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: Chilliwack citizen’s purchase of a newspaper ad sparks community journalism discussion

‘I see The Progress as the vital link for dependable news and information in our community’

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

And you may have noticed a unique ad on the bottom of page three of last week’s, April 9, 2020 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 Progress reader Dave Stephen.

The ad simply explained how this newspaper is delivered free of charge because local businesses advertise within these pages, and these days there are a lot fewer ads.

“If you value local news like I do, please consider buying a small ad like this one today.”

Stephen purchased the ad out of his own pocket, following the lead of former Vancouver Sun reporter, now a journalism instructor, Chad Skelton who did it 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 the same in that market, and the sharing of Skelton’s ad prompted Stephen to follow suit in Chilliwack. Similarly, Abbotsford resident and business owner Josh Reynolds bought a full-page ad in our sister paper the Abbotsford News (in which he didn’t even mention his business).

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 other 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 Chilliwack city council will approve that large housing development down the road, or what sentences for criminal activity Chilliwack judges are handing down, you will only find that here.

So why did Stephen buy an ad?

I asked him.

“I see The Progress, the only remaining established media outlet in Chilliwack with a newsroom of experienced, professional journalists, as the vital link for dependable news and information in our community as we go through the circumstances we face with this pandemic,” he said. “If The Progress had to cease publishing, there would be a vacuum of reliable Chilliwack news.”

Ceasing publishing is not something we are planning, but we are under serious revenue pressures. We have reduced to one edition per week. Our reporters are on reduced hours, but in those hours are working harder than ever to get you your local news.

Rick O’Connor, president and CEO of Black Press Media – the parent company of The Progress – explained that the current economic crisis is difficult for community papers that rely so heavily on advertising revenue, both in print and online. Revenue dropped 40 to 50 per cent over two weeks in late March, he said.

Though the particulars of each newspaper are different, as a ballpark figure, the cost to print and deliver each edition of the paper is 25 cents per copy – a number that does not include overhead or staffing costs. Circulation of The Progress is a little over 28,000.

“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.”

This column isn’t a plea for others to do as Dave Stephen, but rather is meant as an explanation of why one local citizen did it. I think it’s great, I think what Chad Skelton did in White Rock was great. Josh Reynolds in Abbotsford too.

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

Chilliwack needs its community newspaper. We are here to keep you informed and to keep public conversations going.

Stay safe and be kind.

• READ MORE: All your Chilliwack Progress COVID-19 coverage in one place

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