When COVID-19 turned our world upside down, ‘local’ became more than a promotional buzzword. We learned the power of one local job, as main streets shuttered. We learned the importance of one locally-owned, independent business, as community fundraising dried up. And we learned the relevance of trusted, local information, as individuals, families, schools, organizations, councils and communities struggled to navigate this new, virus reality.
We were in it together.
In towns big and small across this country, the local newspaper became the heartbeat for community response and action. Under the most challenging conditions imaginable, the local paper delivered despite massive obstacles. Pre-COVID, the business model for local news was charitably described as challenged. With COVID, it evaporated.
But resilient publishers found a path forward, motivated by deep loyalty to community and a desire to serve. The lockdown didn’t stop editors and reporters from telling compelling and relevant news to an ever-growing audience.
It’s true, some newspapers closed because of the virus and its economic impact. Communities losing their local voice are poorer for it. The resilience displayed by the vast majority of publications speaks to a higher calling of our industry — especially in times of crisis. We are not just another main street business. We are the anchor that binds communities together in good times and bad.
Our relevancy is shown in the record number of people turning to our publications – in print, online or mobile – for the local angle and insight. Business leaders – understanding the vital role the paper plays in holding the community accountable – responded with sponsorships. They recognize the unique importance of local news. So do the individuals buying print or digital subscriptions, as a tangible show of support and thanks.
As the COVID story continues to evolve, governments at all levels struggle to provide services in a sea of red ink. The local newspaper’s traditional role as political watchdog now takes on even greater importance. We will be there to ensure the transparent operation of government. We will be there to ask the questions our citizens need answers to. We will be there to remind our political leaders that a global pandemic is no reason to lessen democratic oversight.
We will be there because local newspapers give a damn about the people and communities we serve.
This column was written by Paul MacNeill, publisher of Island Press Limited in Montague, P.E.I., as part of News Media Canada’s celebration of National Newspaper Week, Oct. 4 to 10. Reprinted with permission.