“The first newspaper founded in Cobourg was the Cobourg Star, founded by R.D. Chatterton on Jan. 11, 1831. This makes the newspaper industry the oldest surviving industry in the Town of Cobourg.”
April 28, 2011, Northumberland Today
Opinion: Ted Amsden
The news today is the about the news that is no longer going to arrive at the front doors of Cobourg and Port Hope homes.
According to both the Postmedia and Torstar this morning, Northumberland Today is officially shut down. The two companies have decided to trade properties – no cash has traded hands – and close down the papers of their competitors that have been diluting the market where their own brand is stronger.
Northumberland Today is now history.
Emails to reporters working at Northumberland Today have not been returned. I assume my friends, Val Macdonald and Cecilia Nasmith along with Pete Fisher are probably in some degree of shock at this moment.
I know I am.
Having talked to them many times since I left the paper in 2012, I can say there has been no confusion in their minds that the future of Northumberland Today was in doubt. Advertising has fallen off as well as customers. Inside the paper, the number of employees no longer working long ago exceeded the number working there.
It is with mixed feelings I read about the transaction between TorStar and NP Media. The end has come much sooner than expected and with no fanfare. Given the pedigree of the paper in as much as it has gone through many incarnations ie: Cobourg Daily Star, Cobourg Sentinel Star, Port Hope Evening Guide, one would have thought a little shutting-down party was in order.
An opportunity to praise and thank. At the very least, the opportunity for the paper as an entity through its staff to tell the community what an absolute honour it has been to be the paper of record for so many years should have been provided.
I worked at the Cobourg Daily Star and Port Hope Evening Guide (back then there were offices in both towns!) from 1988 until 2012. Late to newspapering and photojournalism, I was embraced by the gang that worked in both offices.
Very quickly I found myself pulled into the community as well much to my delight. Toronto-born, I had no sense of living with big tribes of people until I began living and working in Northumberland. The vehicle that carried me out into the public was the newspaper. It allowed me to interact with all levels, all interests, all ages. A much larger organization in those days with managers, copy editors, pressmen, layout people and certainly more reporters, it was the voice of the community to many people.
And it listened to people. There was a large Letters-to-the-Editor section that was like a paper within a paper. Folks would rush to get the latest edition at 11 am when it hit the streets to read the stories of which they were sometimes the subject and to read about their neighbours. To find out the latest thoughts on whatever controversy was getting everyone along Walton and King Streets in a lather.
No one needs a recap about the pressures of online news and other sources of information to understand why a daily newspaper can’t make it in a small market these days. It makes little sense to cut down trees so you can read about yesterday’s news when the news of five minutes ago is on your cell phone.
The decision to shutter Northumberland Today so abruptly is no surprise. TorStar probably has little money and interest indulging the readers of a competitor’s paper with a sentimental parting edition.
The writing has been on the wall. National Post Media management has from what I have gathered operated at an increasing distance from the folks at Northumberland Today. Many operations outsourced. I suspect it is not because they have been unfriendly or lacking in sympathy for Pete, Val and Cecilia. It is common knowledge everyone in the newspaper business is under extreme pressure to do more with less and do it faster at the same time function equally in several professional categories.
I was fortunate to simply be a photographer for many years while working at the paper. It was only in the last five years of my employment that I was told to start writing as well or be out of a job. I rankled under the pressure but adapted.
The present staff at Northumberland Today have been trying to run the paper like it was managed back in the day. I have listened to them express their dismay. They have had to function as reporters, editors and photographers. Their sense of duty, allegiance to how “things used to be done”, has kept them pressing on week in and out. I have heard the stress in their voices, witnessed it in their faces. When I was working I would cover upwards of 15 events or more a day as a photographer knowing there were three reporters looking after the stories. What a pleasure it was back then. Two people working on a story. We had the time to think about what we were doing and plan. The leisure to file in a timely manner.
The Cobourg Daily Star and the Port Hope Evening Guide covered everything that happened in both towns. There was a stable of journalists who specialized in politics or community events. Editorials crafted at least three times a week were about local affairs. There was a regular roster of opinion columnists writing on a variety of topics from social events and humour to birds and fishing.
Sigh. Fun times. Productive times. Fulfilling times. Certainly glad I caught the tail end.
The three that suddenly find themselves out a job today – Val, Pete and Cecilia – have all given decades of service to Port Hope, Cobourg, surrounding communities and Northumberland. Not just for reasons of self-interest will they be sad today with the closure of Northumberland Today. No, they will feel the padlocking of the business deeply.
It is not often one experiences coming to work to find a once great organization suddenly no longer exists. An organization that brightened the lives of generations of so many people, carried such weighty news as the end of World Wars, announced births and deaths and marriages of everybody, told us with incredible detail about all our sports, celebrated the shenanigans of our youth, the heroism of our police, fire and military, reported faithfully the words of our leaders, our preachers, even those who held contrarian views yet faithfully arrived at our doorstep no matter what the weather five and sometimes six days a week.
I joked for years that I worked for the two smallest dailies in the Western World. I don’t know if that is true. What is true is that while they were small papers, they were intensely local daily papers
And that dear citizens of Port Hope and Cobourg has been our very great privilege. To have had daily newspapers that covered us. That told us who, what, when and where we did what we did as well why we did it.
R.I.P. Northumberland Today aka Cobourg Daily Star aka Cobourg Sentinel Star, aka Port Hope Evening Guide and, yes, the Colborne Chronicle, too. You are gone but definitely– you will not be forgotten.
Postscript: Presumably, Northumberland News will continue to publish once a week in print so those needing a paper in their hands will be mollified. Alternative sources of news, images and events about your community in online publications such Cobourg Now and Port Hope Now — both are part of the Northumberland News Network — along with Cramahe Now and Brighton Now are here to help you get your news out to the community. Send us your stories and your events. We can’t promise we will put up everything but we will do our best.