A new print-only newspaper launches for English-speaking communities west of Montreal

This past week Brenda O’Farrell spent her days walking around communities in the Vaudreuil-Soulange region. She was making a special delivery to the residents living there - a brand new local newspaper.

The 1019 Report was named for the 1019 square kilometres that cover the communities of St. Lazare, Hudson, Vaudreuil and Rigaud. It’s a free, English language paper that is only available in print. None of the paper’s articles can be found online. 

O’Farrell says people seem hungry to get their hands on hyper-local news. 

“The whole day people have been stopping me on the street saying it’s about time, I’d like one of those,” she said. 

It may seem counterintuitive to be launching a print-only paper these days, with regional publications shuttering across the country. Even the Montreal Gazette has put its West Island and Off-Island print editions on hiatus because of Covid-19. Some might say this points to a dying industry, but O’Farrell believes it’s an opportunity. 

“What better time (and place) than this area which is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, the fastest growing English area in Quebec, that all of the sudden found itself with no (English) media,” she said. 

Throw in a pandemic, and O’Farrell says people are now in the mindset to think differently about ways of doing things. 

O’Farrell got her start at a small local paper and eventually moved on to work at the Montreal Gazette for 18 years. She says local papers are struggling to survive on digital platforms, and the revenue model is broken.

“The big players, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times of the world, they have a future on a digital platform,” she said. “The more regional newspapers, the papers that I grew up with that did everything, the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star, the big dailies, the floor is falling out from under them.”

Most of the people involved in The 1019 Report are volunteers for now, and many are retired. The paper's revenue model includes traditional advertising, including encouraging municipalities to publish official notices within their pages. It also intends to add other revenue streams, which O’Farrell says will be introduced in the coming weeks.

She says the secret sauce for local publications is knowing what is enough, and not trying to get too big. She says it’s also about telling stories about your own community, in a way no one else can. 

“Not only do you have to inform but you have to reflect the community and it’s hard to measure that. It’s an intangible but it has a texture,” said O’Farrell. 

The debut edition features a story about drive-in movie theatres making a comeback in the area because of the pandemic. Another story shares the struggle of a nurse from the region who is sick with COVID-19. 

“It’s about the people and places that matter,” she said. “It’s not going to be about the White House and the outside world. It’s the one thing you don’t get right now, it’s what’s happening here.”

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