The people of North Grenville and Merrickville, each about a 30-minute drive south of Ottawa, are lucky to have a community newspaper prepared to challenge the local establishment.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of a recent dust-up between North Grenville councillors and the North Grenville Times weekly newspaper, it’s good for democracy that the public gets more than one side of the story.
Newspapers are dying, we are told repeatedly, and so who would want to start up a newspaper these days? In the North Grenville and Merrickville area, the answer is the husband-and-wife team of David Shanahan and Marguerite Boyer. Both are local residents in their early 60s. They launched the paper five years ago. He’s the editor and she’s the production manager.
The newspaper and North Grenville Mayor David Gordon have been at loggerheads for months over the future use of buildings and land at a former agricultural college in North Grenville. The mayor and several councillors sent Shanahan a letter accusing his newspaper of “bullying” the council. Shanahan published the letter, with the superfluous comment that the councillors’ letter was not a joke.
Shanahan wrote recently in the newspaper: “Even publishing the fact that options were available made the municipality angry and resulted in a deeply divisive dispute the municipality initiated with the North Grenville Times, which has yet to be settled.”
The North Grenville Times has saturation – and free – delivery in the North Grenville and Merrickville areas, printing 9,500 copies a week. That level of penetration would translate into phenomenal circulation for a newspaper with regional, provincewide or national distribution. Nationwide, it’s the equivalent of about 10 million copies a week!
When you think of it that way, it’s difficult to see why a community newspaper would not make money – just from local advertisers.
Marguerite Boyer, the joint owner, says: “I believe community newspapers are essential for towns and are not going the way of the dodo.”
She says she and her husband enjoy running the paper.
“I feel like we are doing something good for the community. We started the paper because of a lack of good reporting and the loss of a (locally owned) newspaper.”
Is the five-year-old newspaper profitable?
“It took us about a year to balance the books,” Boyer says without elaborating.
After the Ottawa Citizen published a report recently about the spat between North Grenville councillors and the North Grenville Times, Boyer says she and her husband “have heard from other locally owned papers of their plight with municipalities.”
Boyer adds: “One newspaper, which is a member of the Ontario Community Newspaper Association and which has won awards, was denounced by the council in its area as not being a real newspaper.”
Five years have gone fast, says Boyer.
“I work part-time for the paper, but being part of the community, it seems full-time,” she says. “I think our success is due to our commitment to the community. This is a really amazing community. We feel the paper belongs to the people, and they have a voice.”
Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com.