The Story of A Community Newspaper
By Lisa Horrocks
This essay about Seven News was written in 1984 by Lisa Horrocks, who was part of Seven News as a staff or board member for a number of years. The original essay contained a large number of photographs and other illustrations which will be added to the online version when they have been scanned.
* Ward 7
* History Of 7 News
* How 7 News Is Produced
* Relationship Of 7 News To The Ward 7 Community
Toronto’s Ward 7 forms part of the downtown core of the city. It is bordered by Sherbourne on the West, Logan on the East, Bloor-Danforth on the North and by the Lakeshore on the South. It is presently one of the more heterogeneous wards in terms of class and ethnicity.
There are: 1) 2 public housing projects: Regent Park North and South, 2) 3 urban renewal areas: Trefann Court, Don Vale and Don Mount, 3) one very high density apartment complex – St. Jamestown, 4) a Chinatown, 5) a Greek area, 6) many hostels e.g. Fred Victor Mission, Salvation Army, Seaton House and Nellies, and 7) numerous co-op housing schemes: Bain, Spruce Court, High Garner and Woodsworth are but a few. In addition, there are many young upper middle class professionals scattered throughout the ward. They are commonly referred to as “white painters” due to their propensity for renovating houses which they have bought and turned into single family dwellings where they once served as multi-family homes and rooming houses.
Ward 7, as an entity, did not exist prior to 1969, and its creation was an intensely political decision. Ward 7 is the southern half of what was once Ward 2. After much research, social activists from the “wrong side of the tracks” (i.e. – Bloor Street) went to the Ontario Municipal Board and demanded that a “block ward” system be instituted to replace the “strip ward” system. Their reasoning was that aldermen should represent a group of people who are relatively the same. Usually aldermen came from Rosedale, and how could they possibly represent the two different and opposing groups – these South and those North of Bloor?
The separation of the affluent and working class areas had the desired effect – in the first local election 2 prominent social activists, John Sewell and Karl Jaffray, got elected; and as Mayor Dennison said: “They never would have been elected in Ward 2 ” (Fraser, 165).
In the early 1970’s the already strong community spirit continued to grow, mainly as a direct answer to the developers who were trying to knock down most of the area in order to supplant the houses with high income generating apartment blocks.
A surprising number of strong and viable neighbourhood groups were formed in this predominantly working class district where people were, and still are for the most part, in static jobs and social settings. One of these areas – Cabbagetown – has become quite infamous. Cabbagetown comprises a large sector of the Ward. Before World War II it was considered to be a sociological phenomenon – the largest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America. After the war most of it was bulldozed and the people were moved into Regent Park projects (government built– and controlled apartment blocks, maisonettes and row housing erected where the slum streets, lanes and alleys had once stood (Garner, vii).
Even though the people fought the developers hard and strong, they still lost numbers of battles. Gradually certain areas, namely Don Vale, became middle-class (professional). Actually, it is ironic to see how the new middle-class Don Vale residents have started calling themselves Cabbagetowners, using the name of the poor area down the road as a PR gimmick in order to attract visitors to their trendy stores.
The changes in the character of Ward 7 have been mainly across class lines: the middle class has been replacing the poor, who have then been pushed out to the suburbs. But there has also been the emergence of a closely knit Greek as well as a Chinese community.
Considering the different experiences and needs of all the groups in Ward 7, it is difficult to comprehend how all their divergent needs could be met. However, a community newspaper is the perfect tool for giving information and advice; for fostering entertainment and education, housing and health; for crusading people’s rights and for acting on behalf of constructive charity and social change.
And Ward 7 does, in fact, have a local newspaper which tries to serve these purposes – 7 News.
History of Seven News
The first issue of Seven News rolled off the press on 29 May 1970, with the words: “We are printing a community paper. Who are ‘we?’ We are the Ward Seven Co-operative, a group of residents of Ward Seven and their supporters outside the Ward who have pooled their time, money and prayerful efforts into putting together a newspaper that will be the community’s newspaper.“
The people of Ward 7 had gotten sick and tired of reading untruths about their fight against the developers in the three daily newspapers (The Star, the Globe & Mail and the Telegram), all of whom supported the developers and therefore City Hall. The people created their own paper in order to give their arguments about the housing issue and also to rally more local support and get even more people actively involved in the struggle.
A great deal of planning and discussion took place around such basic issues as the format and constitution of the paper.
The proposed frequency of the paper was a major topic and it was finally decided that a biweekly would be the most manageable, considering that there was no paid staff, and that there was very little money. Fortunately their rent at 80 Winchester Street was minimal.
The paper was put out very much as a collective effort. The editorial committee was particularly lively, and the first few editors were people chosen from that committee to do the administrative work, as opposed to running the paper.
