I work at some big-time, big-city capital-m Media outlets but I started out at the twice-a-week Orangeville Banner and worked my way from there to one small daily to another. When I was at the Banner, I'd have given my eye teeth to be on staff at the Globe and Mail but, now that I am, I'm glad no one was around to take those eye teeth and that I got a chance to live and work and write about all the communities that I lived in.
Now, over on the listserv for the Canadian Association of Journallists , we're talking about commmunity newspapers. Community newspapers are, by and large, the weekly or, at least, non-daily newspapers that often serve as the paper of record in smaller communities.
Tina Kennedy is a writer at the South Peace News of High Prairie, Alberta, a weekly with a circulation of about 2,000 copies. High Prairie is way the hell up there, from my vantage point here in southern Ontario, a town of about 3,000 people halfway between Edmonton and the Northwest Territories. Tina's paper is an award-winner and here's what she had to say about working on titles like hers (this has been lightly edited from her original post):
From Upper Armpit Alberta, . . .
The pay is shite, the hours are worse. But there's something at community newspapers that draw many of us here: the communities and their issues.
I happen to work in a very busy area that leaves me less time for actually writing something than I care for. But it's so bloody dynamic that I get amazed when I read dailies and realize just how much they miss.
There's so little connection between community newspapers and dailies. Instead of the regurgitated national stories–with a different spin–we often get things as they're breaking.
For instance, this little town stood up to the Alberta government and the feds. Told both of them that they weren't paying their policing bill any more and they could stuff it. It was a successful effort to get someone to pay attention to the funding formula for policing. Did the dailies in Alberta pick it up? Nope. Now today the budget will bring with it a new funding formula for towns with populations under 5,000.
There's no doubt that reporters working in a daily medium are far removed from those working in community newspapers or magazines.
…in all honesty, I don't know that I'd ever go to a daily. I like wearing my jeans to work. I like knowing that Lyle at the arena doesn't care who I am and has no problem sitting down to have a coffee with me and letting me in on the recent budget cuts to a local sawmill.
To which I said:
Hurrah for Tina!
Great post. All the things Tina just enumerated — having a connection to a community you can really get your arms around and writing stuff that has an immediate (and, one hopes, positive) impact on your neighbors — are what makes newspapering a lot of fun at the same time that it teaches you a whole lot about how the world actually works.
At CTV, and before that at the Post, we often get very bright interns from journalism schools, many with multiple degrees beyond what they were studying for in journalism. Invariably, we end up in a discussion about the value of j-school and how it can help get you a job. My advice has always been and will always be that, while what you learn at j-school might help, it will help far more if you sign up to cover library board meetings or a rural police force for a community paper. Go do that for a year and you'll find out fast what your interests are; what your strengths and weaknesses as a reporter are; and, most importantly, that the way you go about collecting news, assembling interviews, and crafting a story is never the way it was described in your class or in your textbook.
Now, I don't want to make it sound like commmunity newspapering is journalism heaven because there are some crushingly dull days on the job and the pay, as Tina mentioned, is crap and you never have enough time/resources/support, plus you have to take your own pictures.
But if I didn't have to worry about the bills, I'd just as soon go back to the Orillia Packet & Times — not a community newspaper but close, a daily with a circulation of 11,000 — where, as the city hall reporter, I'd spend hot summer nights hiding out in the cool basement of the Stephen Leacock Museum there with the museum curator, some town councillors, and some buddies, gossiping and playing snooker on Leacock's pool table, and toasting his ghost with cheap Scotch.