Tag Archives: QCNA NewsMatters

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 news by the numbers

QCNA NEWSMATTERS: Local news by the numbers

Content provided by the Quebec Community Newspapers Association

10,815 Local Journalism Initiative articles on civic issues produced at QCNA publications between April 2019 and February 2024. (SOURCE: QCNA)

4 new community newspapers launched to serve the English-speaking community in Quebec since 2020 (SOURCE: QCNA)

518 local news operations that closed between 2008 and Feb. 1, 2024 (SOURCE: LOCAL NEWS RESEARCH PROJECT)

547 job cuts announced by Quebec television network TVA in November 2023. (SOURCE: TVA)

800 job cuts announced by CBC in December 2023. (SOURCE: CBC)

1269 media jobs eliminated in Canada during first year of the COVID pandemic. (SOURCE: LOCAL NEWS RESEARCH PROJECT)

4800 job cuts announced by Bell Media in February 2024. (SOURCE: BELL MEDIA)

QCNA NEWSMATTERS: Community newspapers emerging as last journalistic soldiers standing

QCNA NEWSMATTERS: Community newspapers emerging as last journalistic soldiers standing

Content provided by the Quebec Community Newspapers Association


“Community newspapers aren’t just filling the gap, they’re the whole fabric.”

-Brenda O’Farrell, journalist and president of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association

Last month, Bell Media announced its largest workforce restructuring in 30 years, laying off 4,800 workers.

In December, CBC/Radio-Canada announced plans to cut 800 jobs.

One month earlier, Quebec television network TVA cut 547 jobs.

Earlier in 2023, Postmedia, one of the largest media companies in Canada with a daily newspaper in almost every major city in the country, announced it was cutting 10 per cent of its staff, just the latest in a long string of downsizing moves that has spanned more than a decade. The cuts planned for Quebec went much deeper.

Almost every month, evidence of the continuing shift in the media landscape can be seen. And the result is fewer and fewer journalists reporting the stories that keep Canadians informed.

But in many communities a singular journalistic soldier remains standing: The community newspaper. These small, often privately-owned outlets are the last providers of reliable, professional local news.

“Community newspapers aren’t just filling the gap, they’re the whole fabric,” said veteran journalist and president of the Quebec Community Newspaper Association Brenda O’Farrell.

That is why support for community newspapers is so important, O’Farrell says. As the media landscape continues to shift, the role these news outlets play is not only crucial, but gaining importance.

And they need to be supported by initiatives like the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative, O’Farrell explains, referring to the funding program that helps qualified outlets hire reporters in communities across the country. But readers in these communities, have to do their part, too, she added, by subscribing to papers that offer that option, especially in Quebec where the minority-language community needs to maintain access to information in English.

Without programs like LJI and reader support, many community papers would struggle to survive.

Since 2012, journalist Marie-Ève Martel has tracked community news outlet closures across Quebec.

“For the moment, I’ve counted more than 80,” she reported late last year, after the abrupt shuttering of the Montreal daily Métro and its offshoots in several Montreal suburbs and Quebec City.

Each closure represents not only jobs lost, but “a hole in our social cement,” as Martel describes it.

Local media “makes us more informed, more aware and more likely to vote,” she said.

“CBC and the Ottawa Citizen aren’t going to cover a byelection in Chelsea,” said Nikki Mantell, the publisher of The Low Down to Hull and Back News, which covers the small towns in the Gatineau hills. “We have boots on the ground, and often our stories get picked up by larger media.”

“Local papers are where you hear about the most important things — health care, schools, get- ting your roads paved, the environ- ment,” said Sharon McCully, publisher of The Record in Sherbrooke and the Brome County News, two papers that cover about 30 municipalities for the English-speaking community in the Eastern Townships. “These are stories that impact people directly.”

