Right in the Centre - Historical Foundations (Republication)


By Ken Waddel 

Neepawa Banner & Press

When we look back through the archived pages of our newspapers, we get a bird’s eye view of how things were done over 100 years ago. Some things really stand out.

Perhaps the first thing that jumps off the pages is the lack of what would today we call “political correctness”. Opinions and humour back in the day were pretty much unbridled. There was no filter on the editors’ typewriters 100 or more years ago.They said whatever was on their minds and sometimes their comments very bluntly called out politicians and citizens alike.

We should probably not go back the the almost vicious commentary that appeared in the old time newspapers. That’s best left to the internet and Twitter (satire intended). At least the very negative comments in papers from days of old could be attributed to a real person who could be tracked down and held accountable. That’s often not possible in the internet world and that is a very real problem. If you can’t be identified, you probably shouldn’t be saying it.

Also, 100 plus years ago, the newspaper was pretty much the only source and place for discussion. There were no phones or computers, few movie theatres and no radio or TV stations. No internet either.

As far as advertising went it was the newspaper, perhaps posters and the Eatons, Sears or Hudson Bay catalogues. The newspaper was king.

I will be the first to admit that newspapers have a lot of competition today, but I would also maintain that a good community newspaper is still near the top of the heap for local news, ads and commentary. Newspapers are sadly missed when they disappear, just ask the 20 communities in Manitoba that have lost their papers in the past five years.

One very notable difference in comparing papers today with papers from the past is that the ads were much bigger and more creative. Admittedly, some the claims in the ads were outlandish and quite unbelievable. Also unlike today, there were very large ads for cigarettes and some cigarette companies even claimed to improve your health. 

Because “building an ad” was quite expensive and labour intensive, ads were used over and over again. We still have a few of those old ads, cast in lead or an early version of plastic. They were nailed to a wooden block to be placed in a frame to go on the printing press.

A review of early history, and then a review of more recent history, clearly shows that the newspaper is still has an important role to fill. King is too lofty a title but leader might be an apt description.

I think people understand that a good newspaper has to be a leader in local news, advertising and opinion pieces. But there’s a catch. Newspaper staff can’t be everywhere, all the time. The local newspapers that are left, cover many communities stretched out over many miles. Everybody knows the cost of gas and labour so it’s no surprise that a newspaper’s staff can’t be everywhere all the time.

The good news is that it has never been easier to submit news, photos, ads and opinion pieces to the local paper. Email is a Godsend. Great stuff can be posted on Facebook for example but few Facebook posts have the reach of the local paper. Facebook contacts run in the dozens or occasionally hundreds. Most local community papers reach thousands. If a local paper circulates 2,000 papers, the industry standard is 2.3 people reached per paper printed.

Papers have changed, electronic media has its place but the newspaper is still the information foundation. That said, everyone has to help strengthen that foundation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.