Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Could We Have Done More?
My thoughts are not going to be eloquent or elegant -- they are going to be raw and honest because the loss of our community newspaper is yet another "canary in the coal mine".
Today's issue of The Oxford Journal is the last one. After more than 115 years of publishing, 110 of those with the Marchant family (Stanley, Victor, Glenn and Paul), the Journal has been forced to close its doors due to plummeting revenue and rising costs.
On Tuesday afternoon, when Paul Marchant, the sleeplessness of the past six months etched into new lines under his eyes, announced "We're done," he was talking to a bare-bones staff. Only four employees were affected.
Only one of those employees was a reporter. He was also the editor and photographer. He worked seven days a week but he couldn't be everywhere.
Another employee (me) was part-time. I worked two days a week.
I also wrote two columns for the paper that neither Charlie and Paul micromanaged or ever interfered with. (For that, I will be eternally grateful because doing that kind of intense, deadline writing for the last three and a half years has been an amazing learning experience.)
I've worked as a teacher and as a radio newscaster, as well as always being a freelance writer, but this was my first job at an actual newspaper. I really enjoyed my work, which included creating ads and doing up the In Memorials and Cards of Thanks, and I will miss "paper day", Tuesday, when we put the paper together. There was always a sense of accomplishment when we made everything fit and look good.
But lately, there has also been a growing sense of doom: Since January, we've been publishing a 16-page paper. When I first started in June 2011, it was regularly 24 pages, although there might be a couple of 20-pagers in the slow months of January and February. Every page needs a paid ad in order to pay for the page; fewer ads meant fewer pages.
But you want to know why. Why did the Oxford Journal close down? Could we have done something to prevent this?
Locally, for those of you who sell your belongings through the free listings on the Internet, for those of you who post your events online, for those of you who commemorate birthdays and anniversaries and deaths on Facebook, the loss of those ad revenues hurt the paper. A lot of associations and municipal departments who advertised with us simply stopped. We didn't have any ads this year for March Break activities for the Town of Oxford.
"It costs too much," we'd hear but the cost of postage has gone up and the cost of ink cartridges has gone up and the cost of fuel has gone up. When you won't pay for ads, Paul can't pay his bills, or his employees.
Nationally, when Ford and GM pulled their ads out of weekly newspapers last spring, that was the beginning of the end. Losing that income took away the safety net.
When people stopped advertising in the Chronicle-Herald's Classifieds section, that paper lost $7 million in revenue. The Atlantic Community Newspaper Association used to bring in $90,000 in ad revenues; now they're down to $9,000. There is no way for newspapers to make up that kind of lost revenue. The readers and advertisers will only pay so much for a subscription and for ads.
Too many people turned their back on their community newspaper.
Selling out to a large corporation wouldn't have preserved the Oxford Journal, either. Our 2,000 readers mattered to us in a way that wouldn't to the large corporation based in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. They want 2,000,000 readers in the cities, not a couple of thousand in Hicksville, Nova Scotia.
Paul made his own decisions about pricing, about content, about fundraisers and he made every decision with his home community in mind. He didn't have to wait on lawyers and accountants in the corporate head office to make decisions for him based on their numbers, not based on people or community.
Whether we're talking churches or gift shops or the local newspaper, if you don't support it, it will close down. Now your newspaper will come from outside your community, a newspaper with local editors but faraway owners who don't give a rat's ass about 2,000 readers in rural Nova Scotia.
Who is going to write the stories of Pugwash and Wallace, Oxford and Wentworth, Linden and Mount Pleasant, Collingwood and Westchester now? You don't know what you have until it's gone, and this is the story throughout Nova Scotia. If you don't support your local community, your local community will fade away.
Do you know what I admired about the Journal and why I liked writing for it? I didn't have to interview politicians or write political commentary; I didn't have to be snarky or ironic or dig up people's secrets. I could write nice, uplifting, interesting stories that made people feel good about themselves and about their neighbours. I am going to miss that so much.
And I bet you will too.