Haliburton's Fleming College campus is still open to students though classes have been suspended since Oct. 16. /File photo

Strength of papers

By Jenn Watt

Published April 24 2018

One of the most enjoyable parts of attending the Ontario Community Newspaper Association awards gala is seeing what other papers are up to. Reading the top three stories in each competition category inspires and challenges you as a journalist to try something new or take on a bigger project.

But over the last decade the number of newspaper operations competing has dropped and some of the familiar faces are there no longer.

When the team from the Echo and Times attended the event back in say 2009 we would arrange to sit at a table with the Lindsay Post and chat with the staff there about their year in reporting. The Post closed in 2013.

This year as we watched the presentation of awards more papers were notably absent. Thirty-four papers were shuttered in southern Ontario in November following a newspaper swap between Torstar and Postmedia.

Since the nomination deadline was late-October some of the winning entries were from papers that no longer exist. The Belleville News was first place for Online Special Project/Event/Breaking News Coverage despite the paper being closed last year. The awards website doesn’t have a link to their entry because there is no website to see.

And yet despite the losses closures and layoffs incredible work was done last year.

Reporter of the Year went to Jeff Morris of the Manotick Messenger who among other things helped the police with a cold case in his community sparked by the discovery of a human jawbone in the rubble of a new development.

There was a stunning feature photo in The Independent (in the Petrolia area) of a tractor blazing through the twilight lights on as the driver worked furiously to spray his crop outside of Alvinston Ont. The Mississauga News placed first for a series on restaurant cockroach infestations in Peel Region. The best rural story came out of Uxbridge exploring downtown survey results in a colourful two-page spread filled with interesting tidbits and important stats.

As amazing as Facebook is for sharing photos and news with friends it just can’t replace this kind of reporting and the diligence required to put together a thorough accurate account of issues important to the community.

Over the years advertising dollars have drained from local (and national) media to online markets such as Facebook.

“Of the $5.5 billion spent on internet advertising in Canada in 2016 an estimated 72 per cent went to Google and Facebook according to the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project” writes John Miller professor emeritus at Ryerson University School of Journalism on TVO.org.

The scope of the problem is wide – much bigger than Haliburton or Ontario or even Canada.

But the easiest way to support good journalism is to subscribe to the papers you love. Prefer to read online? Buy a subscription to an e-edition. For those papers with a paywall if you value the work they’re doing and the product they put out show them that.

Newspapers play a vital role in democracy and community well-being. The situation may be dire but it’s not a done deal. As the OCNA gala demonstrated there are still plenty of strong creative vibrant newspapers out there reporting on their communities. They need to be supported.