After 23 years, N.W.T.'s Deh Cho Drum newspaper suspends publication

After 23 years, N.W.T.'s Deh Cho Drum newspaper suspends publication

TheDeh Cho Drum, a weekly newspaper that covers communities in N.W.T.'s Dehcho region, will run its final issue this week. 

The paper's publisher announced that Thursday's issue will be its last, and that publication is being "suspended" in a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon.

"End of an era!" the post read, with a picture of a retrospective front page. 

Both Michael Scott, general manager at Northern News Services, and Mike Bryant, senior editor, declined an interview ahead of the announcement.

In an editorial published in Thursday's paper Scott notes that, "declining advertising revenue and shipping costs in a small market have made the publication of the Deh Cho Drum untenable. As a private business, we survive by selling newspapers and advertising."

"It's a real loss," said Bob Norwegian, a local historian. 

"Pretty well everybody, that's their only communication with each other [between communities], something to discuss over at the coffee shops." 

Binding communities together

Staffed by one reporter/editor based in Fort Simpson, the paper also covered Jean Marie River, Nahanni Butte, Fort Liard, Fort Providence, Kakisa, Wrigley, and Sambaa K'e. 

"The paper kind of bound all the Dehcho communities together," said former Fort Simpson mayor Sean Whelly. 

Whelly said that as a political figure he had his disagreements with the paper on occasion, but that there was always mutual respect with the reporters at the Drum.

"You would get stories that you wish could have been presented slightly differently, but I always found the reporters to be even-handed," he said.

The paper has been covering the Dehcho region since 1994. Its predecessor, the Mackenzie Times, covered the region prior to that.

The exact cause for the closure is not yet publicly known, but the shuttering of community papers has become commonplace across Canada in recent years. Declining ad revenue is often to blame.

Loss for the region

Meagan Wohlberg has seen the effects of a newspaper's closure up close. She's the former editor of the Northern Journal, which ceased publication last year in Fort Smith, N.W.T. She says she's approached at least once a week by someone lamenting the paper's loss.

"I think in a lot of cases these things are missed once they're gone more than taken advantage of sometimes while they exist, but the absence of newspapers really does create a hole in communities," she says. 

She adds that the loss isn't just a lack of news.

"Reporters who work for community newspapers are part of the community. We are residents, and neighbours, and volunteers…they become part of the fabric of the community just as much as anyone else. So when an organization like the Northern Journal or the Deh Cho Drum closes, those are real people whose real lives are being impacted." 

The loss of a newspaper is especially marked in small communities. Kakisa Chief Lloyd Chicot echoed the sentiment of many people contacted about the loss of the paper: that it provides an essential service, connecting communities and keeping readers abreast of the goings-on in one another's backyards.

"I know the downturn has been coming," says Chicot, "But we never thought they would [close it]."

'It will be missed,' says MLA

Even MLA Michael Nadli said the paper helps him keep informed of what is happening in his riding, a large geographical area made up of many small communities.

"In that sense it's really disappointing," he says.

Social media, Nadli added, is heavily used in the region, and Chicot pointed out that the First Nations all have their own websites, but both admitted that those mediums lack the ability of a dedicated newspaper to explain, filter and contextualize the news.

"It will be missed," says Nadli. 

The expected announcement in Thursday's issue will provide the first official word on the closure.

As former mayor Sean Whelly put it, referring to just about everything that happened in the region, "It didn't really happen until you put it in the paper."