QCNA Newsmatters: Local newspapers produce game-changing coverage

QCNA Newsmatters: Local newspapers produce game-changing coverage

Content provided by the Quebec Community Newspapers Association

“We have boots on the ground, and often our stories get picked up by larger media.”

-Nikki Mantell, publisher, the Low Down To Hull and Back News

Community newspapers do a lot with a little. The result is game-changing coverage that not only informs the immediate regions they serve, but reflects the issues that contribute to the pub- lic conversations on a provincial and national scale.

While large media outlets were debating the possible ramifications of Bill 21, Quebec’s so-called secularism law that prohibits civil servants and other public-sector workers from wearing religious clothing or jewelry, the editor of The Low Down to Hull and Back News was interviewing Grade 3 teacher, Fatemeh Anvari, in the little town of Chelsea, Que., in the Outaouais region. She had just been fired for wearing a hijab.

“That’s one of the stories that wouldn’t get picked up if we wouldn’t do them,” said The Low Down’s publisher Nikki Mantell.

The story, broken by a newsroom with a staff of three, was picked up by the Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail, the National Post and international outlets, including Newsweek and The Guardian.

It put a human face on Quebec’s often-virulent secularism debate — and, as Mantell put it, “changed the discourse.”

Mantell continued: “Before The Low Down published Ms. Fatemeh’s story, support for Bill 21 was hovering around 64 per cent. Following the story, which every major news outlet in Canada picked up, support for the bill dropped to 55 per cent.”

In another corner of the province, in the Vaudreuil- Soulanges region west of Montreal, when Bill 96 threatened to strip small bilingual towns of their dual-language status, the mayor of one of those tiny communities appeared set to let the deadline for the municipal council to affirm its will to keep the status expire. The local English-language paper in the region, The 1019 Report, questioned the mayor. On repeated occasions that spanned months, the mayor refused to commit whether council would vote on the needed resolution.

In response to the coverage, residents in the tiny town of 120 grew concerned. Two reporters with The 1019 Report started working the phones and going door to door. By the time they were done, the paper reported on the results of an exhaustive survey: a clear majority of residents of the island community of Île Cadieux wanted the town to keep its official bilingual status.

“Most of the residents credit[ed] the paper” when the resolution was finally renewed, said The 1019 Report editor Brenda O’Farrell, adding that large media outlets would never have bothered to do the legwork.

“We spread ourselves thin. We work really hard. And we’re good at stretching a buck,” said Mantell. “We put our hearts and souls into this.”

This is the type of journalism the Local Journalism Initiative helps produce. The federal fund- ing program provides resources to hire journalists who produce civic content – coverage of health, education, rights, public policy and other essential issues.

It also ensures that members of Quebec’s English-speaking community continue to be in- formed. As Lily Ryan, publisher of The Aylmer Bulletin and the West Quebec Post, points out, as the province’s language of business and politics is French, English-language papers offer the minority community the opportunity to stay in touch with what is going on in their communities and government decisions.

QCNA Newsmatters: Local newspapers produce game-changing coverage was last modified: March 5th, 2024 by QCT Editor

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