Right in the centre - 35 years in the making


By Ken Waddell 

Neepawa Banner & Press

Last week I wrote about the way we have developed our newspaper business model and how the Waddell family now has three papers. The Neepawa Banner & Press and now the Virden Empire Advance are owned by my wife Christine and myself with some input from our two sons, Mike and Rob. The Rivers Banner is owned by grandson Micah Waddell and as noted last week we manage it for him. I forgot to say last week that son Mike, and his wife Naomi, publish Brandon’s News-in-Minute.

For centuries now, newspapers have had subscription fees or papers have been sold on a copy-by-copy basis but we don’t do that. Most subscription based papers are shrinking in numbers while most free circulation papers are growing in circulation.

The “free” paper concept came to Manitoba in the 1980s and we were introduced to the idea by the late Harvey Friesen. He published a paper out of the Winkler-Morden area and it was pretty successful even though he gave it away free. Harvey was a very friendly fellow, a Mennonite by birth, he was a WWII veteran of the RCAF. I can still hear Harvey’s words from newspaper conventions regaling his fellow publishers. “Boys,” he’d say, “get rid of those subscription lists. You have to send out bills and sometimes two or three times, you have to keep up the subscriber lists and print labels. Then you have to stick labels on the papers and pay more at Canada Post because they are addressed.”

Back in those days, Canada Post was the way to go, but 30 years later, Canada Post has slipped badly in their service. If you put a paper in the mail in a local post office to be shipped to even a neighbouring town, it has to go to Brandon or Winnipeg and sit in a warehouse, sometimes overnight but more often it sits for several days. When we used Canada Post, we had many instances where papers could take a week to end up ten miles down the road. It wasn’t usually the local postmistresses’ fault, they usually gave excellent service but the papers had to get to their Post Office first. We would end up driving the Neepawa Banner & Press to the post offices. In addition, over the 30 years we ran into at least six postal strikes where Canada Post didn’t deliver at all.

So we have evolved away from Canada Post almost entirely. When we pulled out of Canada Post we saved over $80,000 per year in postage. You would think someone from Canada Post would have phoned and asked why we left but you guessed it, we never got a call. It just makes sense now to put our former postage money into a couple of good vehicles and hire drivers.

With a paid circulation model, the subscribers determine the coverage area. With the free model, we determine the coverage area, it’s consistent and hopefully we get the papers out on time and to where they are wanted. Admittedly, we have had to delay deliveries a couple of times due to winter storms but if we can’t drive, likely the mail truck can’t either.

So it has taken over 30 years to develop the paper model we use now. Like I said last week, a newspaper has to have news, ads, opinions and paper. It’s not rocket science but it is effective. Your community paper will come to you and be available in many places for the foreseeable future. But to be able to pay our printer, our staff and buy gas for the vans, we need ads. Quite frankly, we need lots of ads.

Also, we extend a vote of thanks to Glacier Media because with the Neepawa Press in 2015 and with the Virden Empire Advance in 2024, they realized that a locally owned model better serves the community than a big corporation model. I thank them for recognizing that and for selling us those two papers. The Neepawa Banner, the paper we started, is only 35 years old but the other three titles are all way over 100 years old. It is an honour to carry on the community newspaper tradition.

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.