Petrolia, Chatham, Thamesville newspapers will hire reporters using funds from federal journalism grant

Three local newspapers across Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton will be able to increase the size of their newsrooms thanks to grant funding from the Local Journalism Initiative.

Canadian Heritage's Local Journalism Initiative is administered by seven non-profits

Newspapers, news, publish, journalism, media, press, daily, articles, editorial, publication, newspaper, information, breaking, reading, headline, Toronto, Ontario, CRD Nov. 4 2015. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Three local newspapers across Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton will be able to increase the size of their newsrooms thanks to grant funding from the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI).

The fund was established by the Department of Canadian Heritage and is administered by seven non-profit media organizations. It's designed to support the creation of original content "that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada," according to the federal government. 

Heather Wright — publisher-editor of Petrolia's and central Lambton County's The Independent, and owner of Thamesville's The Herald — said LJI funding will enable her newsrooms to better tackle local issues. 

"There's a recognition that there's a bit of a problem right now," she said. "There's not as much content being created, especially in small communities where local newspapers have been closing because of declining revenue and increased use of the internet."

Wright is looking for a full-time court reporter to join The Independent. She's also searching for a part-time reporter able to cover the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown for the Thamesville paper. 

No one community newspaper benefits from this.- Heather Wright, Publisher-Editor, The Independent- Heather Wright, Publisher-Editor, The Independent

"But I want to approach the First Nation … and let them know what I'm doing, because part of my reasoning behind wanting a reporter there is to help with reconciliation," she said. "We don't know our neighbours very well, and the only way we get to know them is if we tell their story."

Bruce Corcoran, general manager of the Chatham Voice, said his organization will use LJI funds to pay for a reporter who can cover civic affairs, while also tackling some investigative work. 

"In recent years, we've seen an erosion of investigative journalism as … corporate journalism pulls back in terms of resources in the local area," he said. "It's not a news desert, but it's an area where there's a need."

Reporting will be distributed through open licence

Though some might be critical of news coverage enabled through government funding, Corcoran said there's no need to worry about federal interference in local reporting. 

"That couldn't be further from the truth here," he said. "If there's a federal issue that needs to be touched upon, that's our person."

Wright explained that all reporting conducted by reporters paid for by LJI funds will be available to any media organization across Canada.

"No one community newspaper benefits from this," she said. "The goal of the Local Journalism Initiative is to make sure communities are covered and that important information gets out in a time when journalism is shrinking."

Corcoran also said that News Media Canada — the non-profit group administering LJI funds for print and online news media organizations — won't have a seat on the hiring committee tasked with finding The Chatham Voice's reporter.

"We'll do the normal hiring procedures," said Corcoran. "It's our decision."

Listen to Heather Wright talk about the Local Journalism Initiative with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre:

Despite having already posted job openings, both Wright and Corcoran explained that their newspapers won't receive LJI funds until a hire has been made. 

"There are goalposts that I have to meet," Wright said. "We're making sure we do the hiring the way we're supposed to and following all the codes that are set out by News Media Canada."

With files from Afternoon Drive