Plummeting ad sales silence local aboriginal voice

Urban NDN refused to take ad money in exchange for favourable coverage

Urban NDN, a publication that explored aboriginal issues in Canada, occupied an office on the second floor of this building before shutting down recently. Aly Lenhardt

Local aboriginal newspaper Urban NDN announced recently that it would be shutting down due to the cliff-dropping availability of advertising dollars for print media.

Urban NDN was the brainchild of editor and publisher Colleen Simard. She believes this funding problem is not just an issue for small media.

“What happened with Urban NDN is a microcosm for print media,” said Simard, who felt the financial squeeze more intimately and immediately due to the relatively low profile of the paper.

In a Jan. 9 Winnipeg Free Press comments piece, Simard said, “It’s been a tough battle these last few years, and I tried a lot of different tactics to keep the newspaper going.”

Simard said Urban NDN received lots of advertising offers from area chiefs in return for favourable articles. Simard wasn’t willing to do that, something she said made Urban NDN different from other aboriginal-focused papers in Manitoba.

“They have political connections and they’re run by people that don’t understand journalism,” Simard said.

The refusal to take sides, which ultimately led to the paper’s demise, also allowed for vibrant and free debate in the paper, according to Niigonwedom James Sinclair, a former volunteer writer and Ph.D. candidate in indigenous literature at University of British Columbia.

“It was fantastic. It allowed me the freedom to write what I wanted to,” he said. “We’d often disagree within the same paper.”

Circulation of Urban NDN included Winnipeg as well as many reserves across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and occasionally Ontario, in communities where print media is more important.

“I think that aboriginals [on reserves] are behind 10 years [in technology],” said Simard. “A lot of people there don’t have Internet, and when they do, it’s usually dial-up.”

Simard attributed poverty and isolation to the disconnect from technology.

Cherie Burns, an aboriginal governance student at the University of Winnipeg, said the closing of Urban NDN is a hit to the community, although she said she didn’t often read the publication.

“I read most of my stuff [regarding aboriginal issues] on the Internet,” she said.

Burns said that although she didn’t read the paper cover-to-cover, she would pick it up for listings, “to see what’s going on, like native artists and musicians.”

Simard said the paper would have had a better chance of survival if she had started it earlier.

“I could have started five or ten years ago to have a stronger customer base and loyalty.”

At this point, Simard is dealing with the loans she took out to start the paper.

“I was risking my house and my savings,” she said, adding that she doesn’t regret the project. “I’d regret it if I didn’t try.”

Simard’s advice to young writers, editors and publishers that want to begin a paper is to get on the Internet.

“Start online. It’s the future,” she said.

Published in Volume 64, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2010)

Related Reads