Reporting in small places

By Jenn Watt

Small things matter and small places matter. And in a time when we are overloaded with information pouring through the screens of our smartphones, laptops and tablets, having journalists who can sift through that information matters more than ever.

I recently had the privilege of giving a presentation to members of the Haliburton chapter of CFUW about the experience of being an editor in rural Ontario, looking after several weekly papers. After much contemplation about what aspects of my job I would highlight during the Zoom call, I thought about one of the more common wisecracks I hear when I tell someone I work in community news.

“What was this week’s front page story? A new stop sign in town?” The tone is lighthearted, and the jokester is usually well meaning, but the underlying message is that small towns and small issues aren’t that serious.

Those who read our paper weekly know that there is far more to report on than new stop signs – especially this year, as we all twist and turn our lives to accommodate the pandemic protocols – but also that there is value in reading about something as small as new traffic measures. A new stop sign, after all, could mean improved safety; a resolution to years-long advocacy by neighbours; an indication that the government is taking concerns seriously. A single stop sign could save a life.

Of course, each week we report on things that are objectively bigger news than a stop sign: new developments planned for town, funding issues in the health-care sector, classroom sizes in our schools, COVID-19 testing protocols, how the pandemic has affected our community’s mental health, what local community members are accomplishing, what the children in the county are doing, how we’re all faring in good times and in bad. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in reporting on “small” things, too.

It’s this mix of big and small news that makes community papers important and, I would argue, more fun to read. We provide you with the information you need to know to be an informed citizen in this community, and also the information that’s good to know to connect you with your friends and neighbours.

The week of Oct. 4 to 10 is National Newspaper Week in Canada – a time to recognize the importance of properly collected, professionally presented news. It’s something we take seriously at the Haliburton Echo and our sister paper the Minden Times and we are thankful for the support of the readers and the wider community as we go about making the paper each week.