Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/4/2020 (544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Postmedia Network Inc. is shuttering its community newspapers in Selkirk, Winkler, Altona, Morden, Gimli, Stonewall/Teulon, Carman, as well as the Prairie Farmer, part of a list of cuts announced Tuesday by the national media company.
Each of the Manitoba publications will run its final issues next week. Postmedia also announced the closure of seven of its Southern Ontario newspapers, employee salary reductions, and a total of 30 permanent layoffs.
"You ask anyone in these communities, and they’ll tell you they’re going to miss holding the paper in their hands," said Red River Valley Echo editor Lori Penner, who was working on the last issue of the Altona-based newspaper, founded in 1941.
"Between the four papers in our chain — Morden, Winkler, Altona and Carman — there’s almost 200 years of history," she said. "I will miss this paper dearly, as I’m sure will thousands of our loyal readers."
Blaming the economic freeze brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Postmedia chief executive officer Andrew MacLeod said in a memo every employee making above $60,000 (aside from commissioned sales representatives) will see salaries reduced a minimum of five per cent, rising to 20 per cent for executive vice-presidents. MacLeod — who made a reported $820,000 in salary in 2019, plus more than $1 million in bonuses — took a 30 per cent cut.
"Team, these decisions are the most difficult and are only taken after all other options have been explored," MacLeod wrote. "And the measures we are taking today are all focused on putting our company in the best possible position to emerge from the current crisis and move ahead on our strategy."
April Lindgren, a journalism professor at Ryerson University who researches local news, said the closures were ominous in a crucial time for journalism.
"The obvious irony is that it comes at a time when people have never been so reliant on local news to find out what’s happening in their communities," she said.
Jana Pruden, a reporter for the Globe and Mail, got her start at the Interlake Spectator in Gimli from 1998 to 2000. On Tuesday, she said she was devastated and deeply concerned by the closures.
"At a time when access to reliable and accountable information can literally be a matter of life and death, journalism matters more than ever," she wrote in an email. "This is true in smaller communities, and for our country and democracy, overall."
Long before being purchased by Postmedia, which over time reduced staffing and funding, the soon-to-be-shuttered papers were community institutions dating back decades.
The Selkirk Journal was founded in 1985; the Carman Valley Leader began as the Dufferin Leader in 1898; the Morden Times was the product of a 1911 merger of the Morden Empire and Morden Chronicle; the Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times has roots going as far back as 1893.
Terry Zurylo, a business owner in Stonewall who’d purchased ads in the local paper and read community papers from the Interlake each week, said the closures will hurt — not just for advertisers but for community members to be seen and heard.
"It’s the go-to communication in a small town," he said Tuesday.
At a Selkirk Tim Hortons, news of the Journal's closure came as a disappointment to Rory Doak, Travis Spratt, and Austin Deboer, who'd each been featured in the local sports section.
"We get the paper weekly," said Spratt. "Other than that, you don't really know what goes on (locally). You see and hear things, but you don't know for sure until it comes in the paper."
Doak said print is more reliable than posts on social media. "You can't believe everything on the internet," he said. "I feel like I can fact-check the internet with the paper."
In Altona, Dave Harms, a former pre-press foreman at Friesens Corp., which printed the Red River Valley Echo, didn't need to look far to see the impact the paper had on the community.
Since the winter, he has been scanning every edition of the newspaper, from 1963 to 2007 — digitally preserving a history that wouldn’t exist without the Echo having published it. "I go through a year every week," Harms said.
When Postmedia took over the Echo, Harms said it was clear it wasn't from the community and didn’t care much about anything other than profit.
"(The papers) are a volume of historical information that if nobody takes care of, will be lost," he said.
Other publications, such as the independent Stonewall-Teulon Tribune, Winkler-Morden Voice, Selkirk Record, and Express Weekly News, along with radio stations, will continue to serve their communities (the Winkler Times newspaper is among those that will close). But with Tuesday's announced closures, the local media landscape has become undoubtedly bleaker.
"There’s a thread running through the whole thing. It’s like an encyclopedia of southern Manitoba," Harms said of the Echo. "It was an almanac."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.