The town of Morinville, 34 kilometres north of Edmonton, has more than 9,000 residents and is home to four weekly newspapers: The Morinville Free Press, Farm ‘N Friends, Morinville News, and the St. Albert Gazette. All four are available in print and online at no charge. The Morinville News and the St Albert Gazette also publish daily news online. How does a town this size support so many newspapers? Schaun Goodeve, the new Economic Development Officer for the Town of Morinville reads all four newspapers and offers this observation:
Morinville is a growing community with a large catchment area that has different demographic groups that find great value in having varied news sources. There is a lot happening in Mornville and from a news and business perspective each paper has found its niche. As well, we have a strong print and online environment and this also engages the differing demographic groups. Having four weekly newspapers with different approaches to local news helps grow the strong sense of community in Morinville and enhances community engagement and pride.”
Morinville News, the youngest of the four, is hyper-focused on Morinville’s civic, cultural and community events. Farm ‘N Friends is a regional paper covering Lamont, Sturgeon, Thorhild, Smoky Lake and Beaver Counties with an agricultural focus augmented by urban news. The Morinville News began June 11, 2010 as an online daily covering the region. In November of the same year the began publishing a print weekly news magazine called Monday Morning News. That eventually became The Morinville News to unite the web and print editions under one brand.
In summer of 2013 it went from a magazine format to a tabloid format. The Morinville Free Press covers both the town of Morinville and Sturgeon County and takes a broader focus on local news and with an emphasis on photos of residents involved in various community activities both the town of Morinville and Sturgeon County, which includes the towns of Gibbons, Legal, and Bon Accord. The St. Albert Gazette, although not published in Morinville, often includes news about Morinville, as much as it does any other community in St Albert, its neighbour, 22 km to the south.
Two of the four papers, The Free Press and Farm ‘N Friends are published in Morinville by Ed Cowley of Cowley Newspapers. The Free Press has been published for 17 years and 5,000 of its weekly 12,000 newspapers are distributed in Morinville. Farm ‘N Friends has been around for 13 years and distributes 5,000 of their 18,000 copies in and around Morvinville. Morinville News is also published in Morinville by Stephen Dafoe of Art of Conversation Inc., for two years and currently advertises a circulation of 1,500 in Morinville of the 2,500 copies they print. It boasts the highest amount of online readers in the community.
Of the four papers, it includes the most amount of Morinville civic news, likely due to the fact that Stephen is also a town councillor. The St. Albert Gazette, published by Great West Newspapers, has been published for 53 years and circulates over 2,500 copies in and around Morinville of their total circulation of 27,000. Great West also publishes twenty or so weekly newspapers in Alberta including Calgary’s “Alternative Newspaper,” Fast Forward Weekly. How do these publishers view the competition? Ed Cowley says,
As long as each newspaper finds its niche and an economic model that provides a sound base to serve that market, there are multiple publications possible in many towns the size of Morinville. The difficulties occur when competing publications both attempt to use the same model to reach the same target market.
Stephen Dafoe, publisher of the Morinville News agrees that there’s room for four weekly newspapers in Morinville. He points out that:
There are actually four newspapers that provide coverage of Morinville and have been for as long as I have lived in the community. Currently there are the three you mention as well as the St. Albert Gazette. The latter covers Morinville in their Wednesday edition. They cover quite a bit about the community. Prior to the Morinville News starting, there was The Morinville Mirror, which was a Bowes Publishing paper. After it closed a regional publication called The Sturgeon Light began. I wrote for both for a time.
When asked how the weekly newpapers are different, Stephen Dafoe had even more to say:
The Morinville News‘ focus is Morinville, and unapologetically so. Although we will cover festivals and events in Legal and parts of Sturgeon County, the publication’s primary focus is on Morinville and its people. The Morinville News originally covered Legal, Bon Accord, Gibbons and Sturgeon County, but we have drawn our focus more narrowly on Morinville in the past few years because that is what our readers told us they wanted. We have had no problem filling 24 pages each week covering Morinville almost exclusively. Although we are running 24 pages a week consistently, we have a dedicated two pages of editorial each week as well as two pages of sports, an arts and culture page, food page, people section, etc. We are trying to provide a community of roughly 9,000 with the same types of coverage they could expect in a city paper like the Gazette. The Gazette, as I mentioned earlier, is focused primarily on St. Albert, but they do an excellent job in covering Sturgeon County and Morinville in their Wednesday edition. The Free Press covers a larger region, including Morinville, Gibbons, Legal, Bon Accord, Sturgeon County, Namao, etc. The Farm’n Friends is broader yet, covering those areas and more — as far away as Lamont. So what you have here are four papers providing different news stories and similar news stories from a local, subregional and regional perspective. I think readers are pretty fortunate to have some variety.
Morinville is a vibrant town. It has a cultural centre where one can enjoy a play, a musical performance or an art show. The town hosts festivals throughout the year, boasts walking trails with outdoor gyms and a Splash Park, and has a robust volunteer presence. An active community generates newsworthy stories, and a strong urban and agricultural business base attracts advertisers. By taking a closer at Morinville, it’s not hard to see how it’s possible for newspaper publishers, residents, advertisers and businesses alike to support four weekly newspapers. Is there to be another paper in its future? Only time will tell.