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Editorial: What the Undercurrent faces forging a viable future for local news on Bowen

The Undercurrent’s publisher reflects on the news biz on Bowen, 18 months into the pandemic
Leaving Bowen Island at sunset on Queen of Capilano

Readers ask me every day, “how are you doing”? After a moments deliberation on my personal situation and the endless protocols and compromises that our family and friends have had to endure, I realize quickly, our readers interest is really in “how our local news organization is doing”?

Nearly 18 months ago, pre-co, our local newspaper and its associated online platform, were struggling to find the balance between our audience’s voracious appetite for local news and our declining advertising support from national and local businesses. So really, not much has changed? 

Oh to the contrary. While we continue to see strong growth in our audience’s engagement with our content, both in print and online, we continue to see the dominance of the online platforms in the advertising market. Simply put, we don’t have an audience problem, but our advertisers simply have many more choices today.

We are seeing stronger pick-up of our paper from our boxes, retailers and subscriptions are holding well. Today, as always, we provide a strong opportunity for local businesses and organizations to connect with their customers, potential customers and constituents through our paper, but also very much through our online audience. The demographics of that online audience are terribly similar to the one that the paper delivers. You just come visit more often, and find our offering updated on a daily basis with strong local and regional news, views, sports and hopefully again one day, entertainment.

If you are not signed up for our newsletter program, you really are missing out. Bronwyn, our editor, hand-curates a weekly newsletter that is simply “not to miss!” 

Delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday morning, Bronwyn’s newsletter takes you through the week’s stories, highlighting the most important and most interesting local news, stories and people. We look forward to increasing the frequency of our newsletter program over the months and years ahead as it is a very effective way for us to remain connected directly with all of you, our readers and for you to stay connected to everything Bowen.

I know that many of you still love the tactile nature of the paper. We appreciate that and hope to be able to keep that going for a long time. But we are not really in the news “paper” business. We are in the business of collecting and disseminating essential local information. It is the work that Bronwyn and our other journalists do that we value. The method of delivery is simply a distribution tactic. Our online newsletter boasts the highest open rate of any of our peers’ efforts. Find out what you are missing.

As a subscriber to our “free” newsletter program, we will ask you to join us as a member. It is not at all required, but if you value the work done by Bronwyn and our other journalists, we ask you to consider a monthly membership, that will go directly to insuring the future of local journalism on Bowen. If “we” want a local news organization on our island, we must all do our bit to ensure its ongoing viability.

You may have heard about several big promises from our federal government that would help “save local news.” While temporary help during the pandemic is critical and much appreciated, the underlying issues remain. The big online platforms (you know who they are), continue to sell advertising to national and local businesses without investing in local markets. They employ no one in our area, they don’t spend with our local businesses, don’t pay taxes locally or in Canada and they don’t have any reporters. 

While our corporate owners have negotiated a strong and very important deal with Google and Facebook, to support local journalism, it simply is not enough on its own. These mega platforms’ direct financial contributions help train and support us in finding our way in the digital world, and are so much appreciated, but on their own won’t save local reporting.

All of the major political parties have recognized the dire situation for local news and are promising to help. However promises are just that without strong legislation and a code of conduct to regulate the online platforms and to “level the playing field.” We are hopeful that whichever party forms the next government will quickly move to introduce legislation in the first session of the new Parliament.

In the meantime, we are left to our own to uphold our tradition of strong local news. That “we” is all of us. Consider the significant importance of supporting local businesses. Those businesses make Bowen the wonderfully charming place that we call home. They provide jobs, pay taxes and often choose their local news organization at the Undercurrent for their marketing investments. In turn we employ local residents, pay rent and taxes here and spend our paycheques right here on the Island. Support local!

Simply put, we are in this together. Much has changed, but much stays the same. 

Support local is a theme to stay, and it includes all businesses and organizations here on Bowen. Money spent on Bowen, stays on Bowen! 

We are simply stronger together. 

So as we look ahead at a time when the pandemic has waned in its intensity (po-co), take time to connect with your neighbours and community at large. 

Let us be that connection that helps, in a small way, to build that future that we all want for our wonderful community. Whether you read us in print or not, make sure you book mark our website and visit often: bowenislandundercurrent.com

And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, right on the top right corner of our home page. This is the future of local news. When we provide compelling reasons to become a member, just do it! 

The small monthly investment will help us remain your source for local news for year to come. 

Feel free to reach out with your questions or comments. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sincerely,

Peter Kvarnstrom, Publisher

Publisher@bowenislandundercurrent.com