Historic Red Deer weekly newspaper publishes last issue as owner seeks savings
Red Deer Express closes immediately and company's printing press will be shuttered this summer
The Red Deer Express — a historic weekly newspaper in Alberta's third-largest city— published its last edition Wednesday.
Black Press Media, which owns the Express, says it can no longer afford to have two competing titles in Red Deer.
The Red Deer Express was a free weekly paper with a circulation of about 25,000 customers.
The company also owns the daily newspaper, Red Deer Advocate, and more than 170 other publications in Alberta, B.C. and several U.S. states.
The company also has revealed plans to close Red Deer Advocate's printing press and mailroom on July 1. Printing and mailing duties will be shifted to plants in Calgary and Edmonton.
Between the two closures, a total of 33 jobs will be eliminated, according to union estimates.
'Tough decisions,' CEO says
Eroding advertising revenue from online giants such as Facebook continues to wreak havoc on print media, Black Press CEO Rick O'Connor said.
"I hate it but the reality is, I want to ensure that there's a strong media voice in the Red Deer market," O'Connor said.
"To do that, you've got to make some tough decisions. It's unfortunate. We've tried to allay the layoffs by offering alternative employment where we could."
One printed newspaper remains
The Red Deer Advocate is now the only printed newspaper in one of Alberta's biggest cities. Red Deer lost its last television news station, CHCA-TV, in 2009 as part of cost-cutting measures by its then-owner Canwest Global Communications.
Due to the loss of the mailroom and printing press, a total of 25 people will lose their jobs this summer, said Mary-Ann Barr of Media and Communications Workers of Alberta Local 30400 CWA Canada.
Two others, who work in circulation and reception, will be laid off on Friday.
A total of six people worked in the newsroom and sales for the Express, which was not unionized. They will lose their jobs, said Barr.
Most of the Express employees have been offered other positions with the publishing company, said O'Connor. He declined to confirm the exact number of those affected.
Long history, always local
The Express' roots trace back to the end of the Second World War, when the owner of a local printing business started the Ad-viser, local historian Michael Dawe said. Over the years it changed owners and names, later becoming the Shopper and, ultimately, the Express.
"It provided an insight into the kinds of stories that maybe weren't immediate news, but were still a major part of the community fabric," he said.
Dawe, a retired archivist, wrote a weekly column for the Express that often unearthed little known stories of Red Deer's history, including its struggles with typhoid until the 1930s and its experiences with earthquakes.
He estimates he penned more than 850 columns over the past 17 years.
"It was a way of heightening the awareness of the community," he said.
The first mass-market weekly newspaper in Red Deer was likely the Optimist, which got its start in the Great Depression, Dawe said. The idea behind the title was that "good times will come; shop local; here's your local news," he said.
'I'm going to miss it,' reader says
Martin O'Hanlon, president of CWA Canada, said the cuts in Red Deer are bad for journalism. (The CBC's union, Canadian Media Guild, belongs to CWA Canada.)
"These papers, whether it's the Express weekly or the Advocate daily, they're severely understaffed," O'Hanlon said. "Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, these places have sometimes 20 per cent staff they had back then. Before, you might have had two or three people that covered local politics. Now you're lucky to have one that does it part time."
Dean Cowan has been a loyal reader of the Red Deer Express since he moved to the city almost 20 years ago. He's written letters to the editor of the weekly paper, commented on web stories — and even the subject of a few yarns himself, having made headlines for volunteering and making charitable donations.
The paper was a big part of his daily life.
"I'm going to miss it; I really am," Cowan says, choking up. "I'm a little bit sad right now."