The power of #NewWest: Why community newspapers will always matter

Julie Maclellan



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This photo, to me, just expresses everything that's right and good in community newspapers.

There's a reason it won first place at the recent Canadian Community Newspaper Awards - actually, there's a lot of reasons.

But let's focus on the main one: it tells a story about the community. And it tells it well.

Look at him, Hyacks running back David Haeber. Look at the excitement and enthusiasm as he enters the stadium for the 2014 homecoming game at NWSS. Look at the crowds, pumped up and ready to cheer their boys to victory. (I love the kid with the white sleeves to the right of the photo, arms raised and clearly so excited about it all.) Look at the cheerleaders, all pompoms and enthusiasm.

Look at this photo and you see a community rallying together to support our team, in our stadium, on our field, in our city.

Our hometown.

This is what community newspapers are all about.

This is why community newspapers matter - and why, in a business climate that's fast becoming precarious for all forms of traditional media, we need to remember what value we're bringing to the communities we serve.

By "value" I'm not talking about the kind that's visible on ledgers and balance sheets, or the kind that pays executives' bonuses and shareholders' dividends. I'm talking about the value that led most of us - including me - into this business in the first place: the value of helping to build community.

It's something that's been on my mind this week, what with the finalization of the Glacier Media/Black Press sale (see story here) and the announcement that we'll now be coming out one day a week. And, on the flip side, it also happens to be the week in which we're celebrating big wins at the above-mentioned CCNA awards (see story here).

It's all served to remind me of a fundamental truth that sometimes gets lost in the discussion: Community newspapers aren't just another commodity to be bought and sold, another interchangeable part of some corporate jigsaw puzzle that exists to make money for some nameless, faceless investors somewhere.

Community newspapers are integral parts of the communities in which they reside. We are institutions that are at the centre of a town's economy, its community, its conversations, its marketplace and, at the very core, its democracy.

We're there where no one else is - or perhaps more accurately, where everyone else is.

We're on the field at homecoming and in the theatre for the high school musical. We're at the chamber of commerce functions and the networking events, the public hearings and the school board meetings, the new business openings and the community fundraisers. We're at the festivals and in the parks and walking along the trails and the streets, eating at the restaurants and chatting in the coffee shops. We're meeting the people who make a difference - the movers and shakers whom everyone recognizes on the street, and those silent, unsung souls whose contributions to their community pass by almost unnoticed.

We're there for the good times, when people win awards and open businesses and create art and win championships and achieve greatness in all kinds of expected and unexpected ways. We're there for the bad times, when communities are in conflict over development or traffic or roads, when crime strikes defenceless victims, when the system - be it health-care or justice or education - fails the people who rely on it, when citizens face adversity and challenge and obstacles of all kinds.

We're there with notebooks, with iPhones, with cameras, to take in everything that's happening in our communities - to record and analyze and interpret and share the stories that beat at the heart of each and every town in B.C., in Canada and beyond.

In short, community newspapers matter.

And we matter more intensely with each and every day, as citizens face information overload from all forms of media, from the web, from Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Reddit and the blogosphere and, and, and ... With a constant stream of facts and figures and names and numbers and opinions and cat videos coming at us from all sides, who's there to help make sense of it all? Who's there to filter out what matters to the citizens of New Westminster, to provide a forum for local discussion, to find the sense (or nonsense) in a slew of ideas, to craft stories and take photographs that interpret the city in which we live in a way that's (hopefully) engaging and readable and memorable?

Your community newspapers are.

Are we alone in that cause? Absolutely not. All of the above-mentioned sources of information are good ones, and New West in particular is fortunate to have a lively Twitter feed (search #NewWest if you don't believe me) and blogosphere.

But it doesn't replace the fundamental value of the community newspaper in helping to hold the powers that be accountable, in asking the questions that need to be asked, in celebrating the successes of the community - and, in all of that, bringing together the hometown stories that matter, and delivering them to your doorstep each and every week.

Are we perfect? Heck no. After all, we too are human beings, and we're as fallible as the next person. Do we always do the job we'd like to do? No. Like everyone else, time and resources and the pressures of life mean we can't always get to every event, take every photograph and write every story we'd like to do, in a perfect world.

But we'll sure make a stab at it. And we'll turn to you - our neighbours, our fellow citizens, our community - to help us do it.

So please, hold us accountable. Challenge what we cover and why we cover it, ask the questions we forget to ask, tell us about the things we missed or forgot or didn't do justice to.

But whatever you do, please don't let us forget why we're here. Because you - all of you in New West - you matter to us. And we hope that, in turn, we matter to you. We need our story - the story of a thriving, healthy, striving-to-be-all-around-awesome hometown newspaper - to be the story of each and every community in B.C. and across the country.

Our communities would be poorer places without community newspapers.

And we, your newspapers, would be nothing at all without you.

So, yeah, I'm gonna look at that photo up there every day and it's going to make me smile - and inspire me to take that energy, that enthusiasm, that passion for community and channel it into my work each and every day.

Because there may be a big old world out there that hasn't heard of New Westminster - and couldn't really care less if it hasn't.

But here, where I sit? New West (and #NewWest too) is my world.

And I'm going to serve it the best way I know how: by telling its stories. Plain and simple.

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