By MPP Toby Barrett
Recently my colleague MPP Goldie Ghamari introduced a Private Member’s Bill titled Supporting Ontario’s Community, Rural, and Agricultural Newspapers Act.
Community newspapers are a local businesses and this proposed legislation is a no-brainer. At one time, community newspapers and radio were the only options for small-town business to get their message out. Today, with social media, there are options. As well, the cost of production has increased and many community, rural and agricultural newspapers have had to cut costs and reduce publication to bi-weekly or monthly.
In our area, national conglomerates own The Simcoe Reformer, The Delhi News-Record, The Grand River Sachem, The Lakeshore Shopper and The Tillsonburg News. On the other hand, The Port Dover Maple Leaf, The Haldimand Press, Snapd Haldimand-Norfolk-Tillsonburg and The Port Rowan Good News are privately and locally owned. All provide a valuable service to Haldimand-Norfolk.
The newspaper column you are now reading marks my 1,226th since 1995. That is 674,300 words my staff and I have penned, not to mention thousands of news releases. This column is an invaluable way to communicate with the people I represent.
Some newspapers no longer qualify as vehicles to advertise municipal changes – as required by provincial law – because the publishing frequency is not enough. Another financial wound to small town papers.
I have heard from newspaper owners who have shut down their operation because municipal, provincial and federal governments were no longer placing advertisements, and were underestimating the readership and leadership of these small town papers. In my opinion, this is yet another example of government being out of touch with those of us in small, rural and Northern Ontario.
MPP Ghamari’s legislation qualifies every community newspaper to run municipal announcements despite how often they publish. These publications, no matter how many issues they print in a year, remain a vital source of information with local papers providing accurate reports of what is happening in our community, contrary to much of what we read in social media.
Small town papers are the conduit to what is happening in the community, whether it is reports from local councils, the schools’ sports teams, services offered by businesses, or community members who have made important milestones.
What the previous government failed to acknowledge is that Internet access is scarce in some parts of Ontario. As a result, those living in remote regions rely on papers to keep people in the know. I am heartened our government is moving quickly on expanding broadband across our province but in the meantime, we must continue to provide support for those people running a business and keeping folks informed.
Two of my staff are former newspaper writers and editors. I value their sense of community, the skills and connections they built nearly two decades ago which serves them well in their roles today. Throughout my time as MPP, I feel local media has treated me fairly and respectfully — it is indeed a respect that works both ways. Reading small town news written by people who also live in the same community is a blessing.
I commend my MPP colleague on this important legislation because newspapers play such an important role within our rural fabric. We never truly know what we have until it is gone.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk