Wanted: A Paper of Record for the Châteauguay Valley
It was announced recently that The Gleaner will cease independent publication and become a section in a free weekly called the Journal Le Saint-François. The official line of TC Media, the Québec-based media giant that owns The Gleaner, is that this is “good news” for the Anglophone community because the circulation of the Journal is ten times that of The Gleaner. Despite these assurances, the sentiment that I have encountered most often is that The Gleaner will likely lose its identity within the larger Francophone paper, and that its demise seems all but guaranteed.
But aren’t papers like The Gleaner relics of a bygone era destined to be overtaken by online resources like It’s My Town? Why does it matter that we’re prospectively losing a paper that, despite the efforts of staff, has already suffered a decline in quality? To be sure, it is apparently no longer professionally copy edited, and many of the translated articles are only nominally in English. (A recent front-page item on “biological” farming makes sense only if one knows that biologique is the French term for “organic.”)
For all its flaws, The Gleaner has served for 152 years as a living archive that registers the history of our community, and it ought to be preserved as an independent publication for this reason alone. Its most vital function, however, is local news coverage. Many of us access our news online, and consequently our attention is more than ever directed outside of our communities. When was the last time you saw an item about Huntingdon in the “trending” bar on Facebook?
When we do encounter local news online, it typically comes in the form of friends’ status updates and tweets rather than professional reporters’ edited and fact-checked stories. Paradoxically, in an age of media saturation, we have trouble accessing quality content, especially on local stories. For now, The Gleaner still provides this—or at least it tries to. And as it gradually goes the way of all print publications, we should applaud the fact that sites like It’s My Town are filling the void. In fact, with the help of the community, It’s My Town could supplant The Gleaner as our paper of record. And it could do so in a far more timely and effective manner than The Gleaner.
For instance, the recent prison break at the nearby Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, was of concern to locals who feared that the escapees might attempt to cross the border. The potential danger to Valley residents seems minuscule in retrospect, but at the time the picture was not so clear because there was no convenient way for us to consult local, provincial, and federal agencies on the matter. The rumour mill supplied some information, but most of us consulted national media to find out what was happening in our own backyard.
In the age of The Gleaner, we would have had to wait for the next issue to discover the real story about the escape at Dannemora, but in the digital age, sites like It’s My Town are poised to become go-to resources for the rapid gathering and dissemination of such information.
Amateur reader-contributors will play a significant role in this process. But because we may soon be without a local Anglophone paper it seems useful to consider the potential role of It’s My Town as a replacement for the venerable print newspaper rather than an online alternative. For this to happen, however, It’s My Town will need a more active user base that provides enough content to generate the revenue needed to attract paid contributions. Professional investigative journalism, for example, doesn’t come cheap.
After procrastinating for years before submitting my first item, I am finally making a (decidedly amateurish) contribution in the form of this piece. Will you join me?