Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Sun sets on two rural weeklies

Around Downtown

There was some sad news yesterday that a couple of weekly papers, albeit young 'uns by rural Manitoba standards, were shut down by Quebecor, which also owns Sun Media. The Beausejour Review and Lac du Bonnet Leader had a combined publishing history of nearly 100 years.

Quebecor bought the weeklies in 1998. Until yesterday their Manitoba roster consisted of The Beausejour Review, The Interlake Spectator, The Lac du Bonnet Leader, The Selkirk Journal, The Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times and the Portage Daily Graphic, (which recently went weekly).

I know people who live in some of these communities and most have been underwhelmed by their community paper in recent years. A thin gruel of local news that had become a vehicle to deliver (mostly) Winnipeg-based corporate flyers. Nonetheless, much of what community news there was will likely not get covered now.

Some would say that being owned by an Eastern chain increasingly interested in flyer distribution than community news meant that the end was near. Of course, the alternative argument is that if they hadn't been owned by an eastern chain wanting to use them as "flyer wrappers" they may have disappeared long ago.

I had to piece this look back at the history of the two papers from places like the Free Press archives and local history books from the communities. Perhaps symbbolic of how a local paper can lose touch with their community when owned by a large conglomerate, any history of the papers - event the year they were first publsihed in -  doesn't appear in the actual paper or on their websites. In Quebecor's "cookie cutter" web and newspaper design there no room to insert "Part of your community since 1945".

Springfield Leader, December 4, 1945

The Lac du Bonnet Leader's history dates back to 1945. That's when Alfred W. Hanks, publisher of the St. James Leader, branched out to the region with the Springfield Leader, based in Lac du Bonnet. This is late by rural Manitoba weekly standards but remember that Lac du Bonnet wasn't incorporated as a village until 1947, Pinawa was incorporated as a Local Government District (LGD) in January 1962.

The Free Press noted the new entry into the newspaper market on their editorial page. It said that it was a sign that southeast Manitoba, long the desolated "backwater" of the province, had "made it".  They commended Hanks for the quality of his recently-published first edition and noted that "The path of the publisher of the weekly newspaper is beset with pitfalls but the rewards, in the shape of satisfaction with community work well done, are considerable," (Winnipeg Free Press, October 9, 1945).

In the 1962 the paper became known as the Lac du Bonnet Springfield Leader, in the late 70s or early 80s it became the Lac Du Bonnet Leader.

The Beausejour Review is a true newbie, created in 1994.

The community and surrounding region has had a number of newspapers in the past, starting with the Brokenhead Times in 1902. The longest serving paper was likely the Beausejour Beaver (later the Manitoba Beaver) which published from 1959 until around 1994.

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