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. 


  1. Gutsy, from the heart piece, Sara.
    Your loss is our loss.....I wish there was some way to stop "so-called progress" at least in this instance. Because somebody's progress rips the heart out of the community. Call me a Luddite, but "social media" holds little appeal for this old newspaper guy. You're also right about big business and big chains.......they don't much care about our little town and the stories of our people. Now those stories will go untold. Who will be the loser? Everybody will. In 2015 there will be no "10 years news" and so on.... How many more kicks in the ass can one little town take? Almost all of the businesses of the booming little town I knew are gone. Now this.Now this.
    bob miller...riverview, n.b..

    1. ..of course I meant..."In 2025, there will be no 10 years news"...etc etc
      (And I am "anonymous" because I don't know how else to gain ac cess.....Luddite that I am . bob miller

  2. Thanks, Bob. I'm a "young" newspaper guy and love the morning ritual of the newspaper spread over the dining room table and a cup of coffee. I don't think people realize the kind of stories, the investigative journalism newspapers provide in a way no other media does. Most people don't read long-form stories online. First two or three paras and they're done, one to the next (misleading) headline.

  3. So true. We looked forward to Wednesdays to catch up on what was going on in the community who has a birthday or an anniversary who went on a trip. Who was not well also who had recovered enough to come home and also your columns which were always a pleasure to read. Like Bob I choice anonymous because I couldn't see what else to use. Jean F

  4. I'm saddened and frustrated at the closure of the Journal. I have to wonder if Paul had made the company's financial picture public, if a subscription drive, a request for a town tax break, etc., could have made a difference. This "community newspaper" didn't let the community know that it was in trouble, and didn't give it's readers a chance to help out. We're living in an era of social media, blogs, etc., which have all pressured newspapers big and small. But we're also in an era where something like Kickstarter can raise $8.7-million in 30 day for a tabletop card game ( There were/are likely alternatives to shutting down The Journal that simply were / are not being explored.

    1. Zacaman.....Interesting comments....thoughts that really cause one to contemplate what could have been and what still could. I, too, thought of the online "Kickstarter" process. Why couldn't we raise a considerable amount of money when people from around the country find out their beloved hometown paper" needs a helping hand? Why not give it a go?? Money is raised for everything under the sun...why not this? Who wants to give it a shot? If it fails, it fails..if not...then :eureka." What is there to lose??????
      Your comments cut right to the chase...good on you. bob miller

  5. Gentlemen, I hate to tell you but there is nothing to save. The building was emptied today. Computers gone, etc. The paper was put up for sale in August and one interested buyer backed out. So thank you for your hope and support but the Journal as everyone knew it is gone.

  6. Is that what is known as unholy haste?????
    So the door is now open for YOU or someone with similar ability to kickstart a small hole-in-the -wall operation?? Even a monthly????
    Ya gotta believe...........bob miller