Ads bought by Black Press community newspaper readers – Dave Stephen in the the Chilliwack Progress, Chad Skelton in Peace Arch News, and Josh Reynolds in the Abby News – has sparked a discussion about the importance of local journalism in these challenging times amid the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. (Chilliwack Progress, Peace Arch News, Abby News)

COLUMN: Abbotsford citizen’s full-page ad sparks community journalism discussion

If you are holding a copy of the Abbotsford News right now, you know that it came to your doorstep or mailbox or apartment lobby and it didn’t cost you a penny.

You may have noticed a somewhat unusual full-page ad on page 15 in the April 9 edition. It was purchased not by a company selling a product or service, or by a community agency or branch of government trying to relay information.

It was bought by Abbotsford resident Josh Reynolds.

It said only: “I only bought this ad to support local news. (You should get one too) #localnewsmatters – Josh Reynolds.”

Reynolds purchased the ad out of his own pocket in a move similar to that of former Vancouver Sun reporter, now a journalism instructor, Chad Skelton who bought a page one ad in the Peace Arch News, his community newspaper in White Rock.

• READ MORE: Peace Arch News ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

That spawned half a dozen others to do the same, and the sharing of Skelton’s ad prompted community member Dave Stephen to follow suit in one of our sister papers, The Chilliwack Progress.

Community newspapers are in the unique position of being businesses, but we also serve a real and important community good, a community need.

Studies show that community newspaper readership is very high particularly in small and medium-sized communities. That’s because, if you want to find out what the provincial or federal government is doing, there are many sources, from national newspapers to broadcast TV to radio to big-city dailies, and the websites of those media outlets. If you want to find out if Abbotsford city council will approve that large housing development down the road, or what sentences are handed out at the Abbotsford courthouse, you will only find that here.

So why did Reynolds buy an ad?

“I bought this ad for two reasons,” Reynolds told me. “One, I believe in supporting the things I value. Since the Abby News doesn’t have subscriptions, buying an ad is the easiest way I can directly support their work. More broadly, I wanted to encourage others to do the same. I know other people value their work; my hope is that they realize you don’t have to be a big business to financially support it.

“Unfortunately, local papers are almost entirely supported by advertising revenue, which is quickly drying up as businesses are forced to shut down. This means that, as their work becomes more important and valuable, they are earning less revenue to provide it.”

Rick O’Connor, president and CEO of Black Press Media – the parent company of The Abbotsford News – explained that the current economic crisis is difficult for community papers that rely so heavily on advertising revenue, both in print and online.

Company revenue dropped 40 to 50 per cent in late March, he said.

Though the details for each newspaper are different, as a ballpark figure, the cost to print and deliver each edition is 25 cents per copy – a number that does not include overhead or staffing costs. The circulation of The News is 33,533.

“The double-whammy for newspapers is that the government considers them an essential service, and so they should be, but by the same token, good local journalism costs money.”

These are historic and challenging times, but we will get past this and continue to serve the community while running our business.

Citizens buying ads may be a symbolic gesture to help us along that path, but we think it’s a great one.

“Abby News, and local journalism in general, has always been important to me, but even more so during COVID-19,” Reynolds said. “Having journalists who can identify the local impact and needs is unbelievably important to the vitality of our city.”

Stay safe and be kind.

Paul Henderson is the editor of The Chilliwack Progress.

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