19 June 2014

Old news: who reads the newspaper anymore, anyway?

For more than six months, one of my primary clients has been North America's oldest newspaper. I am a photojournalist for the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, as many readers already know. But, what might be news to you is that this small-yet-mighty publication will celebrate its 250th anniversary on June 21, 2014.

This anniversary is what has consumed most of my working (and many should-be-sleeping) hours for months. 

We have a special edition (a full-glossy magazine unlike anything subscribers have seen in recent history!) set to launch on Friday, along with a commemorative video, a talk about the history of the paper, a community picnic, and even a ceremony. All these things are happening this week, which means that next week life will return to normal.

The ceremony I mentioned was for a bilingual (that's a big deal in this town!) historical plaque just placed on the building you're looking at in all these photos. 

Click on photo for article about the plaque

Though you can't tell from the inside, this edifice was once known as the palais de la presse (palace of the press), and it was an architectural marvel in its day. It housed the QCT from 1925-1949, and one of the QCT's predecessor papers from 1907-1925.

The Ville de Québec agreed with us that 250 years of Anglophone (English-language) press in Quebec City (a primarily French-speaking city) was noteworthy. The plaque they placed on the building on Monday is both a nod to the building's architect and to the role the QCT has played in maintaining the heritage of a newspaper established in 1764.

Back then, two British fellows, working as printers in the United States, smelled a niche market when they learned of the British conquest of Quebec City. When the British took over New France, the enterprising William Brown and Thomas Gillmore headed north of the border to establish the first newspaper in that region. Prior to the advent of their paper (The Quebec Gazette-La Gazette de Québec) there had been no newspaper, no printing presses, no "news" as we know it. All their printing materials, including the paper and ink, had to be imported from England.

Over the course of a convoluted two and a half centuries, the fortunes of English-language and bilingual newspapers ebbed and flowed. At times there was only one - initially, the British government required French Catholic priests to a) subscribe and b) read all government announcements therein each Sunday after mass

At other times, the city boasted four or five English newspapers (along with French counterparts, eventually). By 1925, though, all the "Anglo" papers had either closed or merged. The last one standing is still standing strong - the result is a direct lineage from the QCT straight back to The Quebec Gazette

Today, while some people wonder at the tenacity of a somewhat-isolated minority language community (Anglophones in Quebec), they might also scoff at the optimism we feel for the QCT's future. And yet, from Harvard Business School professors to legendary investor Warren Buffett, modern international perspectives jive with ours. And we are still taking our cue from good ol' William Brown. 

In 1764, in the very first edition of the newspaper, he wrote:
“As every kind of knowledge is not only entertaining and instructive to individuals, but a benefit to the community, there is great reason to hope that a NEWS-PAPER [sic], properly conducted and written with accuracy, freedom, and impartiality, cannot fail of meeting with universal encouragement…”

And that's not all. While the overall newspaper scene is grim, studies show that community newspapers are still Canada’s most trustworthy news and ad sources, and that three out of five English-speakers in Quebec read their local newspaper. 

Statistics and demographics aside, this "little newspaper that can" is winning awards right and left, has a young and vibrant team of journalists that I have a ball working with, and has the caché and community momentum of 250 years spent weathering shifts in economy, ideology, and ownership.

I like to think of this anniversary as a launching point. As an opportunity to think about what the future could be, and how the QCT will be a part of it. I know I won't be in on a lot of those decisions, since Jerod and I expect to move back to the U.S. in the near-ish future. 

But even so, being involved with such a tangible and vibrant aspect of our continent's living heritage will be great while it lasts.

Just in case you are interested, here is a link to a page on the QCT's website where you can watch and listen to media coverage (in English and French) of the anniversary events. 


Jennie said...

Loved this newsy post!

Bethann G. Merkle said...

Thanks for saying so! It has been a pleasure, and highly educational, working for the paper! I will definitely be looking for opportunities like this in Wyoming, too.

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