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Summerside's Journal Pioneer returning in November

Traci Gaudet, multimedia sales consultant, and Ron Lund, regional circulation director, look over a past edition of the Journal Pioneer. The Summerside newspaper is coming back as a weekly publication in November. Alison Jenkins/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Traci Gaudet, multimedia sales consultant, and Ron Lund, regional circulation director, look over a past edition of the Journal Pioneer. The Summerside newspaper is coming back as a weekly publication in November. Alison Jenkins/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

SUMMERSIDE — Seven months after ceasing publication due to the economic downturn exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Summerside’s Journal Pioneer newspaper is returning as a weekly publication in early November.

“I’ve heard regularly from the mayor and I know the product has been missed in the communities that were used to having a daily as part the community’s identity,” said SaltWire Network president and CEO Mark Lever, owner of the Journal Pioneer. “We’re excited to remain a part of the community identity, but we’re also a business that has to be able, at the end of the day, to pay our employees and pay our bills.”

Back in March, Halifax-based SaltWire Network announced it was temporarily closing the Journal Pioneer as well as its weekly newspapers in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The move resulted in the laying off of about 40 per cent of its staff amid a drastic decline in advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pandemic may be far from over, Lever said SaltWire Network’s position has improved to the point it’s bringing back the Summerside paper as a weekly product.

It’s part of a broader initiative that is seeing popular and familiar brands restored in Truro, New Glasgow, the Annapolis Valley and Yarmouth, N.S.

The Summerside Journal began publishing as a weekly newspaper in 1865. It published as a daily, beginning in 1939, to share news from the warfront before going back twice a week and then three times a week in 1949.

The Journal and The Pioneer (founded in Alberton in 1876 and moving to Summerside four years later) merged in 1951 and became the daily Journal Pioneer in 1957.

While Lever understands people will miss the daily format, circulation needs to be in the area of 5,000 per day — a number the newspaper had been below for some time. Despite that, he said, there is an identified need to return and he’s hopeful people will accept the paper in its new format.

“We’ve done a great job covering that area with The Guardian team and keeping people on the ground in Summerside. I hope that people feel their voices and the community were represented on saltwire.com, and I feel it’s absolutely great to put a paper product again in Summerside, albeit a weekly format,” he said.

Lever said he’s excited to be bringing good news to communities like Summerside and those in Nova Scotia that are regaining their weeklies and he’s optimistic more of the papers will return in other parts of the region.

“It’s exciting. We’re hiring journalists across the region and we’re building where we see the market opportunity,” Lever said. “Every market we pulled a product from, we are still in, and we are still telling those local stories that matter. We’re listening more to what the market needs and what the community needs from us. We’re re-imaging these old brands and pointing them in a direction that’s sustainable for the long term.”

Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart is happy to hear the paper is coming back.

“We’re very pleased to hear it’s coming back one day a week. Hopefully, as time goes on and things improve, we’ll eventually get back to five or six days a week,” the mayor said. “The paper has been missed.”

Lever said the March decision was a tough one. Looking back, he said the company was able to make what now appears to be the right decisions.

“We were struggling in some of these markets pre-COVID and we’d come so far in understanding our market and our purpose in these communities two years prior to COVID that we knew quickly that a lot of our revenue was going,” Lever said. “Markets that were marginal for us were going to be underwater so we made some quick decisions to put them on a hot idle or on pause until we figured out when there would be a post-COVID world and get a better understanding of what the market would give us.”

He said SaltWire has listened to the communities and is able to bring some of the products back with a new model that requires community support, allowing the company to develop a sustainable business model that means it won’t have to repeat those tough decisions.

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