Long-time editor of the community newspaper West Central Streets Erika Wiebe is overseeing the publication’s last issue, set to hit stands on Jan. 26. – Cindy Titus
After 15 years of telling the stories and histories of Winnipeg’s West End, the West Central Streets newspaper is closing.
Erika Wiebe, a community development worker, is the editor of the paper. She has faithfully compiled five issues per year since the beginning. Wiebe notes that the Jan. 26 issue will be its last for two reasons.
“I can’t work on it anymore as part of my job,” she said. “It was a unique opportunity that my job also allowed me to edit the paper, and we didn’t need to raise funds for the co-ordinating editor position.”
Second, the paper is no longer eligible for annual funding from Local Investment Toward Employment (LITE), a non-profit granting organization that supports job creation in Winnipeg’s inner city.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to fund them anymore, as they’ve been one of our longest-running community grant partners,” said Tana Hendren, executive director of LITE. “While we knew employment was happening with West Central Streets, it wasn’t the primary object of the project.”
In 2001, the first year LITE provided funding, West Central Streets received $1,350, notes Hendren. By 2009, its funding had risen to $6,000.
Community members like Jackie Hogue, executive director of the West Central Women’s Resource Centre, note that one of the paper’s biggest strengths was that it brought community members together.
“There are women I’ve known through the Centre for years, but it was only in an interview in Streets that I learned something important to their lives that wouldn’t normally come up in conversation,” she said.
Reader, resident and occasional contributor Christian Cassidy agrees, and he wonders what will take the place of the newspaper.
“You won’t get this type of local neighbourhood coverage anywhere else – coverage that shows not just the negatives but also the positives of this community,” said Cassidy. “It’s not likely that the paper will go to a different format, or online, because in this case, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
While Jamil Mahmood, executive co-director of the Spence Neighbourhood Association, is uncertain whether a print newspaper could afford to continue, he is optimistic that community groups might support blogs or radio shows like Inner City Voices on CKUW 95.9 FM.
“We have been in talks with Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association and West Broadway Development Corporation to see if there is a way we can expand our newsletters or merge them to be able to feature some of the stories or themes that existed in West Central Streets,” said Mahmood.
West Central Streets youth editor and University of Winnipeg student Joel Penner hopes community groups can get together to publish an expanded newsletter or paper.
“I would be very interested in being involved in this,” said Penner.
If a new paper does take the place of West Central Streets, Hogue would welcome an expanded purpose for the publication.
“While it is still important to focus on the people in the community, perhaps a new paper could become also more of a forum for discussion and debate about topics that affect our neighbourhoods,” she said.