Lament­ing clo­sure of The Char­ter

The Compass - - OPINION - — Lee Everts writes from Pla­cen­tia

“Com­mu­nity” pa­pers are just that — a med­ley of words and im­ages that re­flect a com­mu­nity and its heart. Since 1997, the peo­ple of the Pla­cen­tia area and Cape Shore have been able to page through The Char­ter to see photographs and read sto­ries tied to the is­sues, con­cerns and joys that have touched their lives. Over the years, The Char­ter has lis­tened and given voice to the unique and dis­tinct el­e­ments of this re­gion. Re­gard­less, on the 16 Oc­to­ber, 2013, The Char­ter came to an abrupt end.

At this time, the ed­i­tor was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously told — there had been no warn­ing — that she was sur­plus to the needs and re­quire­ments of the vi­sion of news in this cor­ner of the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Me­dia em­pire. How­ever, the fear is that this new vi­sion of the “news” will pale in com­par­i­son to how it has been over the past 16 years. For iron­i­cally, it was never just about the news.

Tak­ing a closer look, there are a con­glom­er­a­tion of rea­sons that may help to ex­plain why this has hap­pened. The post-mortem of the pa­per and the events that led to its end would likely re­veal fac­tors such as a de­clin­ing read­er­ship. Un­for­tu­nately, this trend is tan­gled in the ru­ral to ur­ban march that is grad­u­ally evis­cer­at­ing ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador.

Other rea­sons may in­volve the in­creas­ing shift to online news, a move that has made “pa­pers” re­dun­dant (a waste of money to pro­duce). As well, the de­ci­sion to end The Char­ter was likely tied to the prac­ti­cal de­ci­sions of Transcon­ti­nen­tal Me­dia, a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany. In or­der to en­sure a healthy bot­tom line, some things needed to be pared away and ul­ti­mately re­moved — it was noth­ing per­sonal.

Im­por­tant role

But, of course, it is per­sonal. Com­mu­nity pa­pers are a unique en­tity. They are com­prised of sto­ries about lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, ad­ver­tise­ments from lo­cal shops, and var­i­ous notices of events in the com­mu­nity. There’s also a bit of in­for­ma­tion about what is go­ing on in the wider world. Yet, the most im­por­tant role of a com­mu­nity pa­per is its abil­ity to com­fort­ably cap­ture the heart of a place. And that’s what the Pla­cen­tia area and Cape Shore have lost.

With that said, we’ve been los­ing the spirit of the pa­per for years. When it be­gan, The Char­ter was a ro­bust read with around 15 to 20 pages of sto­ries that dealt with the grave and im­por­tant, con­tro­ver­sial, and joy­ful el­e­ments of this part of the prov­ince. As sup­port drifted away, the pa­per had thinned no­tice­ably.

The loss of in­vest­ment in the pa­per trans­lated into a re­duc­tion of the num­ber of em­ploy­ees re­spon­si­ble for get­ting the pa­per to the peo­ple. In the end, it was solely the ed­i­tor who was left to do vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing — ad sales, re­port­ing and in­ter­view­ing, writ­ing, tak­ing photographs and so on. It was close to im­pos­si­ble for one per­son to do alone.

Be­cause of the pa­per’s even­tual state, a mea­gre re­flec­tion of its for­mer self, some may say that surely there’s no real loss. Al­though, it’s an old game to slowly re­duce some­thing, each time reach­ing a new norm, to the point that no one re­ally cares when it is com­pletely gone.

A new vi­sion

Thus, the new vi­sion of news for the Pla­cen­tia area and Cape Shore will be cap­tured from else­where. Will this vi­sion of the news solely deal with per­ti­nent “news­wor­thy” is­sues? Will the new vi­sion for­get about the sto­ries that make the com­mu­ni­ties of the Pla­cen­tia area and Cape Shore unique and vi­brant? If so, what will be left is a ho­mo­gene­ity of news which is tex­ture­less and flat.

In pre­vi­ous years, the var­i­ous ed­i­tors and writ­ers have writ­ten ar­ti­cles that never failed to in­form and ed­u­cate. At the same time, The Char­ter was also able to pro­duce sto­ries that were earth-shat­ter­ing in their won­der­ful ev­ery­day­ness.

Yes, the ma­jor sto­ries can be read­ily cov­ered by some­one in Car­bon­ear or St. John’s. But what of the smaller sto­ries that cap­tured the heart of this place? There was the story of a young boy who helped to re­turn a lost teddy bear, “Honey Joe Bear” to the lit­tle bear’s fam­ily. Don’t for­get the pho­to­graph of a beau­ti­ful blue heron who had wan­dered off the beaten path to bring some un­ex­pected beauty to this part of the world.

Th­ese are the sto­ries and im­ages that have made us smile. So, com­mu­nity pa­pers maybe aren’t just about learn­ing the news. Rather they cap­ture the essence of a com­mu­nity and its peo­ple. That’s all. Sim­ple and yet im­mense.

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