Montreal

After 174 years, Quebec's oldest weekly newspaper ceases regular publication

The Stanstead Journal, Quebec's oldest weekly newspaper, will no longer be distributed to residents in the Eastern Townships every Wednesday, after its owner decided to cease weekly editions.

Printing The Stanstead Journal every Wednesday was 'no longer a viable business option'

Wednesday's edition of the Stanstead Journal was its last weekly publication. The paper has served the Eastern Townships for the past 174 years. (Thomas Cobbett Labonté/CBC)

Quebec's oldest weekly newspaper will no longer be distributed every Wednesday to faithful readers in the Eastern Townships.

The Stanstead Journal has published its last weekly edition, after 174 years in circulation.

Founded in 1845, the paper was "deeply embedded in the community for all that time," said Ross Murray, a former writer and editor for the Stanstead Journal who owned the publication from 1994 to 2003.

"It's something that's very much part of the fabric of the three villages here, and the Eastern Townships in general," said Murray.

CBC News was not able to reach the current publisher, Jean-Yves Durocher. A notice in the last edition indicated that a weekly newspaper is "no longer a viable business option and no real government help is forthcoming." 

The news did not come as a surprise to Murray, who saw firsthand the decline of small business and with it, the revenue losses from local advertising.

"Those doors are shut. People are shopping in the larger centres and getting their news through social media," said Murray.

Federal funding not a solution

The Stanstead Journal is one of about 200 smaller community papers in Canada that have folded in recent years, according to John Miller, a professor emeritus at Ryerson University.

That gradual shift toward other sources of news is not likely to stop, he said, as the majority of the population continues to age.

"People are getting the information they think they need on social media," Miller said.

In its last weekly edition, a notice indicated the Stanstead Journal would now be published about 10 times a year, and that it would increase its online presence. (Thomas Cobbett Labonté/CBC)

But without news gathering on the ground, Miller warned, social media outlets won't have the content they need to continue feeding that news cycle.

"Facebook doesn't employ any journalists, and they borrow their news from outlets like newspapers," he said.

It is still unclear how the federal government's promise to pump $600-million into Canada's media industry will trickle down to small papers, he added.

'Decline of democracy'

In its final edition, the publisher of the Stanstead Journal wrote it "still believes that this community needs a paper-based news source, but a weekly one for a market of this size, with no community support, is not feasible."

Miller said the disappearance of that community-based information will also lead to a "a decline in democracy", if citizens don't have reliable information and fact-checking on their local government.

"It's a critical problem right across Canada," said Miller, who authored Yesterday's News: How Canada's Daily Newspapers are Failing Us.

Murray agreed that community newspapers play a key role in holding local governments accountable.

"Where else are people going to learn about what their municipal councils are doing and where their tax dollars are being spent?" he said.

Staff at the Stanstead Journal pose for a photo, circa 2000; from left, proofreader Malcolm Stone (deceased), circulation manager Micheline Plourde, ad sales rep Kevin Connelly, manager Phil Desormeaux, Lennoxville reporter Annie Duriez and then-owner Ross Murray. The newspaper's 'unofficial motto' is seen below them. (Submitted by Ross Murray)

As is the case for many journalists, Murray honed his skills at the Stanstead Journal, his first "real journalism job," when he started in 1992 and was "basically thrown into it."

"It just really gave me a sense of the importance of journalism at the micro level."

The Stanstead Journal will continue to publish paper editions about 10 times a year, and will also "have a much better web presence" over the coming months, the publisher wrote.

With files from Breakaway and Quebec AM

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