OPINION: The Times closes but Chilliwack journalism goes on

Chilliwack Times reporter Paul J. Henderson spent 10 years at the paper. As of Jan. 3, 2017 he has moved to the Chilliwack Progress. - Darren McDonald
Chilliwack Times reporter Paul J. Henderson spent 10 years at the paper. As of Jan. 3, 2017 he has moved to the Chilliwack Progress.
— image credit: Darren McDonald

And so, here it all ends . . . or does it?

It is with mixed, even uncertain emotions that I put fingers on a keyboard this week, typing some of the final words that will ever appear in the pages of the Chilliwack Times.

This is the last edition of the 31-year-old newspaper and certainly some will say, that’s too bad.

(Others may be rubbing their hands together with glee.)

But news gathering goes on, journalism continues and folks in Chilliwack will keep finding out the important things they need to know from myself and the team at the Progress.

In 2016, the simple reality is that people get their information from an increasing range of sources, particularly online. I have no statistics to share but in the 10 years I’ve been at the Times, the percentage of people who get their local news from online sources has likely increased exponentially.

Having said that, there are many of us who still prefer to read ink on newsprint, folding pages over on a table or on a lap. Yet even every print product has an online presence, and both Chilliwack papers have worked hard to keep up to date with breaking and ever-changing news in between the weekly or twice-weekly thud on your front doorstep.

For many decades, print newspapers were the sole source of news for people. They were, and still are, relied upon for a fair and balanced source of information about what is happening in the world around us.

Now, the online world is rife with information from broadcast and print media, magazines and bloggers, but also highly partisan websites and even outright fake “news” sites.

It is precisely because of the staggering abundance of information in 2016 and ways of accessing that information that we need to be ever mindful of its accuracy and trustworthiness.

Then there is social media, not usually a source of news in itself but usually used as a medium that sends people to both legitimate and unreliable sources.

My experience with social media is that it has an incredible power to connect people, let otherwise silent voices be heard, and serve as a sounding board for the community locally as well as far and wide. But platforms such as Facebook can also be a dangerous place where shaming, bullying, dishonesty and anger are fomented, both intentionally and unintentionally. People tend to post comments with links to other websites, but it’s dangerous when people don’t click those links to see the source. Amid this post-post-modern somewhat anarchic online milieu, your community newspaper should be the rock, the oasis in the desert, the safe place to retreat to in the storm.

We are not perfect. We miss things. We make mistakes. But we do our best to be fair and balanced and you can rely on us in that regard.

Much has been made of the demise of the newspaper as outlets across North America continue to close. But print is not dead. Advertisers need to get their message out to the 30,000-or-so households in Chilliwack and local stories still need to be told both online and, yes, in print.

Since the Times started publishing, Chilliwack has doubled in population and has changed in substantive ways. It’s grown from a town to a city, and this year we have seen the growing pains in the forms of increased crime and homelessness, higher real estate prices and scarcity of rental housing.

As I wrote in a column in June, marking my 10 years at the Times, we are still talking about flooding and droughts, crime and punishment, downtown, development and farmland.

All those things are important and while this is the last edition of the Chilliwack Times, we aren’t going away, we are merging with our sister paper the Chilliwack Progress.

The editorial content readers relied upon in the Times will carry on. Like me or loathe me, this isn’t the last you’ll see or read of me. I move over to the Progress in the new year where I will join the team on Spadina Avenue and do my best to continue to tell stories about people in the city and keep readers up to date on what they need to know.

Moving to the Progress will be a little unusual for me since it is the newspaper I’ve been in (friendly) competition with for a decade. Part of me thinks I’ll feel like Luke Skywalker being marched into the Death Star. (Although I probably look more like Chewbacca.)

But in reality there are no sides and never have been. We are all really on the same team anyway.

Community newspapers, whether there is one or two in a town, are important to keep elected officials and public institutions in check. A free and open media is essential for democracy. But that’s big picture stuff. Your community newspaper is simply essential to find out what is happening locally, day in and day out.

The Times and the Progress have always had the same goal in mind and working together will not only benefit us as news gatherers, I really think the community will be better served.

The media landscape is changing here and across the world, but please don’t see this as the death of a newspaper. Try to see it as we do, as the merging of two teams, with the goal of re-emerging as something even better.

So for all of us who make up the Times, and me specifically, this isn’t goodbye or even truly an ending. We are still around and we are still going strong.

I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for reading.

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