The closure of two long-standing news outlets in B.C.’s northeast this week has some in the community mourning — and others hopeful for creative solutions to fill the gaps left behind.
Glacier Media announced the decision to shutter both Fort St. John’s Alaska Highway News and the Dawson Creek Mirror this week, saying in a letter that the papers are no longer sustainable as ad revenue has “shifted heavily to online platforms such as Facebook or Google.”
“It’s been an anxious couple of months,” said Rob Brown, managing editor of the Dawson Creek Mirror — who is hoping to fill the gap left by the Mirror with what he describes as a “homegrown, locally owned” news outlet.
Brown says he had a sense the closure was imminent this past summer. In the past decade, he says, staff have been whittled down from more than 20 to just a small handful.
“These are papers that helped grow our communities,” Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier told CBC News.
The former mayor of Dawson Creek says he relied on local media to get messages to his constituents, and stay informed about the community.
“It’s actually very devastating in a lot of ways,” Bernier said.
None of the newspapers will be continuing with online editions. CBC News reached out to Glacier Media for comment, but did not receive a response.
Last month, the independent Fort Nelson News also closed, after publishing its first edition in 1959.
On Tuesday, Kamloops This Week confirmed it is closing its doors at the end of October after 35 years of operations.
“There’s really just a lot of cost issues that have accumulated,” said Robert Doull, president of Aberdeen Publishing, which owns Kamloops This Week, told CBC News.
“And, Google and Meta have been blocking our links [as a result of Bill C-18] which has reduced our page views by half.”
CBC News reached out to the federal government for comment on the impact of Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, on local media but did not hear back prior to publication.
The closures leave a large gap in the local media landscape of B.C.’s Peace region in the northeast, a vast region that often views itself as underrepresented by media outlets from the rest of the province.
‘Significant changes in the media landscape’
In a letter published in both the Alaska Highway News and Dawson Creek Mirror on Oct. 13, Glacier Media attributes the closures to “significant changes in the media landscape,” including advertising dollars migrating to social media and Google.
Sean Holman, Wayne Crookes Professor of Environmental and Climate Journalism at the University of Victoria, says that while market factors can’t be ignored, there are broader issues at play.
Holman says local journalism should be considered an essential service to communities, but newspapers have instead been treated as a vehicle for ad revenue.
He says it’s happening at the same time as rising distrust in journalism.
“We’re reaching a point when information is becoming beside the point, where people are not using information in the way in which we would expect them to use information in a democracy … that means that news media is on the very precipice.”
‘We need a society that values information’: professor
Trent Ernst, sole editorial staffer at Tumbler RidgeLines — which he founded in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., about 175 kilometres northeast of Prince George, after the community lost its only news outlet in 2016 — says he believes having people outside the community decide on the future of these outlets puts the community’s interests second to profit.
“Ultimately, the decision to keep the paper open is no longer in the hands of the people who care about the community,” said Ernst, although he admits the business model is tough to sustain.
“Because I’m local and because I care about the community … I’m willing to keep kicking at the can in the hopes that a few more pennies shake out and I can keep it going for a few more months.”
Like Ernst, Brown is finding ways to continue to work in his community.
“The idea is to not miss a week, so the final edition of the Mirror is going to be in Dawson Creek next Thursday, so we hope the Thursday after that to have a homegrown, locally owned, brand new product out on the streets,” Brown said. He says he plans to publish a weekly newspaper, and he’s still deciding on a name for the publication.
Brown hopes that cutting some overhead costs, like printing locally, will help keep the journalism alive.
Holman says he’s encouraged to hear about homegrown solutions, but fears the “information economy” won’t support that work right now.
“We need a society that values information and uses information within a democratic context, and that is much larger work that we need to be engaged in.”