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Printer for local newspapers to shutter print operations amid 'industry changes'

Several student and community papers in southwestern Ontario say their long-time printer, Ricter Web Printing Ltd., is shutting down its print operations.

Affected publications include the Western Gazette, the Dorchester Signpost and the Aylmer Express

Ian Greaves of the Western Gazette says it's become harder to find local printers able to accommodate print newspapers. (Submitted)

The tumultuous print newspaper industry has dealt another blow to several community and student newspapers in southwestern Ontario, as long-time printer Ricter Web Printing Ltd. announced Friday it would "wind down" its print operations in Brantford, Ont.

In a letter sent to customers Friday, company president Rick St. Amand said its last print run will end at midnight on Dec. 21, 2018.

"[With] the steadily declining print work availability in today's current market climate we have decided to put our efforts into seeking new opportunities to the future," wrote St. Amand, in a letter sent to customers.

Among the papers affected are the Aylmer Express, the Dorchester Signpost, the Central Elgin-based paper The Echo, the Western Gazette and Imprint, the student newspaper at the University of Waterloo.

CBC has reached out to Ricter Web Printing Ltd. for further comment but has not yet received a reply.

In the same letter, Ricter said it would hand over its current print operations to the Torstar-owned Metroland Media print division, which "operates a number of print facilities in Ontario."

Local printers hard to find

Those on the business side of the papers say they don't have many other options left.

Imprint's advertising and production manager, Laurie Tigert-Dumas, has been with the paper for nearly 30 years. Whereas she used to have her pick of between 15 and 20 Ontario presses to shop around from, now, she says, she has just four.

"It's the industry, it's really really sad," said Tigert-Dumas, noting that she's also noticed a decline in volunteer interest at the paper. "And as people who are still die-hard newspaper people, it's getting tough."

"There's so many of these printing presses that shut down, it's hard to find anybody," agreed the Gazette's production manager, Ian Greaves, who's overseen the paper since the early 1980s. 

The University of Waterloo's student paper, the imprint, sits on newsstands. The paper's production manager, Laurie Tigert-Dumas, said she used to have 15 or more printers to choose from, and now has just four. (Submitted)

Greaves said he plans to move ahead with the transition to Metroland, but worries about the terms of the agreement shifting over time.

"They've undertaken that they'll hold the same prices they had with Richter, but I'm not sure how long that'll last," he said.

In an email, Torstar communications director Bob Hepburn referred a request for comment back to Ricter Printing.

Many obstacles for local publisher

Aylmer Express publisher John Hueston (left).

For John Hueston, publisher of the Aylmer Express, the abrupt change comes at the end of a long year.

In June 2017, Hueston and his son, Brett, were charged by OPP with trespassing and obstruction of justice as the pair gathered information for a story.

It wasn't until October this year that the two were acquitted of all charges.

"It's just been a pretty heavy year for us, and this is the final sort of twist in what has been an unusual period of time," said Hueston, who pointed out that the Christmas season also comes with extra demands from customers.

Hueston said he is in talks with printers, including one in Bracebridge, about three and a half hours north of Aylmer.

"So that's going to be a problem getting the paper back here quickly," he said.

Hueston said he thinks he can make it work. Aside from the legal case, he said he's had a strong year for business. Still, he's unsure whether the Aylmer Express will be able to maintain its iconic large broadsheet size, which has stayed constant over decades of publication. 

"It's what newspapers used to be, and I suppose I feel as the newspapers have downsized they've lost their substance," said Hueston. "We like our old newspaper."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated that John Hueston does not plan to transition to Metroland. In fact, he is in talks with printers including Metroland.
    Dec 14, 2018 12:34 PM ET