Thursday, July 08, 2010

Black Press set to fade the Daily News from view

The days it seems will be shorter, rather than longer between today and the day that the press run stops for the last time at the corner of sixth street and Second Avenue West.

The word of the pending closure of the Prince Rupert Daily News is just the latest of economic shocks to a city that seems to take one blow after another, while its city council and administration seem oblivious to the toll being exacted on this community.

The 99 year old tradition in the city will cease publication at an unspecified time, but judging by the string of remembrance pieces appearing in the Daily on Wednesday it seems that the sixty days being outlined as the required notice, will be but a date on a calendar, to read the words of Patrick Witwicki and Monica Lamb Yorski today would intimate that the actual final edition may not be that far off in the distance.

The decision by Black Press to close its newly purchased entity, shouldn't really come as too large a surprise, in a business that has been bleeding red ink for a number of years now in many larger communities, the idea of two papers owned by one company in a town of this size would seem rather folly.

In fact, Black Press, which strangely has been doing all the talking it seems about the fate of the paper, outlined the financial distress that the Daily News has been in over these last few years, declining circulation, and high costs seemingly the bottom line contributor to the end of what at one time was the city's paper of record.

Glacier Media which up until Canada Day was the latest media group to try and operate a daily paper in the city, has been conspicuous by its absence on the closure notifications, leaving it would seem to the reporters on staff to carry the can as far as reporting on the papers demise, a gut wrenching task that really should not be wished on anyone.

There has been no commentary from any executive of the now former owners, nor from the management of the local operation,  no explanation as to how this day came to pass, indicative of the absentee landlord feeling that many had about the paper these last few years which is unfortunate, as it most likely was some of their decisions and changes of focus over these last few years that led the paper to its current state and soon to be extinction.

A declining population in the city and a collapsing industrial and commercial base which of course affects revenues drastically were warning signs of potential danger, and even the most casual of observers of newspapers couldn't help but notice the number of "this space for rent" squares on the pages of each day's delivery of the paper, never a good sign for a business enterprise.

While no one can argue the financial reasoning's behind the demise of the paper, there were some rather unusual management decisions over the last few years, the decision to give away the paper twice a week, while no doubt designed to attract new customers, did seem at times to work at cross purposes to the image of a serious newspaper.

Having the population pay for the paper three times a week (five days a week if you preferred to pick one up  at a news stand, a policy that always seemed bizarre) just left the population curious as to why they should spend for the light news days of Monday and Tuesday, when the heavier issues and most read ones of Wednesday and Friday were free, in the end they apparently chose not to bother.

Likewise the much heralded switchover last year to a more lifestyle oriented news direction, clearly didn't resonate with the readers, many of whom frequently became frustrated with the hard news and issues of the city appearing to get a lower profile than other more positive stories from the community.  Not that those stories  of achievement and such shouldn't have been told, but in a city facing serious challenges on far too many fronts, far too often the Daily News of late seemed out of touch with the community it was striving to serve.

That's not to be taken as a criticism of the reporters, who no doubt worked hard at providing as good a balance between the hard and soft news stories, but seemingly were handcuffed by mysterious directives as to what should be a priority story and what should be page three and perhaps printed two or three  days later after its shelf life.

The hard simple fact on that one issue is that on far too many occasions the weekly paper, which now has gobbled up its larger rival, was besting the daily on a daily basis. Making better use of its Internet presence to deliver breaking news when it was still relevant and then providing the hard copy on its regular printing cycle.

The fading of the Daily News from the media scene in the city is just the latest of media ventures in the city that have downsized or abandoned all pretense to local coverage.

It was less than twenty years ago that this city had a thriving competitive media battle taking place, two fully staffed radio stations with a full complement of reporters and announcers and a strong stable of writers at the Daily News who frequently found stories and educated the population of the major issues of the day, a time when the evening paper would frequently scoop the electronic media to story after story.

Since those heady days, the private station CHTK has been sold a couple of times, most recently to an eastern based conglomerate which never returned the staffing levels to the days of the past, leaving  the station as but a mere repeater of the Terrace operation or perhaps from even further afar.

CFNR is based out of Terrace and while popular in the city, doesn't really provide a strong footprint as far as local news and current affairs.

The CBC as well , has long since moved its mindset to  the larger market of Prince George and while keeping a store front operation on Third Avenue West, it is not at all the same service that it once was and doesn't offer anywhere near the same level of coverage of Prince Rupert that it did in the past.

So  now the Daily News will join the ranks of the Daily Empire and other ghosts of Prince Rupert's publishing past, leaving the city with but one newspaper, a weekly a more than worthy competitor of these times, which we imagine one day will publish twice a week like many other communities feature, but still a paper without the historical significance and accolades from the past that the Daily News takes with it as the presses come to a stop.

Of equal concern over the snuffing out of the competition is that one more much needed resource  of observation will be gone, at a time when the city perhaps most requires someone to watch over the political class, update us on the both the positives and the negatives of this city and report and offer commentary on the circumstances that continue to batter it.

Not to be lost of course in the news of the closure is the fact that yet more Rupertites will now join the ranks of the unemployed and some very well thought of citizens will perhaps have to move on to new opportunities elsewhere, a loss to the community and a moment of soul searching for those that called the Daily News home.

Most anyone who works in the media knows that it's a tough game to work, whether its a battle for circulation numbers or ratings and ad rates, still to have  your livelihood yanked from you in such a sudden fashion surely leaves you unsteady and unsure. For those that have been delivered this most unwanted of news, a wish for better days ahead and much opportunity whether here in Prince Rupert or beyond

For those of us who have read the paper over the years and celebrated their successes and criticized their failures, the end of the paper will mark a strange turning point and leave a bit of an empty feeling.

At times you sometimes felt as though the Daily News staff felt as though they were in a bunker under attack, at least some of the commentaries over the last few years seemed to suggest that theme.

They  should at least know that for the most part that was never the case, instead they perhaps misread the signs of a frustrated public who counted on them every day to keep them informed and actually felt as though they were part of the day to day journey.

When they wandered off the path we wanted to follow they heard about it for sure, but that I would think was a sign of how involved this community was with its paper and how it wished they would have reason to have faith in it again.

Sadly time ran out and we'll never know if the current roster of employees could have recaptured that feeling and status that they were the record of Prince Rupert.

The closure of the Daily News has provided for no shortage of stories both locally and in other locales some of which we provide below.

July 3-- Victoria Times Colonist-- Black Press acquires B.C., Alberta papers
July 5-- Northern View-- Black Press Chief Operating Officer comments on announced closure of Prince Rupert Daily News
July 5-- Vancouver Sun-- Black Press to shut long-running newspapers in Nelson, Prince Rupert after acquisition 
July 5-- Winnipeg Free Press-- Black Press acquires 11 more B.C. community newspapers, plans to shut down four
July 6-- Vancouver Sun-- Community newspapers to close after Black Press purchase
July 6-- CJFW-FM -- Prince Rupert Daily News To Cease Publication 
July 6-- Opinion 250-- Four B.C. Newspapers To Close
July 7 -- CFTK TV 7-- Not even worth the printing costs says Black Press of the Prince Rupert Daily News (view video report from CFTK here)

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