Friday, November 08, 2019

Why not give a struggling newspaper to the community instead of closing it? Quebec paper is giving it a shot

Canadian newspapers are facing most of the same problems as their American counterparts: more than 250 Canadian media outlets closed between 2008 and 2019. A small paper in Quebec, The Gleaner, was almost one of them, but instead of closing the financially struggling paper in November 2018, owner Gravité Media decided to try and give the paper's rights to the community it served, Karen Longwell reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab.

The Gleaner, an English-language paper, was established in 1863 and serves several rural towns in the Chateauguay Valley west of Montreal. Gravité reached out to Stéphane Billette, the local National Assembly of Quebec member at the time. Billette then spoke with Hugh Maynard, chairperson of The Gleaner's steering committee, who called a public meeting, Longwell reports.

Nearly 40 people showed up to the meeting, and non-profit organization Chateauguay Valley Community Information Services was created, with Maynard at the helm. As a symbolic gesture, Gravité sold the newspaper rights to CVCIS for $1, Longwell reports. The paper's sale to CVCIS marked its return to local ownership. It was locally owned until 1985, then was sold to a succession of media chains, ending with Gravité in 2017.

"An 11-member steering committee got to work publishing the paper again. The committee consisted of former Gleaner journalists and editors, along with a retired secretary, an artist, a cartoonist, a retired teacher, a website designer, and a farmer," Longwell reports. "Many of the community volunteers had some background in media but several had no journalism experience."

Chantal Hortop, a former Gleaner editor, told Longwell that some people stepped in because they valued the newspaper, even though they had no experience in journalism or communications. "They just felt strongly that The Gleaner had to keep going, and if there was a way to do it with community effort, we were going to make it happen," Hortop told Longwell.

The newly owned paper relaunched with its first print edition of 5,000 copies on June 5. Volunteers distributed the paper for free from a booth at an area carnival. The paper has published monthly issues since then, and on Oct. 9 formalized the nonprofit and elected a board of directors. Though advertising and community fundraising has more than covered printing costs, the board hopes to find a way to start paying contributors. The board plans to move The Gleaner toward a biweekly print schedule starting in January with weekly updates online, and hopes to secure 1,500 subscribers.

The reaction to The Gleaner's comeback has been positive. "I have seen more than one person hug the newspaper," CVCIS committee member Lorelei Muller told Longwell. "It is our valley news. It is what connects us. If something big happens in the area, sure CTV or CBC or whoever is going to cover something big, but they don’t have our day-to-day stuff, our regular community news."

No comments: