Brunswick News to close community newspaper offices across province
Employees will work from home, says BNI memo
Community newspapers across New Brunswick are losing their offices, many of them in the heart of their small cities and towns, after a decision shared with staff this week by Brunswick News Inc.
In an internal memo issued Monday, BNI vice-president Jamie Irving told staff the offices would be closed permanently and employees would work from home.
The offices to close are home to the Kings County Record in Sussex, the Miramichi Leader, the Campbellton Tribune, the Northern Light in Bathurst, the Bugle Observer in Woodstock, and the Victoria Star and Cataracte newspapers in Grand Falls. BNI offices in Richibucto, Edmundston and St. Stephen will also close.
Sussex Mayor Marc Thorne of Sussex called it a "sad day" for every community affected.
"I think it's just a terrible thing," Thorne said Tuesday. "BNI may feel that nothing's been lost, that they're still going to cover the communities, but I can promise you that's not the case. If you don't have people living and working in your community and building relationships, you don't have the same quality of paper at all."
The newspaper company will keep the locations of its three daily papers open, although the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John and the Daily Gleaner in Fredericton had already moved from the buildings they'd occupied for decades into less central properties.
The Moncton Times & Transcript, where BNI prints its daily and community newspapers, remains on Main Street.
Emails and calls by CBC News to BNI publisher Mike Powers and editor-in-chief Jackson Doughart were not returned.
As with many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, BNI staff have been working from home as a safety measure.
Madeleine Leclerc, the former editor of the Cateracte and Victoria Star, said the writing was on the wall three years ago when she left the company.
The reporters were being pressed to focus less on very local stories and to do more that would be of interest to people around the province who read the Telegraph-Journal.
Fears for local news
"I hope that our weeklies are not going to be forgotten or passed over for the provincial edition," Leclerc said. "That's what I hope. And if they do cover, then it gets printed in the TJ, I hope it's not buried on the back page."
It is not clear from the BNI memo if the weekly papers will continue to produce print editions. Production of the English-language daily and weeklies is already centralized in Saint John.
While the office closures are disappointing news, David Cadogan, former owner of several weeklies, including the Miramchi Leader and Kings County Record, said COVID-19 was likely the last straw for the newspaper chain.
"I'm frankly very, very sad," Cadogan said. "I certainly don't blame Brunswick News. These are just the absolute doomsday times for newspapers."
Pandemic would have worsened problems
Cadogan said the closure of businesses during the pandemic would have hurt the advertising revenue that helps keep offices open and staff employed.
"It's a terrible, terrible time to be in the newspaper business, so I understand what they are up against and I understand the necessity for what they are doing."
Cadogan said he believes that even this is a just a stop-gap step for the newspapers as people have known them for many years.
"They are essentially on the way out," he said, adding this is happening all across Canada and the United States.
A 'champion' for a community
He believes it is a huge loss for communities, who need a "healthy independent newspaper to champion for the community and stick up for its interests, work its politicians and discover any bad behaviour that's taking place in the government or the public."
"You know the community needs a champion and someone to stick up for the citizens, their readers."
Cadogan questions who will do that when community newspapers close completely.
"If the people will not support a newspaper — advertisers and citizens — they're going. And I'm not blaming the people for that because all the other things working against the newspapers are making it pretty well impossible for them to exist as we knew them."
University of Kings College journalism professor Kim Kierans said newspaper companies have been 'bleeding red ink' from lack of advertising, even more so since the pandemic.
Kierans is glad to hear the BNI memo says reporters will still be working and able to tell their stories in those communities.
She pointed out that Nova Scotia's Saltwire Network of Newspapers went further than BNI, laying off 240 staff for 12 weeks.
But the closing of local newspaper offices, she said, will definitely leave a hole in those communities.
"The newspaper is the town square," Kierans said. "People drop in. They pick up papers there, they drop off advertising there, and you have a sense of exchange of ideas. People talking to one another."