The Mi’kmaq were the first people to live near the Pet-Kout-Koy-ek, “the river that bends like a bow.” The mud-brown waterway later became known as the “Petitcodiac,” and the town at its bend, Moncton, New Brunswick. Acadians, then Pennsylvanians, followed by United Empire Loyalists, and others, settled there. In the nineteenth century Moncton became a shipbuilding centre, then Intercolonial Railway’s headquarters. Today, many of its citizens work in manufacturing, health care, information technology, retail, and tourism. And the city’s becoming increasingly multicultural with newcomers arriving from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. The individual stories of the Mi’kmaq, Acadians, and Anglophone settlers, and the approximately 125,000 residents of today’s Greater Moncton area, combine to tell the story of a community and a place.
Moncton’s first newspaper, The Westmorland Weekly Times, was established in 1855 to keep residents of the growing town up-to-date on community happenings. Connection to place is what’s historically made newspapers popular. But in the modern internet age, that connection’s being lost. Readers from around the world can access a newspaper online, so there’s a temptation to move away from a local focus for many papers. The multi-media web platform I’ve designed for the Moncton area will reconnect people with the place, and one another, in an attempt to maintain a sense of community and common purpose in the region. The platform is called The Hub, in honour of Moncton’s central location in the Maritimes and its history as the centre for rail and land transportation in Atlantic Canada (which earned it the nickname “Hub City”). The goal is for the multi-media platform to become the centre, or hub, of the community.
Stories in The Hub will be drawn from the three cities in the area—Moncton, Dieppe, and Riverview—as well as communities from Petitcodiac to Aulac and Richibucto to Dorchester. These communities are made up of Francophones and Anglophones, First Nations members, and newcomers from around the world.
Advertising revenue can be unreliable when a news organisation’s competition has vast financial resources and can undercut attempts to secure ads, by offering deep discounts to advertisers. For this reason, and aesthetic ones, The Hub will not rely on advertising revenue, nor have on-screen ads (although it will provide space in the Classifieds section for advertisements). Instead, The Hub will be funded by reader subscriptions and foundation grants. As with the Wall Street Journal, readers will be able to receive The Hub free for a two-week trial period.
Stories and information will be presented on the multi-media web platform. Like the Voice of San Diego, The Hub will also offer a “Morning Report” six days per week via e-mail blast for those who subscribe to it. It will contain the morning’s leading stories and allow readers to keep on top of the news as they start their day.
Young readers are a low demographic for newspapers. The Hub will attempt to reach them through a partial news site on Facebook, and Twitter feeds. The Hub’s availability on mobile devices, e-readers, and tablets will also be appealing to the younger demographic.
Since The Hub will have a pay-wall, there must be a way to allow people to view some content on Facebook without compromising the pay system. The Economist achieves this. Each week, its editor-in-chief recommends several articles from the latest edition and offers them through e-mail or on the Facebook page. Similarly, The Hub’s Facebook page will only offer select content from its online platform. On Twitter, only those who have subscriptions to The Hub will be able to access stories through the links provided in tweets.
Photography will be an important part of The Hub’s multi-media platform as photos are a good way to tell stories and the computer screen is a good medium to display photographs. An online site also provides the space needed to show and store numerous photos.
The Hub will have special photo features including a “Photo of the Day,” submitted by a reader. This photo will be of a person, place, or event in the area—further connecting readers to place. There will also be a weekly photo contest called, “Where in the Hub?” Subscribers will attempt to guess the location of photos taken by The Hub photographers, and the first winning guess will receive a prize. Since photos will be taken throughout the region, this feature will serve a dual purpose of uniting the various communities and raising awareness of interesting places nearby. This is done on Patch.com’s Oakdale page.
The Hub will also use articles, blogs, and videos. Interactive maps may be posted to direct subscribers to tourist attractions, hiking trails, and other destinations mentioned in stories.
MEANS OF COMMUNITY INTERACTION
Community Input. In an attempt to share uplifting stories and news, and focus on people in the region, each week the story of a special citizen will be featured in the “Hub Hero of the Week” section. Heroes will be local people who have done something good in their communities, schools, or workplaces, or even people who inspire others. These profiles may include written text and video segments showing the heroes at work, in action, or being interviewed.
A similar feature (perhaps monthly) will highlight newcomers to the region. The Hub will tell the stories of where they’ve come from, what life was like in their country of origin, why they chose to move to the region, and what their hopes and dreams are. The Hub might use a video monologue format similar to The Washington Post’s “On Being.”
Hero of the Week and Newcomer of the Month sections will foster interaction with community members by allowing them to nominate the people to be featured. The photo contest “Where in the Hub is It?” and reader submissions to “Photo of the Day,” also invite subscribers to get involved with the platform.
The Hub will have a feature, like iReport, that allows citizen journalists from the region to post stories. Editorial staff will follow up on those deemed worthy of extra coverage. As with iReport, a posted notice will inform readers that the citizen reports are not edited or fact-checked by editors unless they are specifically marked, “Hub Citizen Report.” Some of the stories submitted may also be opinion pieces, like “Your Voices” in Voice of San Diego.
Columns. Columns will take the form of blogs and will be archived on the site. Blogs might be written by students, Acadians, First Nations members, political and international affairs commentators, restaurant/coffee shop reviewers, and entertainment critics.
Comments. The Hub will also connect with the community by allowing subscribers to post comments, following the procedure used by the Wall Street Journal. To promote civil, substantive, thoughtful comments and encourage healthy dialogue between real people, anonymity will not be permitted. Like members of the Wall Street Journal’s Community, in order to comment on articles The Hub subscribers will create a Community Profile, agree to use their real names, and follow Community rules. Posts that violate the rules will be removed. Comments won’t appear on the same page as the article, but there will be a separate comments page for each story.
