So much has changed in the news - Keith Roulston editorial
More than a week after I was inducted into the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA) Hall of Fame, I’ve finally had the time to put some perspective into the experience.
I caught a ride to the OCNA’s Fall Convention at a resort near Orangeville with current Citizen Publisher Deb Sholdice so I didn’t have to drive. We went down Friday morning for the convention that took place Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday morning, with the award presented at the Friday night dinner.
The Fall Convention used to be the smaller of two in the year, with the Spring Convention the big convention and the fall meeting being an event for smaller independent newspapers.
Those were the days when the majority of community newspapers were owned by chains. How things have changed!
I came into the newspaper business at a time of constant change. I had a summer job in 1967 with A.Y. Maclean of The Huron Expositor in Seaforth in the last days of letter-press, when the newspaper was still printed in the back shop of the printing office, two (large) pages at a time on an old flat-bed press. One of my jobs was to take our photos up the road to Clinton, where the Colquhoun family had a scanner at The News-Record that scanned the photo and prepared plastic plates that, back in Seaforth, were mounted on wood and placed in the press.
Things had changed greatly by two years later when I graduated in 1969, I became editor of The Clinton News-Record, by then published by Bob Shrier, who had bought Goderich Signal-Star, a web-based offset printing press and expanded to buy the News-Record. It was the first in many moves as he bought papers from Wiarton down to Zurich in the next few years.
I wasn’t there for much of that growth because I heard that the Blyth Standard was for sale and I travelled up to Blyth and arranged to buy it (at extremely generous terms) from the Whitmore family. My wife Jill and I bought it in 1971 and switched it to an offset publication. Jill ran the newspaper for several months while I split my time between my News-Record job and Blyth.
But, soon after arriving in Blyth, I was taking photos at a variety concert organized by the Lions Club and discovered Blyth Memorial Community Hall. It was such a magnificent building that I got hooked on turning it into a summer theatre. By connections made with Paul Thompson of Theatre Passe Muraille, who had been in Clinton to produce The Farm Show, I made connections with James Roy and the Blyth Festival started in the summer of 1975.
Star-struck in my own way, I lost interest in publishing. We sold The Rural Voice, The Village Squire and The Standard to A.Y. MacLean, who was trying to build a challenging company to keep his daughter interested. He didn’t succeed and by 1983 he had sold The Expositor, The Brussels Post and The Standard to Bob Shrier, who kept only The Expositor.
But things change. I had gone from being General Manager of the Festival to an unsuccessful venture with a touring theatre in 1983. I was flat broke by the summer of 1985 when Sheila Richards, who had succeeded me as President of the Festival Board, contacted me to talk about how much the people of Brussels missed having their own newspaper. We came up with the idea of the community-owned newspaper serving both Brussels and Blyth and, 38 years later, The Citizen still stands strong.
But, attending the recent convention to receive my award was something of a shock. I didn’t attend most of the meetings, except for the Friday dinner - I wasn’t up to hearing the current news - but I did hear the last hour of discussion when I arrived early for Saturday’s conclusive lunch. I was pleased to see as many young people still involved in the OCNA as there were.
I was pleased, too, to meet some members who were on the OCNA Board of Directors when I was a member earlier this century. One, my nominator for this award, was publisher for an Eastern Ontario newspaper, once owned by a Quebec-based chain. His is now the only newspaper left. Another was an editor with a Metroland newspaper. That chain closed down earlier this year. Meanwhile, the old Signal-Star Publishing chain is still there, but barely. The Goderich printing plant closed years ago. We hired Denny Scott when The Signal-Star cut back from four reporters to three. Now they have none.
The Citizen, thanks to Deb and a dedicated, creative crew, is still strong, though young readers must be convinced about how much they’d miss it if they didn’t have people like Shawn and Scott collecting news.
So much has changed in the time it took me to earn this award. Who knows what the next 50 years will bring?