Our town needs independent journalism – here’s why:

Before I launched last year, I had a goal: If I could reach 200 subscribers in my first year, I’ll take it as a sign this independent news thing will work here in Peachland. The goal seemed big at the time – and when it actually arrived (204 now, whohoo) – it’s still big, actually. That’s because it’s just me, my Mac, my car (now with Phoenix decal!) and most importantly, subscribers making this thing go. 

My subscribers are part of an upward trend – more people than ever are willing to pay for quality journalism. According to Indie Publisher, there was a big jump in 2020 – 13% of Canadians now pay for online news. It was 9% in 2019.

And there’s so many startups, too. Out of the more than 700 independent news outlets across Canada and the US, more than a third launched within the past five years.

I love what Indie Publisher (which in itself is a journalism success story), has to say here:

“It wasn’t long ago that the title of your media organization had to be scrawled on top of a printed newspaper to be taken seriously. But as more traditional media sources are hollowed out (or in some cases, disappear entirely), independent media are gaining trust with audiences hungry for strong accountability and investigative journalism.”

Accountability. A lot of my time is spent in research mode and that’s what leads me to documents like the District of Peachland’s annual Statement of Financial Information. It outlines staff remuneration (over $75K), councillor and mayoral salaries and expenses, and also interesting – a $23-million list of all the goods and services over $25,000 that the District has purchased in the past year. 

It’s a relatively minor item, but for the first time since at least 2009, one business isn’t on this list –  The Peachland View / Aberdeen Publishing (which owns the paper). I went back and looked: Between 2009 and 2019, the District spent more than $355,000 on advertising in the View. That’s an average of $32,000 a year. In 2020, the District paid them a little under $25,000 which is why they’re not on the list this time around.

Newspaper advertising is mentioned as a requirement in a portion of the province’s Local Government Act, but it’s also District policy for prospective developers, as an example, to advertise public information meetings in the local paper – in addition to sending a direct mail-out to everyone within 100m of the proposed development.

The prospective developer must place local newspaper advertisements, and “provide a copy of the local newspaper advertisement(s) to the District of Peachland so that the information can be posted on the public notice board and District website,” according to the District’s Public Notification and Consultation for Development Applications policy, which appeared in the Feb. 23, 2021 council agenda.

I looked back on a couple of my stories – District councillors, as you know, have made climate change one of their priorities. Yet the District spends $32,000 a year – the equivalent of a reporter’s salary – on a paper and ink product that is trucked in every week from Vancouver. As a taxpayer, I wonder about this.

And full disclosure: I was Editor of the View for eight months, and like the rest of the Peachland staff, was laid off a couple years ago. When I was there, the paper was printed in – and trucked from Wenatchee, Washington every week. The District was (and likely still is) a major client.

In all, it’s tough for print publishers because it’s just not sustainable to have to pay for staff, plus printing and transportation and rent, while dealing with declining ad revenue. It’s become a model that doesn’t work anymore.

OK, now to get nostalgic: It was 22 summers ago when I worked at my first newspaper in Southern Alberta. I developed my own black and white photos and (literally) copied and pasted my stories onto different boards, which I drove 60 kms to the Medicine Hat News to be printed. Back then, the lifeblood of newspapers was advertising, and the industry – not yet influenced by the Internet, was a lot stronger. Journalists got the job because they were hard workers and really wanted the scoop. It was competitive and you had to have a car and a camera and you had to live where you were covering. No exceptions!

 

My first newspaper. It’s a sign of the times – The Commentator / Courier used to be two separate papers, and they’re using Local Journalism Initiative reporters, which are federally-funded and meant for “underserved communities,” to help fill the journalism gap.

 

 

That, of course, is no longer the reality and we can all see these community newspapers suffering. Publishers have to make some hard decisions, and as we’ve all seen, it comes at the expense of editorial quality.

But my model is different, and I firmly believe it’s the future. Subscribers – not the District, not advertisers – are behind what I write, I’m accountable to you, and in fact, you’re the reason I do all this. I firmly believe independent journalism that’s based on subscribers, is the way to go.

Yes, 22 years have passed, but so far this summer, it’s been amazing to drive downtown, talk to people, show up at community events, and just be here, reporting in my hometown. Lately, I’ve been the only Peachland reporter at these events.

I’m working really hard for you – so I’d love for you to give me a try! Ask a subscriber – my stories are different. And I’ll always listen.

Your first month is free, and if you don’t want to deal with credit card payments, send me an email and I’ll set you up.

Annnd thanks, once again, for reading while my heart is on my sleeve 🙂

Kristen

Written by Kristen Friesen

July 6, 2021

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