Resuscitating print media in 2010

The people behind a mini-boom of new papers and magazines in southern Manitoba navigate the publishing revolution

Ryan Janz

Newspapers are shutting down, journalists are joining the unemployment line as bloggers take over the world, and the print media industry as we once knew it is dead.

Yeah? Tell that to Donna Maxwell. She has a few newspaper subscriptions to sell you.

The former editor of the Selkirk Journal is part of a group of former Interlake Publishing employees who broke free from their corporate shackles earlier this year and launched three brand new community weeklies in rural Manitoba over the last month.

“It’s incredible. You feel like you did 20 years ago when you started in this business and got your first byline,” said Maxwell, editor of the newly-minted Selkirk Record, which launched Thursday, Aug. 19. “I haven’t felt like that in a long time.”

Maxwell and her colleagues broke free from Interlake, which is owned by Quebecor, the company behind the Sun papers, after they felt the company lost sight of the communities the papers were designed to serve.

“Most of us had been with the company for a very long time, 10 years and longer some of us,” Maxwell said. “We started when it was an independent (organization) and with the changes over the years, things were run a bit differently. They lost sight of the role of a community newspaper.

“All of us were eager to get back to a paper that served the community and covered community events going on,” she said.

The Record has a circulation of about 18,000. The Winkler-Morden Voice launched Thursday, Aug. 26 followed by the launch of the Stonewall-Teulon Tribune on Thursday, Sept. 2. Each has a circulation of about 7,000.

It’s all a part of a mini-boom in the province’s print media industry. 

Fashion magazine Sandbox, and an-article-for-everyone magazine called One, have both launched over the last year. And for the most part, they appear to be doing incredibly well, garnering praise and support from the niches they serve.

“Many print publications are definitely suffering these days. Free websites and blogs are offering much of the same content, but from more candid, real perspectives,” said Sandbox editor Jeffrey Vallis. “Our magazine has that same candid, genuine approach that I think sets us apart and really attracts our readers.

“Everyone takes for granted the amazing culture and talent we have in our city, and we thought this type of magazine could really take off,” he continued. “Enough to risk the floundering print industry, I suppose.”

Business models are different, of course, tailored to the niches they serve. The rural weeklies chose not to launch a website to supplement their dead-tree version due to a lack of immediate interest and rural high-speed Internet access, Maxwell said.

It’s incredible. You feel like you did 20 years ago when you started in this business and got your first byline. I haven’t felt like that in a long time.

Donna Maxwell, editor,  Selkirk Record

“Honestly, we get asked (about a website) once in a while from people,” she said. “I can count on one hand people who asked, ‘Well what about a website?’ There are plans for a website but it’s not a priority right now.”

Meanwhile Sandbox launched online before ever going to print. A new issue is released online every month, supplemented by a quarterly print edition.

“We knew we couldn’t sell advertising to anyone with just a pipe dream and we definitely didn’t have the money to start it without advertisers,” Vallis said. “So we launched our website and introduced three consecutive online issues before branching into print. It gave us an opportunity to build up a following, establish buzz and build a solid portfolio of work to sell to advertisers.”

Such is the ever present struggle of finding new business models to keep print media alive and well in the 21st century, experts say.

“We’re in the middle of a revolution,” said Duncan McMonagle, a journalism instructor at Red River College. “And when you’re in the middle of a revolution nobody knows which will be the way of the future. And that’s why journalists are trying many different business models.”

However, what is certain, McMonagle says, is this: journalism is healthier than it has ever been, new publications need to exploit the online world, and not every new publication will survive.

“Some people seem to think the journalism business is dying – it ain’t. It’s healthier than it ever has been in history,” he said. “I think the thing people don’t understand is journalism is expensive. It costs money to pay reporters and editors and photographers and online programmers and all those people.

“Not all (new publications) will succeed, not all of them will live,” he added. “That’s fine, that’s normal, this is capitalism. But the fact that people are still starting newspapers is very heartening.”

Meanwhile, Maxwell and her friends continue to pour their energy into their new products, determined to oust their competition, the very papers they once worked for.

“It was a big shot to walk away from our jobs and start up on our own,” she said. “It would be harder if we were nobodies, but these are small communities and we know them inside and out, and people know us.

“It’s a crazy exciting time,” she said. “But I don’t know if I’d recommend it for anyone.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 9, 2010)

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