After five years as Waterloo Region’s independent community paper, we thought it would be interesting to take a step back in time, into the minds of those who launched the Community Edition. In what follows, TCE’s first publisher Bryn Ossington and first editor in chief H.G. Watson open up about the paper’s genesis, and community media in general.
AB: Where did the idea for a community paper come from?
BO: When I was president of Wilfrid Laurier Student Publications (WLUSP)we wanted to find a way to extend what we were already doing on campus into the community. We had the resources to bring in community volunteers and use our current staff as a way to create news products, create revenue, and get our writers out more. Whether they’re student journalists or writers in the community, we wanted to give them an opportunity to expose what’s going on in the community while showing off their talent.
The other piece was to create a place to talk about what was happening locally. Having a physical place to collect those ideas would not only build a brand but also continue conversations.
HGW: When it was pitched to me, the situation was that the campus paper was already doing so much local coverage and WLUSP wanted to grow that community audience, so why not have a community edition?
I was hired with an eight-month contract. We just wanted the paper to survive. We started really ambitiously with a 24-page paper. We eventually went down to 12 pages after my contract was renewed, which I loved because I could finesse the content and the visuals.
AB: Having been there at the beginning, what do you think of how the paper has developed over the last five years?
HGW: I think it’s cool that they’ve gone very hard magazine style. I think if you’re going to be in print, that’s what you need to do. As more of a monthly magazine style guide to Kitchener Waterloo, it’s very smart.
BO: The paper is really starting to address what might have taken time. The diversity of writing and topics has increased. I think it’s hitting the mark more.
AB: Is community media important?
HGW: Absolutely. There’s been a breakdown of local journalism and we don’t know what the next months will hold. There seems to be a push to find a new sustainable journalism model and I think something like this where student organizations… integrate into the broader community is great.
BO: Yes. Community change is always going to be a grassroots initiative. If we celebrate that and promote that, we’ll get more of it. Sometimes bigger organizations find great stories when things are just starting out but I’d say that’s the exception, not the rule. Try as bigger organizations might, they don’t have the resources to sit around a table and have someone say, ‘Hey this is what my neighbor is doing.’ Community media allows those stories to be told.
AB: Is there bias in independent media?
BO: There’s bias in every media. There’s a real effort here in having a diversity of writers, voices and points of view. We need a larger diversity of voices, not only just in the Community Edition, but also in every media outlet in town. That’s a problem in media – it takes finessing.
HGW: It’s incumbent on the editorial staff of any paper to find voices of different kinds. That’s the job. You need to decide what your paper is. Is it just the facts? More conversation based? Your community should be reflected in the paper.
AB: Is there value in print media?
BO: Yeah. It’s the most accessible form of media. It’s cheap enough that you can leave it anywhere. It’s got the shortest loading time. Search function is a little lagging but… you don’t need to be at a power source.
AB: To whom is community media accountable?
HGW: No matter where you are, you should have the freedom to write about what is newsworthy. The accountability in a newsroom is always to the readers. You have a responsibility to report fairly and accurately and to do good reporting. Making the editorial decision to keep people informed about what’s happening in their community and what kinds of people are living there is part of the role of a community media organization.
BO: Community media isn’t national media. We don’t need to worry about writing big pieces in hopes of making or breaking a publication. You’re not going to have a publisher come and say, ‘Don’t write that!’ and that’s the beauty of community media: you’re not really tied to that high end or [forced to] make mass amounts of money for anyone. The second that happened, the audience would likely run away. Because it’s on a smaller scale you’re allowed to do things that other organizations just aren’t going to pursue.