What do a steelmaker, a former Rhinoceros Party candidate, and a care home operator have in common?
They all write for and run a new website called the Moose Jaw Independent that’s attempting to fill the void left in Moose Jaw, Sask. in the wake of the December closure of the small city’s daily newspaper, the Moose Jaw Times-Herald.
The unconventional website was founded by two friends who have day jobs in very different fields. Nick Murray is an Ontario import who makes steel for a living and Garret DeLaurier is a life-long Moose Javian who runs a private care home. Neither have any formal journalism education and while Murray had written for a free weekly paper in the past, they don’t necessarily consider themselves journalists.
“We were always sort of interested in starting something, maybe not necessarily a news website but then when the newspaper shut down (DeLaurier) contacted me and was like, ‘Now’s the time. Let’s do this now, like let’s fire it up,’” Murray said.
The Times Herald had been in operation since 1928. When Star News Publishing closed it down in November2017, circulation was less than 2,000 in the city of nearly 34,000 and owner Roger Holmes told the Saskatoon Starphoenix the Moose Jaw paper was “not sustainable anymore.”
The newspaper shutdown announcement gave DeLaurier and Murray confidence in going ahead with the Moose Jaw Independent because of the “gaping hole” in coverage, as their main writer Robert Thomas puts it. Thomas is well-known around Moose Jaw, partly for running for mayor and as a federal Rhinoceros Party candidate years ago, and was eager to re-enter journalism after about 28 years away from journalism.
Within a month of the Times Herald’s closure, the Moose Jaw Independent was born. The excitement is audible from both DeLaurier and Murray when speaking over the phone about the potential of their new venture, as they describe how they paid a friend’s cousin $100 to guide DeLaurier through building the website. They know their path ahead will be rocky due to their inexperience, and have already raised ire with a few residents due to inaccuracies in their stories. But they have also provided a public service, with a local senior printing out 50 copies of an article on Theo Fleury that Thomas wrote and giving it out to people in her apartment building. People have also started submitting letters to the editor.
“I don’t know what running a newsplace feels like but it kind of feels like this. We have writers writing about different topics happening locally every day, and we’re reporting on it,” DeLaurier said.
DeLaurier and Murray do some writing as well as the editing and upkeep of their Twitter and Facebook. While they would like to make some money down the line, the novelty of providing a community space online is enough to keep them happy for now.
Thomas had previously been an unpaid columnist for the Times Herald. When not working in the oil field Thomas writes multiple articles per day, mainly about the goings-on of city council. Even after working 90 hours covering the city’s budget, which he said no other media sat through, he balks at the idea of being paid for his work. After spending time in Ukraine and Russia in mid-2014, Thomas said he feels a duty to do the work he does now.
“I know what happens when democracy breaks down. I know what happens when people don’t have the right to have their say. I know what happens when people don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
The website’s readership keeps rising, and both founders describe them as dreamers with Murray imagining one day being able to support himself with the writing they’re doing now.
Chelsea Laskowski is a Saskatchewan-based freelance journalist who focuses on northern Saskatchewan and Indigenous people. She has written and worked in radio for The Globe and Mail, Eagle Feather News, Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation, paNOW, News Talk 980 CJME, and Treaty 4 News. She can be found on Twitter at @chelsealaskowsk.