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Belleville news outlet adapts amid storm of media change

Local Media will still face many challenges ahead but it doesn't look like its going anywhere. [1]

The weekly Community Press is one of several local newspapers still published in Belleville. Despite the challenges faced by news media across Canada, Belleville residents still have a healthy number of choices for getting local news. Photo by Bradley Bennett, QNet News

By Bradley Bennett [2]

BELLEVILLE – Amid turbulence in the news-media industry and dwindling local news coverage in many parts of Canada, local journalism refuses to quit in Belleville.

Since 2008, at least 171 local news outlets in Canada have closed, according to April Lindgren, [3] lead researcher for the Local News Research Project [4], which is looking into the phenomenon of “news poverty” in Canadian communities. Those closures have left many areas underserved or without a news outlet, she said.

“There’s been growing concern about the state of local news,” Lindgren, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, [5] told QNet News.

But here in Belleville, residents are still served by multiple newsrooms, including the Intelligencer [6] and its weekly adjunct, the Community Press [7]; Belleville News and its online edition, insidebelleville.com [8]; radio stations owned by Quinte Broadcasting [9] and Starboard Communications [10]; and the latest addition to the news scene, the website InQuinte.ca. [11]

[12]

Bill Glisky, editor of InQuinte.ca and former editor of the Intelligencer, says local news is about the stories and issues that most affect the community. Photo by Bradley Bennett, QNet News

“Local news is important because that is the kind of stuff that affects people most,” says Bill Glisky, the managing editor of InQuinte and a former editor of the Intelligencer. “Crime in your community, how your schools are doing, what your tax dollars are going to, and what your roads and neighbourhoods are looking like – these are things that affect people every single day.”

Canadian media outlets have been shaken up since 2008, when the industry started to take hits from the economic downturn and the rise of the internet, Glisky said.

There’s been growing concern about the state of local news.

   ………– Journalism researcher April Lindgren 

“It was the perfect storm of a number of things,” he said. “First of all, the recession hit hard, and second of all online was coming.”

When the 2008 recession came, news-media advertising started to decline, Glisky said. At the same time, readers were gravitating from print to online – but advertisers were reluctant to buy ads on local news outlets’ websites.

The result was fewer advertisers overall, and an even smaller number advertising online, he said.

Nine years later, local news has had to adapt. InQuinte is a good example of such innovation.

“We’re the new kid on the block,” Glisky said. “We’re still growing. We’re still developing. And we’re the smallest, so we have to work the hardest to compete.”

The InQuinte offices are inside of the Starboard communications building [13]

The InQuinte offices are inside the Starboard communications headquarters on Dundas Street West. Photo by Madeleine Villa, QNet News

The website has been operating as a section of Starboard Communications – which runs radio stations Cool 100 and 95.5 – since October 2015. The online and radio newsrooms “work together to make sure both sides have as much of what they need as possible,” Glisky said.

The radio stations allow InQuinte to tap into potential readers who listen to radio news, he added.

Lindgren agrees with Glisky about the importance of local news.

Her research project has created the local news map [14] to help track the issues that have caused news outlets to close or downsize. Currently it has just over 300 markers, with 171 indicating closures.The map is crowdsourced, so it is only as good as the data that’s on it, she said, but it indicates that the trend has not been positive.

[15]

A map created by April Lindgren and her collaborators at the Local News Project tracks closures and changes in news publications across Canada. The red Xs indicate publications that have shut down. (Click map to enlarge.)

Cities that used to have more than one news source, resulting in competing news coverage, “now basically consist of one newsroom that produces two newspapers with a lot of rewritten copy,” she said.

It’s the result of large corporations like Postmedia [16] and Transcontinental [17] buying struggling newspapers from their competitors and combining both papers into a single newsroom, she explained.

“Local news is really the saviour of journalism these days, because what news organizations in a smaller market have going for them is that nobody else is doing it,” she said.

“If you wanted to read about news in the Middle East, there are a lot of places you can go for that information. (But) if you want to find out what’s happening on Main Street … there aren’t very many sources of information on that. And that’s a competitive advantage” for local-news organizations.

Glisky agrees.

If you have a community that is very interested in municipal politics, is very interested in its local sports teams, engaged in community fundraising – that community is going to require local media to tell those stories, and they’re going to cry out for it.

– InQuinte editor Bill Glisky

He runs a newsroom that consists of himself and one other reporter. With help from two more reporters who work at the Starboard radio stations, they can cover the basic news needs of Belleville, he said – although he admitted that they lack the resources to expand much more upon that basic coverage.

“One of the things we have learned and come to grips with is we can’t cover as many things (as larger news organizations can) – so we’re going to cover what we can cover as well as we possibly can,” he said.

Getting in-depth local news requires community engagement, Glisky said.

95.5 radio, one of the founding pillars of starboard communications

One of the radio stations owned by Starboard Communications, which also runs InQuinte.ca is 95.5 Hits FM. Photo by Bradley Bennett, QNet News

“If you have a community that is very interested in municipal politics, is very interested in its local sports teams, engaged in community fundraising – that community is going to require local media to tell those stories, and they’re going to cry out for it. If it’s not there, they will make it.”

Lindgren and Glisky agree that there is no single fix to help engage readers, and that newsrooms have to experiment.

“Nobody has quite figured it out yet, or at least nobody’s quite sure they’ve figured it out yet, because it’s an element that’s constantly changing,” Glisky said.

Locally owned publications have an advantage, since they can adapt and experiment more freely than a corporately run news outlet can, he said.

InQuinte’s business model has been working so far, Glisky said: “We had high expectations, and we are exceeding those expectations in a lot of ways in terms of readership numbers … and followers and subscribers.”

But the need to keep changing and adapting is constant, Glisky said, adding that consumer habits can take surprising twists.

As an example, he pointed to the vinyl record industry. Not long ago vinyl was dismissed as old and inefficient technology, but in recent years people have begun embracing it again, enjoying the ability to have their music be a tangible, rather than digital, product.

“Media across the board is going through turbulence,” Glisky said. “People are trying to figure out ‘Which way do I like to get my news best?’ Social media has thrown a huge wrench into things.”

But, he said, “certain journalistic principles that we used to talk about all the time (are) starting to creep their way back in. They are objectivity, integrity, fairness, not being sensational but being truthful. And all of a sudden, all of those sort of old-fashioned ideas about journalism – you know, confirm your sources, don’t just report it because it’s out there – people are starting to say, ‘That’s what I want.’ ”

Here is the full interview between QNet News and April Lindgren:

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