Stephen Vance, Editor
In a couple of weeks this little community newspaper turns seven years old. While I would normally wait until closer to our actual birthday to thank our readers, these days November is smack dab in the middle of municipal budget season (anyone remember when Meaford’s municipal budget season was in March? My, how some things have improved), so I thought I would pass along a thank you to our readers a little early this year.
Since this newspaper first launched (initially as an online-only publication) in early November of 2009, we have covered three different councils, two municipal elections, hundreds of community news stories, one murder, the arrest of a senior municipal staffer for crimes committed at their previous place of employment, and one natural disaster. Sorry, I shouldn’t refer to the last federal election in that way.
We’ve reported on issues big and small, from the fun to the scary. Whether it’s a quilt show, or the start of the farmers’ market season, or the prospect of having a garbage incinerator constructed in this town, we’ve worked hard over these seven years to bring you the stories you need to know as well as those you want to know.
From the much despised five-year plan of a few years ago that raided ratepayers’ pocketbooks with hefty annual tax increases to help right Meaford’s financial ship after accumulating some $3 million in budget deficits (municipalities in Ontario aren’t permitted to carry deficits over from year to year) to the 20th anniversary celebration of the Scarecrow Invasion & Family Festival, we’ve always had plenty to write about – and we know you’ve been reading us.
In 2010, our first full year in operation, our website received 128,000 visits, and our articles were read 643,000 times that year. At the time I thought that was pretty impressive, but each year our readership has grown, and not just a little. Last year our website received more than 410,000 visits, and our articles were clicked on well over two million times.
At the beginning of this year I remember thinking about 410,000 visits, and what a large number it was. That’s nearly 8,000 visits to our website every single week. Given that we strive to serve just our own community of 11,000 in Meaford (though we have readers all over the world – even this week we’ve received a letter to the editor from New Zealand), 8,000 visits to our website each week is a lot of visits, and I figured we had most likely set a record for ourselves that would not be broken for a long time, if ever. So far this year, we’ve already seen nearly 370,000 visits, so with two full months left in the year, I’m going to guess that we will once again reach a new record number of website visits, as we have each year since we launched.
Our print paper has also proven popular in the three years since we launched it. Store sales continue to climb, and new local and out of town subscriptions keep coming in every day – we received our first subscription from the USA this year, so like our website, our hard copy paper is being read well beyond Meaford’s borders.
Our reporting aside, in our first seven years, we’ve also given a strong voice to our readers with roughly 1,000 letters to the editor published in that time (whether we agreed with the letters or not).
Seven years in, here’s what I know – we have a great product in our newspaper, and we are told so by our readers literally every single day. We have a strong, engaged readership that have given us the energy and encouragement to keep going year after year – now if only the advertising would follow. I won’t lie, the community newspaper business in 2016 is a tough business. Many assume that because we have such a great paper that is loved by so many that we’re rolling in dough at the Meaford Independent office, but sadly, these days it doesn’t quite work that way, and sadly, though we’ve been operating for seven years, and we have a strong, loyal, and growing readership, the bulk of the cost to keep this newspaper going comes out of our own pockets. We would have a huge, and I mean huge, party if we ever broke even.
Everyone wants to be informed as they always have, organizations want their events promoted, businesses want their charitable donations covered with a photo and a blurb, but very few seem to want to pay for having that news come to them, and that makes it tough on small community newspapers.
We plan to keep going as long as we can, however, and you can support us, and help keep us going by subscribing to our print paper, or clicking the ‘support’ button on our website and making a contribution. It would be a great birthday present.
Thank you so much to our fantastic and loyal readers for seven fantastic years. YOU are The Meaford Independent. I’ve often responded when thanked for writing a story about some local event or another that it is you that should be thanked. You our readers, our friends and neighbours, Meaford residents, you provide the stories, whether as part of a community organization, as a member of council, as an angry resident, or as an organizer of a community event, you all write the stories, I just tap the keys on my keyboard.