However, after one year the paper ran out of money and died and the working-class action-oriented spirit died along with it.
In the fall of 1971 some people mounted a rescue and a new phase of the paper began. One of the main movers was Norm Browne, who became the editor, which was the first paid position, due to a grant from the CRC (Christian Resource Centre).
Gradually he became the dominant figure. His views about the role of a community paper were strong. He could best have been described as a populist. The other people involved believed that the paper should represent a certain political leaning. There were those who wanted it to express left-wing, or NDP, or even business ideologies.
The paper was incorporated in 1972 and a year later it got its constitution. A board was elected and the types of people who became 7 News directors then, and in the following four year period, were very different from those who had been involved in the running of the paper two years before. They were predominantly from the middle class: lawyers and accountants with NDP identified background. (Sometimes a token working-class person was found from Regent Park).
They were chosen for prestige, not on the basis of whether they would work or not. Their names alone did all the fundraising work for them, because of their strong influence in the community.
The change in the type of people who became involved in 7 News was a direct reflection of the transition that was taking place in the community as a whole. In Ward 7 a seeming lack of interest had grown, replacing the once powerful enthusiasm with apathy and disillusionment. But there was the period in Ward 7’s history where people were recuperating from the years of fighting the developers. The housing battle was over. Each side had lost and gained.
The community groups did not disband, however, just because there was no high profile action anymore. In fact, the groups were just as active – it just took a different form. The groups became more bureaucratic: instead of staging a protest they organized writing briefs to members of Parliament and going through their aldermen. And the reason for the shift in method is primarily due to the influx of middle class community activists who brought a whole new style with them.
The change in the community was therefore reflected in the type of stories which appeared in the paper. Thus, from 1972 onwards 7 News dealt with issues such as: landlord-tenant fights; local sporting events; cultural happenings; festivals and local neighbourhood improvement associations’ news. Most of the copy came directly from the various groups in the Ward.
A radical change took place at the end of 1976, when Norm Browne was fired. The paper was in dire financial straits because the government grants had run out. The grants had been paying for nearly all the wages of the 5 staff-members. The income from advertisements and the lotteries, which they held, was minimal.
Norm Browne was replaced by Ulli Diemer who remained editor until 1982. He had already had one years’ experience as a 7 News staff member.
For the next 6 years, the paper reflected a strong social conscience and awareness of injustices that community members faced. The issues covered included day care; welfare; family benefits; co-ops; UIC; landlord-tenant issues; immigrants’ problems; the plight of senior citizens; parks; pollution and local politics, to name just a few.
A great many more individuals volunteered at the paper in this time period; either as writers or to do filing, layout, the books or any one of the many hundreds of things that needed to be done. In addition, more input started to come from the community centres which became much more active than they had been. And the neighbourhood issue groups continued to fight in their quiet way and kept on supplying the paper with information.
In 1978 there was a fundamental shift in the nature of the board – to accompany the new direction of the staff. Working class people (again) took over. The main difference between them and the last groups of middle-class professionals was that they, the newcomers, came in expecting to work hard at getting the paper back on its feet again. In particular, now that the government was giving very few grants the directors realized that it was up to them.
“Unfortunately”, by this time, there was a growing polarization in the Ward between the “white painters” and the working class, which spelled very bad news for the paper. The newly opened businesses, catering to the professionals, did not see any reason to advertise in the local newspaper which dealt with working class issues. They demanded that the paper be oriented towards their clientele first. The old stores had all been put out of business by the new ones and most of the ones that were left were in very poor financial circumstances, and thus could not advertise in the paper.
The board held many fundraisers over the years, and also instituted a yearly membership; in addition to getting the odd government grant here and there. But it was not enough. 7 News moved twice and was unable to pay its rent in either place. In order that the paper survive the staff worked with hardly any pay for years.
The crunch came late in 1982, after Ulli Diemer had gone for 6 months. It was impossible for the 3 staff members to keep the paper going, so they called an emergency community meeting. This heralded a new phase in 7 News history.
In April 1983 the paper started up again. This time it was under the control of very prominent Ward 7 ‘names’ (sounds familiar? – the paper vacillates between middle-class “names” and working class “workers’“ control).
During this period the paper contained mainly features about the arts; history; individuals and general interest topics.
After a disastrous year of bad management the board was about to close the paper down when one director, John Campey, decided to take the full onus and attempt to start it up again.
In the beginning of 1984 the latest form of 7 News hit the streets. It is still too early to say whether this formula will work or not. But the board members, who have very varied backgrounds, all have one thing in common – they are determined to work. the future does look positive for 7 News, but money and people power are still in very short supply.
How 7 New Is Produced
People who have never been involved in a publication must wonder about the various processes that go into making the final product. There are a great deal of steps; and certainly, even before the latest edition hits the streets, material is already being prepared for the following one.
