What cuts to 2 northern Ontario newspapers mean for local news

A debate on the future of local news in northeastern Ontario is underway, after Postmedia announced it's closing one paper in the region and moving another online.

Postmedia says it will close Kapuskasing Northern Times, moving Kirkland Lake Northern News online

On Tuesday, Postmedia announced across the country its closing six community newspapers and halting print editions at three others. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A debate over the future of local news in northeastern Ontario is underway, after Postmedia announced it's closing one paper in the region and moving another online.

The Kapuskasing Northern Times, which is shutting down after more than 50 years in circulation, is one of six small town newspapers that are being closed by the Canadian media publisher. Three others, including Kirkland Lake Northern News, will offer daily news online only. The Northern News will also offer a weekly print edition.

"It's always sad news when we hear about newspaper closures," Alicia McCutcheon, the editor and publisher of the Manitoulin Expositor, said.

"Specifically, from our perspective for community papers, they're really the heart and soul of a lot of these communities and [they] are going to be left with a real void for news and the services that we provide."

Some independent publishers thriving

At 139 years old, the Manitoulin Expositor is northern Ontario's oldest newspaper, and one of a handful of independent community papers that continue to thrive in the region.

McCutcheon jokes that the Expositor has a captive audience because it is an island paper but her father, who ran the newspaper for nearly 50 years, says they never take that audience for granted.

"We have an urge to make sure we can give reasonable coverage to the important things that are going on here in all our communities," Rick McCutcheon said.

"We put the editorial product first and foremost, and I think if you were to talk to some other independent publishers, you would probably find that that was more typical than not."

With the recent Postmedia cuts, Rick says there is room for other independent publications to fill the gaps.

He predicts "someone will come out of the woodwork" in Kapuskasing after the Northern Times runs its last issue on July 26.

From print to online

Kevin Vincent, who is the former owner and publisher of the Timmins Times, says the only way local news can survive is if newspapers are owned by the journalists that make them.

"If you're part of the larger publishing empires that are in Canada it is an inevitable doomsday," Vincent said. "And that's exactly what you're seeing right now, because it's not about journalism, it's not about serving the community, it's actually all about profits."

He adds that for independent media organizations to thrive, they need to be online.

"Everyone — mothers pushing their carriages, couples walking down the street, teenagers, pre-teens, senior citizens — everybody has a smart phone in their hand and they're all staring at it all day long," he said. 

"If you don't understand that and you try to create a newspaper or a media organization in today's world, then you've got blinders on."

Kevin Vincent is the former owner and publisher of the Timmins Times. (Supplied/Kevin Vincent)

A thing of the past?

Rick McCutcheon says many independent newspapers, including the Expositor, have made the digital transition.

"We have worked hard to be able to put ourselves in that position, just because it seems like a reasonable expectation in this day and age. And I think most people would like to do that and will in time, and a few have done it in spades, like Northern Life in Sudbury."

But Vincent, who declares that local news is dead, isn't as optimistic about the future of local news. 

"I'd love to have a newspaper in my hands that I would truly enjoy reading, that gave me insight and that held our local officials accountable," he said.

"Journalism and quality newspapers, in my mind, are a thing of the past."

About the Author

Robin De Angelis

Reporter/Editor

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email robin.deangelis@cbc.ca