Regular readers know that The Current operates on a not-for-profit basis relying on the support of volunteers and local advertisers to cover costs of production. As such, we are part of a growing movement collectively known as “Nonprofit News.” This has resulted in the formation of an organization, the Institute for Nonprofit News, which promotes the value of publications, whether community-based or global, that are “committed to transparency and independence in public interest, investigative journalism.” The Current’s editorial policy has reflected this commitment since its inception.
So why remind our readers about this now? It is because recently two competitors, the Valley Gazette and the Eganville Leader have both prominently published the results of the annual Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA) awards. The Valley Gazette, in the headline above its article, highlighted that two [of the three] local newspapers received such awards, drawing attention — whether intentionally or not — to the fact that The Current was not one of them. Given the many compliments we have received about the quality and scope of our articles, as in past years some readers have asked why The Current is never also recognized by an OCNA award. This is understandable as confusion can arise from publicity about awards that can be interpreted as applying to all “Ontario Community Newspapers.” However it is the case that ONLY members of OCNA are eligible for their awards and members must submit their own entries in order to be considered. This arises from the fact that the OCNA is a trade association which promotes itself as providing the means for members to increase their advertising revenue including by being recognized in its annual “Better News Competition.” It also permits its members to devote up to 70 percent of their content to paid advertising, leaving just 30 percent for news.
As The Current is not, and cannot be, a member of OCNA whose membership is restricted to newspapers who certify that they operate for profit, we are therefore not eligible for its awards. The Current is however a proud member of the National NewsMedia Council which, unlike the OCNA, imposes ethical standards on its members and backs this up with a complaint resolution procedure including mediation and arbitration.
Also, nowhere on the OCNA’s website will you see any mention of its members being expected or encouraged to perform a watchdog role by being “committed to transparency and independence in public interest, investigative journalism.”
Remember, your elected officials are required by law to govern their municipalities with “integrity, accountability and transparency” and that taxpayers pay them to do this. If they fail to meet these standards and also resort to covering up their non-compliance, then community newspapers should, as recommended by the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative, investigate and report without fear or favour. The Current believes that nonprofit community newspapers ought not be the only foot soldiers shining a light on inappropriate conduct, regardless of whose feathers end up being ruffled.