The Wellington Advertiser editorial department is a hive of activity whenever deadlines approach.
News is gathered and disseminated by an editorial team including an editor and four reporters, several freelancers and numerous community contributors.
Phones ring, emails fly back and forth around the county, stories are debated, debunked, written, paginated, tweeted, published and posted online in a fast-paced flow of community journalism that results each week in a printed product exceeding 40 pages and digital platforms packed with local information and photographs.
While the paper today benefits from a well-staffed Newsroom, the latest technology and old-fashioned work ethic, it once boasted mostly the latter.
Publisher Dave Adsett remembers a time when the paper was put together without the benefit of a single journalist.
“We did have numerous freelancers, I would say more part-time positions, and they would just get sent out to the larger events,” he recalls.
In those days, the paper received plenty of submissions from local organizations, which ran largely unedited.
“That did create a style issue within the paper,” said Adsett.
“A reader wants an experience when they read the paper and it’s nice if everything flows in a similar fashion, so that was part of the desire to have a professional Newsroom.”
A first move toward that goal came when Adsett had the opportunity to hire veteran journalist David Meyer, who became available when the Elora Sentinel shut down.
Despite constant pressure to keep the bills paid, Adsett decided to take the plunge.
“That was a huge jump for us because it was a weekly commitment … and that was our start on a professional Newsroom,” he said.
The editorial department was expanded to a compliment of three through the early-to-mid 2000s.
Reporters Mike Robinson and Chris Daponte joined the staff as the paper expanded into the kind of in-depth local council coverage that has become its hallmark.
At the time, Adsett notes, business was increasing, advertising was increasing and the time seemed right to make an investment in the editorial product “hoping longer term that would work out, and it did.”
The Advertiser revamped and expanded its News-gathering capabilities again in 2012, adding more journalists to bring the compliment to five.
At the same time, Adsett, who admits, “I’ve never edited a piece of copy in my life,” turned the title of editor over to Daponte, just as Meyer was retiring from the business.
Asked why he invested in the department at a time when many Newspapers, in both large and small markets, were eyeing editorial as an area they could make cuts to offset declining advertising revenue, Adsett recalled some business advice he once received.
“When others are walking, run. And that’s what we did,” he said.
Daponte says the Advertiser’s contingent of trained journalists allows for greater organization in News-gathering.
“Reporters are assigned geographical areas and News beats based on a number of factors, including their particular strengths and what makes sense for scheduling, time management, travel and organization,” the editor explained.
While the Advertiser has one of the largest editorial teams in the region, with Patrick Raftis joining in 2012, Jaime Myslik in 2014 and Olivia Rutt in 2015, its massive coverage area necessitates additional help.
“We currently have three regular freelancers and also rely heavily on submissions from local residents and organizations, particularly for Sports and arts,” said Daponte. “We are very grateful for all the help – our Newspaper wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Adsett says the Advertiser has no intention of resting on its laurels.
“There’s more I’d like to do to,” he noted. “We have plans for more coverage down the road because I think that’s a vital factor in healthy communities, that they do have News coverage, that they do have access to all that’s going on and we hope to do that in one form or another.”
Both Daponte and Adsett stress some of those forms will be digital.
“We are mindful of posting breaking News as soon as we can, whether that’s on our website or on social media,” Daponte said.
“I think we do need to embrace the digital aspect. It’s another way to tell stories. It’s a different way to tell stories,” added Adsett.
“But definitely the world is moving in that direction. The fact is though, print still pays the bills. That’s the only place there is revenue to actually pay for local coverage. So as long as the community supports us, we’re going to do our best to support them with quality News coverage.”
Adsett also noted having a full-scale Newsroom has allowed the company to branch out into other ventures, including magazines such as Business Leader and Wellington Weddings as well as various digital platforms.
While as editor Adsett was more a manager and community contact than a copy editor or journalist, he has generally reserved the paper’s prime editorial slot for his own column.
He estimates he’s written well over 1,200 columns, totaling more than 700,000 words.
“The editorial is generally a reflection on issues in the News. Sometimes it’s a serendipitous thought on life and living in this area,” he explains.
“The values reflected are based on being raised in a rural community, on a farm,” although illuminated by plenty of outside exposure through travel, involvement in politics and other life experiences.
Determining the editorial direction of a paper like the Advertiser, with a mandate to cover an entire county, presents many of the same challenges as a more traditional community Newspaper focused on a single city or town, but some additional ones as well, says Daponte.
“A regional publication, by definition, will have more beats and a larger area to cover, which obviously results in more content,” he explained. “But it also leaves us with difficult decisions each week about what to include … we need to ensure our coverage includes a wide range of topics and involves many communities.”
At the same time, he notes, the Advertiser is part of the fabric of that larger community.
“We’re local and we’re trusted – and I think for many readers the two are connected. Our four reporters live in various locations within Wellington County and we all care about what happens here. I hope our coverage conveys that.”
Daponte said he believes the paper’s position as the go-to source for local News and information has resulted in a relationship with readers that facilitates engagement, ranging from letters to the editor, News submissions or something as simple as a phone call to express an opinion about something.
“We’re here, we’re accessible and we welcome the interaction and feedback, whether it’s negative or positive,” he said.
Daponte noted the Advertiser’s quality content is important in light of the current state of journalism – and community journalism in particular.
“Declining revenue and the increasing popularity of online News helped contribute to the demise of some Newspapers, but in some cases corporate mismanagement was a major culprit,” he said.
“Here, while finances are always a consideration, our main focus is on serving readers to the best of our ability – and not on cutting corners to save a few bucks.”
Daponte added the Advertiser remains a local, family-owned Newspaper “providing quality journalism in an era that seems to be increasingly dominated by blogs, News aggregators, etcetera, that rely on opinions disguised as News and/or outright fabrications from unqualified individuals.
“I believe our readers are smart enough to not only recognize the difference, but to appreciate the value in what we’re offering.”
Daponte said the implications of working for a publication with a 50-year tradition of community service to uphold aren’t lost on the paper’s News staff.
“It didn’t take long after I first started here to realize how widely read, respected and enjoyed the Newspaper is,” he said.
“Thanks to people like Bill and Dave Adsett, David Meyer and Stephen Thorning, the paper’s reputation as a first-rate publication was well established long before my arrival.
“It’s up to our current editorial team to continue publishing a product that both honours and advances this fine tradition. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one all of us embrace. Much like those who paved the way for us, we enjoy telling stories and we’re committed to the communities we serve.”
Adsett said he too is “proud” of the Newsroom.
“I think we’ve got an excellent mix of experienced people and young people getting started in the business,” he said.
“They’re all enthusiastic, they’re keen on their job and that’s really important.”