The 7 News copy comes from a variety of sources. Press releases are sent in by all sorts of organizations and groups; and a steady stream of information comes from the community centres in the area too (Dixon Hall, 519 Church Street; Ralph Thornton Centre and Woodgreen, to name a few). The staff also assign reporters to cover stories, as well as writing themselves.
After all the stories have been submitted, they are edited and proofed.
Photographs and Graphics
7 News keeps an extensive photograph and graphics file. In addition, photographers may be assigned to cover certain issues and events.
The staff then decide which photographs and graphics are the most appropriate and how much of them should be included in the final pictures.
Some ads are sent into the paper without the ad salesperson having to go out and solicit them; but these are mainly submitted by the large ad agencies for the government.
After getting the local display ads, the salesperson designs an appropriate “look” to suit the store or service being offered. The ad person also takes care of the classified ad section.
When all the ads have been collected the next stage of production can begin.
The staff is only able to decide how many pages the paper can be, and whether or not they can afford any extras like colour, after all the ads have been submitted, because they pay for the paper.
7 News has always had to have a very strong awareness of its limited resources, which has been intensely frustrating for all those who have ever worked on the paper. How different from the experiences of the larger newspapers!
After deciding on the size of the paper – which has varied in the past from 0 pages (not coming out at all) to 16 pages, but has had 8 as its median – a “dummy” version is designed.
Then the copy is typeset; and the photos and graphics are sized and sent off to have half-tones and line-shots made. 7 News cannot afford any of the equipment itself.
LAYOUT AND PASTE UP:
7 News buys sheets of paper, with non-reproducible blue lines on them, called “flats”. Two pages fit onto each of the flats 7 News uses. For an 8 page paper page 1 would be opposite page 8; and page 2 would be opposite page 7, etc.
Using a non reproducible blue pen or pencil a page is divided up according to the stories and ads that will be placed on it, referring back to the “dummy”.
At this point the copy is still in long strips, which are called “galleys”. The galleys are cut up and placed on the page after they have had hot wax applied to their backs so that they will be able to stick to the flats.
The same process applies to the photos. To make the paper more readable, lines are used to separate stories. They come in a tape form (similar to scotch tape). After that the headlines and captions are thought up, typeset, waxed and stuck down.
There may be extra cosmetic steps at the end: for example, indicating to the printer which lettering or areas will be coloured.
In “true” small newspaper style the flats are rushed to the printers from anywhere between 4:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. after having worked on paste-up right through the afternoon and night before.
It depends on the printing shop used. But generally, the copies (all 20,000) are ready that evening. A staff member rents a van in the afternoon, drives over to the printers and loads the van ready for distribution the following day.
Usually 2 and possibly 3 staff members drive around for 10 hours the following day dropping the newspapers off at pre-arranged places: stores, hospitals, seniors’ homes, churches, community centres, banks and schools. Many individuals also get bundles delivered to them so that they can deliver the papers door-to-door in their area.
Having been on the go the whole day – sorting the papers into different sized bundles for each drop-off point and running around delivering them all over the Ward (and beyond) – the staff members dutifully rest up that night so that they’re able to start the next paper the following day.
Relationship of 7 News to the Ward 7 Community
Is 7 News fulfilling its mandate as the official newspaper of the community? Is it representative of the people who live and/or work in the Ward? And, do the people of Ward 7 regard 7 News as their paper?
First of all, who are “the people” anyway? As outlined in Section 1, that part of Toronto now called Ward 7 has been in a constant state of flux for decades. Even since the first issue of 7 News appeared nearly 14 years ago there have been enormous changes in the different groups of people who have lived in the Ward, and consequently in the problems they have faced. There has also been a change in living conditions and in the types of issues which are important to people as Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians in general.
7 News has never had an easy time. No matter which people have been involved in the running of the paper, they have never been able to turn it into a fully viable proposition – both in terms of its coverage of Ward 7 issues and events, and financially.
To deal with the content problem of the paper first. The types of issues and events which have been covered by 7 News has depended entirely on who the board and staff members are – as is true with all newspapers.
Looking through back issues, it is clear that nearly all interest groups have at one point or another had coverage of issues which are important for them. But how frequently? This has been a definite problem.
For long periods of time one type of people were “in control” of the paper, and ignored topics which they felt were irrelevant. Then when another group of people were in control they would deal with those same areas of interest almost exclusively. Those community members who read the paper but never got involved in its organization must have been extremely confused.
Surely, now, the only route for 7 News to take will be to serve as many interest groups in the community as possible, simultaneously. This is in fact what the new board and staff have decided to do. The last few issues of the paper have managed to cover an incredibly broad spectrum of concerns.
