In an effort to give you a break from the reno madness (Lord knows I want to get away from it!) let’s talk about something that has bothered me for a couple of weeks now.
As you may know, The Bowery Girl started as “The Bowery” and was a column in a community newspaper I used to work for. I have written for three newspapers, along with two periodicals. Last week, I found out that the paper it worked at during my college co-op and later as a freelancer, was no longer producing a hardcopy edition. Basically it’s finished. The Guelph Mercury was in its 149th year when it was determined by Metroland Publishing to be no longer a viable business venture. In an effort to find some aspect of “glass half full”, the statement released last week indicated that the online version would continue.
That’s kind of like saying, “The Titanic may be sinking, but we’ve got a couple of great lifeboats over here!” With the amount of staff left behind following the layoffs, they wouldn’t be able to fill a lifeboat.
Another paper I used to work for, the one in my current hometown, has also experienced serious downsizing. Pointing to financial considerations, the weekly paper has shut down its storefront, which it has enjoyed since its inception, and moved to a town 45 minutes away. This would allow them to allegedly reduce costs (one would argue that increased milage and decrease subscriptions due to public dissatisfaction would be larger costs). This paper is also owned by Metroland. Now before you think I’m throwing shade on Metroland, please know that I worked for Thompson Media, Southam Media AND Hollinger Inc. They were all terrible. In school, our teachers advised that you wanted to work for a Thompson paper first, because the excellent work ethic environment (read here – they worked you like a slave) along with the fiscal restraint, would position young journalists well for opportunities at the more plush Southam papers. They were wrong. Once my publication became a Southam paper (because community papers were swapped, traded and bought out like NHL contracts), we were told that Hollinger was where the REAL money and opportunities were at. WRONG again!
For me, it was a no-brainer that when it came to being a working mom and contributing to a household, I could not continue as a full-time journalist. I have never made as little money as I have when I’ve been a professional writer. Low income wages are the norm in this line of work, something I kicked myself for not investigating further before applying to college.
Truth of the matter is this; journalism, and in fact journalists, are not overly valued in today’s society. I’m not talking about Katie Couric, I’m talking about the workhorse journalists. The ones who write locally. From a corporate standpoint, editorial was always the losing end of the stick. Advertising is where the money was literally and figuratively. If Advertising cried, the Publisher wiped its tears. Editorial was the hanger-on. Necessary to fill the holes between display ads, or the pages before the classifieds, but otherwise Editorial cost money. Cameras, dark rooms, mileage.
I was angry to hear about the local paper moving away and losing its community profile. I knew it wasn’t a local decision, but rather a corporate one. And therein lies the problem. The farther away you are from the community, the less you relate to it. Faces and stories are lost in numbers and dollar signs. I interviewed hundreds of people while I was a beat reporter. I had people who came to me with stories ahead of other reporters and publications because we had a relationship. That’s what’s at stake with the closure of these newspapers. The community needs a relationship with its newspaper. Cutting costs, focusing on spreadsheets, slashing and burning. It has nothing to do with community support, investment in people, connecting with the reader.
Sadly, I’m not sure that people understand what they are losing, or have already lost by not having an active and thriving newspaper in their community. You may feel you aren’t impacted because of your internet connection or (God forbid) you find out news faster on Facebook. But you don’t have the balance that comes with the Fifth Estate (no I’m not referencing CBC right now). You don’t have the experience, accountability and conscious that comes with an investigative journalist. You don’t know how your community is unique and why you should be proud to be a part of it.
I do think that was part of the problem; the slippery slope of cutting back coverage to reduce costs, reduce pages, reduce local content all due to a reduction in ad revenues. The public gets their information elsewhere. The paper makes further cuts. The public gives up their reliance on the paper entirely. The paper shutters. The community will suffer.
Is there an answer? I think there is, but the travesty is that no one is looking for it. That would require effort, and heaven help us, money.
I’m just sad that it seems it’s as hard as ever to see the value in the printed word.