Catherine Kuckyt holds an old issue of the Voice. NATE SMELLE PHOTO

Consolidation by big media chains prompted the creation of the Voice

BY NATE SMELLE
The VOICE

For 20 years, residents of Pelham have looked forward to their weekly fix of local news in the Voice of Pelham. Since coming on staff last September I have come to see first-hand how much this community values this independent newspaper and the information it delivers.

Unlike the other news outlets throughout the Niagara Region that face the many trials of the newspaper industry, the Voice has endured without the backing of large corporate interests. Considering the long list of obstacles facing community newspapers across Canada, one cannot help but wonder how the Voice has made it to print week after week for the past two decades.

Speaking with one of the paper’s founding partners, Catherine Kuckyt, I caught a glimpse of the secret to the Voice of Pelham’s success. Essentially, it all comes down to two words — community support.

When the news broke that the Pelham Herald would be printing its last edition, Kuckyt and the former managing editor of the Herald, Carolyn Mullin, along with a small but passionate group of concerned citizens immediately began brainstorming ways to continue delivering local news to the community. Unpacking their ideas while sitting around her kitchen table, Kuckyt said they decided to create a new newspaper.

“We were all very proud of our heritage,” she said.

“I’ve only lived here for 32 years but we’ve always been proud of Pelham. We recognized that we needed to have our own identity, and we didn’t want to be gobbled up by the big corporations. That’s what came out of our public meetings. People wanted to see pictures of their kids in the paper from their soccer games, their hockey games and we want to have our local news covered.”

Going over what assets would be needed to launch the new paper with Mullin, the group determined they would need $50,000 to get the paper established. At first, Kuckyt said they thought of finding an individual to take on ownership of the paper. Concerned that this type of ownership could result in the paper being sold, she said they came up with the idea of approaching 50 shareholders to contribute $1,000 each. She said the enthusiasm of everyone who jumped on board was incredible.

“There was a whole group of us that decided, yes, we are going to do this,” Kuckyt said.

“When we started to approach people to purchase shares and become a shareholder, the phone didn’t stop ringing. We actually had people on a wait list.”

Though only 50 shareholders were needed, Kuckyt said there were many other individuals with a vested interest in the paper succeeding because some of the shares were held by organizations within the community.

“It wasn’t just a couple of us out there it was the community,” said Kuckyt.

“I don’t think we have ever seen that kind of support in any other project since the buy-in.”

Mulling over names for the new paper, the board arrived at the Voice of Pelham thanks to another of the founding volunteer Board members, Brian Sullivan, who Kuckyt remembers repeatedly saying, “We need to keep our voice.”

“Don’t forget, in 1997 we didn’t have iPads, the internet was still very basic, people were just starting to create websites so there wasn’t that much internet news,” she said.

“When the Herald was closing there was a void in town because we didn’t have our own news. I think that’s why people put their money in.”

Kuckyt said she and fellow founding member David Hall were overwhelmed by the support they found when they began reaching out to the community.

Some of this support came from local businesses who purchased ad space, with additional revenue being generated by community members who bought volunteer subscriptions. She said the community refused to allow the local news to be reduced to a one-page insert in the Welland Tribune.

“We wanted to make sure that no one could ever shut us down,” Kuckyt said.

“We had a real thing about Conrad Black at the time, because this is what he was doing. He was closing down all of the local papers, buying them up, and then rolling them into his bigger papers as a one-page insert for the local news.”

Once everything was in order, Carolyn Mullin became the first Managing Editor of the Voice of Pelham.

Getting the paper off the ground required a complete community effort, Kuckyt explained. Members of the board volunteered, helping with everything from proofreading to newspaper delivery. During the first year, Kuckyt’s husband, David, said he even became known as “The Muffin Man” because he would drop off muffins at the office. The public also stepped up by contributing feature articles and photography.

Managing to remain relevant amid an ever-changing media landscape, 20 years later the Voice of Pelham continues to serve up a healthy serving of the local news to the community each week. Though many community newspapers across the country have disappeared during this time, Kuckyt believes there will always be a need for Pelham to have its Voice.