The Great Newspaper War of Barry’s Bay
Conflict and drama in a small town
Highway 60’s single lanes span 254 kilometres from Huntsville to Renfrew in Eastern Ontario, through Algonquin Park, past the blink-and-you-miss-them hamlets of Whitney and Madawaska and the Murray Brothers Lumber Company, one of the largest employers in the region. The highway cuts through evergreen forests and spruce bogs, continuing southeast past my parents’ inn, until it reaches Barry’s Bay, a village of 1,200 situated on the north end of Lake Kamaniskeg, where I grew up. On the countertops of local shops and gas stations sits the tabloid, Barry’s Bay This Week, once a member of Metroland’s publishing dynasty and now a link in Osprey Media’s chain of newspapers. In a neat pile next to This Week is its competition, The Eganville Leader, an independent broadsheet that has served Renfrew County for more than a hundred years.
“You’re not publishing this any time soon, are you?” asks Doug Gloin, looking at me sideways from behind glasses held together by trolling wire. “I don’t want to tip the Leader.” Gloin, the fifty-year-old editor of This Week, has been using his off-hours to research the lives and deaths of twenty-three local men killed in the First and Second World Wars. Bored with the usual veterans’ tales that fill Remembrance Day editions of community weeklies, Gloin wants to try something fresh, something the Leader has never done.
In 2000, Gloin bought a cottage on Lake Kamaniskeg and began to think about making a permanent move to Barry’s Bay. As an editor of The Toronto Star’s GTA section, he split his time between Toronto and the Bay for six years. Then, in January 2005, he took a severance package and moved up north for good. When Lou Clancy, vice-president of editorial at Osprey and a former managing editor at the Star, heard Gloin was moving to Barry’s Bay, he encouraged his old colleague to apply for the vacant editor position at This Week. “I thought he would become an almost iconic editor because he loves that area very much,” says Clancy. “He’s very hard-working, and community editors need to be very hard-working.” Gloin was taking a time out from work when I first met him at a friend’s house last summer, three months after he started the job. Everything was going smoothly, he said, except that readers weren’t writing any letters. During his first two months as editor, the paper received only seven letters.
Creating a special Remembrance Day issue of This Week isn’t just an attempt to outshine the Leader; it’s another way Gloin is hoping to win back readers lost during the years Metroland owned the paper, and boost its circulation of 2,200 to 3,200 by the end of this year. The Leader, published in Eganville, a town fifty-eight kilometres southeast of Barry’s Bay, has a circulation of almost 5,800, one-third of which is in This Week’s coverage area. In this battle for Barry’s Bay readers, Gloin is taking on a local institution that grew roots in the region long before Barry’s Bay had its own paper. He also has to overcome a feeling of desperation at This Week, brought on by the high turnover and low budgets common to corporately owned papers. “Have you noticed?” asks Gloin. “There’s a chain around my ankle.” The Leader’s owners spend more money and take more chances. The only weapon Gloin has is the quality of his content.
There are three churches, three coffee shops, two grocery stores, two video stores, one pharmacy and no traffic lights in Barry’s Bay. A flashing red light was erected several years ago, much to the astonishment of residents, at the intersection of Highway 60 and Bay Street. Follow Bay Street south of the highway and you’ll find the old This Week office, where the paper operated for many years as an independent.
Long before This Week was part of Osprey, there were several attempts to start a local Barry’s Bay paper. The first, made by Arthur Ritza in 1959, was called the Barry’s Bay Review. Six years later, Ritza suspended publication “for a period of time unknown at present. ” The Review never returned. In 1971, John Zylstra and Ines Bain started a new paper, This Week in the Madawaska Valley. In the mid-1980s, Zylstra left Barry’s Bay without reason or warning. In 1986, when it became obvious he wasn’t returning, Bain sold the paper to Phil and Helen Conway, two local schoolteachers. “We thought running a paper wouldn’t be all that hard,” says Phil Conway. They were wrong. It was hard.
The couple owned and operated the paper, which they renamed Barry’s Bay This Week, for eleven years. It was usually around fifty-six pages, rarely under forty and sometimes over one hundred. “Many times we didn’t have enough advertising to warrant the stories,” says Helen, who was the editor. But they ran them anyway, filling the paper with as much community news as they could.
To read the rest of this story, please see our ebook anthology: RRJ in Review: 30 Years of Watching the Watchdogs.
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