Karen Robock

The Death of Canada’s Oldest Newspaper

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Torstar shuts down the Cambridge Reporter after 157 years in print

Reporters, editors and staff members arrived for a Monday morning meeting at the Ainslie Street office in downtown Cambridge with little idea of what was to ensue. Few were aware that by the end of the week their jobs would be terminated and the doors to the country’s oldest newspaper would be closed for good. The 157-year-old Cambridge Reporter printed its final edition Friday, September 19, 2003.

Publisher J. Fred Kuntz, the man who had delivered the bad news to his staff only five days before, submitted a column for the paper’s last day. “The Cambridge Reporter struggled mightily to serve its community with good journalism and to stay afloat financially. In the end, it was not quite enough,” he wrote.

Though most were aware the paper had suffered monetary losses for nearly a decade, few could have imagined that parent company Torstar Corp., would close down the paper. The Reporter had been bought and sold many times since 1992, passing from Thompson Corp. to Hollinger Inc. to Sun Media to Quebecor Inc. (after its purchase of Sun Media) and finally to Torstar in 1999. The media conglomerate, which owns The Toronto Star, quickly reduced the Reporter from a daily to a free biweekly in order to cut costs.

With the purchase of the Reporter, The Guelph Mercury, The Record in Kitchener-Waterloo and The Hamilton Spectator, Torstar secured a southern Ontario newspaper stronghold. Some criticize the company’s colossus stature and say closing the Reporter was simply a way of reducing competition for its other, more profitable, daily papers. “We believe,” said local Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild president Martin Mittelstaedt in a statement, “that any federal rules developed to protect communities from media companies like Torstar should have provisions forcing the sale of outlets if owners are unwilling to run them.”

With only five days notice given before the closure, it was impossible for the community to rally round and find a buyer. Kuntz says the Reporter’s financial losses – $1 million over the past three years – are the result of market saturation, yet the only direct competition comes from The Cambridge Times, a free semi-weekly purchased by Torstar from CanWest Global in June 2003. The majority of dailies in Canada are supported by small towns – many smaller than Cambridge – so it is difficult to understand why the city of Cambridge, with a population of 111,000, couldn’t sustain two free non-daily papers.

Torstar insists that other newspapers in the area will simply pick up the slack. The Cambridge Times has already increased in size by almost 50 per cent and hired some of the Reporter’s columnists. “Needless to say, we are suffering from growing pains,” says editor Jeff Hurst. The rest of Cambridge’s print coverage is now coming from Kitchener-Waterloo’s the Record. “It is our mission,” says Lynn Haddrall, editor-in-chief, “to cover Cambridge with as much intensity as we cover the other large municipalities in Waterloo region.” The Record has assigned a team of reporters to cover Cambridge and already has members from the city on their community editorial board. Some wonder if a twice-weekly paper and a daily from a neighboring city are sufficient to capture the workings of a town.

Not only is the closure of the Reporter a loss for local news coverage in Cambridge, it marks the demise of an area landmark and cultural institution. The Cambridge Reporter had a distinguished history that involved some of the country’s greatest journalists and entrepreneurs. James Herbert Cranston got his start at the Reporter, and then went on to become the editor of The Toronto Star Weekly, where, among others, he hired Ernest Hemingway. Ken Thompson was introduced to the newspaper business at the Reporter. Peter Gzowski got his start as a delivery boy for the Reporter. The paper even hired one of Canada’s first femle reporters, Erma Green Parks.

For some, the closing of The Cambridge Reporter is a tragedy for Canadian journalism. “Anyone who’s interested in print should think this is terrible,” says Mary Doyle, a print professor in the journalism department at University of Western Ontario. “To see the end of a paper with a long history is such a loss.”


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