By Margo Goodhand, President of the Michener Award Foundation
We’re about to lose another paper in Canada. For journalists, the news always hits hard, like a death in the family.
This one is particularly sad because Kamloops This Week was an outstanding newsroom and appeared to be healthy and high-functioning … until, of course, it was not.
On Oct. 25, the 2022 Michener Award finalist will publish its final edition, leaving this B.C. interior city of more than 100,000 without a newspaper for the first time in almost 140 years.
Owner Robert Doull, President of Aberdeen Publishing, cited many factors, from rising office space costs to paper and printing costs, and also to the fact its web views have plummeted since Meta and Google started blocking news sites in opposition to Canada’s Online News Act.
He could have added in declining ad revenues, the scourge of newspapers since the birth of the Internet.
Newspapers have been slowly shuddering (and shuttering) for decades. Overall, 2,500 newspapers in the United States have closed since 2005. Almost 500 have closed in Canada since 2008, and the rest are slowly shrinking. New, digital newsrooms are thankfully forming in the void, though not nearly enough of them, and of varying degrees of quality.
Clearly, though, it’s not just the paper that we mourn. It’s this particular newsroom.
Since its launch 35 years ago, Kamloops This Week has won five Webster Awards (B.C.’s highest journalism honour), and taken home dozens of B.C./Yukon Community Newsmedia and Canadian Community Newspaper Association Awards. In 2014, it was named Canada’s best community newspaper.
And in 2022, it was a finalist for the Michener Award — this country’s greatest journalism honour. It was by far the smallest newsroom in that year’s cohort, up against Goliaths like the Globe and Mail, CBC’s Fifth Estate and Global News.
Our judges looked at this team of two reporters and Editor Chris Foulds and marvelled at their guts and tenacity, unravelling a complicated story that would test their limits in a year of wildfires, Covid, and a federal election. This was the KTW’s citation from the Michener jury:
Kamloops This Week: Spending at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District
When this small independent weekly was tipped off, all in one day, that a member of the regional district council had taken paid leave, then vacation, then resigned and finally retired, they sought to clear up the confusion — only to encounter a wall of official silence. But the KTW team of Jessica Wallace, Christopher Foulds and Tim Shoults would not be denied answers to their questions. They began to pursue the money trail; conducting dozens of interviews, filing dozens of Freedom of Information requests, and ultimately creating a database that detailed five years of questionable spending of taxpayer resources. Their stories resulted in major policy changes tightening district oversight on everything from grants and sponsorships to catering and dining; the launching of an RCMP criminal investigation, and an independent forensic audit that only confirmed KTW’s findings.”
The citation concludes with this line, which reminds me of The Washington Post’s logo, Democracy dies in darkness. “If civic governance is the bedrock of democracy, then the independent work done by this newsroom is an outstanding example of the bedrock of journalism.”
The Michener is awarded to newsrooms for a reason.
It takes more than one individual to effect change. It takes a great team — invariably with a great editor — to produce powerful, transformative journalism, and it takes an owner with backbone (and often deep pockets) to withstand the inevitable backlash.
When a Michener jury nominates a newsroom, it is telling the world of that organization’s passion, talent and collective courage to make a change for the better. We honour, celebrate and promote excellence in public service journalism.
Kamloops is losing more than 26 local jobs. It’s losing a newsroom with integrity, something that has become increasingly rare in the media landscape. And that’s sad news for people who still believe journalism is a fundamental pillar of democracy.
So here’s to the little independent with the big heart, and the hard-working journalists who made it shine.
May you find another newsroom, and keep the lights on for us all.