Discussion Boards. Discussion boards might be set up on The Hub for topics like regional destinations to visit; what to see and do on a “stay-cation;” and good places to hike, cycle, and cross-country ski. Each discussion board will require an approved moderator to ensure appropriate dialogue.
STORIES AND INFORMATION
The Hub will publish news that’s local, provincial, national, and international. It will also feature investigative reports. These are of particular value given the current media situation in the province, as all of the English language dailies, and most of the weeklies, are owned by the Irving media empire. Irving’s industries in the province, and region, span forestry; pulp and paper; sawmilling; shipbuilding and industrial marine; gas, oil, and natural gas processing and transporting; transportation; manufacturing; retail; property development; agriculture; aquaculture; food processing; and more. In light of its interests, it would be imprudent from a business perspective for Irving to allow stories that negatively depict its companies. In his article, “The Once and Future Free Press in New Brunswick,” Julian Walker points out that Irving journalists rarely do investigative stories on “sensitive subjects of the Irving industrial empire.”
For these reasons, independent investigative journalism that will objectively report on politics, business, the environment, and other areas that might be underreported in the current Irving-owned media, is especially needed in New Brunswick. The Hub will have at least one investigative journalist who will cover such stories province-wide.
Because The Hub’s goal is to maintain a sense of community and common purpose, it will not solely focus on traditional news and investigation. The Hub will also have sections covering Economy and Business; Politics and Issues; Arts and Culture; Entertainment; Travel; Weather; Sports and Recreation; Home & Garden; Obituaries, Weddings, and Celebrations; and Classifieds. The Photos section has already been discussed. There will also be a section entitled “People,” and within this section will be the Hub Hero of the Week, Newcomer of the Month, and perhaps other stories about people in the region—from the earliest First Nations peoples, Acadians, and Loyalists to recent members of those groups, and newcomers.
The Hub will also have sections for each community (or regional group of communities) represented in the area. Each community section will have a drop down menu of subsections covering a variety of areas like community news and events. Reporters will post live announcements about Hub happenings, on Twitter.
Finally, one of the platform’s most important sections will be “Opinions and Knowledge.” In his article “Who, What, When, Where, and Wise,” media critic Neil Postman suggests that newspapers should “get out of the information business and into the knowledge business.” To Postman, knowledge is information that’s organised, with context and purpose—information “that leads one to seek further information in order to understand something about the world.”
Just reading news without further explanations of how it impacts the region and the world doesn’t help to inform people. For example, reading a story about the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan tells citizens about the potentially catastrophic nuclear situation in that nation, but doesn’t promote understanding about how Fukushima serves as an example of what may be wrong with dependence on nuclear energy in one’s own region, or in other parts of the world. The Hub will feature opinion pieces by commentators on international affairs, the environment, and a variety of other relevant areas. It will also promote knowledge through articles that explain the ramifications of regional and world events and trends.
REFLECTING THE LARGER COMMUNITY NARRATIVE
The overarching narrative of The Hub is: Who we are and how we live in this place. A number of features of the multi-media platform reflect that narrative. Blogs by representatives of the various segments of the population highlight who makes up the region. Profiles of local “heroes,” newcomers, and others (past and present) build awareness about the area’s inhabitants. Community activities and events show what people are involved in. Contributions by citizen journalists, comments to articles, and discussion boards reveal what’s important to them. Photos of the region and its people provide visual depictions of “who we are and how we live.” Local and regional news highlights the issues that affect those in the Hub City and surrounding area.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES TO SUCCESS
As Walker points out, in the past thirty years in Canada’s news industry, “the trend has been to eliminate the competition by takeover or domination of the market.” He uses the recent failure of the independent Carleton Free Press as an example in New Brunswick. Launched in Woodstock in 2007, the Carleton Free Press was only able to operate for a year when pricing competition offered by the Irving’s rival paper, the Woodstock Bugle Observer, and economic conditions, forced it out of business. Walker writes, “The fierce Irving competition with the Carleton Free Press indicates that the Irvings will compete when necessary…to eliminate the competition.”
The presumed Irving desire to maintain a media monopoly in New Brunswick will be the biggest obstacle that The Hub will face. It’s hoped that readers will realise how much this independent news platform has to offer, that Irving-owned papers are unable to. For example, an Irving paper could not allow uncensored submissions from citizen journalists because someone might report something that would negatively impact its industries. Nor could it allow unfettered investigative journalism. The Hub will also be more community-focused and people-focused than Irving papers. However, it’s possible that Irving media could make changes so that their papers might become similar to The Hub.
If members of the Moncton area will stand behind a news platform that’s produced partly by them and entirely for them, rather than by industry giants, The Hub might be able to win a battle with New Brunswick’s media and industry Goliath, should one arise.
Referring to the Irving media monopoly, Senator Joan Fraser, member of the 2006 Bacon Committee of the Senate that released a Report on the Canadian News Media, stated that “[nowhere] else in the developed world [is there] a situation like the situation in New Brunswick.” Independent news has great value in a democracy and it’s hoped that readers will be willing to pay for it, and that philanthropic organisations committed to free press may deem an independent paper in New Brunswick a worthy investment.
The success of The Hub will be measured by whether it’s sustainable. If its revenue can pay the journalists, editors, and fees to produce and maintain the web media platform, and if community members contribute in the ways they are invited to, The Hub will succeed in connecting to place; telling the stories of Francophones, Anglophones, aboriginals, doctors, farmers, fishermen, businessmen, newcomers, seniors, and children; and in building a strong community throughout the region near the bend of the Pet-Kout-Koy-ek.