Changes to the newsroom will improve the Review’s relevance to you

Greetings to you, dear reader.

Regular readers of this space will see that I am a new face on the editorial page. We’re tweaking our newsroom personnel to improve the quality and quantity of our coverage by having one editor assigned to oversee the editorial side of both the Rimbey Review and the Ponoka News.

James Taylor is still be the eyes and ears of the Rimbey Review but now we will be able to provide some backup from the newsroom in Ponoka and we’ll be supplementing his coverage with reports written by other staff.

The Review and The News are Black Press papers serving Ponoka County. The two papers don’t share a large common circulation area but both communities are served by the same county council, school board, MLA and MP. Now we will be able to bring more relevant stories to you from all levels of government and we have the opportunity to work together to publish more features and sports news.

A bit about me: I have been a newspaper reporter, photographer, editor and publisher for the last 28 years. My career stops have included Sylvan Lake, Wetaskiwin and most recently, Devon and Beaumont.

I arrived in Ponoka in May, having been divorced from Sun Media and I am entering a new stage of my career.

I am the current president of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA), which made me a media curiosity this spring, when after Sun Media cut a number of publisher positions in central Alberta, I found myself unemployed.

The Rimbey Review is the fourth newspaper I have edited this year, which has got to be some sort of a record. Oddly enough, I am only the second newspaperman in Ponoka or Rimbey to serve as AWNA president, following the late Ernie Jamison in Ponoka by some 48 years. Ernie followed Jack Parry, who was publisher of the Rimbey Record. Old-timers will remember Jack and Olive as long-time residents here. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack almost every week for about six years in the 1980s when he came to the Sylvan Lake News to drop off his newspaper pages. We then carried them on to the press in Penhold.

Jack was very involved in this community, especially with the United Church, the chamber of commerce and the Lions Club. If that didn’t keep him busy enough, he was a town councillor, school board trustee and a volunteer firefighter. He didn’t just burn the candle at both ends: he had the whole candelabra burning.

The newspaper industry is going through technological changes, facing online competition and declining revenues as a fallout of the global economic crisis. We are no longer newspaper companies; we’re news companies. Our mission hasn’t changed; technology has. We’re still about providing information, connecting our communities and helping buyers and sellers to transact.

Most community newspapers, in most Alberta communities, are strong enough to weather this economic storm. And like Rimbey, most Alberta communities have economies diverse enough to support a weekly newspaper. Healthy communities will sustain healthy newspapers.

In turn, it’s the newspaper’s job to help build and sustain the community.

To be of any use to you, our traditional, all-things-to-all-people community newspaper must be a concise, yet comprehensive, well-organized guide to our community. It should be built on the foundations of strong reporting and photography, thoughtful analysis on the editorial page and community involvement. A weakness we have compared to online new sources is that we have a finite amount of space every week. It weakens the immediacy of our product when we serve up reports of weeks old community events and pass them off as “news.”

As most Alberta newspapers do, the Rimbey Review has a loyal audience that has been looking for work through the classified pages, reading the obits and grumbling about town council’s decisions for decades. But ours is an aging audience and if we are to survive as an industry, we have to evolve with the technology available to us and that is being embraced by our readers — young and old. Newspapers are just as relevant to their readers and to their communities as ever — it’s just that there are more options available. We need to entrench strong editorial standards among to improve our value and validity to advertisers and readers alike.

Online sources brag about being interactive; community newspapers have always been an interactive medium. We encourage you to write letters to the editor, send us reports from your sports league and to submit a photo when five generations of your family gets together. That’s easier to do than ever since nearly everyone has a personal computer at home and a handy digital camera.

Our newspapers are seen by our readers as an extension of their lives: an eye into their children’s classroom, a seat in the gallery at a town council meeting or a look behind the scenes at the community theatre. This is where our strength has been and where it will continue to be. Simply, if the Rimbey Review is to remain relevant and effective we must remain local. It will always be our mission to report on and to comment on the affairs of John Q. Public — even though the shape and delivery of our newspapers change.

We have to be all things to all people in the community. Our strength is that our readers want the quality, authority and familiarity of their hometown newspaper to turn to.