How does one measure the impact of a project on a community without having any actual previous data to compare to? Would the Local Journalism Initiative provide any benefit to the area it serves and how so?
To answer this we need to look at the reasons for participating in such a project. When the idea was first introduced, hopeful participants had to consider if there would be any merit in such a project. The basic concept was the idea of underserved areas not having a voice on civic issues in the media. More precisely, not having an outlet to tell the stories that affected their lives.
In rural areas especially, there is often little opportunity to report on local stories as there is just no infrastructure in place. Media outlets in larger centres tend to focus on the “bigger stories” and are usually privately owned and profit driven. Costs associated with video production and distribution can play a role in the lack of facilities. So it would seem that any project that could provide investment into an area and help to establish a media presence would have some benefit.
Donna Mikeluk, head librarian at the Schreiber Public Library, first proposed the idea of improving media literacy as part of a program the library was hoping to implement. Funding would need to be sourced and the LJI seemed to be a step in the right direction. Equipment could be purchased and a part time position for a facilitator could be created.
Kim Krause, a councillor at the time, saw the benefit of promoting the township of Schreiber through media production, and soon the pair were off to a workshop hosted by CACTUS in December of 2019. (Kim resigned his position on council to take on the new role of community video journalist).
There would be challenges ahead but slowly it became apparent that a project like this could provide some benefit to the area. A non profit organization was formed as required by the terms of the contract and Schreiber Media Centre was born. SMC would provide technical services and assistance to the library for any media projects and in turn would have access to the basement in the library to be used as studio space for training and production.
Finding someone with the required skills to meet the conditions of the contract was also going to be tricky. Experience in video production and post production was just one requirement and the fact that the position would be part time excluded bringing in talent from outside the area. The solution would be for Donna and Kim to combine their skills, with Donna becoming the station manager and Kim put into the role of producer/ journalist.
Equipment was ordered, space in the library basement was established and a grand opening was planned with an announcement and a membership drive organized.
Then, it all came to a screeching halt as COVID 19 reared its head. All municipal buildings would be shut down, delaying the opening of the studio for an uncertain time. With no studio and no volunteers the decision to continue would not be easy. The first production would be a timely piece on the closing of the municipal buildings with a supporting story from the local health care group advising people of the safety measures being put in place during what was now becoming a pandemic. A second story would act as a follow up with advice from the local clinic on precautions people should take during the outbreak of the COVID 19 virus.
The landscape of news gathering was changing and soon the ZOOM era was everywhere. One benefit of this technology was that it allowed for “face to face” meetings with people in a virtual setting, thus maintaining social distancing. Using this tool allowed for a meeting to be set up with local mayors in the north shore area, where a discussion on safety and security in small towns would be the focus. It was now obvious that having a media presence in the area would become more important as we navigated our way through this new world that had been thrust upon us.
As things slowly opened up SMC was able to engage with the community on a more social level producing content highlighting some of the news in our area. A revamped Canada day festivity and a group of musicians raising money for the food bank were some of the next stories produced. Council meetings had been closed to the public but an arrangement was created that allowed Schreiber Media Centre to download and package the meetings and have them distributed along with all other content on a national portal established as part of the LJI project and CACTUS media. Unfortunately things would shut down again as COVID cases increased in the province, making training of volunteers unviable.
Marching forward, the next milestone for the project came when the township had requested that SMC facilitate a live stream of the local Remembrance Day ceremony. It would be the first live, outdoor event to be produced in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Legion. This new organization was indeed making an impact and ready to bring more stories to the community.
Schreiber Media Centre has also formed working relationships with other media organizations in the north shore area. The TerraceBay-Schreiber news, a local weekly newspaper, has been printing stories submitted by SMC into its circulation. In addition, all content produced by SMC has been made available to Shaw Community Spotlight for consideration in their programming schedule and will help to increase viewership of that material. More recently, with the passing of Mayor Hamilton, there has been some sharing of resources with Thunder Bay Television News channel and there are chances of further collaborations in the future.
With close to 50 productions in its portfolio, including some podcasts and public service announcements, it is clear that there is a need for this type of service in the township of Schreiber. It is hoped that SMC will have its contract renewed for another term.
Considering the challenges faced in the initial phase of this project, it is a remarkable achievement for any organization to attain this type of growth and recognition in its first year of operation. Thanks to CACTUS media and the Local Journalism Initiative, the concept of local community focused news and information has been realized.
The benefit of media exposure in remote areas can also help to spur economic development. Enhancing media literacy in small towns provides the youth of an area better choices when it comes to selecting a career path later on. Skills training can lead to employment opportunities. An additional benefit is the increased awareness media production gives to the need for infrastructure upgrades and improved bandwidth of internet services. As more people choose to work from home, often collaborating on projects, this is an issue that needs to reach the attention of our political leaders.
After an earlier Zoom conference with Minister Patty Hajdu (who is the Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Superior North) , SMC received a heartfelt letter praising Cactus and the LJI programme and asked for support from other ministers in continuing this type of project. She noted the important role that local community media has when it comes to the health and safety of residents in the area.
Community organizations such as the Schreiber Senior Centre and the Harvest Cupboard food bank have all benefitted from the increased exposure that coverage of their organizations has provided.
It would seem that there has been a great benefit to the residents of Schreiber and the surrounding area because of the impact of the Local Journalism Initiative. Hopefully this project will get the green light to continue into the next year and continue to provide a valuable service to the residents of Schreiber and the surrounding areas.
On a personal note from LJI Journalist Kim Krause -- "I would like to thank everyone involved in this project for the amazing opportunity it provided me in serving my community. As a former councillor I was always aware of how certain decisions affected the community. At times it seemed as if little or no progress was being made and being able to interact with residents on some issues would be limited to what was made public knowledge. Stepping away from council removed many of those restrictions and allowed me to focus on what needed to be told and interact with residents on a completely different level. The LJI project has shone a bright light on our community and I believe this exposure can be further utilized to help in our growth and development as we draw attention to the issues and showcase the uniqueness of the township of Schreiber. When looking back at the last year I am still amazed at how we literally started with nothing and have grown to be a voice for the community with connections to other media establishments and outlets. Local media works and must be supported!"
LJI Impact is the section of commediaportal.ca where the journalists and their organizations participating in CACTUS' Local Journalism Initiative can share their greatest successes.
Through the written stories, photos and videos you see in the LJI Impact section, you'll be able to read first hand accounts about how the presence of a community journalist is making a difference in communities across Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative and the Community Media Portal.
The Community Media Portal is a gateway to the audio-visual media created by community media centres across Canada. These include traditional community TV and radio stations, as well as online and new media production centres.
Community media are not-for-profit production hubs owned and operated by the communities they serve, established both to provide local content and reflection for their communities, as well as media training and access for ordinary citizens to the latest tools of media production, whether traditional TV and radio, social and online media, virtual reality, augmented reality or video games.
The Community Media Portal has been funded by the Local Journalism Initiative (the LJI) of the Department of Canadian Heritage, and administered by the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS) in association with the Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec (the Fédération). Under the LJI, over 100 journalists have been placed in underserved communities and asked to produce civic content that underpins Canadian democratic life.