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Editorial: Nickel Belt News era is over, but the Thompson Citizen remains committed to northern news

The Nickel Belt News officially ended a 60-plus year run on April 22, about 55 years after it and the Thompson Citizen were merged under common ownership.
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Over the last several years, many newspapers in Canada, the United States and worldwide have been forced to close down, including several in Manitoba owned by Thompson Citizen owners Glacier Media, which were shut down as advertising revenues plummeted as a result of economic contraction spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health orders.

In an official sense, the Nickel Belt News joined them with the publication of its last issue on April 22.

As is often the case, however, the real story is a little bit more complicated.

Unlike many other newspaper closures, this one isn’t resulting in anyone losing their jobs. The Nickel Belt News and Thompson Citizen were produced by the same small team in Thompson, as they have been since the formerly competing newspapers were merged under common ownership in 1967. The size of that team has shrunken considerably in the 15 years since Glacier Media bought the publications from the Wright family but those that remain are still dedicated to producing news about Thompson and Northern Manitoba and supporting those efforts through the sale of print and digital advertising.

Although the Nickel Belt has folded, as the Winnipeg Free Press reported on April 19, the truth is that the print editions of the Citizen and Nickel Belt have been combined and distributed on the same day as essentially one publication since partway through 2020, when less advertising made supporting two papers per week in Thompson and the north economically unfeasible. Moving forward, there will continue to be one printed newspaper per week and our website — www.thompsoncitizen.net — will continue to be updated with local and regional news whenever staff are working, which is mainly during daytime hours, Monday to Friday. 

Perhaps the biggest change for readers of our print edition will be the fact that it will now be printed on Thursdays and distributed on Fridays instead of coming out on Wednesdays, mostly for operational reasons related to making the production process smoother, though there are spinoff benefits, such as being able to get reports about Monday night council meetings, for example, into print readers’ hands within four days, instead of more than a week after they occur. It will still be distributed to northern communities outside of Thompson and it will still contain as much news about the Hub of the North and most of the rest of Northern Manitoba from Grand Rapids north as we can produce or source from sister publications and other available avenues like the federal government-funded Local Journalism Initiative, which subsidizes the salaries of some journalists at media outlets in Canada on the condition that the material they produce covers matters in the public interest that might otherwise go unreported on and that their articles are available for any publication in Canada to reprint.

Journalism has undergone many changes over the course of its existence, and technological advances have accelerated the pace of that change over the last 20 years or so. Most people read news online, often from their phones, and the number of available markets for advertisers has expanded far beyond the billboards, print publications, and television and radio stations that were the main options in years past. This present both challenges and opportunities for the news media. We have the ability to reach far more people in far more places and hear about what's happening in those places than ever before. At the same time, we recognize that some readers still prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands and these are available at many places throughout Thompson and in various communities throughout the north.

The Nickel Belt News may no longer exist in the form it did before but the purpose of the people who produced it and continue to produce the Thompson Citizen remains the same: to report news about Thompson and the north from within the region where it happens and where the majority of our readers live and work.