May 30th, 2024

Mansoor’s Musings: Lament of a publisher

By Mansoor Ladha on April 25, 2024.

I was very sad to hear the news that the Whitehorse Star newspaper in Yukon is closing after 124 years. The newspaper’s last publication will be May 17.

The Whitehorse Star is one of Canada’s few independently owned newspapers and has been in Yukon since 1900. The paper has covered significant historical events.

The Yukon newspaper’s closure reminded me about a phone call I received – ominously on Friday 13th 2007- that a newspaper I had published for 25 years, had printed its last edition. Splashed on the front page, the headline delivered the grim news: “Sorry, We’re CLOSED!”

The two suburban weeklies on the outskirts of Edmonton, the Morinville Mirror and the Redwater Tribune, which I had purchased as one-year-old “babies” and nurtured into maturity, attractive enough to be bought by Sun Media, Canada’s second-largest publishing group, had suddenly folded. My labour of sweat, hope and love had become a victim of global economic recession.

Sun Media took over the papers in May 2004 and renamed the papers the Morinville Redwater Town and Country Examiner. Announcing the closure to the stunned community, the papers said: “With the Canadian economy continuing to swoon, media chains across the country are continuing to cut back on operations. In somewhat of a surprise move, Sun Media announced last week that the Morinville Redwater Town and Country Examiner would cease to operate immediately.

“The current March 11 edition of the Examiner will be the final issue of the long-running publication. The parent company of numerous weekly publications throughout Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, Sun Media blamed the cutback on “increasing economic challenges in the newspaper industry, shrinking advertising revenues and rising costs.”

In Canada, every major newspaper company has announced significant layoffs, and the Halifax Daily News was one of the first to shut down. In the U. S., the Rocky Mountain News in Denver closed abruptly, and Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication. There were other U. S. newspapers on shaky ground. According to Local News Research Project, over 250 Canadian news outlets have closed from 2008 to Oct. 1, 2018.

Newspapers hold a special place in peoples’ hearts and play a vital role, especially in small communities where they cover local happenings. The weekly newspaper reporter is hard at work covering town councils, school boards, chamber of commerce and municipal district meetings, The sports reporter covers hockey and other sporting events so that local teams can get coverage i and local up-and-coming sporting heroes can get a boost to go to the next level.

I was summoned take a picture by the local Lions Club, for example, since someone forgot to inform us about the presentation to be made by the district governor. That’s what community journalism is all about. The publisher of a weekly is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days week.

Merchants in smaller communities believe that because they are located on Main Street Alberta, they do not have to advertise, while hockey teams and Scouts expect the newspaper not only to give free coverage, but also donate cups and trophies for their tournaments.

.After running the two weeklies for 25 years, we had run out of steam, but had left the papers in excellent economic shape. I proudly had the distinction of being the only newspaper owner of colour in Canada. As an independent weekly newspaper publisher, we did our best to produce an award-winning, quality product with few resources in one of the most competitive markets. The proudest moment of my career was when I was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award by the community.

But now, even corporate ownership couldn’t save the papers. I lament the demise of community newspapers, which have fallen victim to the tough economic environment or dwindling readership. The community has lost its best friend, one who always stood by its side, and shared their happiness and sadness.

To my loyal friends, I say, so long, au revoir! We grieve your passing.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West, Off the Cuff and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.

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