Abbotsford Times R.I.P.

By December 20, 2013Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. I used to work at the Abbotsford Times and made friends when I was there with some very nice, hard working and committed people.

So there was a degree of sadness when I pressed ‘publish’ on the story this month about Black Press shutting the newspaper down.

Those who understand the business model of the newspaper/flyer business in the Lower Mainland would have noticed, as I did, that the Times was referred to by former Abbotsford News publisher and current president of the Black Press Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island divisions, Randy Blair, as a “money-losing” paper. For those who don’t know or understand the business model; lots of newspapers in lots of markets lose money, even in good times.

The purpose of the local newspapers to the chains which own them is to a) provide a door-to-door delivery system which enables the parent company to sell national advertising into local markets as well as grocery store and retail flyers, and, b) to provide something for the chains’ printing presses to print.

Whatever local revenue the newspaper can bring in through ad sales helps defray the costs of operating the local outlet.

Each local newspaper pays its parent company to have itself printed every week which is why, to the parent company, it matters little if the local publisher can’t quite meet his/her targets or loses a bit of money so long as the print bill is paid and the national sales team can sell enough flyers into the paper to pay for the printing and distribution.

So you can imagine what those of us either ‘in the business’ or formerly from the business thought when we read the words ‘money-losing’ in reference to the Times. It meant the paper was losing so much money it was an irretrievable drain on resources for the parent company which couldn’t be made up for by national ads, flyer sales or print bills.

In terms of its place in the community, while I bemoan the loss of jobs of the people I did and didn’t know from the Times, the fact is that the paper has been fundamentally irrelevant for most of its existence. It did provide an opportunity for those who couldn’t get their letters published in the News to have their opinions heard, but I honestly can’t remember an editorial position the Times editors were ever allowed to take which was truly provocative, insightful or contrary to the status quo or the positions taken by the News.

The Times seemed determined to prove to the shadowy power structure in Abbotsford that they could be relied on to keep their mouths shut just as much as the people managing the News.

In every newspaper market with which I have been familiar over 20+ years in the newspaper business, the Number Two newspaper behaved like one. Number Two newspapers, like the famed Avis Car Rental commercials, are supposed to try harder, be scrappy, contrary, muck-raking. While the paper of record plays its allotted role of protecting the interests of the power structure and those who run city hall, the chamber of commerce and the church leadership, the Number Two newspaper is supposed to question what the power structure is doing, ask the tough questions, show the courage any community needs from its media to take controversial, dangerous and provocative stands on issues of importance to its readers.

If they don’t … who will?

I don’t remember the Times ever doing any of that. Just like the News, the Times supported City Hall on Plan A, George Peary’s Deal to financially support the Calgary Flames, George Peary’s attempt to saddle taxpayers with the $300,000,000 cost for a new water system we didn’t need, Mayor Banman’s attempt to give away $17.5 million plus tax freedom to the YMCA …

On all of the controversial issues on which taking the side of the taxpayer or the citizen was opposed to that of the powerful and the rich, the Times, as far as I can remember, always stood with the News and the power structure.

Abbotsford is a textbook example of the kind of city you end up with when no one dares to question the decisions being made by the political, bureacratic, business and religious power structures in the community. It’s why we separated church and state so many years ago. Belief is not a healthy or productive basis on which to make secular decisions.

I will miss the friends I made at the Abbotsford Times and I hope they will be able to land on their feet with the help of the buyouts the union managed to negotiate for them.

I’m really not sure the lack of an Abbotsford Times on the doorstep twice a week is going to have that much of an impact on the political world or the way the power structure in Abbotsford conducts itself.

Some independent companies are establishing themselves in the local digital world either as web-only providers of news and opinion or, as in the case of The Rossland Telegraph and Lone Sheep Publishing in the Kootenays, with a foot in both digital and print worlds.

With the economy the way it is, and with the old newspaper/flyer delivery companies facing a slow inexorable decline in flyer revenue once the grocery chains and others pull out of the door-to-door flyer delivery business, I’m not sure advertisers even have to worry about advertising rates going up due to a reduction in competition.

Leaving the market when it did and as it did, I’m afraid the Abbotsford Times was forced to die with a whimper rather than a bang.

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