They have provided information on the arts and culture, and where to buy “ritzy” things etc. for the “white painters”. They have also given small stories in the area the publicity they need in order to survive. In addition, 7 News has supplied the working class poor, the unemployed, welfare recipients and the homeless with a great deal of information, such as: where to buy cheap necessities, and how government benefits work.
7 News has also covered issues of great interest to senior citizens, and has included material concerning children – both aimed at adults and the children themselves. Another very large group of concerned individuals has not been forgotten – the environmentalists and people involved in health and safety issues.
The paper has provided an assortment of material for and about women. The political arena has been covered extensively – both at the municipal and provincial level – which is a must in Ward 7 because of its lengthy history as a politically active area – the people want to know what their representatives are doing for them.
The paper has also furnished information about a great number of “social activists’” issues, such as: landlord and tenant rights; racism; nuclear proliferation; gay rights and police brutality.
But two very large groups in Ward 7 have still had very little coverage of issues that are important to them – the Chinese and Greek communities. These has always been a problem: 7 News has found it virtually impossible in the past to work with the two communities. Their areas are very concentrated and they have their own newspapers in Chinese and Greek, respectively and have been no need to “use” 7 News. The now defunct Ward 8 News did not have this problem, however. They had articles in Chinese, Greek and Punjabi. But their case was different from 7 News mainly because there were members of all 3 ethnic groups closely connected with the newspaper (and they wrote nearly all the material).
Still talking about Ward 8 News leads us to the second issue – money. 7 News was contemplating for years whether to take over the Ward 8 territory or not: largely because there are a lot of shops in Ward 8 – mainly in one of the two centres though (Gerrard Square and the Towers complex) – and the possibility of financial stability has always been a fanatical interest to those who have been involved in the paper.
It has always been difficult for 7 News to sell advertising space. In the past – common reasons were given that the paper was too radical and anti-business; the distribution was shoddy; “it’s so tacky and small that people didn’t read it anyway even if they do pick it up” etc. The last comment is obviously a Catch-22. The paper was so shoddy and small because it had no advertising.
To remedy the situation the present format is “relatively” professional looking; and of course, it is now fairly evident that at least some of the paper is being aimed at the business community.
In short then, the survival of Ward 7’s community newspaper; and community newspapers in general, depends on a number of factors: 1) sufficiently high ad/copy ratio, 2) fundraisers (in the past 7 News has both put on its own fundraisers, and been the beneficiary of two Ward 7 community musical extravaganzas, 3) grants, 4) contributions from individuals, companies and community groups & centres, 5) low rent, and finally 6) good people.
“Good people” are committed to the paper. They are needed as board members, staff, contributors and volunteers.
Part of the problem for a long time was that people viewed the paper as a clique, because not enough effort was put into personalizing it for them.
Hopefully that is still not the case. The present board, staff and associates have gone out of their way to become known to people, and approachable. There have been photographs of and short pieces about them in the paper, and they have put many notices in – asking people to become involved. They have also included many competitions with prizes – which are “supposed to” make people more at ease and familiar with their newspaper.
One of the latest developments is a column called “Social Lites” which is to be used for local news such as marriages, births, parties, group, etc. But so far only upper middle class professionals (who have been involved with the paper at one time or another) have been using it, which will now probably be a deterrent to members of the other strata – unless a real push is made by the 7 News staff to make it otherwise.
So, even though the present content of the paper is more representative of Ward 7 than it has been for a long time, 7 News is still limping alone in a financial and people power crises.
May 29 this year will be no different from any other year in 7 News’ history where the question “Seven News: to be – or not to be?” has always been present.
And as usual the answer is the same – it’s up to you, Ward 7.
1. City Magazines, newspapers serve in different ways, E.C. Hynds, Journalism Quarterly 56: 619-22, Au ‘79.
2. Content as a Key to the Purpose of Community Newspapers; G.C. Stone & J. Morrison, Journalism Quarterly 53: 494-8, Au ‘76.
3. Fraser, Graham, Fighting Back: Urban Renewal in Trefann Court; A.M. Hakkert Ltd.; Toronto, 1972.
4. Garner, Hugh, Cabbagetown, The Ryerson Press; Toronto, 1968.
5. Janowitz, Morris, The Community Press in an Urban Setting: The Social Elements of Urbanism, University of Toronto Press. 1967.
6. Kennedy, Bruce M., Community Journalism: A Way of Life, The Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1974.
7. Murphy, David, The Silent Watchdog: The Press In Local Politics, Constable and Company Ltd., London, England, 1976.
8. Radder, Norman, Newspapers In Community Service, McGraw-Hill book company Inc., New York, 1926.
9. Sewell, John, Up Against City Hall, James Lewis & Samual, Toronto, 1972.
10. Urban neighborhood press: A citizen-based communication tool, J. Ward & C. Gaziano, Ekistico 45: 116-119; Mr ’78.
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