Just another headline...

January 15, 2020

 

By Nikki Mantell

 

Sometimes I struggle with whether it's a good idea to write about newspapers closing down. It's depressing, it's deflating, it sends the wrong message that all papers are on our deathbed (we are not, at least not all of us). But I also feel that it's important to remind readers that what they hold in their hand is becoming more of a rare thing.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that the industry is in crisis. In Canada alone more than 250 papers have closed down in the last 10 years. But the latest headline just breaks my heart: “Eastern Ontario Paper Winchester Press Closes after 131 Years In Business”.

I was also sad when Le Droit, which covers our region and I read every weekday, announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection. It's a good paper. Hopefully its fundraising campaign and plans to restructure into a co-operative will keep it alive.

But it's a big daily, part of a larger corporation including five other papers. The Winchester Press is owned by the Morris Newspaper Group, which operates one other title, the Prescott Journal; both papers suspended publications until further notice. While the name may suggest a bigger operation, it is, in fact, a little family business, run for years on the same kind of investment that keeps The Low Down going: hard work, resilience, long hours, goodwill and passion. There are no high paid CEOs or demanding shareholders, which are found in the downtown headquarters of PostMedia or Metroland. Just Beth Morris, now 81, who, with her late husband, ran the Winchester Press for 39 years. Thirty-nine years putting out community news, come hell or high water. It's a story we know well.

Maybe it pulls at my heartstrings more than other closures because I met Beth Morris, who was in her 70s when she gave us a hard pitch to bring this paper over to her printing presses – which she was later forced to sell, for scrap metal. I liked her, she was older but we were in the same business of making a minor miracle happen every single week on publication day.

I could barely make it all the way to the end of her heart-wrenching statement on the Winchester Press' Facebook page.

“I am left with a huge bank loan. My only assets are the Winchester Press building and my home, and I am losing both.” She's already used all of her savings and a year of her pension to keep the newspaper afloat.

The Facebook post was in response to the headlines her paper was closing down. Eighty-one years old and she is still fighting the good fight to keep her papers going. Apparently, staff leaked the news that everyone was out of a job – Morris had to put out the statement she was keeping the office open and staffed, but suspending publication while she searched for a new buyer. Scooped by her own staff on social media. I wonder if she sees the bitter irony in being forced to use a known newspaper advertising killer to defend her papers' existence.

“Newspapers are an important part of any community. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have invested my life’s savings in both the Prescott Journal and the Winchester Press,” she concludes, just before a heartfelt plea to her community to support the new owner, should she find one. 

Newspaper people, increasingly like the papers themselves, are a rare breed.