Right in the centre - The locally printed word


By Ken Waddell

Neepaw Banner & Press

Every week, and sometimes several times a week, we get an email from some company out of New York, Toronto or somewhere else far away, wanting to help us with doing our job at our newspaper. Typically, they offer written content for our paper. It isn’t free of course, it comes at a price. Having a cost attached to it isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the assumption that what someone writes 2,000 miles away would be of specific interest to local people. We are a local paper and our success, or at least the key to our survival, is that we provide stories you won’t find anywhere else.

Ok, I know that occasionally, there are stories and news items an individual might not see as high priority, but as much as is physically possible, we gather and write information that is of local interest. If we subscribed to one of dozens of news services and used that source, there would be a lot of items in the paper that have no local interest.

Large newspaper chains that own a bunch of newspapers started on a trend a number of years ago. They cut, and are still cutting staff today. Stories may be written a long way from the source. Page layout is done far away, in a central location. The ads may be built in India or at least in another city. Many papers have simply ceased to exist due to excessive staff cutting.

A newspaper is like a three-legged stool. It has to have news (by definition), it has to have ads and it has to have opinion columns to generate discussion. Take away any one of those legs and the stool falls over. Anyone who ever sat on a stool to milk a cow knows what happens when the stool falls over. You end up in one of two bad places, either under the cow or in the manure gutter. Neither place is a good prospect for success.

There are those who say “print is dead”. That is utter nonsense. Print will never die. If it is print on paper, you can read it. If it is print on your computer screen, you can read it. Print is having a comeback versus video and audio. Print will survive and thrive for as long as mankind exists.

What kills off newspapers is greedy companies trying to squeeze out the last penny without investing locally. You can’t reduce the number of people who produce the paper to the point there is no local news and ads.

Large companies think that a local newspaper can carry international, national and provincial stories. They can to some extent, but what they fail to realize is that all those international, national and provincial news stories were on the internet and air waves hours or even days before the paper came out. Local papers are simply behind the curve on that. It’s not our strength. It’s not our mandate either. Just like in real estate, where it is location, location, location, in news, it’s local, local, local. I know there are some smart people guiding the big corporations, but most don’t understand the importance of local.

As I write this column, it is 2 a.m. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up to work and write. I am 70 years old, so why do I (and we, my wife and I) do what we do? It is because we believe in the Rivers area and the Neepawa area. The areas are more than just the named town. The Neepawa Banner & Press distributes 8,000 plus papers to an area population of about 20,000 people. The Rivers Banner distributes 2,000 papers to an area population of about 5,000 people.

We invested (that means borrowed some money) three years ago to buy the Neepawa Press. We got a building, along with 120 years of archives and a small package of business. We could have just let it die, but we didn’t. Last year, we invested (that means borrowed some money) to do the first major upgrade on the Rivers Banner building in many years. We got a better building, we expanded the circulation to Kenton and we got a young man started in the newspaper business; our grandson Micah has taken over the Rivers Banner. He has a fairly nice place to live, he likes Rivers and the people and he’s learning the paper business.

So there you have it folks. The oldest publisher in the province (that would be me) and the youngest publisher in the province (that would be Micah), both working hard to provide local news in a package that is attractive to readers and advertisers. We welcome your readership and your business. Read local, shop local, advertise local and everyone is a winner.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.