper Week’s website, four in five people in Canada — 83 per cent of the population — read newspapers each week, either in print or digital format.