The Midland Free Press, a newspaper that has been serving the Huronia area of Penetanguishene and Midland, Ontario recently announced it was shutting down.
The paper, which had four separate corporate owners since 1994 — Southam Newspaper Group, Hollinger, Osprey Media, the Quebecor — had published in the area for 134 years, beginning in 1879.
“In recent years, the paper has had financial challenges,” said Rob Leuschner, the Regional Publisher/Director of Advertising for The Free Press, in a statement in the paper’s last edition. “The team at The Free Press has worked diligently to improve the financial position of the newspaper but at the end of the day it has not been enough to justify the investment required to continue publishing. I would like to thank readers, advertisers, community leaders and the staff of The Free Press for their past contributions and commitment to the paper.”
It’s not news that newspapers have suffered tremendously in the digital age. And beyond a vague sense of anger directed towards the bean counters who have to pull the trigger on these decisions it’s an uncomfortably blameless scenario. There’s just not enough money to make small town papers like this work anymore.
The real bummer here is the personal one. My first job came when I was 10 years old, working as a paper boy delivering copies of the Free Press to people in my neighborhood. In hindsight I wasn’t a very good carrier. I had to collect the money from subscribers myself — quite a responsibility for a pre-teen — which I would then promptly embezzle and use to go buy the latest comic books from the drug store over on Main Street.
It’s only now that I know it’s gone that I truly realize what the loss of the Free Press will mean. See, it wasn’t just a newspaper that taught me some harsh lessons in financial responsibility, or helped plant the seeds for my future on the fringes of journalism. The best aspect of the Free Press was its service to the community.
When I used to go back to Penetang from the city to visit my grandparents one of the first things I’d do is hunker down and read the paper to find out what was going on. On top of that, my aunt Donna would occasionally mail me clips from the paper about what my old school and teammates were doing.
See, everyone in Penetang made it into the Free Press at some point for something or other. And the thing about that is, unless you ended up in the often-hilarious and occasionally uncomfortably tragic capsule police reports, it was a little hug in newsprint form. Like a benevolent teacher who’d dole out gold stars to the local citizenry, the Free Press was a positive force reaffirming that everything was OK.
I’ve got tons of clippings with my name mentioned in little league recaps and minor hockey reports. One of my proudest moments was, while playing junior hockey, when the Free Press referred to my goaltending style as “hellbent for leather.” I considered it the highest compliment and only years later realized there may have been a coy edge to that line, a playful jab at my then-wicked hockey haircut (Jaromir Jagr had nothing on me) filtered through a Judas Priest/Heavy Metal Parking Lot lens. None of which makes the line any less great.
With the Free Press gone, so will be the opportunity for others to experience similar giddy thrills. So long old friend, thanks for the comic books and “Brophy Nets 3” headline when I was a 10 year old soccer star.