Local Journalism Initiative
Local publisher reflects on news and community for National Newspaper Week
OUTAOUAIS: Canada is celebrating the important role of newspapers in providing communities with credible and factual local news during National Newspaper Week from October 1 to 7. The Journal reached out to local news publisher Lily Ryan for her reflections. Ryan has worked in journalism for over 30 years and is the publisher of The Pontiac Journal, Aylmer Bulletin, Gatineau Bulletin, and West Quebec Post.
Ryan highlighted how many national news stories are first covered by local papers. She pointed to the example of teacher Fatemeh Anvari who was banned from teaching at Chelsea Elementary School for wearing a headscarf and whose story was first covered in the local Outaouais paper The Low Down to Hull and Back. The story was later picked up by larger news outlets and sparked a national conversation on Bill 21 as a human rights issue. “When a local teacher knocks on the door of a big news outlet, the story often doesn’t get picked up. One local newspaper opened up an existential federal identity conversation,” she explained.
For Ryan, one of the most important functions of a local paper is to promote civic engagement; “In communities with a strong local newspaper, there’s a vast difference in civic engagement; some municipal councils in areas without a strong paper are unaccustomed to citizens attending meetings.” Community papers play a key role in supporting minority language groups in Quebec by reflecting their vitality and ensuring they’re well informed about French public meetings, she added.
Ryan said local papers also play a big role in promoting health and safety initiatives; “Years back, someone prominent lost his 16-year-old daughter to a tainted opioid drug supply. It became apparent that nobody had naloxone kits, so we ran the story about her death and the lack of resources among first responders. This father worked to ensure all firefighters in Gatineau were supplied with naloxone kits and we covered the story. With the help of the local newspaper, he succeeded.”
Despite the benefits, Ryan said local papers are feeling the pressures of rising printing costs and the recent shift from government advertising to grant-based funding. While government funding programs like the Local Journalism Initiative have increased the number of journalists across the country, Ryan hopes additional funds will be made available for covering printing costs. “The more our team grows, the more news there is to cover. We have enough news every week for a 50-page paper, but only have enough money for 24. There’s still an enormous appetite for print news. Even 8 extra pages would make a big difference,” said Ryan.
Ryan encouraged readers to support local news by supporting local businesses advertised in the newspaper. She also underscored how free distribution is important to ensure future generations remain connected to news and strengthen reading habits. “News should go free into households. Very few households will pay for subscriptions if they as children didn’t have paid subscriptions coming into their house. Especially in lower income areas, access to free in-print news is extremely important.”
Photo caption: Lily Ryan, publisher of the Pontiac Journal, Aylmer Bulletin, Gatineau Bulletin and West Quebec Post.