Bob Liddycoat had been waiting 13 years for a comeback. So when Postmedia and Torstar pulled the plug on dozens of community newspapers last week, including the local Thorold Niagara News, he knew it was time.
Liddycoat used to co-own a different paper, the award-winning Thorold News, covering the small city sandwiched between St. Catharines, Ont., and Niagara Falls. He kept that paper's name and website domain after selling it in 2004.
Now he's scrambling to bring it back as an online outlet — and quickly.
Liddycoat plans to launch Monday, just two weeks after all the closures (50 recent closures are plotted out in a map below.) He will be its managing editor, journalist Cathy Pelletier (his wife) will write, and they'll feature some of the columnists from the original paper.
- Postmedia,Torstar swap and close dozens of newspapers
- Stories we'll miss when local newspapers are gone
- Quebec outlines $36M plan to help news industry
"Local news has dwindled, dwindled, dwindled and with this latest cut, it's pretty much gone," he said of his area. "We saw there was going to be absolutely no outlet for Thorold news."
It's not that there aren't any local papers. The nearby, larger St. Catharines Standard and Niagara Falls Review come out daily, but Liddycoat said there's not much room there for Thorold news.
And even the Thorold Niagara News was mostly shared content from all the other weekly papers owned by Postmedia.
"If you opened that page, there was no Thorold news," he said. "So I know we can do better than that."
'It was sudden'
The closures came when Postmedia and Torstar swapped more than 40 publications in late November. Torstar got 17 papers and shut down 13. Postmedia got 26 titles — they've shut down 15 and will close nine more by Jan. 11. Between the two companies, 290 jobs were cut, including Miriam King's.
She was a journalist for the Innisfil Examiner and the Bradford Times, two of the closed papers.
"People have been asking me to bring it back continually ever since. And you know, I didn't think it was going to work." - Bob Liddycoat on the fall and rise of Thorold News, which he will restart
She and two others worked out of a small office in Bradford, near Newmarket. She thought the owners might close the office, but she never thought it would be the paper itself. King helped start the Times in 1991 after another local paper closed.
"It was sudden," she said. She was brought into the office and told "gently."
"One moment I'm in a council meeting and the next …."
CBC Radio found around 50 Canadian newspapers and community publications have been closed (or are about to close) in the past two years. That includes big, long-running daily papers like the Guelph Mercury and small, twice-monthly publications like Montreal's Free Press. The list is not exhaustive.
April Lindgren has been tracking these closures as lead investigator for the Local News Research Project, which plots openings and closings of media outlets across Canada. The Ryerson journalism prof has tracked 234 closures in 162 communities since 2008 — 207 which were newspapers.
Lindgren thinks unfair criticism is lobbed at community papers — which she said often have been "cut to the bone," shedding reporters, photographers and editorial staff.
"You cut, cut, cut and then nobody cares when it is gone," she said. "The fact that the paper is gone means that there's one less voice." And that means less local news.
The number of closures are outnumbering the launches — Lindgren found 68 media launches since 2008, 28 which were online news outlets.
With ad revenue slumping and no stable funding, she doesn't have a definitive answer to keep local news alive. She points out experiments like crowdsourcing costs and running pop-up news outlets created for special events. There have also been calls for the government to step in and provide financial support.
Quebec's provincial government just announced it will dish out $36.4 million over five years to help print media.
Liddycoat is going to try to finance his relaunch with local ads.
"We don't have to make a million dollars," he said. "We just have to make a living."
The couple has been working at other community papers since Liddycoat sold Thorold News.
"People have been asking me to bring it back continually ever since," said Liddycoat. "And you know, I didn't think it was going to work."
He knows it is not going to be easy and that "a lot of people" will have to buy in to make it work. But he thinks his model will catch on.
"These communities are going to be starving to know what's going on," he said. "This has got to happen now."
Notice a Canadian news outlet closed since January 2016 that's missing from the map? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and he'll try to add it to the list.