WHY THIS COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER MATTERS: Community newspapers fight the scourge of fake news

WHY THIS COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER MATTERS: Community newspapers fight the scourge of fake news

Ruby Pratka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, QCNA NewsMatters contributing writer

Quebec’s community newspapers have spent much of the last two years keeping readers informed about how to combat the COVID-19 pandemic – from providing updates on case numbers and new public health measures, to documenting community self-help efforts, encouraging local businesses and providing much-needed distraction.

They have also played a role in helping readers distinguish reliable information from the swirl of pandemic-related misinformation making the rounds on social media. Statistics Canada refers to this information crisis as an “infodemic.” A Statistics Canada survey found that 96 per cent of Canadians had been exposed to pandemic-related misinformation and 40 per cent reported believing something they had seen online before later realizing it was false.

“Fake news is a scourge,” said Nikki Mantell, publisher of the Low Down to Hull and Back News. As a mother of two elementary school-aged kids, she said she is disturbed by what her own kids tell her they “learned” on Youtube and other sites and is considering a media literacy program at her local school. Some years before the pandemic, the paper did classroom workshops on news literacy and debunking, and a Letter to the Editor activity in an elementary school classroom.

Publishers Penny MacWhirter of The Gaspé Spec and Lily Ryan of the West Quebec Post, Aylmer Bulletin, Gatineau Bulletin and Pontiac Journal have also invested considerable time in outreach to local schools and school boards. At the Sherbrooke Record, publisher Sharon McCully, editor Matthew McCully and associate editor Gordon Lambie are giving students at local English schools the tools to fight misinformation, while improving their writing skills and creating connections with their community newspaper.

In 2019, the Record received funding from the Official Languages branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage under the Community Media Strategic Support Fund to scale up its existing program of journalism workshops in schools. Lambie, a former teacher, planned  to visit local schools, walk students through the work of a reporter and guide them as they produced their own reporting. He intended to off er workshops in classrooms for grades 3 to 11. During the pandemic, the activity went virtual. Lambie said most of the classes that have taken part have been in grades 4-6.

“Aft er a bit of trial and error, the format that we settled on was to introduce students to the work of the newspaper first — things like how to find sources and verify information,” Lambie explained. “Then we transitioned into a writing exercise, where we touched different themes. We wrote some editorials and some reported articles and discussed the difference between opinion and fact-based reporting.”

Lambie believes in the importance of giving elementary school students the tools to navigate the infodemic. “As access to information gets easier, the line between what’s real and what’s not online is particularly hard to find and people aren’t necessarily getting their information from sources with rigorous fact-checking. Encouraging curiosity and skepticism in students from an early age is really important for society.” Lambie has also led workshops in university classrooms and at the Wales Home, a retirement home for English-speaking seniors in Cleveland, Que.

“As access to information gets easier, the line between what’s real and what’s not online is particularly hard.”

-Gordon Lambie, associate editor, Sherbrooke Record

Sharon McCully says workshop materials have been shared with the Townships Sun, a local English-language magazine, and the Spec, both QCNA member publications. In the future, she hopes to create a regular section in the Record with student-generated news and features.

In Lambie’s experience, students are eager to learn and explore. “For the most part, students are really engaged and curious,” he said. “They want to know where the news comes from, how we figure out what to say and what not to say and where those decisions get made.” Lambie and his colleagues also created a video tour of the Record office, and many students were fascinated by the paper’s in-house printing press.

For Lambie and Sharon and Matthew McCully, the project serves multiple purposes – reinforcing students’ media literacy, improving their writing skills and reinforcing the connection between the paper and schools in the English-speaking community. “The Record is, first and foremost, a community paper, and engaging with the community is a key part of everything that we do. When students ask where our stories come from, I say our most interesting pieces come from people calling us or walking in the door saying, ‘Did you hear about this?’ Connections with students and teachers help keep those connections alive,” Lambie said.


WHY THIS COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER MATTERS: Local businesses get post-pandemic lift from community papers

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