Sudbury

Northern Life stops printing as Sudbury media company joins growing online news chain

The final edition of Sudbury's Northern Life newspaper comes out Thursday. Its parent company, Laurentian Publishing, has been sold to Sault Ste. Marie-based Village Media, which is focused on online only.

Sudbury.com and Northern Ontario Business website to keep running

The final edition of Sudbury's Northern Life newspaper which is shutting down after 47 years of publishing. (Laurentian Publishing )

After 47 years, the presses have stopped for Sudbury's Northern Life newspaper.

It's final edition comes out on Thursday, after its parent company Laurentian Publishing was sold to Sault Ste. Marie-based Village Media.

It is keeping the Sudbury.com and Northern Ontario Business websites, but is not interested in being in the print media business.

"We do not believe the economics of print will work in the future," says Village Media CEO Jeff Elgie.

"There's revenue there, but it's only a matter of time."

Jeff Elgie is the CEO of Sault Ste. Marie based Village Media, which now operates 13 news web sites across Ontario. (Village Media)

Elgie sees a lot more revenue in online advertising, with his company now grown to 13 news websites across Ontario, including outlets in Sault Ste. Marie, Elliot Lake, Timmins, North Bay and now Sudbury.

"It is the future of how people in local communities will consume news and we're excited that we're able to find a model that works, where many people have not," he says.

Despite that success, Elgie laughs at the idea that he is now a "media baron" similar to some of the big newspaper companies he started his firm to take on.

"We're born and raised and operate in small communities, so we take very seriously that commitment to community," he says.

"So I think you'll find we operate a lot more like a true local operation."

Village Media also licenses the software to some 30 other websites, a list which for years has included Sudbury.com

But Elgie says discussions about purchasing the Sudbury operation only started a couple of months ago.

The front page of the first Northern Life after Michael Atkins took over the Sudbury newspaper in 1973. (Laurentian Publishing )

Michael Atkins bought a failing Sudbury newspaper in 1973 from a man who also promised him a good deal on carpet if he took the struggling weekly off his hands.

The very first issue of Northern Life had a front page story about a strike at the rival Sudbury Star, sparking decades of cutthroat competition between the two papers. 

Atkins was editor and owner at first and over the decades came to oversee a company with several publications and divisions, including holding annual award banquets like the Community Builder Awards.

He will now sit on the Village Media board and says he "couldn't be more thrilled" to be handing off to Elgie. 

Michael Atkins ran the Northern Life newspaper and Laurentian Publishing for the past 47 years. (Laurentian Publishing )

"It means we'll go forward with the same spirit," he says.

"This was less of a financial decision than a legacy issue."

Atkins says he had numerous big money offers over the years from multinational media companies to buy Laurentian Publishing, but turned them all down. 

"It just doesn't fit. We've always been a big-little small company and it would have kind of been sucked up into the cost cutting," he says.

The Northern Life sign on the side of the Laurentian Publishing building on Elgin Street is about to be outdated, as the newspaper will no longer be produced. (Erik White/CBC)

During the ownership transition about a half-dozen full-time staff are being laid off, including one journalist, plus the hundreds of part-timers who packaged and delivered the Northern Life.

Atkins says he's hoping to find a way to keep their once lucrative flyer business going, even without a newspaper to wrap around it. But those plans are on hold until the COVID-19 crisis has cleared. 

He says he looks back fondly on "50 years of hard work and good fun" and will miss the "chaotic symphony" of the news business. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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