Sudden demise of local papers puts city in legal bind

With the sudden disappearance of eight community newspapers, the City of Ottawa is grappling with how it's going to meet its legal obligation to communicate important information to residents.

City of Ottawa legally required to advertise public information in community newspapers

The free commuter daily newspaper Metro Ottawa has published its last print edition, and seven other local Ottawa papers will soon follow, after a deal between Postmedia and Torstar announced Monday. (Laura Beaulne-Stuebing/CBC)

The dissolution of nearly a dozen local newspapers has left the City of Ottawa in a tricky legal situation.

The city is legally required to let residents know about public consultations in their area. Typically, that means taking out an ad in the community newspaper serving the neighbourhood that's most affected, such as the Orléans News or the Kanata Kourier-Standard.

Community newspapers are critical for reaching the neighbourhoods.- Andrea Lanthier-Seymour, City of Ottawa

But with several local papers set to print their final issues in January, the city now has to scramble to find a new way to meet that legal requirement.

The city routinely takes out advertisements to let people know about public consultations, local events, environmental assessments and changes to heritage properties.

"Community newspapers are critical for reaching the neighbourhoods, the communities," said Andrea Lanthier-Seymour, the director of public information for the city.

Important platform

The sudden news that Postmedia had acquired — and will shutter — so many local newspapers took Lanthier-Seymour by surprise.

She said the newspapers were particularly useful in Ottawa because the city is so large and diverse with distinct rural, suburban and urban communities.

"The community outlets were a way where people could really read about what's happening right in their neighbourhoods," said Lanthier-Seymour.

Postmedia plans to shut down the following Ottawa newspapers:

  • Metro Ottawa.
  • Kanata Kourier-Standard.
  • Nepean/Barrhaven News.
  • Orléans News.
  • Ottawa East News.
  • Ottawa South News.
  • Ottawa West News.
  • Stittsville News.

The city's communications department will hold a series of meetings over the next couple of weeks to come up with a plan to meet its legal responsibilities after those local papers fold.

Lanthier-Seymour pointed out newspapers aren't the only way to communicate with the public. The city also uses social media and other online platforms, as well as bus ads and news releases to inform the public about important city news.

The papers are all expected to shut down by mid-January.