the WhigStandard building

It was announced this week that the Kingston Whig-Standard is sending its printing work elsewhere and forty employees will lose their jobs. Interestingly, I heard about this not in the newspaper itself, but on Facebook, thanks to a post by local author and activist, Alec Ross. In turn, he pointed out a link to the home page of Kingston’s Mayor, Mark Gerretsen, who, in a pretty frank and unguarded exchange, makes it clear that he’s dismayed by the news, and thinks that the Whig should have reported on the situation itself. A Whig staffer then jumps in and dutifully links to a Whig story which is perhaps supposed to show that the newspaper did fulfill its obligations. But take a look (here it is), because to my mind this fleeting mention just shows just how hard the Whig in fact tried to bury the news.

At the root there are two things we should be sad about here. First and foremost, of course, is the loss of good jobs. And second, we should grieve the further deterioration of what used to be a grand and important local newspaper. Those of us who’ve lived here a long time (I’ve been in the city for more than 40 years now; how the hell did that happen?) remember fondly the weekend magazine supplement, which regularly attracted very fine writers and reviewers, among them Alexander Scala and Diane Schoemperlen and David Helwig and Steven Heighton. I read those pages, and looked forward to them, every bit as as avidly as I now watch the mailbox for The New Yorker. It was that good.

But those days are long gone. While there are still good, committed journalists working for the newspaper (Peter Hendra’s name springs to mind), the Whig’s pages are now heavily padded with wire stories about Justin Bieber’s break-up, or Kirstie Alley’s dancing mishaps. This sort of unnecessary rubbish is used because it can frame advertisements for our local car dealerships and weight-loss clinics. And make no mistake, it is this advertising revenue that Sun Media is most interested in. It is the only reason the Whig-Standard still exists at all. If you don’t believe me, remember that the Whig just announced the appointment of a new “publisher and advertising director”, Liza Nelson. Now Ms. Nelson may turn out to be a good publisher, but her experience since 1995 is mostly as a “retail sales manager and national/multi-market sales manager”. That work history comes from the Whig itself, by the way. You know, I don’t recall those two jobs — publisher and advertising director — being combined before. They sit together awkwardly in the mind, don’t they? I picture a character always at war with herself, and to that extent my sympathies are with Ms. Nelson.

Of course, all of the above leaves me in an awkward spot. I spend several thousand dollars each year advertising in the Real Estate section. And this morning I’m really not sure what to do next. I have no interest in saying with my money that what is happening to the newspaper is okay. But I also don’t want to contribute to the absolute demise of the institution. I’m torn. I owe a duty to my clients, and I have my own job to protect. But I’d like to express in some way that I’m uncomfortable with the direction that the newspaper has chosen. Here’s what I’ve decided to do for now. I will advertise a new listing for one week, and I will advertise an open house, but that’s it. No more advertising in the Kingston Whig-Standard just for the sake of it. No more advertising just to promote my own brand. This will cut my bill nearly in half. I will find other platforms to invest in. And if those platforms work I will divert more and more of my business. I think in the end that my advertising dollars are better spent elsewhere in this community. And that feels liberating but also terribly sad. The Whig-Standard, I reckon, is dying.

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