by Cecilia Naismith
Cobourg council lends support to public forum on local news
Journalists past and present, community activists and citizens are invited to join a team from the Loyalist College journalism and communications faculty March 20 to express their ideas on addressing what many see as a shortfall in comprehensive, accurate and unbiased community news.
Faculty member and Cobourg resident Rob Washburn appeared before this week's committee-of-the-whole session of Cobourg council to invite anyone who would like to be part of the discussion around the future of journalism in this community and, more immediately, to request a waiver of the fees associated with renting the Victoria Hall Concert Hall for the event.
The conversation around strengthening local new coverage has become more widespread since the November 2017 closure of the daily newspaper Northumberland Today, one of 37 community newspapers closed at that time due to transactions between the Metroland and Postmedia publishing empires. Not many of them, however, could boast serving the community for almost 190 years.The weekly newspaper Northumberland News, which was established in the early 1990s, still operates locally.
It's not that news outlets are lacking, Washburn said. Volunteer and professional radio stations, a local television station and news blogs abound. The passion of the community for its news is obvious. But some things are matters for concern, such as the quality of journalism and its economic sustainability. It's not a matter of good or bad news sources, he said, so much as to ensure that citizens know where to go for unbiased, reliable and verifiable news that is important to them.
“We can certainly find lots of people today with opinions. In fact, we are drowning in opinions. A few clicks, and anyone can create a blog or Facebook page to share their news,” he said.
But the citizens of Northumberland need to be able to find news they can trust, which serves their needs.
As for sustainability, Washburn added, to start up a paper newspaper would be a prohibitively expensive undertaking. But this will be part of the discussions in March.
A former employee, Washburn shared some of the history of Northumberland Today, and the trust the community enjoyed with it for generations. Beloved sports reporter Layton Dodge (after whom a diamond at Legion Fields is named) is just one example of the work that meant so much to readers every day.
He pinpoints the newspaper's 1996 sale to the Southam company as the start of its decline from trusted community newspaper to a business focusing on lean, cost-cutting, staff-shedding operations. As the news hole shrank, the paper was forced to run news from outside the community to fill it, because the staff was shrinking too.
“The more you talk to journalists, the more you realize their hearts are in the right place – but the circumstances are challenging. This is why a community conversation is so important,” the speaker said.
Former Ryerson journalism professor John Miller first took the initiative to reach out to interested citizens and community leaders to begin this discussion in the wake of Northumberland Today closing. Washburn attended an early meeting, and wondered if the college could be involved in some way similar to their September public forum on local news in the Bay of Quinte area,
Councillor Debra McCarthy noted the recent proliferation of blogs in agreeing with Washburn's comments. And while a lot of seniors are now apt to get their news on-line, Councillor Suzanne Seguin noted, quite a few still want newspapers in the traditional form.
That will be part of the discussion, Washburn said.
Washburn did not have exact figures on what amount is involved in waiving the fees for the Concert Hall. With rental, security and associated costs, Councillor Brian Darling estimated the total to be in the area of $600. Councillor Forrest Rowden asked if they had looked at other locations. Washburn said that the Concert Hall is ideal for a number of reasons – it is a central location, for one thing.
“And there's a gravitas to holding such an important discussion in such a historic building. Why would you want to go anywhere else,” he added.
Washburn said he had put down a deposit to reserve the date, and the meeting would proceed in any event.
In the end, Darling made a motion to waive these costs. McCarthy expressed a wish to have a post-meeting report brought back to council, and Washburn agreed to make an appearance for this purpose.
The March 20 session will take place at 7 p.m. at the Concert Hall (55 King St. W., Cobourg). Everyone is also invited to share their thoughts via an on-line survey at consider-this.ca that Washburn estimates will take no longer than five to 10 minutes to complete.
Cobourg council lends support to DBIA events
Cobourg council voted this week, in its committee-of-the-whole meeting, to waive rental fees for the Cobourg Market Building and Victoria Hall for four Downtown Business Improvement Area events.
Council was following up on a letter from DBIA board of management chair Adam Bureau asking for the waiver “for DBIA public and private events.”
The word private, and lack of clarity on what kind of event this might involve, gave some councillors pause. Deputy Mayor John Henderson said he is a member of the DBIA board, and he could not clarify the term based on the information before council.
Treasurer Ian Davey suggested tightening up the wording in the motion before council to make the waiver applicable specifically to the four events mentioned. Council agreed, and the motion was passed. As a result, a total of $734.50 in rentals will be waived for four 2018 events.
