Right in the Centre – Holding on to the precious


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

At the recent Washington Press Gallery Dinner, comedian Trevor Noah gave a very funny address. He made fun of every news agency and personality he could think of. He made fun of President Biden. Most people laughed. President Biden laughed, at everyone else but importantly, he laughed at himself.

Biden also gave a very funny speech. After all, humour is the main goal of that annual dinner. (see link here https://youtu.be/_fpxCuorKjA)

But it was the serious part of Noah's speech that was the best part and he saved it for last.

Basically he said the news media in America has the freedom and ability to challenge ideas, to criticize government and to do so without fear of being injured or killed. He drew obvious comparisons to Russia and the Ukraine war and that in those countries, war conditions are killing people, including journalists, "even as we speak."

Noah spoke the truth and the crowd of over 2,000 politicians, celebrities and news media types seemed to get it. They seemed to appreciate what Noah was saying.

In Manitoba, the newspaper industry is only somewhat threatened by government. Three instances come to mind. The Manitoba PC government has worked to allow local governments to not be required to place important notices in the papers such as notifications of financial plans, re-zoning changes and legal notifications. They have harmed the newspapers with some pretty ridiculous changes to recycling regulations. And perhaps most of all, they have run away from letting the public know their plans and programs by severely cutting newspaper ads. Ironically, there is no reduction in the steady stream of government press releases. It seems newspapers are deemed to be good enough for placing free news but not good enough for paid ads.

But in Manitoba there is a greater threat to the flow of information and that is the great destruction brought on the newspaper industry by the corporate world. It used to be that local papers were the backbone of every community. Many years ago, there was a newspaper in Rapid City, Plumas, McCreary, Holland and many other small towns. They went out of business 70 or more years ago as the smaller towns shrank in size.

Until about four years ago, there were still 50 or more local papers in Manitoba. Around 20 no longer exist. Weekly papers that are gone now include papers at Melita, Reston, Deloraine, Souris, Carberry, Brandon, Altona, Cartwright, Stonewall, Selkirk, Carman, Winkler and Morden. That said, the last five listed towns still have one paper but, until a couple of years ago there were two. Even Winnipeg has not gone unscathed, where the five weekly community papers have been collapsed and made into two, but under new names.

This a huge loss of papers. All but one had been owned by large shareholder corporations. Most people know that large shareholder corporations have one purpose: to make money for the shareholders. That is an obvious truth about the large shareholder corporate world. If they don't make money for a couple of quarters, the axe falls. CEOs are fired, staff is cut and assets sold. So it has been now for years in large corporate newspaper business.

But there comes a time when you can't cut staff any more. Many of the papers listed above were down to one staff before the corporations locked the door and walked away. Staff was cut, printing presses and buildings sold off, along with anything else that might make a dollar. The silly part is that selling assets is attributed to the profit line which seems insane to a normal person but in a corporate world, it happens all the time. It would be like a grain farmer selling land and pretending he made a profit on the wheat crop.
Corporations in any industry that don't lose sight of serving and growing are welcome. They can be the backbone of a community in the same way that small, locally owned businesses are.

Of the 20 or so papers listed above that disappeared, all but one was corporately owned. In all of western Manitoba, there are only two corporately owned community newspapers left. In all of Manitoba there are only about six corporately owned papers left. The rest are all family owned papers with real live owners/editors/publishers.

The message is simple, we live in trying times but we need to hold onto what's important, faith, family, friends and community. The locally owned newspaper has always been part of that precious mix.

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.