Stanstead Journal, Quebec’s oldest weekly newspaper, scales back publication

The Stanstead Journal has ended its regular print run. Angela Major / The Canadian Press

One of the oldest newspapers in Quebec is going from weekly to monthly and may shutter altogether if the interest isn’t there to keep it afloat.

The Stanstead Journal, the province’s oldest weekly newspaper, ended its regular print run last Wednesday and said in a message posted to its website it will from now on only be printed sporadically.

“It is no longer a viable business, and no real government help is forthcoming,” Jean-Yves Durocher, the paper’s owner and publisher since 2003, wrote. “The publisher still believes that this community needs a paper-based news source, but a weekly one for a market this size, with no community support, is unfeasible.”

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The English-language newspaper began publishing in 1845.

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Durocher said Monday that losing a major national automobile advertiser cost it $36,000, which went a long way to paying the bills. And with more politicians and governments opting for social media to reach citizens, Durocher said he was getting almost no government advertising.

“For the last two years, I’ve been bleeding money on this,” Durocher, 68, said in an interview. “It doesn’t take much for a small newspaper to catch a cold, and we have caught a couple of them in the past couple of years.”

His plight is a common one among independent papers.

“For the independents — the small guys — unless someone is behind them with a couple of Brinks trucks, they’re all doomed,” he said.

Durocher said he hopes to publish 10 editions a year — a magazine style of publication with longer stories. The next issue is expected in July, but if he discovers there is no interest in a monthly model he plans to refund subscribers.

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The paper counts about 800 subscribers and had been selling about 200 single copies a week.

The paper hopes to put more emphasis on its web presence in the coming months — it essentially has none currently. But Durocher didn’t sound optimistic that he could make a go of it by charging for online access behind a paywall.

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“We will see what happens in the next couple of weeks, but I would like to have a paper presence if only because it’s a newspaper and somehow, the paper has to be there,” Durocher said.

Ross Murray, editor and owner of the Stanstead Journal between 1994 and 2003 paper, wasn’t entirely surprised by the news. “You can’t survive on subscriptions alone. You have to have advertising,” Murray said.

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He said the newspaper has been a reliable voice that covered the local community. But financially, it’s always been a slog. When Murray owned the paper 15 years ago, it was already difficult to make ends meet.

“There were some weeks where I wondered, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this next week,’ but we always managed to pull through,” Murray said. “So I can’t imagine what it would be like to run a weekly in this climate.”

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Durocher said he’s received just a handful of phone calls since last week’s announcement.

“The people that are calling are either incredibly mad at us because we’ve let them down,” Durocher said. “Or basically they’re saying it’s too bad, and we understand.”

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