For the May 11 Girls' Night Out, they will use the Market Building to host local vendors and members, starting at 5 p.m. (due to seniors' programming that takes place earlier in the day). Volunteers will enforce occupancy limits.
For the June 9 Busker and Art Festival, they will use space at town hall for a green room, a service for the international buskers only, providing space to prepare before performances and relax afterwards. Volunteers will monitor the green room.
Similarly, for the July 9 Food and Music Festival, space will be provided for a green room in the Market Building for the performers.
For the Christmas event Nov. 23 and 24, the Market Building will be used as a space for local vendors and family-friendly events.
The DBIA will take care of the set-up and tear-down for each event, Bureau said. And the savings will be applied towards permits, fees and other costs associated with running these events.
Cobourg council hears the inside story on fire services
Cobourg's fire department has come in for kudos in the town's This Is Cobourg campaign.
Communications manager Ashley Purdy explained at this week's council's committee-of-the-whole meeting that this campaign highlights good news and achievements from a different department each month. The news is summed up in a pictogram that sets it out in encapsulated form for ease of sharing on-line and in posters strategically placed.
Deputy Fire Chief Gene Thompson made a presentation expanding on the encapsulated points, starting with their mutual-aid partnership with other Northumberland emergency responders, the hiring of four more firefighters (bringing that compliment up to 35) and the 233 training activities they have participated in over the past year.
“Very good staff, very competent, and we are very proud of them,” Thompson said.
The local fire department spearheaded the project of Highway 401 distance markers (in association with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs) to put mile markers every half-kilometre instead of every two kilometres. This has resulted in improved emergency-response times.
The department has also taken the lead in training its fire fighters to double as fire inspectors. They've done this for 20 years, Thompson said, while it's something Toronto is only beginning to do. In the last calendar year, they have undertaken 518 fire-prevention activities, including inspections, consultations and public-education campaigns.
Councillor Debra McCarthy noted that most people think of a firefighter as putting out fires.
“In fact, the mandate is quite reversed,” McCarthy said. “They want to do everything to prevent that fire.”
These activities include door-to-door smoke-alarm campaigns and discussions with home and business owners, Thompson said, as well as addressing ice, elevator and flooding issues.
“Basically, if these guys aren't responding to calls, which are also up, they're out doing this,” Thompson said – busting another stereotype McCarthy mentioned, of idle firefighters sitting around doing nothing while waiting for the phone to ring.
Another surprise came when Thompson said that only about 12% of the 1,240 calls for help they received last year involved fires. In fact, 60% to 65% involve medical calls.
Cobourg police station improvements are decidedly green
Improvements contemplated at the Cobourg Police Station, approved at council's committee-of-the-whole meeting this week, will be of a decidedly green nature.
Plans submitted by Sky Solar Holdings on behalf of the town call for a carport structure that will span two parking spaces and feature solar panels on the roof. As well, two EV charging stations for electric vehicles will be accessible to members of the public.
There are already such spaces near the Lakefront Utilities building, and chief administrative officer Stephen Peacock said that another space for the use of the police service will be located at the Venture 13 building (which will have its ribbon cutting May 17).
That particular spot will be usable by vehicles associated with the police department's business-services division, which will be relocating to the Venture 13 centre in Northam Industrial Park.
Councillor Debra McCarthy, protection-services co-ordinator, said that the charging stations at 107 King St. W. would not be needed for police cruisers involved in more traditional duties. Because of the work that must be done with such vehicles, McCarthy said, current regulations prevent a patrol car from being an electric vehicle.
March 3 is Bowl For Kids' Sake Day in Cobourg
Big Brothers Big Sisters Northumberland has been successful in its request to the Town of Cobourg to proclaim March 3 Bowl For Kids' Sake Day.
The request came before council's committee-of-the-whole session this week from event co-ordinator Louise Fradet-Clark. This is a signature fundraising event for the agency, which matches up young people with a local mentor.
Fradet-Clark's submission noted that children with a mentor tend to be more likely to have higher self-esteem and to stay in school, ultimately increasing their chances of realizing their full potential.
The bowling will take place at Northshore Lanes (at Northumberland Mall) from 1 to 4 p.m. that day.
“We are counting on the businesses and individuals of our community to show their support on this day and throughout the 2018 Bowl For Kids' Sake campaign,” the letter said.
Teams are enouraged to collect a minimum of $500 in pledges.
Individuals who raise $125 or more in pledges will be entered into a grand-prize draw, with one entry per $125 raised.