Right in the centre - The three-legged stool


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

am going to take a bit of a different turn with this week’s column. As I have stated many times, a newspaper is like  a three-legged stool. You need all three legs, or it’s tough to keep the stool upright when your butt is perched on it.

Very few readers will even know what a utilitarian stool is. In our farming background, the most common stool was a milk stool, one you used to get down low enough to milk the cows. You certainly didn’t want to fall off a milk stool. The landing might be hard and messy.

A newspaper needs three parts, or three legs, to stand on: ads, news and opinion pieces. Few community newspapers publish in-house or guest columns. We publish several. The one you are reading now is closing in on the 1,700th column I have written.

From the outset, 32 years ago, I never asked people to agree with me. All I ask is that they read this column, or any other column, and examine the statements for the kernels of truth it may contain.

There is an offshoot of columns and that’s the newspaper’s editorial. I much prefer columns over editorials, as editorials aren’t often attributed to a writer. Without attribution, credibility and accountability fade. That is not a good thing.

In Manitoba, we have access to several columnists. The Winnipeg Free Press used to have humourist Doug Speirs. He was entertaining and often there was a deeper message.

The Free Press has Dan Lett and I would say I agree with Dan only about one third of the time. He is pretty slanted in his support for the NDP Party. He is also pretty slanted in his opposition to anything to do with PC Manitoba. In recent years, I think Dan could have done a lot deeper job, with the resources he has available to him, to dig out more research on solutions and treatments for COVID-19 but hey, what do I know?

The Free Press also has Tom Brodbeck, formerly of the Winnipeg Sun. Tom is a little more open to the conservative side of things than Lett, but not much.

Scott Billeck writes for the Winnipeg Sun, along with a few others. The Free Press has several reporters who do double duty as columnists. Sometimes they get the roles mixed up and that is a common pitfall today. News and opinion should stand separately.

Independent columnist John Feldsted, whose work has appeared occasionally on these pages, is one of the best minds when it comes to analysis and constitutional history. If you read John’s columns, you quickly conclude that the way Manitoba and Canada are being run is somewhat different from what was intended in the constitution. That could be why we are having so many problems.

Not too many miles away, in Brandon, we have the Brandon Sun, which is owned and now almost completely taken over by the Winnipeg Free Press. Matt Goertzen writes a column/editorial. Matt is a good guy, but he is very often out touch with his audience. 

The biggest problem with newspapers today, and Manitoba is no exception, is that the bigger ones are owned by shareholder corporations. The Free Press, or FP publications, owns the Winnipeg Free Press, the Brandon Sun, the Steinbach Carillon and the five biggest community papers in the City of Winnipeg, namely, The Herald, The Lance, The Metro, The Times and The Headliner. A corporation, by its very nature, looks after the corporate interests and if that is put ahead of the community’s interests, it can be a big problem. 

Glacier, the corporation that owned the Neepawa Press from 2010 to 2015, still owns a few papers in Manitoba. If my information is correct, they own papers in Virden and Thompson. They used to own the Westman Journal in Brandon, the Reston Recorder, Souris Plain Dealer, Melita New Era and the Deloraine Times and Star. Glacier simply shut down those papers a couple of years ago. The privately owned Boissevain Recorder is now covering those areas and doing a pretty good job of it.

Post Media owns the Winnipeg Sun and the Portage weekly paper. PM shut down a pile of papers in the last couple of years, including papers at Altona, Carman, Winkler, Morden as well as Selkirk and Stonewall. FP stepped into Altona to local run a paper there. In other locations, a private company runs papers in the other towns that Post Media abandoned.

Local papers, news, readers and advertisers hold the keys to survival of newspapers.

Events of the past few years have surely shown us that print is the most reliable source of news, ads and opinions.

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.