New Brunswick

Saint John newspaper folds after 15 years serving lower-income neighbourhoods

Juanita Black has a humble demeanour as she recalls the early days of starting her local newspaper. But as she thumbs through the first and last editions, her smile betrays the facade that this was a simple endeavour.

Non-profit that published paper says it wants to use the city money to collect data instead

Juanita Black reads a paper
Saint John community newspaper Around the Block was created by Juanita Black in 2008 and was serving a readership in five neighbourhoods until it closed this month. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Juanita Black has a humble demeanour as she recalls the early days of starting her local newspaper.

But as she thumbs through the first and last editions, her smile betrays the facade that this was a simple endeavour.

"It's changed my life, this little newsletter," she said.

"It's just like the engine that could, and we did. And I think a lot of people are proud of it."

WATCH | Former editor Juanita Black on the newspaper's loyal following:

After 15 years, this small community newspaper in Saint John is closing

2 months ago
Duration 2:00
Around the Block served the five lowest-income neighbourhoods in Saint John and focused on good news stories in the community.

Black created the newspaper Around the Block in 2008 and was its original editor. Each edition saw 6,000 copies delivered.

The paper featured about 20 pages of stories about local charities, school updates, events, obituaries, poetry, and a fresh fruit and vegetable giveaway contest. There were also advertisements from local businesses and politicians.

Until this month, it served Saint John's five priority neighbourhoods that see the lowest levels of education and highest poverty rates in the city.

Around The Block
Around the Block had an annual budget of about $20,000, which the city provided to the Human Development Council, which published the newspaper. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Ninety-three editions were published in hard copy by the Human Development Council with city funding.

Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie said the Human Development Council asked the city to shift funding from the newspaper to the group's data collection efforts.

"The city had no input into what was going to happen with the newspaper, nor did we say there wasn't going to be funding or anything like that," MacKenzie said.

He said there was a discussion with the Human Development Council that led to the shift in funding, but the city had no input in the decision.

Randy Hatfield, the Human Development Council executive director, said beyond the roughly $20,000 annual budget to pay staff, the business model used ad revenue and business sponsorship to cover delivery.

"And that no longer works," Hatfield said. "We're not immune in the community sector from general change in funding models and business models in media."

Randy Hatfield
Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Human Development Council, says the print funding model wasn't working and it was a challenge to keep up the paper. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

He added that it was difficult to quantify the newspaper's influence in order to justify the funding.

"I can tell you how many issues were produced, I can't tell you how that filtered through into the community level," Hatfield said.

Funding from the city came on an annual basis, which was difficult to manage, he said.

Last year, the money came late so the newspaper had to start out the year without money, he said.

"It was just becoming a drag on our revenues to sustain it."

Times are changing, founder says

Black said she started the paper to highlight good news stories in the neighbourhoods Around the Block served, which were Crescent Valley, the old north end, lower west side, Waterloo Village and the south end.

It was a community newspaper that brought the community together, she said, and catered to a demographic that enjoyed reading a physical print copy instead of a virtual paper.

"It's sad, and I'm sad, but times are changing, I think," Black said.

Juanita Black poses for a photo
Black says the newspaper brought communities together. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"Media's not the same as it used to be, print media's not the same as it used to be."

Her proudest moment was when Prince Charles and Camilla visited town in 2012, and Black later sent them a copy of the newspaper's coverage on the royal visit.

"Honest to god, they answered us back," she said, explaining that she received a note from the royals saying that her newspaper had been received.

"They can't say the paper hasn't been viewed, because it's been viewed from the top right down."  

Funding for data collection

Hatfield said the newspaper's end is a natural progression, but noted that the priority neighbourhoods have "strengthened" since 2008.

Most now have community centres and newsletters of their own, he said.

Now, he said, city money that previously went to Around the Block will be used for a community data portal to gather statistics for each neighbourhood on topics such as food insecurity and food bank use.  

Ogden said he wasn't a part of the decision to shift the funding, but he always placed ads with Around the Block and would write articles for them when asked.

Information is important for vulnerable communities, he said, and the newspaper was trying to break down barriers.

A neighbourhood in Saint John
Funding that previously went to the paper will now be used for data collection in the five priority neighbourhoods, Hatfield says. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"This was a way for Saint John to keep in touch with itself."

The final edition features pages of contributors and advertisers saying how much the paper meant to them and the community.

Black said the paper couldn't simply end without thanking its readers.

"We needed that final finish line," she said, "We needed to say goodbye, and this issue is saying goodbye."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Farley

Journalist

Sam Farley is a Fredericton-based reporter at CBC New Brunswick. Originally from Boston, he is a journalism graduate of the University of King's College in Halifax. He can be reached at sam.farley@cbc.ca

With files from Rachel Cave

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