Right in the centre - Rural is different and maybe better


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

A recent study done by Totum Research for News Media Canada confirms that a universally applied strategy will not result in universal access to a message. In smaller markets across the prairies, media habits are different, particularly when it comes to readership of newspapers. Printed community newspapers are read by almost 80 per cent of those who live in prairie communities under 100,000 residents. It appears that the transition from print to online has not happened in rural areas like it has in urban markets.

Building on a 2017 study, this new research thoroughly examines how the community a person lives in influences the types of news they follow, their trust in media, the impact of variable internet access, media preferences for specific types of media, as well as the media,  most likely to inspire action across a number of different business sectors.

The study was conducted by random sample, with adults 18 and over living exclusively in communities of less than 100,000 population in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwest Territories/Nunavut. 

Well, if you made it this far through all those confusing statements, it simply states that rural people read newspapers more than urban people do. That’s not a surprise, rural people knew that all along. Local readers know that and with good reason. A local newspaper is based on local news, ads and columns that are of interest to local people. Now, there’s a bit of a problem with that idea and that is a local paper often can only afford a very limited number of staff. Many small town papers have one or two staff. They simply can’t know everything that is going on, be everywhere, run the office, sell the ads and lay out the paper. Publishers need help from their readers. The solution is simple. Phone us at 204-476-3401 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Many papers, like this one you are reading right now, don’t ask for a subscription fee. We just ask for your news submissions, photos and ads.

Over the years, rural newspapers have had some help from outside sources, namely large, corporate ads (especially car companies) and government ads. As stated, or at least implied, in the rather wordy News Media Canada intro above, corporations and both the federal and provincial governments have been conned by the ad agencies to believe that the best way to reach people isn’t the local papers, but through Facebook or Google or some other internet-based outfit. There are two really big problems with that approach. One is, while internet has its place, a lot of people don’t use it much. Some not at all. Some rural areas don’t even have good internet service. The second problem is Canadian corporations, along with the federal and provincial governments, are sending all those internet ad dollars to the United States, never to be seen again. Canadian corporations want us to buy Canadian, but have turned their back on local media. A classic case is Canadian car companies. When they left the newspaper market about three years ago, their sales dropped. Funny thing, isn’t it? 

It’s worse with the federal and provincial governments. They implore us to invest local, buy local and yet, they spend the majority of their ad dollars out of country. The hypocrisy should be noted.

Eight Manitoba papers have closed permanently in the past five months. Four more have closed temporarily. They may open again, they may not. All 12 are, or were, owned by large corporations.

Rural newspapers are left with this: we can’t depend on large corporations. We can’t count on senior governments buying ads. We can depend on our local advertisers and local governments and are thankful for them.

Local, and rural, have always been dependable concepts. We live in great communities. We have always known, smaller is better. Maybe, just maybe, the people living in larger centres, who make decisions for all us rural people, will realize that smaller can thrive if given half a chance. It is perhaps a harsh observation, but maybe the health devastation rendered by COVID-19 in the larger centres will drive the point home that local, smaller, and perhaps rural, has its strengths. Corporations and senior governments need to recognize that possibility.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair 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.