Central Ottawa’s Community Newspapers Mostly Defy the Decline of Print Media

John Dance

The decline in daily newspaper readership has helped community newspapers fill the local news void and paved the way for increase ad reveneus needed to offset a spike in printing costs. Image by John Dance

The decline in daily newspaper readership has helped community newspapers fill the local news void and paved the way for increase ad reveneus needed to offset a spike in printing costs. Image by John Dance

Two years ago, The Mainstreeter published a special report on the state of the 12 community newspapers in central Ottawa. Since then, the for-profit newspaper industry has continued to decline, so we decided to check back with local editors to see how their not-for-profit community newspapers are doing.

In September, Metroland Media Group announced the closure of the print editions of 70 community papers and the layoff of 605 employees. The move was a blow to many communities in Ontario where the community papers represented a key source of local news. Although none of these papers served central Ottawa, some of the nearby papers to lose their print editions included The Kemptville Advance, The Renfrew Mercury, and The Perth Courier.

“When a community paper dies, it’s as if you shut a light in a room in a home and never open it again,” says Christian Marcoux, editor of Perspectives Vanier. “The house is still there but somehow it’s not as welcoming at night as it once was.”

Alayne McGregor, managing editor of the Centretown BUZZ, notes, “We’ve lost so many community papers in the last few years, and what they covered isn’t necessarily being replaced by the few remaining commercial news outlets. CTV Ottawa, which has always had a big local news presence, is now threatened with major cuts by Rogers. We recently lost a local radio station as well. This means news is being missed,” she says. “Local councils and boards aren’t being held to account. While the remaining local community papers do their best to cover our parts of Ottawa, publishing once a month or once every two months – and with limited space – doesn’t allow us to cover everything in a timely manner.”

But despite their limitations and challenges, the not-forprofit community newspapers of central Ottawa continue to flourish, with one sad exception. The Overbrook ConneXions published its last issue in the summer of 2022. “We hung on by our fingernails through COVID but could not grow to the point of hiring staff, and our volunteers could not sustain it,” reports Heather Amys, past president of the Overbrook Community Association.

Others, though, are doing well. “We’re thriving,” says Liz McKeen, editor of the Glebe Report. “Our board is recruiting new members and is quite active. Our advertising is robust.”

Similarly, The OSCAR’s editor Brendan McCoy reports, “Ad revenues are down a little from 2018 (maybe 10 percent) but they are not bad and are holding up pretty well. In the community, there seems to be continuing support for the paper – lots of articles, lots of volunteers to deliver the paper, that sort of thing.”

In the case of Perspectives Vanier, revenue-wise, the last two years have been its best, and the paper has expanded from 16 to 20 pages.

The Mainstreeter has also had a strong year with expanded content and advertising activity reported, according to editor Lorne Abugov. “Our advertisers are very loyal, and new ones seem eager to get into the paper. And our volunteer base of writers, editors and delivery distributors has never been stronger. Some of our newer community initiatives like our annual outdoor art tour and our community calendar have boosted community engagement and provided us with an important new fundraising source.”

“We just spent an enjoyable hour catching up via the New Edinburgh News,” John Morris recently wrote to the paper. “It’s truly remarkable that your local, dedicated, volunteer group can deliver much more entertaining and relevant info than our horribly over-priced and underwhelming national-chain local newspaper. Incidentally, your latest edition weighed more than theirs. Keep up the good work!”

The pandemic caused many difficulties for community papers: there was less advertising, maintaining volunteers and delivering papers proved more difficult, and, in general, COVID curtailed community activity. Several papers temporarily suspended their print editions but resumed after a few months.

Although the for-profit print media are being overwhelmed by on-line social media, particularly as Facebook and other sites have drained advertising from them, the not-for-profit community papers seem to be surviving primarily through print. “We have no intention of abandoning print now or in the foreseeable future,” says McKeen. “It’s one of the more appreciated aspects of the paper, with young and old readers alike.” As Marcoux succinctly puts it, “We print on paper and that’s that.”

Meta/Facebook’s blocking of Canadian news media has thus far had little impact on the community papers, primarily because they focus on print and don’t rely on an on-line presence.

Although most of the central papers generate sufficient advertising revenue, The Riverview Park Review has had to work very hard at beating the bushes to find advertisers, according to editor Carole Moult. “Most businesses in our area are either corporate or with head offices across the country,” says Moult. “They have absolutely no interest in the community where they are located, nor are they allowed to advertise.”

“Pre-COVID, we had a lot of restaurant advertising. Not so now. We have had to broaden our advertising base,” she says. “Our advertising revenues remain about the same; however, we must continually work very hard to achieve this. Fortunately, over the years, the RPR has had a loyal group of advertisers helping support their local paper.”

In the face of static or declining advertising revenues, some papers have solicited donations from readers and, in a few cases, support is provided by community associations. Interestingly, a number of papers have advertising from the City of Ottawa and other levels of government while others have none.

One problem that Wes Smiderle, editor of the Manor Park Chronicle, raises is printing costs, saying that their printer recently increased fees by a substantial amount. “The increase was enough to get us to look around for alternatives, but there don’t seem to be many,” Smiderle says. Moult notes a similar concern, saying “Within the past five years, two of the printing companies we used folded and the cost went up four times.”

Indeed, McGregor wonders whether more coordination and communication between Ottawa’s community papers might help. “It might be worth meeting in person or setting up a mailing list to talk about common issues like City advertising or printer quality.”

Although the advantage of Facebook and other social media advertising is that it can be specifically targeted, community papers are distributed to everybody in a particular community and therefore they hit the target of all of those within their neighbourhood catchment area.

Some last words: “I feel very lucky and I am aware how fragile a community paper can be in these times…Long live The Mainstreeter and Perspectives Vanier,” says Marcoux. “We continually hear that people love their community papers,” says Moult.

Filed in: Front Page

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