More than just a newspaper

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“Community” papers are just that — a medley of words and images that reflect a community and its heart. Since 1997, the people of the Placentia area and Cape Shore have been able to page through The Charter to see photographs and read stories tied to the issues, concerns and joys that have touched their lives.

Over the years, The Charter has listened and given voice to the unique and distinct elements of this region. Regardless, on Oct. 16, 2013, The Charter came to an abrupt end.

At this time, the editor was unceremoniously told — there had been no warning — that she was surplus to the needs and requirements of the vision of news in this corner of the TC Media empire.

However, the fear is that this new vision of the “news” will pale in comparison to how it has been over the past 16 years. For ironically, it was never just about the news.

Taking a closer look, there are a conglomeration of reasons that may help to explain why this has happened. The post mortem of the paper and the events that led to its end would likely reveal factors such as a declining readership. Unfortunately, this trend is tangled in the rural to urban march that is gradually eviscerating rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Other reasons may involve the increasing shift to online news, a move that has made “papers” redundant (a waste of money to produce).

As well, the decision to end The Charter  was likely tied to the practical decisions of TC Media, a multi-billion-dollar company. In order to ensure a healthy bottom line, some things needed to be pared away and ultimately removed — it was nothing personal.

But, of course, it is personal. Community papers are a unique entity. They are comprised of stories about local activities, advertisements from local shops, and various notices of events in the community. There’s also a bit of information about what is going on in the wider world. Yet the most important role of a community paper is its ability to comfortably capture the heart of a place. And that’s what the Placentia area and Cape Shore have lost.

With that said, we’ve been losing the spirit of the paper for years. When it began, The Charter was a robust read with around 15 to 20 pages of stories that dealt with the grave and important, controversial and joyful elements of this part of the province. As support drifted away, the paper had thinned noticeably. The loss of investment in the paper translated into a reduction of the number of employees responsible for getting the paper to the people.

In the end, it was solely the editor who was left to do virtually everything — ad sales, reporting and interviewing, writing, taking photographs and so on. It was close to impossible for one person to do alone.

Because of the paper’s eventual state, a meagre reflection of its former self, some may say that surely there’s no real loss. Although it’s an old game to slowly reduce something, each time reaching a new norm, to the point that no one really cares when it is completely gone.

Thus, the new vision of news for the Placentia area and Cape Shore will be captured from elsewhere. Will this vision of the news solely deal with pertinent “newsworthy” issues? Will the new vision forget about the stories that make the communities of the Placentia area and Cape Shore unique and vibrant? If so, what will be left is a homogeneity of news which is texture-less and flat.

In previous years, the various editors and writers have written articles that never failed to inform and educate. At the same time, The Charter was able to produce stories that were earth-shattering in their wonderful everyday-ness.

Yes, the major stories can be readily covered by someone in Carbonear or St. John’s. But what of the smaller stories that captured the heart of this place? There was the story of a young boy who helped to return a lost teddy bear, “Honey Joe Bear,” to the little bear’s family. Don’t forget the photograph of a beautiful blue heron that had wandered off the beaten path to bring some unexpected beauty to this part of the world.

These are the stories and images that made us smile.

So, community papers maybe aren’t just about learning the news. Rather they capture the essence of a community and its people.

That’s all. Simple and yet immense.

Lee Everts writes from Placentia.

Organizations: TC Media

Geographic location: Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Carbonear

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