By Cecilia Nasmith
Local journalist and Loyalist College professor Rob Washburn updated Cobourg council at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting on Local News Northumberland almost one year after the group held a public-conversation event in Victoria Hall.
The most immediate update had to do with The Hub, a website that for six months successfully fulfilled its function of helping people find local new online. It ceased publication Feb. 22.
Local News Northumberland formed just over a year ago, a group of volunteers and journalists from across the county meeting to address concerns arising from the closure of Northumberland Today, the county's only daily newspaper. At the Victoria Hall event, Washburn recalled, many people expressed concerns about how they would get coverage of local news, what form it would take, what level of coverage it would provide. The Hub was the result.
Washburn described it as a signpost to local news from 15 different sources, he said.
“We took an image, a headline and the first few lines of a story, and posted it, You could click through to the original story,” he explained,
“The purpose was to drive people to find sources of local news they could bookmark for future reference. It was never meant to be a news operation or to publish original news – just to point the way to local content.”
In short, he said, it was designed to make itself obsolete, if indeed it was doing the job it was supposed to.
It came in newsletter form daily to 231 subscribers. Their figures indicate 80 to 100 users read it daily, and almost half of them clicked on to other sources daily from there.
Winding up The Hub was a question decided by time and resources. Loyalist College had been very generous about supporting the project, and they got enough funding so that a part-time student could be hired for six weeks per semester to post the links and manage the social media (with the help of volunteers).
“Our mandate was clear – this was a temporary tool to direct the public to local news sources, not to become a local new source people depended on.”
At any rate, Washburn said, there is good news following the closure of the community daily. Former Northumberland Today staff have found meaningful opportunities to continue to contribute on the news front, two new journalists have been hired in Northumberland over the past six months, and Global has made a significant investment in Peterborough-based CHEX TV (which provides coverage of Northumberland news),
Looking ahead, he said, “we hope to keep a careful eye on opportunities to assist and advocate and expand to ensure the quality and quantity of local news.”
Washburn himself is a former Northumberland Today reporter, who continued to contribute to the daily and had his own news blog – in addition to turning out new journalists from Loyalist.
“I would like to thank Mr. Washburn for his dedication to journalism in this community,” Councillor Brian Darling said.
“You have been part of it for many, many years, and you do such a great job.”