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When newspapers close, a world goes missing

One day I came to work and there were two New York Times clippings brought for me by one of our readers. They were about journalists losing their jobs and the vital stories that don't get told when that happens.

One day I came to work and there were two New York Times clippings brought for me by one of our readers. They were about journalists losing their jobs and the vital stories that don't get told when that happens. These are the important community stories that often no one else would tell.

These articles were written in December 2019, a year in which, according to the New York Times, over 1,000 journalists in the U.S. lost jobs. This highlights the crisis in local journalism that has been getting worse for over a decade. When the pandemic hit, over 100 Canadian media outlets made cuts in 11 provinces and territories in six weeks and almost 50 community newspapers shuttered. About 2,000 workers have been laid off, according to COVID-19 Media Impact Map for Canada — a joint project of J-Source, the Local News Research Project at Ryerson's School of Journalism and the Canadian Association of Journalists.

But what may seem to be the general crisis caused by the pandemic, is actually just a spike in the long-term process. Even though the shrinking of local news, which is driven by numerous factors including but not limited to a decline in print advertising, merging of papers and competition, may seem like a natural phase of switching to digital, it's not always the case with many outlets going more global when turn digital-only.

When local reporters are gone, the local stories that were in the works or would be one day remain untold. If there is no local paper, who will tell you about city council and school board meetings? Who will report on local kids making big moves and succeeding in sports? Who would follow up on the public promises and keep an eye on corruption? Where would you find local church or library news?

And while the numbers above reflect the general picture, the local reality I see all around is also a part of it. Some smaller papers in Manitoba and in rural Saskatchewan just couldn't make it through the pandemic. They probably wouldn't survive this year even if it wasn't as it is. But the cow knows not what her tail is worth until she has lost it.

Even though we are getting more and more used to having the latest news available at the tips of our fingers, and the newspapers' deliberation and technical slowness might be irritating at times, newspapers are one of the very few reliable sources. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in for progress and I love the opportunities the Internet has opened for us, but on the other hand, we can see the side effects of it.

Anyone can become "journalists" and have their ideas presented to multi-thousand or even multi-million auditoria. However, the professional part of journalism is often lost between the lines. Opinions are presented as facts. Facts get published without checking. And sources of the information are regularly diminished.

I wish I could be as confident as Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and chair of News Media Canada, who recently said that "Now, more than ever, Canadians are turning to newspapers as a trusted source of information, because they know they can count on them for credible, fact-based news reporting." However, too often I see my family and friends quoting something they saw "somewhere online" and relying on that information.

A journalism degree is not really necessary to work in the field, but from a personal perspective, I can tell that knowing and following the ethic of the profession is essential. Checking facts, researching sources, being unbiased and so on. It all might be boring at times, but that's the only way to get the story at least somewhat right.

Otherwise, there would be no difference between news and rumours.

Even though everything is globalized, and I can stay up to date on St. Petersburg news from the comfort of my home in Estevan, I wouldn't be able to adequately report on the Estevan news if I wasn't here. You need to have feet, eyes and ears on the ground to have a clear understanding of what's going on before you summarize this information and pass it forward to the public. And a freelancer living somewhere on Goa or even in a bigger city in Canada just won't be able to do it right. 

The local newspapers help the community to get to know itself, celebrate its champions and focus on critical issues, understand the role of the community in bigger processes. They also help to place their communities on the regional, provincial, national and international maps, by sharing the successes, promoting its strong suits and attracting attention to its problems.

And when local newspapers close, there is no one else to do this job.

After all, it's the 80th National Newspaper Week, the time when we celebrate and reflect on the essential services provided by the media industry in Canada. And if you made it to this point, thank you very much for reading the Mercury and supporting the local paper!

P.S. Thank you, Gerry Fichtemann, for bringing those clippings, I sincerely appreciate it!