By Alyson Queen –
Back in November 1978, a group of local residents joined together and released the first edition of a new, monthly community publication that would earn a lasting place in Kitchissippi.
Forty years later, its volunteer board of directors sent Newswest to the printer for the last time, with plans for a new online format.
Like many publications, Newswest had to evolve over the years. The local paper was originally launched by a group of volunteers who handled every aspect of the production process, from writing to advertising to distribution.
Fast forward to 2003, when an opportunity came to form a unique partnership with the newly-formed Kitchissippi Times; a partnership that would last for 15 years.
Mark Sutcliffe is co-owner and CEO of Great River Media and founder and publisher of the Kitchissippi Times. Growing up in the area, he actually wrote articles for Newswest as a teenager.
When creating the Kitchissippi Times with business partner Donna Neil, Mark says the focus was to collaborate and complement what Newswest had started – and not become competition.
“So we approached Newswest and said look…why don’t we work together?”
Mark says that after many discussions, including public consultation, a new partnership was formed where Newswest would become a paper within a paper.
Over the years, some readers mistakenly thought Newswest was part of the Kitchissippi Times. But the fact is, it always remained an independent, not-for-profit publication with its own board of directors.
Ask any publisher; a key to survival is advertising. Within the Kitchisssippi Times, the volunteer Newswest team was able to focus on creating and delivering monthly content under its well-established brand while the larger for-profit handled the layout, printing and advertising. The model also meant access to a wider distribution than had previously been possible.
Over time though, things changed. The Kitchissippi Times was originally distributed by Flyer Force, a subsidiary of Postmedia. In May 2018, the publication moved to a monthly format and upgraded its distribution by moving to Canada Post, which has better penetration and more reliable delivery but comes at a higher cost.
At the same time, Newswest was reduced from an eight-page to a four-page format with added advertising and other responsibilities that grew more challenging for the volunteers.
“Four pages is not really a lot of space in the newspaper to focus on issues. So we decided as a Board, after 40 years, that we would terminate the partnership with the Kitchissippi Times and focus on growing our e-newsletter,” says Pat O’Brien, chair of the Newswest board of directors.
“I can understand it,” said Tim Thibeault, editor of Newswest for the past five years, speaking about the decision. “The paper is getting smaller, the median age of volunteers is getting older – and a lot of us just can’t do the running around anymore. It’s a tradition that began, but as time has changed, so have traditions.”
Councillor Jeff Leiper recalls some of his first community-involvement efforts as a younger reporter looking for ways to contribute through the paper. Not only that, his spouse, Natalie Hanson, was the editor for several years.
In his newsletter, Councillor Leiper noted that he was saddened by the closing but also acknowledged the growing challenges Newswest faced, both with declining volunteer engagement and increasing competition with social media and other channels.
“There have been so many people from the community involved with… Newswest over the past 40 years that it would be impossible to thank them all by name. Please know that our ward is stronger because of your role,” he wrote.
The memories continue. Tim recalls being “volun-told” for his first assignment. “My first involvement with Newswest was when a friend…said ‘You have a good camera, we need a photographer, come and do this!” The rest, as he says, is history.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because many of our people had been involved for years, like [former editors] Cheryl Parrott and Gary Ludington. When you lose a voice that has brought issues forth and has been well-respected by the community, it’s difficult to toss in the towel,” said Pat.
“For us, it was just time to put the print to bed and look at other opportunities, and hopefully with new volunteers and new blood we’ll be able to make a more meaningful Newswest available to the broader community.”
One thread was constant while talking about neighbourhood news in Kitchissippi. Despite the challenges, especially in print, it remains an important part of the community fabric and needs to be sustained.
“It was a great partnership,” concluded Mark. “It was really gratifying that we were able to find a way for us to work together. The absence of Newswest leaves a hole but I’m confident that we can find ways to fill that, for sure,” confirmed Mark.
Pat remains hopeful for a way to continue the Newswest legacy through an e-newsletter format, reaching out to the broader community and neighbourhood associations for help. “We do believe there is a value in carrying on.”
The Newswest board will be reviewing options for an online publication in 2019.
Would you like to read the first issue of Newswest? Dave Allston, our resident historian, has uploaded a scan to his website.