When Kamloops Daily News shut down in January, there was the usual shock and disappointment in the B.C. city where it published. And yet, the failing of one community newspaper meant that its competitor, Kamloops This Week, has decided to expand in a big way. KTW associate editor Dale Bass reflects on her newspaper’s growth.
By Dale Bass
It's been about 10 weeks since the Kamloops Daily News (KDN) shut down—and this story was to have been written long ago for J-Source.
However, the reality is that the unexpected announcement on Jan. 6 that Glacier Media Group was closing the newspaper sent Kamloops This Week (KTW)—the newspaper I work for as its associate editor—into a whirlwind of activity that has only just started to settle down.
At a time when newspaper closures seem to come almost monthly, the story at KTW has been one of expansion—and that’s exciting, though also exhausting.
Bob Doull, owner of Aberdeen Publishing—a chain of publications in B.C. and Alberta, including KTW—said he never hesitated in his decision to take the twice-weekly KTW up to three days a week, something that happened within a week of the KDN closure.
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He also knew he wanted to add Canadian Press to the paper and replace the crossword with the one offered by the New York Times. Doull knew it was going to cost him money but, he said, it was an investment worth making.
Running alongside this was the simple fact that all of this had come to us because another paper had died. There was some public backlash, some bemoaning the lack of a daily and the inevitable campaign to resurrect it, but basic financial realities led to that conversation ending.
Doull told KTW managers on Jan. 6 to put a priority on hiring now-unemployed KDN staffers for any of the several jobs created that day, a move that saw three hired into the editorial department almost immediately.
Next up was signing deals with CP and the Times, a task that fell to me to set up. Contacting CP was pretty straightforward, although the salesperson I was dealing with didn't seem to understand that yes, we were planning to make the changes that would include CP Canada, Western Canada and sports coverage in about a week. A lot of emails went back and forth.
It’s not common for community newspapers to run Canadian Press copy, but Doull said he decided to buy services from Canadian Press because that was one of the first things our readers asked about when they started calling KTW. He said he was willing to provide what the community wanted, as long as it made sense and could be rationalized financially.
The Times was another challenge not only because of the time difference between the east and west coasts but again, because of the disbelief we were going to boost publication and content in what was, by the time I contacted the salesperson, less than a week.
The week leading up to the added Friday paper was busy. KTW was a three-day-a-week paper when it was owned by Black Press but there were no back-to-back publishing days, as there are now. We come out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Most of the staff here are young and haven't much experience in daily publishing so there were a lot of “what day are we working on?” type of questions.
Adding another edition and content wasn't enough, though. The management team decided we needed a new look for our Friday paper's entertainment section, including a new and much more complete event listings column. That may sound easy but it's continued to be a struggle to get people to send in listings, even though they email thanking us for running them. I finally got to the point where I told someone I don't have the time to go on every Facebook page looking for information—just send me an email. When did Facebook replace basic communication?
The simple volume of work involved in putting out the papers and helping the newbies learn the system was making me feel my age. It's just not right to work all day, take work home at night, finally finish and fall asleep in front of the TV. For some of us, the sheer rush of growing rather than cutting took over our brains.
Eight new staff joined the 25 already working at KTW and Doull said he's likely going to add to the staff again. He’s also considering hiring additional sales people, along with a writer/photographer/designer to take on special sections functions now handled by editorial.
Managing editor Christopher Foulds said it was great to feel like the paper was ahead of the curve hitting the newspaper industry. He said he hadn't expected ever to work for a newspaper that was growing and, although the first few weeks were crazy, it was a gratifying experience.
Being named the best community newspaper in the country in the Canadian Community Newspaper Competition, 25,000-plus circulation, just served to boost the buoyant mood that has filled the newsroom in past weeks.
And publisher Kelly Hall said the newspaper would continue many of the community ventures KDN had supported, such as two major fundraisers that benefit several charities, for example.
Doull also said a fourth day is possible if he believes the community wants it, will support it and it makes sense financially.
For someone who started at the London Free Press in the early 1970s when there was hot lead, Underwoods, copy boys—yes, boys—and both morning and evening editions, this expansion has been fun. Tiring fun, but a great ride nonetheless.
And, if there's been one theme I've heard from the dozens and dozens of people I've talked to since Jan. 6, it's this—they might get some of their news online or from broadcast, but they still want to get up in the morning and open up their newspaper to find out about their community.
In the face of closures like that of KDN, it's a reassuring message to hear.
Dale Bass is the associate editor of Kamloops This Week and the co-chair for the 2014 Canadian Association of Journalists conference. Photo credit Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week.
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